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Gray Swimmer Nymph
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Gray Swimmer Nymph
By Dave Hughes
Photos by Jim Schollmeyer

Swimmers [nymphs] are best adapted to lakes and ponds, and to the peaceful flows of spring creeks and tailwaters. Some are found in the faster water of freestone streams, but usually along the edges or on flats with less than swift currents. Some species have adapted to riffles and runs, but swimmers are most important to anglers where the water is either still, or slow and stable enough to allow the growth of rooted vegetation.

Swimmer Nymph

In stillwaters, swimmer nymphs are most abundant in vegetated shallows, but can be found wherever weeds grow. Swimmers are the most important mayfly nymphs in lakes and ponds. In moving water they'll be most abundant, and therefore most important, in slow water with weed growth trailing in the currents. You'll not often encounter need for swimmer nymph imitations in fast streams.

Natural nymphs must blend with the backgrounds on which they live or they'd not survive to pass on their genes to any next generation. They will always be found in subdued colors, usually shades of olive, brown, or gray. It's wise to collect specimens of nymphs - swimmers and all other types - in waters that you fish constantly, and match their colors precisely. But fly boxes that contain swimmer nymph styles that cover those three most common colors, tied on hooks from tiny size 22 up to 12, will almost always hold a killing fly at the start. You'll need to tie or buy further flies only for rare deviations.

Materials: Gray Swimmer Nymph

    Hook:  2x or 3x long, size 10 to 14.

    Weight:  15 to 20 turns lead wire, optional.

    Thread  Gray 6/0 or 8/0.

    Tails:   Gray partridge.

    Body:   Muskrat fur or fur/Antron mix; as noodle.

    Wingcase:   Black ostrich fibers.

    Legs:   Gray partridge.

Tying Steps:

1. Layer the hook with lead wire one size finer than the shank diamenter, or omit weight. I recommend you try some weighted, some unweighted, to see which work best for you. Layer the hook shank with thread. Secure six to ten partridge fibers, measure them two-thirds the length of the hook shank, and tie them in at the bend.

2. This is a variation of the late Polly Rosborough's Black Drake. Polly clipped muskrat fur from the skin, removed the guard hairs, teased and then rolled the fur into a two- to three-inch noodle. I prefer a mix of fur and Antron, for a bit of sparkle. Roll the noodle and tie its end in at the base of the tail. Coat your thread with sticky dubbing wax or head cement, so the noodle sticks to it.

3. Take the thread over your off-hand finger tip, and return it to the hook shank, to make a thread loop the length of the noodle. Use your thumb and forefinger tip to twist the thread loop and the tip of the noodle together, to form a tight and slightly tapered dubbing skein. Catch the end of the skein with your hackle pliers.


4. Wrap the noodle forward to a point just behind the hook eye, being sure to leave room to tie in the wingcase fibers and legs. The noodle will loosen as you wrap it; give it a twist after every turn or two. You should be able to see segments forming between wraps. When you reach the tie-off point, let the noodle unwind to flatten it, before tying it off and clipping the excess.

5. Clip four to six black ostrich herl fibers from the feather. Tie them in securely at the end of the body, and clip the excess butts. Clip or break off the fibers at a point one-third the body length behind the head. Don't discard the excess herl; save it for the next several flies.

6. Tie in three to six gray partridge fibers on each side of the fly, two-thirds the body length, slanting back and down. Clip the butts and form a neat thread head that will be slightly longer than that on most trout flies, in keeping with the originator's style and shape of the natural. Whip finish once and cement the head, or twice and omit the cement. Rough up the body fur.


Matching Mayflies
Polly Rosborough wrote the classic book Tying and Fishing the Fuzzy Nymphs (Stackpole, 1978). When you finish tying any of his flies, rough up the body with your bodkin point, a hacksaw blade, or a dentist's root canal tool to make it look more alive in the water. ~ Dave Hughes

Credits: From Matching Mayflies by Dave Hughes. Published by Frank Amato Publications. We appreciate use permission.

For more great flies, check out: Beginning Fly Tying, Intermediate Fly Tying and Advanced Fly Tying.

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