The Marabou Damsel
Looking back at last year’s fish-a-long at Rocky Ridge, a vivid image sticks in my mind… Henry Muehleck playing perhaps the biggest trout I have ever seen caught on a fly rod. He played the fish for the longest time and finally landed it with help from Don Lewis in his nearby pontoon boat. Henry needed help as he did not have a net that was nearly large enough. It reminded me of the scene in the movie Jaws where one of the characters sees the huge shark up close for the first time and then yells to the captain, “You’re going to need a bigger boat!” Well, Henry needed a bigger net! With a larger, but still inadequate net, Don made a valiant effort at netting the fish, which then ended up briefly in his lap before making a dramatic leap back into the water.
In preparing for fishing the Rocky Ridge lakes you will need a good supply of stillwater patterns. We have already tied two of Denny Rickards’ favorites, The Seal Bugger and The Stillwater Nymph. Talking later with Henry about his epic fish, it turns out the fly he was using was a Damsel Nymph so that is what we are going with for April’s Fly Tying Night, the last evening of fly tying before this year’s trip to Rocky Ridge.
In researching damsel nymphs I found, like in nearly all fly patterns, that there is a wide variation in what different tyers believe we should be trying to duplicate. According to Jeff Morgan, author and regular contributor to Westfly, there are 3 keys, in the order of importance, to effective damselfly nymphs:
1. Sparseness – Damsel nymphs are thin. Don’t make the mistake of making your fly too fat. Sparse or thinly tied patterns will out fish bulky ones five to one.
2. Motion – You should learn to identify damsel nymph naturals. You will notice that they swim with a short side to side motion. This is quite difficult for anglers to simulate but adding a prominent marabou tail will produce at least some motion in the fly as it is retrieved. Just make it more sparse than you would for a wooly bugger.
3. Eyes – The importance of eyes in damsel nymph patterns is debatable but there is no denying that the head and eyes in the naturals are very prominent, often twice as wide as the rest of the body. Mono eyes are a nice addition to successful damsel nymph patterns.
Damsel nymphs are an important part of a trout’s diet from spring through midsummer but fishing them from late summer through fall is probably a waste of time as the nymphs have emerged as adults by then. Trout tend to really smack damsel nymphs so you should increase the size of the tippet over what you would normally be using.
Damsel nymphs can be tied unweighted or lightly weighted with the weight evenly distributed in the middle of the body. Weighting with a beachhead is usually not desirable for a damsel nymph because it would cause the fly to sink head first and the naturals just don’t do that.
Damsel nymphs are accomplished predators, lying in wait in weeds for any insects smaller than themselves. When fishing damsel nymphs the best chance for success is in weedy areas using an intermediate sinking line with a slow hand twist retrieve.
We will be tying up some damsel nymphs at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, April 27 at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there!