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The Bead Head Prince Nymph: A Comprehensive Guide for Fly Fishing Enthusiasts

27 May 2024

The Bead Head Prince Nymph is one of the most popular and effective nymph patterns used in fly fishing. Its unique design and proven effectiveness make it a must-have in any angler’s fly box. This comprehensive guide will cover the history of the Bead Head Prince Nymph, the types of fish that will bite this fly, how to fish it, and the equipment needed for optimal success.

History of the Bead Head Prince Nymph

The Prince Nymph is a classic fly pattern with a storied history in the world of fly fishing. It was originally created by Doug Prince, an innovative fly tyer from Montana, in the 1930s. Initially called the “Brown Forked Tail,” the fly gained popularity due to its effectiveness and was eventually renamed the Prince Nymph. The addition of a bead head to the original pattern significantly enhanced its sinking ability and attractiveness to fish, leading to the modern Bead Head Prince Nymph that we use today.

Why the Bead Head Prince Nymph is Effective

The Bead Head Prince Nymph is renowned for its versatility and effectiveness in various fishing conditions. Several factors contribute to its success:

  1. Realistic Imitation: The pattern’s design mimics various aquatic insects, particularly stonefly and mayfly nymphs. Its realistic appearance makes it an irresistible target for trout and other fish.

  2. Weight and Sinking Ability: The bead head adds weight to the fly, allowing it to sink quickly to the desired depth. This is particularly useful in fast-moving waters where getting the fly down quickly can be crucial.

  3. Flash and Attractiveness: The gold or silver bead and the peacock herl body provide a subtle flash that attracts fish. The white biot wings add to its visual appeal, making it stand out in the water.

  4. Versatility: The Bead Head Prince Nymph can be fished in a variety of ways and environments, from small streams to large rivers and still waters.

What Fish Will Bite the Bead Head Prince Nymph?

The Bead Head Prince Nymph is effective for a wide range of freshwater fish species. Here are some of the most common fish that will bite this fly:

  1. Trout: All species of trout, including rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout, are highly attracted to the Bead Head Prince Nymph. Its ability to imitate various aquatic insects makes it a reliable choice in trout fishing.

  2. Steelhead: This fly is also effective for steelhead, particularly during the early stages of their migration when they are more likely to take nymphs.

  3. Salmon: Certain species of salmon, such as coho and chinook, will bite the Bead Head Prince Nymph, especially in smaller sizes.

  4. Bass: Both largemouth and smallmouth bass can be caught using this fly, particularly in streams and rivers where they feed on aquatic insects.

  5. Panfish: Species like bluegill and crappie will readily bite the Bead Head Prince Nymph, making it a versatile choice for various freshwater fishing scenarios.

How to Fish the Bead Head Prince Nymph

Fishing the Bead Head Prince Nymph effectively requires understanding various techniques and adapting to different fishing conditions. Here are some of the most effective methods:

1. Nymphing with an Indicator

Indicator nymphing is one of the most common and effective ways to fish the Bead Head Prince Nymph. This technique allows you to present the fly at a specific depth and detect subtle strikes.

How to Do It:

  1. Rigging: Attach a strike indicator to your leader. The distance between the indicator and the fly should be about 1.5 to 2 times the depth of the water you’re fishing.

  2. Casting: Cast upstream or across the current, allowing the fly to drift naturally with the flow.

  3. Mending: Mend your line upstream to eliminate drag and ensure a natural drift. Keep the line tight to detect any subtle movements of the indicator.

  4. Setting the Hook: When the indicator dips, hesitates, or moves unnaturally, set the hook quickly and firmly.


  • Use a small, discreet indicator that won’t spook fish.
  • Adjust the depth frequently to match the water conditions.
  • Use a light tippet (4X to 6X) for a more natural presentation.

2. Dead Drifting

Dead drifting is a technique that allows the Bead Head Prince Nymph to drift naturally with the current, mimicking the movement of a real nymph.

How to Do It:

  1. Casting: Cast upstream or across the current, letting the fly drift naturally.

  2. Mending: Mend the line as needed to prevent drag and keep the fly moving at the same speed as the current.

  3. Detecting Strikes: Keep a close eye on the line or use a small indicator to detect strikes.

  4. Retrieving: At the end of the drift, let the fly swing in the current before retrieving it slowly.


  • Use a floating line and adjust the leader length to control the depth.
  • Pay attention to the fly’s movement and be ready to set the hook at any sign of a strike.
  • Dead drifting is particularly effective in slower-moving sections of rivers or streams.

3. Swinging the Fly

Swinging the fly involves casting across or slightly downstream and allowing the current to carry the fly while maintaining tension in the line.

How to Do It:

  1. Casting: Cast the fly at a 45-degree angle downstream.

  2. Swinging: Let the fly swing across the current while keeping the line tight.

  3. Adding Action: Impart slight twitches or strips to mimic the movement of a struggling nymph.

  4. Retrieving: When the fly reaches the end of the swing, retrieve it slowly or let it dangle in the current for a few moments before making another cast.


  • Use a sink-tip or full sinking line to get the fly down to the desired depth.
  • Vary the speed and action of the retrieve to trigger strikes.
  • Swinging is particularly effective in moderate to fast currents.

4. High-Sticking

High-sticking involves keeping the rod tip high and close to the water, allowing for precise control over the fly’s drift.

How to Do It:

  1. Positioning: Stand upstream of the target area and keep the rod tip high.

  2. Drifting: Let the fly drift naturally through the target zone while maintaining a tight line.

  3. Controlling Depth: Use weight (split shot or weighted flies) to control the depth of the fly.

  4. Setting the Hook: Set the hook quickly at any sign of a strike.


  • High-sticking is particularly effective in fast-moving pocket water.
  • Use a short, heavy leader to control the fly’s depth and drift.
  • Keep the rod tip high to minimize drag and maintain control over the fly.

Equipment for Fishing the Bead Head Prince Nymph

Using the right equipment is crucial for effectively fishing the Bead Head Prince Nymph. Here’s a breakdown of the essential gear:

1. Fly Rod

A 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod is a versatile choice for nymph fishing with the Bead Head Prince Nymph. This rod provides the right balance of power and sensitivity for casting and detecting strikes. For larger waters or bigger fish, a 6-weight rod may be more appropriate.

2. Fly Reel

Choose a quality fly reel with a smooth drag system. The reel should be balanced with your rod and capable of holding sufficient backing. A good drag system is essential for handling larger fish that may take the fly.

3. Fly Line

A weight-forward floating line is ideal for most nymphing situations. It provides the necessary power for casting and mending the line. In deeper or faster waters, a sink-tip line can help get the fly down to the desired depth more quickly.

4. Leader and Tippet

A 9 to 12-foot tapered leader is suitable for nymph fishing. Use a tippet size that matches the conditions and the size of the fly, typically 4X to 6X for the Bead Head Prince Nymph. Fluorocarbon tippet is often preferred for its invisibility and abrasion resistance.

5. Strike Indicators

Strike indicators are essential for detecting subtle strikes when nymphing. Choose small, discreet indicators that won’t spook fish. Foam or yarn indicators are popular choices.

6. Split Shot

Adding split shot to your leader can help get the fly down to the desired depth quickly. Use just enough weight to achieve a natural drift without hindering the fly’s movement.

7. Fly Patterns

Stock your fly box with a variety of Bead Head Prince Nymphs in different sizes and colors. Common sizes range from 12 to 18, with size 14 being a versatile choice. Colors can vary, but the traditional pattern with a peacock herl body and white biot wings is highly effective.

8. Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are essential for spotting fish and reducing glare on the water. They also protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and stray hooks.

9. Waders and Boots

Good quality waders and wading boots are essential for comfort and safety when fishing in rivers and streams. Choose breathable waders for comfort in various conditions and boots with good traction for stability.

Tips for Success with the Bead Head Prince Nymph

To maximize your success with the Bead Head Prince Nymph, consider the following tips:

**1. Match the Hatch: While the Bead Head Prince Nymph is a versatile pattern, paying attention to the local insect activity can improve your success. Observe the types of nymphs present in the water and adjust your fly selection accordingly.

**2. Vary Your Presentation: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different presentation techniques, such as indicator nymphing, dead drifting, swinging, and high-sticking. Varying your approach can help you determine what triggers strikes in different conditions.

**3. Adjust Depth and Weight: The depth at which you fish the Bead Head Prince Nymph is crucial. Adjust the depth of your indicator or the amount of weight on your leader to match the water conditions and the feeding depth of the fish.

**4. Pay Attention to Water Temperature: Water temperature can significantly impact fish behavior. In colder water, fish may be less active and hold closer to the bottom. In warmer water, they may be more willing to move for a fly.

**5. Use Fluorocarbon Tippet: Fluorocarbon tippet is less visible in water and has a higher abrasion resistance than monofilament. This can be particularly useful when fishing clear or pressured waters.

**6. Stay Stealthy: Approach the water quietly and avoid unnecessary movements. Fish can be easily spooked, especially in clear or shallow water. Stay low and use natural cover whenever possible.

**7. Observe and Adapt: Pay attention to the behavior of the fish and the conditions of the water. If you’re not getting strikes, change your fly, adjust your presentation, or move to a different spot.

The Bead Head Prince Nymph is a highly effective and versatile fly pattern that should be a staple in every angler’s fly box. Its realistic imitation, weight, and visual appeal make it an excellent choice for targeting a wide range of freshwater fish species, particularly trout. By understanding the history of the fly, the types of fish that will bite it, the various techniques for fishing it, and the essential equipment needed, you can significantly improve your chances of success on the water. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, mastering the use of the Bead Head Prince Nymph can lead to some of the most rewarding and exciting fly fishing experiences. Tight lines and happy fishing!

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