Nymph Fly Patterns for the White River Tailwaters

One of the most important methods of fly-fishing any tailwater is nymphing. Aquatic nymphs make up a high percentage of the food trout eat. When trout refuse to come up into the water column to chase a streamer, dry or even midge, one can almost always find a fish willing to eat a nymph fished deep.

Here are a few of my favorite patterns for the White River tailwaters.

Red Fox Squirrel Hair Nymph (#6-20)

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

The fly was originated by Dave Whitlock. It is a good universal nymph pattern. A friend in England caught a 6 lb, 2 oz rainbow on a size 14 I sent him. Fish the bigger patterns in fast or high water dead-drifted near the bottom. The smaller patterns can be fished near the surface film like many midge pupa patterns. The larger sizes should have a turn of a hen hackle, and I often tie them as beadhead nymphs.

Red Fox Squirrel Nymph
Hook 2x long nymph, sizes 6-20
Thread Orange
Tail Red Fox Squirrel body fibers, tied sparsely for movement
Rib Gold tinsel or a strand of pearl flashabou
Body 60% Red Fox Squirrel belly/40% antron
Thorax/Head Dark brown squirrel mixed with antron
Hackle Turn or two of hen or partridge hackle on larger size flies (#6-12)

Brown Forked Tail Nymph (a.k.a. Prince Nymph) #12-18

The Brown Forked Tail, now commonly called the Prince Nymph after its originator, Doug Prince, is another great universal pattern that works well on the White River tailwaters and Ozark spring creeks.

Copper John (#10-16)

Rubbed Legged Copper John - Image Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

Copper John nymphs have been around a while, but I like the rubber leg version. They seem to be even more effective at times.

Copper John or Copper Bob? Colorado fly tier John Barr is usually credited with the Copper John. However, artist Bob White claims he came up with nearly the exact pattern independently while guiding in Alaska at about the same time. Bob says he kept the pattern "close to his vest" while guiding. The guides at the lodge where he guided were instructed to avoid break-offs and recover the patterns from the customers after a day of fishing. The lodge fly shop finally started making them available to the general public after his departure. This is an example of how patterns take on a life and existence of their own and get altered and modified—sometimes in parallel to use elsewhere.

Burlap Caddis Larvae (#14-16)

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

This is the simplest pattern a beginner can tie, and it is an incredibly effective pattern. Tie in a strand of burlap (now available in many craft/materials shops) at the bend. Wrap forward. Tie off, forming the head with thread. You can tie these in green or natural brown color. Try them with bead heads too. If you want, add some rough dubbing for the head or a hen or partridge hackle. Fish on the bottom, or as a dropper under a wet fly like a sparrow nymph. Thanks to Tim Homesley for showing this to me years ago.

Caddis Emerger (#14)

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

Fishing the Caddis Hatch from Bottom to Top. From left: Caddis Larva, Caddis Pupa, Caddis Emerger, Elk Hair Caddis. Fish the larva first in the morning when trout are taking the pupa drifting deep near the bottom. Change to the other patterns as fish begin working higher in the water column until they are more focused on taking the dry off the surface.

When the large tan caddis are coming off in March and April, a simple emerger or pupa pattern is this one with a pale green floss body, mallard flank for the tail and back, and a brown hen hackle. Fish it swung in the current when trout first start rising to emerging caddis adults.

Scud (#12-16)

Scuds (amphipods) and sow bugs (isopods, sometimes called, "cress bugs") are a staple food source for trout in the White River tailwaters. Similar to fresh water shrimp patterns, gray and olive scuds are great year round.

Here's a tutorial for tying Scott's Dead Scud.

Sowbugs and Scud - Image Copyright © Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

White River Sowbugs and Scud (3rd insect from left).

Scuds are often seen in mass in the shallow gravels or silty areas where they may be quite active. They are good swimmers and can leave an area quickly if water levels change. Still they often get trapped when an area fast becomes dewatered and die, but are made available to the fish again when the water comes back up.

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

Tied properly, humpback scud patterns produce a natural looking silhouette.

Sow Bug (#12-18)

Sowbugs look like an aquatic version of a roly-poly with the exception of being flatter. They are strongly segmented. They have a pair of feet for each section of their body (hence, iso=equal; podos=foot) and are usually dark olive in color on the shell back but often light tan or cream colored underneath, especially when molting which they do several times a year.

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

To get the characteristic flat body, tie mono or lead wire to the shank sides and finish with plastic shellback or Thinskin like the scud. Natural muskrat, beaver or Wapsi's Sow/Scud dubbing makes a good body.

Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear (#12-16)

The pattern is a good general mayfly nymph pattern. Tied in a dark brown, the fly approximates the Heptageniidae family of nymphs. This family includes the March Brown and Light Cahill mayflies which are abundant on Bull Shoals tailwater.

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

Beadhead Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymphs are a good choice anytime on White River tailwaters.

Zug Bug (#12-16)

An effective and fun attractor pattern to fish.

Partridge & Yellow; Partridge & Green (#14-16)

Two favorites. Softhackled flies are very productive on the White—especially on Bull Shoals and Norfork tailwaters. Anytime a small wet fly is swung in the current, it can look very much like a caddis or mayfly emerging. A number of caddis come off from spring through fall which hatch more infrequently than the larger tan caddis in March and April. Trout are always on the look out for them.

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

A traditional Partridge & Green represents a caddis emerger well.

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

A Partridge & Yellow is very effective during the sulphur and light cahill hatches in May and June.

Pheasant Tail Nymph (#12-20)

One you shouldn't be without anywhere. The pattern tied on a longer nymph hook resembles very closely the Ephemerellidae family of nymphs such as the Pale Sulphurs and the Hendricksons (both genus Ephemerella). Any pattern with pheasant tail and/or peacock herl works well--full backs, half backs, prince nymphs, etc.

Sparrow Nymph (#10)

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

A Jack Gartside creation found in Leiser's book.
Sparrow Nymph
Hook 2x long nymph, size 10
Thread Gray
Tail Short marabou from the rump of a ringneck pheasant tied short (gap width)
Body Mixed dubbing from gray squirrel body fur with guard hairs left in (2/3) and gray rabbit underfur (1/3)
Hackle Mottled gray/brown iridescent rump feather from a male ringneck pheasant tied as a folded wet fly hackle. Tips extend to the middle of the tail.
Front Collar Aftershaft or "second feather" from the rump feather. Tie in by butt and wrap 2 or 3 times, gently folding with moistened finger and thumb.

This is known primarily as a steelhead fly in Michigan, but it is also an effective trout fly. Fish it on the swing or strip it like a woolly bugger; but, it also fishes well dead drifted under an indicator. Also serves as a great bluegill pattern.

WD-40 (#16-20)

© Scott Branyan, www.flyflinger.com

A very effective nymph emerger pattern. It is a good crossover midge pupa pattern too. Simple to tie. Wood duck or dyed mallard flank is tied in as a sparse tail. Body is thread. Tie in wider clump of mallard flank for the wing case. Dub a fat thorax with you favorite dubbing. Bring flank feathers forward and tie off wing case. Pick out the dubbing underneath. These can be tied in black, olive, brown, yellow, and gray. Hard to beat when you see those midging fish. The pattern also imitates the small #24 Tiny Blue Winged Olive Nymph that occasionally is found hatching in the tailwaters. I've also done well using this pattern during Tricos hatches out west.

Back to top