Lighten Up

“Lighten Up” Your Nymphs: One reason for brass bead head nymphs


I have a confession to make- I use this blog to self medicate. I share all the mistakes and troubles I have on the water, to provide countless examples of what I hope is our collective suffering.  One recent dilemma provided me with the harsh reality that my nymph boxes lacked lighter weighted nymphs (in this case sunken sulphur patterns). What is one to do when trout are feeding higher in the water column, and one has only tungsten-beaded nymphs? Like I said before…suffer. 

Contrary to popular belief, you CAN fish nymphs too deep, and today, with the European nymphing phenomenon, I see few brass or non-beaded patterns (looking squarely at myself here) in fly boxes. While most of my nymph patterns are tied with tungsten bead heads, there are times when I need to “LIGHTEN UP.”


So, last May on Spring Creek, sulphur spinners were present on the water, and trout fed on partially sunken spinners several inches below the water-not near stream bottom.  A traditional spinner pattern (fished in the surface film) is a good approach when spinners are on the water, but often the natural spinners (after mating) float through riffles, where the choppy currents pull and keep them below the surface, and these partially sunk patterns create an easy meal opportunity for trout. On this night, the trout were positioned to feed 2-3 inches below the water, and they were locked into this higher level to feed on the sunken spinners, and they were not about to move downwards to eat. I needed to present my nymph where the fish were. I could have simply taken a traditional spinner pattern, placed a tiny #8 split shot near the hook eye, and I would have presented the spinner at the correct level, but I forgot to bring my dry box that night. All I had was my tungsten bead nymph box (no brass beads to be found), and every pattern was too heavy to fish just below the surface film. I did manage to catch a few fish with tungsten bead patterns, but I know I would have had greater success with lighter weight patterns (brass bead or non-bead), fished higher in the water column. And the results for the next 4 nights of spinner falls, proved me right. Lighter nymphs meant a LOT more fish. 


While the timeline of this article is based on a sulphur spinner fall (not exactly a winter occurrence), this concept of lighter weight nymphs apply to all season scenarios. As my friend John Stoyanoff once told me, “George, you cannot tell trout where to find your flies!” When fish feed high in the column, I have to meet them where they are. This is especially true on insect dense streams like Spring Creek, where food is plentiful, and trout don’t need to move from the buffet line to pick a scrap of bread off the floor. They know if they stay in the buffet line (i.e. at the depth where the current transports the food), food will come to them. You don’t need to outsmart a fish with a nymph, but you do need to keep your pattern in the buffet line. When trout feed high in the column- “LIGHTEN UP” your nymph rig and good things will happen, which is why I suggest you carry several brass and non-beaded patterns, something I didn’t do that night. The next night? Different story.

Below is a simple sunken spinner pattern I’ve used for several seasons. It’s a cross between a Higa’s SOS nymph and the late George Harvey’s Krystal Flash Spinner. You can tie this pattern with a brass bead or without a bead, and allow just the weight of the heavy wire and thin thread body to sink the fly.  


Sunken Sulphur Spinner

Hook: TMC 2457 or any heavy wire hook

Bead: 3/32 Copper (brass weight)

Tail: Wood Duck

Body/Thread: UTC 70 Rusty Brown

Rib: Small Copper Wire

Wing: Pearl Flashabou

Coating: Loon Flow UV Resin

My favorite rig is to attach this light weight sunken spinner 12-16” below a high-vis sulphur dry fly.  If you want to take your fly fishing to a higher level-sometimes you need to fish higher in the column!

Note: A small dab of colored nail polish is placed on my brass bead head nymphs, to distinguish brass from tungsten.

Brass Bead Head Sunken Sulphur Spinners

Brass Bead Head Sunken Sulphur Spinners