Fly Selection, Tying Tips and Patterns for Euro Nymphing - Part I

Posted on 11 March 2020

Choosing a fly pattern is widely considered one of the most important decisions we make on the river. At the same time, it is largely over complicated, especially when nymph fishing. During most scenarios, we as anglers can be just as effective with a few patterns of different sizes and weights. There is no need to attempt to imitate every possible insect and nymph that we could encounter. In fact, I find that if a wide variety of nymphs are drifting through the column, fly pattern will be one of the least important parts of the puzzle. Even when a very specific hatch is going on, matching the pre-hatch nymphs does not need to be very exact. For instance, when fish are feeding on pre-emerging sulphurs, I don’t think a true “sulphur nymph” will fish too much different than a generic pheasant tail pattern of the appropriate size. At the end of the day, you could tie on a terribly tied monstrosity and with a good drift, you’ll find a fish that will eat it eventually. I don’t mean to imply that fly pattern doesn’t matter at all, but I think most of us, myself included, will over analyze fly selection more than we need to.

So what actually matters when selecting nymphs? The truth is that in most situations, having knowledge of trout behavior and understanding your fishing conditions will have a far greater impact on your success than whether a pattern looks exactly like the natural. In many cases, nymphs that give an impression of the naturals work just as well, if not better than than purely imitative patterns. Here are the areas that I consider most when choosing a nymph.

Weight: Especially when Euro nymphing, weight is frequently the most important factor in your success. If the flies are not at the depth in which the fish are feeding, they will never have a chance, no matter how much they look like the natural. In Euro nymphing, this means adjusting the weight built into your flies either with lead wraps or tungsten beads. Having 2-3 good patterns in a variety of weights would be more important than having all of the flies from a fly shop’s nymph section. If you are using split shot in your rig somehow, having a variety of weights built into the same pattern is less important. However, heavier isn’t always the answer. Throughout the course of the year, trout will feed everywhere in the water column. Having unweighted or lightly weighted patterns will help you to fish for trout holding in skinny water or close to the surface. Understanding where and when trout feed deep vs. shallow will help to solve this problem.

Trout are trout. I've found success with the same patterns I use in PA throughout rivers, lakes and small streams in the Rockies. Adjust your presentation and depth many times before switching flies. 
Size/Profile: Size and profile is going to most likely be the first thing to consider if trout are feeding selectively. In many situations, shifting to smaller flies when the fishing is tough will be the ticket. This is assuming your presentation and approach are already good. The shape of your fly will also matter a lot. If you tie a size 12 with the perfectly matched color that is too bulky and doesn’t have a taper, it is going to be far less effective than the same fly that has the silhouette of the natural, even if your color is completely off. Also keep in mind that your hook size does not always correlate to fly size. You can tie larger hooks a little sparse and still get the profile of a smaller fly. Also, hooks come in many different variations, and not all #12’s will be the same. Because of this, go with one style of hook for most nymphs to keep things consistent. Add in some specialty hooks like 3x long for stoneflies and curved shank for scuds and midges and you can cover all of the bases. With this consistency, you can be sure that when you change flies, you are doing so with a purpose in mind.


Consistency in fly profile is an important part of tying. You don't have to be perfect every time, but consistently tied patterns help to build confidence on the water.

 Color: Color is one of the biggest enigmas for people when selecting flies. Do you go light or dark? Natural or flashy? Gold, silver, copper or dark beads? All of these options can matter, but most times, they really don’t.  Personally, I don’t like to overthink color, especially when nymph fishing. If fishing a pair of nymphs, I might try two different colors, or maybe one drab and one flashy. If I have notable success with one of those colors, I’ll keep it in mind throughout the day and in other similar conditions. Don’t be fooled though, it is more likely that the position of your fly in your rig has more to do with success than the color of the fly. It is quite rare that a slight change in shade will make a huge difference. In fact, you can find plenty of success with flies that resemble almost nothing in the river. A great example of this is Egan’s Rainbow Warrior, a fly that looks nothing like a natural insect but will undoubtedly put a lot of fish in your net. 

Ever see real nymphs with the colors like the ones pictured above? Me neither. Don't stress about color. Focus on reading water, presentation, and developing your technique.

Some considerations when tying nymphs:

Jig Hooks vs. Standard Hooks:

It’s no secret that the popularity of jig hooks have exploded the past few years. We get a lot of questions at the shop about whether or not these hooks are necessary for Euro nymphing, or whether they really make any difference. To address the first part of that question… no. They are absolutely not necessary. You can nymph with any technique and use pretty much any hook style you want. That being said, jig hooks are not just for Euro nymphing and you can use these hooks with any technique you prefer. A lot of people assume that because jig hooks ride hook point up, you will be avoiding snags. This is a little true, but you will still snag your fair share. To me, the real advantage to these hooks is that when you tick bottom, the hook point is not taking nearly as much damage and will stay sharp longer. A lot of anglers look past the importance of having sharp hooks. I find this to be a critical part of my success. Therefore, I use jig hooks for most of my nymph patterns. There are a few patterns that are better tied with other hook styles such as some stonefly and midge patterns, but the bulk of my nymph boxes are dominated by jig style hooks.

In addition to avoiding snags and staying sharp, jig hooks will often connect to fish in the upper portion of their mouth as shown above. As far as hook ups go, I'll take this connection to the fish every time.

Sizing Tungsten Beads:

Because Euro nymphing does not utilize split shot, having a strong understanding of sizing beads to hooks will help you to attain a variety of presentations. This can be confusing, as each hook can take multiple bead sizes. I put together this chart to give people a starting point on what size beads could be used on each hook. Keep in mind, there are always some slight inconsistencies between different manufacturers so use this as a starting point rather than a definitive guide. For jig hooks, be sure to use slotted tungsten beads so they fit around the bend of the jig. Also, you’ll notice that many people oversize beads to be even heavier than the chart displays, which is effective as well.  

For Part II of this blog, I will share some of my confidence patterns. These are staples in my box and you will almost never catch me on the river without these flies. I'll include recipes and a little background on each pattern. Keep an eye out!

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to comment or shoot me an email with any questions or thoughts!

Frank Landis

TCO Boiling Springs

IG: frankflyfishes


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  • Don6 Thomas: July 22, 2021

    Find the bead chart very helpful. A phesant tail or hairs ear are tow flies everyone should have in a variety of weights in there box . (and fish a lot). Great article anticipating part 2. Keep up the great work.

  • Tom B: March 19, 2020

    What a great looking little stream that is behind you, Frank

  • Mark Vincent: March 05, 2020

    Great article. It was great to hear that color and matching the nymph is least important,and that weight and getting into the right column where the fish are feeding is what you have to pay attention to.

  • Bob: March 04, 2020

    Great article! And the bead chart is very helpful. I’m looking forward to part 2 as well!

  • Rick : March 04, 2020

    Great blog. Looking forward to part II. The bead chart at the end really comes in handy
    Thank you

  • Chip: March 04, 2020

    Very informative. Thanks for sharing information that obviously comes from much experience. I am looking forward to part 2 of this article.

  • Stan: March 04, 2020

    Hi Frank: Great article, it answered some of my questions. Thank You.

  • Steve: March 04, 2020

    That was a very good article enjoyed it very much thanks for taking the time

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