Know Your Pattern: The Prince Nymph

Prince Nymph

Sometimes I get tired of tying on a Prince Nymph. I use it so frequently that it seems boring. But every time I decide to replace it with something fresh, I return to this classic. There’s no mystery. Even though I may get tired of it, the trout never do. Here is the scoop on this superb pattern:

1. How it originated

This fly is not named for the flamboyant musician of “Purple Rain” fame. Nor is it named after the Nigerian prince who needs your help transferring millions of dollars out of his country.

Rather, the fly is named after its creator. Doug Prince of Monterey, California, developed it in the late 1930s or early 1940s. His original “Prince Nymph” had a black body, black soft hackle, and a black tail. A modification of this pattern, which he called the “Brown Forked Tail,” became the well-known Prince Nymph.

2. How it is designed

The Prince Nymph, a.k.a. Brown Forked Tail, features a Peacock herl body wrapped with gold or copper wire. The neck consists of brown soft hackle fibers. The distinctive feature, though, is the use of two white goose biots for the wings and two brown goose biots for the tail. This makes the fly difficult to tie — at least for casual fly tyers like me. The biots are fragile, and they never stay where I want them to stay when I’m trying to secure them with my wraps of threat.

I’m partial to a gold beadhead, so I always tie and fish the beadhead version of this fly.

3. Why it works

Doug Prince designed this as a stonefly imitation for fast water.

However, it’s a visually striking pattern which seems to imitate a variety of aquatic insects. I’ve had success catching trout on a Beadhead Prince Nymph during the Caddis hatch on Montana’s Yellowstone River and during the emergence of Blue-Winged Olives on the Madison River.

The Prince Nymph is versatile enough to use it as a larger lead fly (size #12 or #14) in a two fly rig. Or, it works in a smaller size (#16 or #18) as a dropper.

4. When to use it

The short answer is, “Any time.” Seriously!

It works in all seasons and in all kinds of water conditions. I’ve had success with it in the spring creeks of Wisconsin, the big rivers in Montana, and the mountain streams in Colorado — all four seasons of the year.

So what’s in your fly box? If you want to catch trout, your box will include an ample supply of Beadhead Prince Nymphs. Don’t leave home without a handful of them.

Other Flies in the “Know Your Pattern” Series”

    Know Your Pattern: The H and L Variant

    Know Your Pattern: The Parachute Adams

    Know Your Pattern: The Royal Coachman

    Know Your Pattern: The San Juan Worm

5 Questions to Determine If You Should Tie Your Own Flies

Tie your own flies – that idea might seem far-fetched to a beginner fly fisher. If you’re new to the sport, you might wonder if fly tying is something to pursue.

To tie or not to tie? That is the question. To help you answer the question, here are a few more questions to consider:

Can I tie flies even if I’m not an artistic type?

Absolutely! I am living proof of this.

I do not have an artistic bone in my body. Or perhaps I do, and it is badly broken. While I can color between the lines, I cannot draw anything more complex than a stick figure. Yet I can tie the basic patterns and catch trout on them.

If your goal is to win a “most beautiful fly” contests, then a lack of artistic talent is an issue. If your goal is to catch trout, then being artistically challenged is not a concern. To tie your own flies has little to do with your artistic gene.

How do I learn?

The best approach is to sign up for a fly-tying class at your local fly shop. I learned to tie flies two decades ago in an eight-week class that met Saturday mornings at a fly shop in Bozeman, Montana.

The second best approach is to watch fly-tying videos. There are some great instructional videos that you can access for free. I like the “Beginner Fly Fishing Tips” series on YouTube by scflytying. You might also check the videos by Tightline Productions that Orvis shares on its website.

In my experience, books have limited value. I need to watch someone tying a fly in order to make sense of it. I simply can’t visualize the process when reading a book — even if it contains clear instructions and sharp diagrams. Having a live person to help you figure out what you’re doing wrong is the best way to learn.

What do I need to get started?

To tie your own flies, you need tools and materials.

The first tool you need is a vise. Any fly vise that holds a hook tight will do. Don’t overthink this.

Next, you need fly tying scissors. I recommend two pairs. Spend more on one that you reserve for hair and thread. Buy a cheaper pair to cut thicker items, which tend to dull the scissor blades more quickly. You’ll also need a bobbin (for your spool of thread) and a pair of hackle pliers. Neither item will break the bank.

I’d suggest two or three bobbins so you don’t have to re-thread your bobbin every time you switch spools of thread. Finally, get a whip finisher. Save yourself the hassle of a cheaper one and buy the one sold by Orvis.

The materials you need depend on what flies you plan to tie. Typically, the minimum materials include hackle capes, thread, dubbing material, head cement, and wire. A good fly shop or an online video can help you figure out exactly what you need for the flies you plan to tie.

Will the first fly I tie be worth fishing?

Yes! Sometimes, a clumsy looking fly might look a bit more “buggy” to the trout than something that looks perfect.

Besides, I suspect that a lot of flies are designed to catch fly fishers rather than fish. I’ve caught trout on some gnarly looking patterns. Of course, I’ve gotten better over the years. But trout key in on size and color more than on perfect proportions (though the exceptions increase as the fly size gets smaller!).

Sure, some patterns require more precision than others. But if your first fly is a San Juan Worm or a Brassie or a Woolly Bugger, it does not need to be perfect. To tie your own flies does not require flawless wonders.

What is the financial payoff for learning to tie flies?

The expected answer is, “You will save money.” After all, the materials for a $2 fly may amount to 20 cents.

But that math is too simplistic.

The initial investment in tools will likely reach $100. Then there are the materials themselves. A good hackle cape or neck may cost $50. Even the inexpensive materials – spools of thread, various kinds of feathers, peacock herl, etc – add up. You may not begin saving money until you tie your three-hundredth fly!

So, unless you tie a high volume of flies, it might be as cost effective to buy flies at your local fly shop.

In my opinion, the real benefit of fly tying is becoming a better fly fisher. When I started tying, I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, which insects my flies were trying to imitate, and when certain patterns worked (and when they didn’t).

It’s Your Decision

If you decide not to tie your own flies, fine. There are other ways to accomplish what fly tying will do for you.

My podcast partner, Dave, is proof of this. He doesn’t tie his flies. Contrary to my ribbing, he is every bit as good a fly fisher as I am.

But if you’re leaning towards trying, go for it. Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch a trout.

Fly Fishing Secrets at the River’s Edge

Like most fly fishers, I frequently find usable flies along the river’s edge. I spot most of them dangling from leaders wrapped around tree branches. A few are stuck in the tree branches themselves. Years of finding fly after fly along the river’s edge have provided me with a few fly fishing secrets.

Rather than turn these into a best-selling book and making a million bucks, I now share them with you in hopes these deep truths will improve your fly fishing experience:

1. Tree branches are the earth’s strongest magnetic force.

For years, I thought I was simply careless and not paying enough attention. “Rookie mistake,” I thought, after yet another errant back cast. But after seeing so many leaders wrapped around branches, it dawned on me that tree branches must have a Magnetic Force.

I am in need of a technology to de-magnetize my flies.

2. The Beadhead Prince Nymph is the fisher’s secret weapon.

Three out of every four flies I find at the river’s edge are Beadhead Prince Nymphs.

I can conclude only that this is the most superior pattern to use and perhaps the only one I will ever need. At first, I wondered if this was a reasonable conclusion. Why trust the fly selection of a slacker who loses his fly in a Ponderosa Pine?

But then I remembered the Magnetic Force. The fly fishers who lost these flies were likely skilled, knowledgeable veterans who simply underestimated the dark Magnetic Force of the branches behind them.

3. Buying or tying flies is a waste of time.

No more twenty dollar bills devoted to buying a dozen flies! No more money spent on dubbing material, hooks, beadheads, biots, peacock herl, head cement, the latest vise, and a host of other gadgets.

Now I’m saving so much cash that I’m planning on buying another high end fly rod.

The only downside is that I spend more time inspecting tree branches than I do fly fishing. Hopefully, that will change as I build up my supply. But I keep losing these flies that I find due to those darn magnetic tree branches. I may have to invest a metal detector to locate lost flies before I buy another fly rod.

Oh yes, there is another downside to my decision to stop buying flies and using only what I find at the river’s edge.

Three-fourths of the flies in my box are now beadhead prince nymphs. They work great, but at times I long for a caddis fly — particularly when fishing the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch on the Yellowstone River in Montana. I lost my last caddis fly pattern a couple years ago. Actually, I found one earlier this year, but I lost it a week later. It’s lodged somewhere on a magnetic branch.

I wish all those fly fishers using beadhead prince nymphs would switch to caddis flies for awhile.

Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

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Tie your own flies? Some might say you can’t be a real fly fisher unless you do. Well, we differ on the matter. Steve ties his own, and Dave doesn’t. In this episode, using a point-counterpoint approach, we discuss the age-old question of whether you should tie your own flies.

Listen to Episode 51: Should You Tie Your Own Flies?

At the end of each episode, we have a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience. Please add your ideas to the creative mix.

Do you tie your own flies? If so, do you ever buy flies? If not, why not?

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Why I Learned the Art of Fly Tying

The art of fly tying – I may not be the best one to champion the art of anything.

Two decades ago, I learned to tie flies, and the flies I have tied over the years are truly wonders.

Now I’m not bragging.

My flies are mediocre at best. But they are wonders considering that I was born artistically challenged. And I still am. At age 54, I draw at about a 5-year old level. When our family holds its occasionally-annual gingerbread house competition, the mansion I construct ends up looking a shack in a third-world country.

I repeat, I am artistically challenged. So it’s a wonder that I’ve actually caught trout on the flies I have hand-tied.

Why in the world did I set out to tie flies, knowing that I have zero artistic talent?

Here are five reasons I learned the art of fly tying. You can figure out which ones are silly and which are serious. Maybe this will inspire you to learn to tie flies too. Here we go, starting with number five (drum roll, please).

5. It would help me learn to say “tying flies” rather than “flying ties.”

If you’ve never made that mistake, then you won’t understand. But it’s so easy to get tongue-tied and talk about flying ties (think about that image) rather than tying flies. I figured that if I was around a veteran tie flyer, whoops, I mean fly tyer, I would learn to say it right all the time.

Alas, I was wrong. So this really is not a good reason to become a fly tyer.

4. It would put hoarded stuff to good use.

I’m not a hoarder, even though it runs in my family. But like most folks, I have a garage full of old extension cords, balls of yarn, and peacock plumage. Yes, peacock plumage!

One of my neighbors in rural Montana had peacocks, and my kids used to pick up some of the long feathers and bring them home. As any fly tyer knows, peacock herl is used in a lot of fly patterns. The yarn turned out to be decent dubbing, and the old extension cords have provided me with a lifetime supply of copper wire. The downside of this is that I’ve become a magnet for stuff people want to discard.

I could buy the top-of-the-line Sage rod if I had a five-spot for every time a friend said, “Here, I thought you might want this for fly tying material.”

3. It would allow me to use the feathers and hides I collected from hunting trips.

One of my dreams has been to catch a trout on an elk hair caddis that I tied using the hair from a bull elk I would shoot with a bow. Believe it or not, that actually happened. However, my counsel is: if you want to tie flies from the fur and feathers of game you harvest, just stop. Those materials are harder to work with than the commercial elk hides or feathers you can buy for a handsome feel.

Here’s a bonus tip. If you’re stubborn and decide to use the fur and feathers from game you harvest, don’t tell anyone your intentions. Otherwise, you’ll have friends giving you deer hides, turkey feathers, pheasant feathers, and all kinds of other raw materials.

2. It would eliminate the need to shell out two bucks (and more!) for a hook with a bead and some wire.

Now we’re getting serious. There are some fly patterns which are more than worth the two bucks I pay for them. But tying a bead head brassie only requires me to put a bead head on the front of the hook, followed by a couple turns of peacock herl, and then a few turns of copper wire. Even I can do that relatively quickly.

San Juan worms are the same. If you can tie on a piece of chenille, and then use a lighter to cauterize both of the ends, that’s all it takes.

1. It would make me a better fly fisher.

This is the most important reason of all. When I learned to tie flies, I got more than I bargained for. I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, when certain flies worked (and when they didn’t), and how much of a trout’s diet comes from beneath the surface (something I needed to hear as a lover of dry fly fishing). Learning to tie flies is worth it for no other reason than becoming a better fly fisher.

Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch trout. That’s the key. My theory is that a lot of flies are tied to catch fly fishers, not fish.

I’ve never interviewed a trout, but I’ve caught a lot of them on some of the rather clumsy looking patterns I’ve tied. So don’t be afraid to give the art of fly tying a try. If I can do it, you can do it, too.

Still not convinced? Then try something else. Perhaps tie flying.