Thread Flies

Thread Flies

Tying the simplest nymph in the world

  • By: Tee Clarkson
  • Photography by: Richard Procopio
Fly tiers are like mad scientists. We tinker with exotic materials and difficult techniques to tie a simple fly pattern. The result is that often we make things too hard on ourselves. Most of us would benefit from heeding the advice of a man who spent two years and two months in a cabin by a small pond in Massachusetts: "Simplify, simplify… " I love an intricate fly as much as the next guy, but I have also found that sometimes the difficult patterns don't catch as many fish as the simple, easy ones.

Often the best answer to "What are they bitin' on?" is "You know, thread on a hook." From the Green River to the Gunnison to the Guadalupe, Thread Flies have produced fish for me--lots of fish. The beauty of the Thread Fly is that it imitates a myriad of bugs at the same time. I'm not sure who invented Thread Flies, but the Brown Bead probably has been the most effective nymph I've ever used, and I know several other guides who would agree. I guess I wouldn't be a true fly fisherman if I didn't try to analyze why it works, so here it is: The best I can figure is that the Brown Bead imitates several forms of caddis, plus a small worm, a scud, a mayfly and a midge pupa all in one. One of my best days of fishing was while using the Brown Bead right before the PMD's started coming off in early July--but I have had similar days fishing the Brown Bead when fish were clearly taking caddis or midges. In fact, I've caught trout on nothing more than thread on a hook and a few wraps of wire regardless of the time of year or what the fish were feeding on.

Tying the Thread Fly
Although the Brown Bead seems to be the most successful and universal of the Thread Flies, other colors can be just as effective. Black, tan, gray, olive and wine all work well under the right conditions. Often a few quick changes in color and you can find the one that the fish want. By the way, when I say that this is a simple fly, I'm not kidding. The Brown Bead is best tied with chocolate or brown thread and silver wire or tinsel wrapped to the head. With olive and wine-color thread, I like to wrap in a strand of Flashabou or Comes Alive (another flash material also called Gliss-N-Glow) along with the wire and include a small bit of gray dubbing at the head. Typically I use a silver tungsten bead on a size 16 or 18 scud hook, but I have also had success with gold, black and copper beads. Just a few minutes at the vise and you will have a multicolor assortment of deadly nymphs to try next time you fish your favorite stretch of river.

Thread Fly Techniques
My favorite way to fish Thread Flies in the summer months is to use them as droppers below large attractors such as grasshoppers and cicadas. I generally start off suspending a Brown Bead on about an arm's length of 5X below a larger fly and casting it in water two to three feet in depth. I switch colors often and early until I find the one the fish are most interested in. As a general rule I start with brown and then switch to wine with flashabou and then olive. I do my best to match what I believe the fish are eating. In the summer fish are often keyed on mayfly and caddis nymphs so I go with brown. In the spring when fish are eating Baetis nymphs I fish a lot of olive, and in the winter I go with red and wine with flashabou when fish are focused on midges. But I have had good days on all colors during all months of the year. In the colder months, or on a river where there is no chance of a fish eating a large attractor pattern, I fish two different-color Thread Flies below several pinch-on indicators spaced about six inches apart. Two tungsten beads usually get down fast and deep enough that there is no need for additional weight. I find this makes casting, mending and picking up on strikes easier. If I need additional weight, I will add a split-shot a foot above the first fly. The key is experimenting on the water you fish the most and finding which colors work the best. Brown Bead Brown Bead Recipe Hook: Size 16-18 scud style Weight: Silver tungsten bead Thread: Brown Ribbing: Silver wire or tinsel Brown Bead: 1 Slip the bead onto a size 16-18 scud hook and place it in the vise. 2 Wrap chocolate or brown thread from behind the bead halfway through the hook bend. 3 Tie in silver wire or tinsel at the bend. 4 Wrap thread forward followed by wire or tinsel and tie off. (You may need to build up the thread behind the bead to make sure it does not slip back on the hook.) 5 Whip finish. Wine Bead Wine Bead Recipe Hook: Size 16-18 scud style Weight: Silver tungsten bead Thread: Wine Ribbing: Silver wire and flashabou or Comes Alive Thorax: Gray dubbing Wine Bead: 1 Slip the bead onto a size 16-18 scud hook and place it in the vise. 2 Wrap wine-color thread from the bead halfway through the hook bend. 3 Tie in at the bend silver wire and one strand of Flashabou or Comes Alive. 4 Wrap thread forward behind the bead. Wrap Flashabou or Comes Alive forward and tie off. Wrap wire forward the opposite way around the hook for durability, and tie off. 5 Include a tiny pinch of gray dubbing at the head. Whip finish.