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How to Fish Bead Head Nymphs: A Comprehensive Guide

27 May 2024

Bead head nymphs are a staple in the fly fishing world, known for their effectiveness in catching trout and other fish species. These flies are particularly useful in sub-surface fishing, as the bead head helps the fly sink quickly and mimics the natural movement of aquatic insects. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about fishing bead head nymphs, from selecting the right patterns to mastering various fishing techniques. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced angler, this guide will help you maximize your success on the water.

Understanding Bead Head Nymphs

Bead head nymphs are artificial flies tied with a weighted bead at the head. The bead serves several purposes:

  1. Sink Rate: The bead head helps the fly sink quickly, getting it into the strike zone where fish are feeding.
  2. Natural Drift: The added weight allows the fly to drift naturally with the current, mimicking the behavior of real nymphs.
  3. Attraction: Beads can add a flash of color or shine, attracting the attention of fish.

Popular Bead Head Nymph Patterns:

  1. Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph: Imitates a wide range of mayfly nymphs.
  2. Bead Head Hare’s Ear Nymph: Effective for imitating various nymphs and caddis larvae.
  3. Bead Head Prince Nymph: A general attractor pattern with a flashy appeal.
  4. Bead Head Zebra Midge: Ideal for imitating midge larvae and pupae.
  5. Bead Head Copper John: Known for its heavy weight and flash, mimicking stoneflies and other large nymphs.

Choosing the Right Bead Head Nymph

Selecting the right bead head nymph depends on several factors:

  1. Water Conditions: Clear water may require more natural colors, while murky water might benefit from flashier patterns.
  2. Fish Diet: Match the hatch by observing what insects are present in the water and selecting nymphs that imitate them.
  3. Size and Weight: Choose the size and weight based on the depth and current speed. Heavier nymphs for fast currents and deeper water, lighter nymphs for shallow or slow-moving water.

Gear and Setup

Before heading out to fish with bead head nymphs, ensure you have the appropriate gear and setup:

  1. Rod and Reel: A 9-foot, 4-6 weight rod is versatile for nymph fishing. Pair it with a matching reel.
  2. Line: Floating fly line is standard, but consider sinking tips or full sinking lines for deep water.
  3. Leader and Tippet: A 9-12 foot tapered leader with a 4X-6X tippet is ideal. Adjust the tippet size based on water clarity and fish size.
  4. Strike Indicators: These help detect subtle takes. Use a small, sensitive indicator that won’t spook the fish.
  5. Split Shot: Add extra weight if needed to get the nymph down to the desired depth.

Nymphing Techniques

Fishing bead head nymphs requires specific techniques to effectively present the fly to the fish. Here are some popular methods:

1. Dead Drift: The dead drift is the most common technique for fishing nymphs. It involves allowing the fly to drift naturally with the current, mimicking the movement of real nymphs.

  • Steps:
    1. Cast upstream or upstream-and-across.
    2. Mend your line to reduce drag and ensure a natural drift.
    3. Watch your strike indicator for any subtle movements.
    4. Set the hook quickly if you notice any unnatural pauses or dips in the indicator.

2. High-Sticking: High-sticking is a technique where the rod is held high to keep most of the line off the water, allowing for better control and reducing drag.

  • Steps:
    1. Stand in or near the water, close to the area you want to fish.
    2. Keep your rod tip high, maintaining a short line.
    3. Follow the drift with your rod tip, keeping as much line off the water as possible.
    4. Watch for any subtle takes and be ready to set the hook.

3. Euro Nymphing: Euro nymphing, or tight-line nymphing, is a highly effective method that eliminates the need for a strike indicator.

  • Steps:
    1. Use a long, lightweight rod (10-11 feet) for better control.
    2. Attach a long leader with a sighter (colored monofilament) for strike detection.
    3. Cast upstream or across and lead the nymphs through the drift with minimal slack.
    4. Feel for any subtle takes and set the hook quickly.

4. Dropper Rig: A dropper rig involves fishing two or more flies in tandem, with one fly (often a dry fly or attractor) on top and the bead head nymph below.

  • Steps:
    1. Tie your main fly (dry fly or attractor) to the end of your leader.
    2. Attach a short length of tippet to the bend of the hook or the eye of the main fly.
    3. Tie the bead head nymph to the end of the tippet.
    4. Cast and allow the rig to drift naturally, watching for takes on both flies.

Reading the Water

Understanding where trout are likely to be feeding is crucial for successful nymph fishing. Here are some key areas to target:

1. Riffles: Shallow, fast-moving sections of the river where oxygen levels are high and nymphs are abundant.

2. Runs: Deeper, smooth-flowing sections between riffles and pools. Trout often hold here to feed.

3. Pools: Deep, slow-moving areas where trout rest and feed. Fish these areas thoroughly, as trout can be spread out.

4. Seams: The boundary between fast and slow water. Trout use these areas to conserve energy while waiting for food to drift by.

5. Drop-offs: Areas where the bottom suddenly drops to deeper water. Trout often hold here to ambush prey.

Detecting Strikes

Detecting strikes while nymph fishing can be challenging, as trout often take nymphs subtly. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Watch the Indicator: Use a small, sensitive strike indicator and watch for any unnatural movements, such as twitches or pauses.
  2. Feel the Line: When high-sticking or Euro nymphing, feel for any subtle bumps or changes in tension.
  3. Visual Cues: In clear water, you may see the flash of a fish taking the nymph or notice its mouth opening.
  4. Set the Hook Quickly: Trout often spit out nymphs quickly if they sense something is wrong. Set the hook as soon as you detect any sign of a take.

Setting the Hook

Setting the hook properly is crucial to securing a fish. Here are some tips:

  1. Quick Reaction: Be ready to set the hook at any moment, as trout can strike at any time during the drift.
  2. Firm, Upstream Lift: Lift the rod tip firmly but smoothly upstream to set the hook. Avoid a jerky motion that could pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth.
  3. Side Pressure: In some situations, a sideways hook set can be more effective, especially in fast water where lifting the rod might cause slack.

Playing and Landing Fish

Once you’ve hooked a fish, playing and landing it correctly is important to avoid losing it:

  1. Keep Tension: Maintain steady pressure on the fish to prevent it from shaking the hook.
  2. Use the Rod: Let the rod absorb the fish’s runs and head shakes. A flexible rod will help prevent break-offs.
  3. Avoid Slack: Keep the line tight at all times to avoid giving the fish a chance to spit the hook.
  4. Guide the Fish: Use side pressure to guide the fish into calmer water where it’s easier to land.
  5. Net the Fish: Use a landing net to scoop the fish gently from the water. Wet your hands before handling the fish to protect its slime coat.

Seasonal Considerations

Fishing bead head nymphs can be effective year-round, but certain seasonal considerations can improve your success:


  • Hatches: Match the hatch with bead head nymphs that imitate emerging mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies.
  • High Water: Use heavier nymphs to get down to the fish in high, fast-moving water.


  • Terrestrials: Combine bead head nymphs with terrestrial patterns in a dropper rig.
  • Low Water: Use smaller, lighter nymphs in low, clear water where fish are more selective.


  • Baetis Hatches: Use small bead head nymphs to match Baetis (Blue Wing Olive) hatches.
  • Pre-Winter Feeding: Fish are often more aggressive as they prepare for winter, so use attractor patterns with bead heads.


  • Slow Presentation: Fish bead head nymphs slowly in deeper pools where fish are holding.
  • Small Patterns: Use small nymphs to match the limited insect activity.

Tips for Success

  1. Experiment with Depth: Adjust the depth of your nymphs frequently until you find where the fish are feeding.
  2. Change Flies Often: If one pattern isn’t working, switch to another until you find what the fish are interested in
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