Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps?


By Alan Shepherd

The Nymbeet is the conception of Stuart L'Oste Napier. Stuart was born at St. Mary's, Tasmania, Australia on the 24th February 1907. He died at a private nursing home, Launceston, Tasmania on the 3rd May 1986.

One day as a bit of a joke, Frank Wadley came into Sculthorps Fishing Department with a huge nymph dressed on a 1/0 hook. For the ribbing he had used copper wire from a pot scrubber so - they jokingly called it a Pot Scrubber Nymph. This inspired Dick Wigram to adapt his original Brown Nymph pattern, which had no thorax and a full body rib. The adapted nymph, the 'Pot Scrubber Nymph' was made with a ribbed abdomen and a pronounced thorax. It seems that the use of material from a pot-scrubber was all a bit of a joke amongst anglers and fly dressers of the day. Enter the Nymbeet with its clear plastic nylon body made from a pot-scrubber. Radical stuff in those post-war days when plastic was new! With this pattern, Stuart Napier had cleverly used the clear plastic from a pot-scrubber to obtain a transparent looking body. The Nymbeet was dressed in such a way, so it could be recognised by trout, as either a nymph, a beetle or a shrimp.

Many of Tasmania's highland lakes are famous for 'tailing trout.' These trout are forage feeding by slowly poking around on the bottom in shallow water no more than four or five inches deep. They are searching for crustaceans, snails, beetles, nymphs and other aquatic prey. The classic tailing trout are almost vertical and consequently their tails are occasionally seen waving about in the air. Actually this type of tailing behaviour is not often encountered. The more common forms of tailing behaviour seen are; the dorsal fin and/or the tip of the tail showing, boils, dimples and sometimes, bow waves. Almost always tailing trout are brownies, but if conditions are suitable rainbows will also tail.

In October, November and early-December, you may encounter trout tailing at first light in some of the Tasmanian lakes with shallow margins. The trick is to keep low and move very slowly as you sneak to a suitable casting distance. Then when the fish has its back to you, cast the fly some distance away, but in the general direction you hope the fish is fossicking towards. Tailing trout are challenging fish to entice, although they are looking down they are very wary, requiring stalking skills and delicate accurate casting. They seem totally preoccupied as they poke about rather slowly, searching out morsels of food. Some anglers prefer to present a dry fly and they occasionally succeed. Success all depends on how resolutely the trout is keyed into foraging whilst looking down. Ideally when fishing a dry, say a 'Red Tag' # 16, the target trout should notice the fly settle in a natural manner, but at the same time they can be easily spooked. Logical anglers choose a wet fly such as a small Shrimp, a Nymph, a small Beetle or a Nymbeet. Sometimes a slight twitch of the fly works, but more often than not, a twitched fly is completely ignored. At times every fly tried is given the 'cold-shoulder,' however on other days, tailers are more willing to play the game. Generally a wet fly is fished inert on the bottom, letting the trout discover it. The interesting thing about the Nymbeet is the way it sits on the bottom. Because of the full hackle and the tail, much like a hackled dry fly sitting on the surface, the Nymbeet comes to rest sitting cocked on the bottom so it can easily be detected by the trout. The reputation of the Nymbeet soon spread and it promptly found a growing list of devotees. Its reputation was so high in the 1970's that a common angling comment was..."If he won't take anything else, try a Nymbeet."

As soon as the sun is bright the trout are gone, but if overcast they may stay in the shallow lake margin a little longer. Why were the trout tailing? The answer is in the early season, as summer approaches; the shallow water warms up much faster than the deeper water. This is especially so after a previous warm sunny day. If there is a frost, don't expect to find tailers. The warmer water stimulates and activates the cold-blooded sub-surface aquatic life. To entice a trout from the shelter of deeper water there has to be plenty of food available in the shallows. By early-December the shallows are too warm and deeper water now holds active trout prey and consequently the trout feel much more secure. [Keep in mind the seasons in Australia are opposite to the US.]

In the book Australia's Best Trout Flies compiled by Malcolm Crosse, the Nymbeet is referred to. I quote Rick Keam, page 80:

"Tasmania's Stuart Napier maintained that "one thing y' don't need is a lot of flies", and in his later years he mostly fished with just two or three. I remember him doggedly presenting his Cocky Spinner to Little Pine dun feeders on a bleak day, and succeeding. This was not the local pattern of that name, but a thin-bodied Coch-y-bonddu tied as conventionally hackled and tailed mayfly. For blind wet searching, he favoured an unnamed #8 nondescript with peacock herl body and possum-tail wing projecting beyond the bend, probably inspired by Max Christensen's tie of Youl's Gadfly. But his Nymbeet is his great creative contribution. Internationally, it was one of the first post-War experiments with synthetic materials. It offers an each-way bet between nymph and beetle, with the bonus that it also suggests amphipods. In fact many anglers have associated it with inert presentation to 'scud' feeders in highland lakes, missing out on an excellent general-purpose wet fly for streams.

The original body material - a flat 1 mm wide, almost clear plastic strand from a circular pot scourer - is so scarce as to be nearly mythical. I found some recently after 35 years of searching! Contemporary customised fly-tying products like clear Vinyl Rib or Nymph Rib don't have quite the same shell-like quality, but they are three times thicker, eliminating the original requirement to first build up an underbody of thick black Marabu silk."

Nymbeet (Stuart Napier)

    Hook:  #10 16 wet fly hook.

    Thread:  3/0, black.

    Tail:  Small bunch of black cock hackle equalling the hook length.

    Back:  A strip of black crow wing or substitute, doubled over lengthways and reaching almost halfway down the sides of the fly, tied in by the tip end.

    Body:  The original dressing has an underbody of black marabou silk, wrapped with a strip of clear plastic from a particular washing up pot cleaner. Clear Vinyl Rib or Nymph Rib can be substituted. They are three times thicker, so the underbody can be eliminated.

    Hackle:  Two turns of black cock, the fibres the same length as shank (leave full, not gathered underneath into a 'throat style).

    Comment:  Many animals including crustaceans, use visual communication. The male Fiddler Crab uses a kind of sign language to signal amorous intent to females by waving his large claw in a distinct way. Tail waving by dogs is another example. The white tip on the tail is a visual aid, enabling the message to be clearly seen. As a visual improvement to the Nymbeet, perhaps the use of a black hackle with white tips could be tried.


    1. Wrap a nice even base of thread starting near the eye of the hook and extending to the point where you are going to tie in the tail. This point should be roughly level with the barb on the hook.

    2. Tie in tail of four or five stiff black cock hackles.

    3. Cut a strip from a black crow wing or suitable substitute. Fold using the same technique used in making the wing case of a nymph. Tie in narrow end so back can be folded over after body is made.

    4. Now tie in the Clear Vinyl Rib or Nymph Rib and wrap thread up the shank leaving room for hackle and small head.

    5. Now wind the Clear Vinyl Rib or Nymph Rib forming segmented body. Tie off and trim excess.

    6. Now bring crow wing over body, tie off and trim waste.

    7. Now tie in black cock hackle, make two turns, tie off and trim excess. Make small head, whip finish and add a dab of head cement.

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