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The Bead Head Copper John: A Comprehensive Guide

30 May 2024

The Bead Head Copper John is a staple in the fly fishing world, known for its effectiveness and versatility. This comprehensive guide explores the history of the Copper John, the fish species it attracts, effective fishing techniques, and the essential equipment needed for a successful outing. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a beginner, understanding the Bead Head Copper John can significantly enhance your fly fishing experience.

The History of the Bead Head Copper John

The Bead Head Copper John was created by John Barr, a renowned fly tyer and angler, in the early 1990s. Barr's goal was to develop a nymph pattern that would sink quickly and have a realistic appearance, making it highly effective in various fishing conditions. The result was the Copper John, a fly that features a copper wire body, a bead head for added weight, and legs made from biot or rubber for a lifelike appearance.

The Copper John quickly gained popularity among anglers due to its ability to catch fish in a wide range of environments. Its success is attributed to its unique design, which combines weight, realism, and durability. Over the years, the Copper John has become a go-to pattern for many anglers, and it continues to be a top choice for nymph fishing.

What Fish Will Bite the Bead Head Copper John?

The Bead Head Copper John is known for its ability to attract a wide variety of fish species. Here are some of the primary targets:

  1. Trout: The primary target for the Copper John is trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout. The fly's design mimics various aquatic insects that trout feed on, making it a highly effective pattern.

  2. Grayling: In regions where grayling are present, the Copper John can be particularly effective. Grayling are known for their selective feeding habits, and the Copper John's realistic appearance can entice these fish to strike.

  3. Panfish: Species like bluegill and crappie are often attracted to the Copper John, especially when they are feeding on small insects near the bottom.

  4. Bass: Smallmouth bass, in particular, can be tempted by a well-presented Copper John in streams and rivers where they coexist with trout.

How to Fish the Bead Head Copper John

Fishing the Bead Head Copper John requires an understanding of nymphing techniques and the behavior of aquatic insects. Here are some effective methods:

  1. Indicator Nymphing: This technique involves using a strike indicator to detect subtle takes. Attach the Copper John to the tippet below the indicator and add a small split shot if additional weight is needed. Cast upstream and allow the fly to drift naturally with the current. The indicator will help you detect any strikes, enabling quick and effective hook sets.

  2. Euro Nymphing: Popularized by European anglers, this method eschews traditional indicators in favor of a more tactile approach. Use a long, light rod and a thin leader to achieve a precise, drag-free drift. The weight of the Bead Head Copper John helps it sink quickly, making it ideal for this technique. Keep in contact with the fly at all times, feeling for any subtle takes.

  3. Dry-Dropper Rig: In situations where fish are feeding both on the surface and below, a dry-dropper rig can be effective. Tie a buoyant dry fly, such as a hopper or caddis, to the end of your leader. Then, attach a short piece of tippet to the bend of the dry fly hook and tie on the Copper John. This setup allows you to fish both the surface and subsurface simultaneously.

  4. Swinging: While less common, swinging the Bead Head Copper John can be effective in certain conditions. Cast across the stream and allow the fly to swing downstream in the current. This technique can be particularly useful in faster water where a natural drift is difficult to achieve.

Equipment for Fishing the Bead Head Copper John

To fish the Bead Head Copper John effectively, you’ll need the right equipment. Here’s a detailed guide on what you should have:

  1. Fly Rod: A 9-foot, 4- to 6-weight fly rod is ideal for most nymphing situations involving the Copper John. For Euro nymphing, consider a longer rod (10 to 11 feet) to improve reach and control.

  2. Fly Reel: Choose a reel with a smooth drag system that balances well with your rod. While the reel’s role is less critical in nymphing compared to other forms of fly fishing, it should still be reliable and durable.

  3. Fly Line: A weight-forward floating line is suitable for most nymphing techniques. For Euro nymphing, consider a specialized nymphing line or a thin diameter line to reduce drag and improve sensitivity.

  4. Leader and Tippet: Use a tapered leader that transitions smoothly from thick to thin. For indicator nymphing, a 9- to 12-foot leader works well. For Euro nymphing, use a long, level leader (20 feet or more) made of monofilament or fluorocarbon. Attach 4X to 6X tippet to the end, depending on water clarity and fish size.

  5. Strike Indicators: For indicator nymphing, various options are available, including yarn, foam, and balloon indicators. Choose one that matches the water conditions and your preference for visibility and sensitivity.

  6. Split Shot: Use small split shot to add weight and ensure the Copper John sinks quickly to the desired depth. Tungsten putty is another option for adding weight incrementally.

  7. Waders and Boots: Quality waders and boots are essential for accessing prime fishing spots. Look for breathable waders and sturdy, well-fitting boots with good traction.

  8. Accessories: Include a fly box with a variety of Bead Head Copper Johns in different sizes (14 to 20), hemostats, nippers, a landing net, and polarized sunglasses to reduce glare and spot fish more easily.

Tying the Bead Head Copper John

For those interested in fly tying, creating your own Bead Head Copper Johns can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a basic recipe:


  • Hook: Nymph hook, sizes 14-20
  • Bead: Gold or copper bead, sized to match the hook
  • Thread: Black or brown 6/0 or 8/0
  • Tail: Brown goose biots
  • Body: Copper wire
  • Thorax: Peacock herl
  • Wingcase: Thin skin or turkey tail fibers, coated with epoxy or UV resin
  • Legs: Brown goose biots or rubber legs


  1. Slide the bead onto the hook and secure the hook in the vise.
  2. Start the thread behind the bead and wrap a smooth thread base down to the bend of the hook.
  3. Tie in two brown goose biots for the tail, about half the length of the hook shank.
  4. Tie in a length of copper wire and wrap it forward to form the body, covering about two-thirds of the hook shank. Secure and trim the excess.
  5. Tie in a piece of thin skin or turkey tail fibers for the wingcase, leaving it hanging towards the bend.
  6. Tie in a strand of peacock herl and wrap it to form a bushy thorax. Secure and trim the excess.
  7. Pull the wingcase material over the thorax and secure it behind the bead. Trim the excess.
  8. Tie in two more brown goose biots on each side of the thorax to form the legs. Secure and trim the excess.
  9. Whip finish behind the bead and apply a drop of head cement for durability.


The Bead Head Copper John is a testament to the innovation and adaptability within the fly fishing community. Its creation by John Barr has provided anglers with a reliable and versatile pattern that excels in a variety of fishing conditions. Whether you’re targeting trout, grayling, or panfish, this fly’s unique design and proven effectiveness make it a must-have in any fly box.

By understanding the history, target species, fishing techniques, and necessary equipment, you can maximize your success with the Bead Head Copper John. Additionally, tying your own Copper Johns can add a personal touch to your fly fishing experience, allowing you to tailor the fly to specific conditions and preferences.

So, next time you head out to the water, make sure you have a selection of Bead Head Copper Johns in your arsenal. This unassuming yet powerful fly has the potential to turn an ordinary day of fishing into an extraordinary adventure. Happy fishing!

By diving deep into the Bead Head Copper John’s history, effectiveness, and practical application, this blog post aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of this exceptional fly. Whether you’re a fly fishing veteran or just starting out, the Copper John offers opportunities for learning, experimentation, and, most importantly, successful fishing trips.

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