For some folks in fly fishing everything seems to come easy. Casting is effortless, they never tangle, and they always catch fish no matter the day or place. Fishing becomes catching and they can make catching fish look easy. These fisherman are often fun to watch and frustrating to be around when the rest of us are working hard at whipping water. More often than not though, these folks are good fly fishers because of practice, technique and knowledge. Making a reach cast for the right drift, reading the water for prime holding spots and choosing the right fly for the conditions are examples of factors that influence fishing success for all of us.
For a lot of fly fishers it is much more fun to practice a reach cast or rule out the location of feeding fish by drifting flies through the entire river than it is to pick out a dozen flies for the next trip. Choosing the right flies can be a stressful endeavor and a lot hinges on the choices made at the fly bin. For starters, flies are expensive. Fifty dollars barely gets a box started and may only purchase a handful of patterns. Where does one even start? Over time, fishermen learn to chip away at filling a fly box a few flies at a time. Adding the remaining flies from each trip here and there. Maybe then dividing the flies up into boxes for specific rivers or hatches in hopes of maximizing success. It seems that as I have gone through this natural fly fishing evolution I’ve noticed some consistencies between my fly boxes. There are some flies that gravitate to my fly box for each destination I intend to fish. They almost always seem to work or maybe just cover a lot of possible food sources for fish. Flies that catch fish from river to river and season to season. One fly pattern in particular seems to have a variation in most all of my fly boxes, a Prince Nymph.
Named after its creator, Doug Prince, it was first tied in the late 1930’s or early 40’s. The original had a black body, black soft hackle and a black tail. A modification of this pattern named the “Brown Forked Tail” became the Prince Nymph we know today. Most modern versions are tied with a peacock herl body, copper or gold wire wrapping, brown soft hackle and white/brown goose biots for the wings/tail. (Mathewson 2018).
I first remember fishing a prince nymph as a kid learning to fly fish with my Uncle James in the lakes of Red Feather, Colorado. These days I’ll give some variation a try almost everywhere I guide or fish. Rivers like the Poudre, Colorado, Arkansas, Yampa and Rio Grande. Lakes in Red Feather, Walden and almost anywhere in the high country throughout Colorado. Last June I traveled to Norway for a fishing trip. I had multiple sizes and variations of the Prince nymph in my fly box and definitely caught fish (admittedly it wasn’t the Hot fly, but still…Norway). The examples of when and where it works could go on and on but it’s also worth examining why it works.
The reasons it works basically boil down to the flies shape, various size range and its ability to imitate so many aquatic insects. Fished in larger sizes it can be a stonefly. Medium sizes can imitate Caddis and smaller patterns even cover certain Mayflies (think PMD’s and Quills). Fish it natural or with a bead head. I like the hotwire versions in red or green during high water. I like the Psycho versions in smaller sizes during mid-Summer. Add a bead head and rubber legs and it’s a Montana Prince. Fish them in fast water, long deep runs or suspended under an indicator in still water. On the Colorado and Yampa rivers I typically use a Prince variation as the middle fly in a 3 fly nymph rig. I’ll use larger sizes at the beginning of the season and brighter colors during dirty water. As Summer takes over and the flows level, fly sizes will need to get smaller and I often choose Prince imitations that match the PMD’s, Quills and Drakes that inhabit the local waterways. On smaller rivers like the Poudre I like to rig a Hotwire or Bead Head Prince as the point fly on two fly nymph rigs, usually followed by a mayfly or midge emerger. Fishing a Prince with a Dry-Dropper rig is also another great option and works almost anywhere. Rig a size 14-16 Bead Head Prince variation under any Hopper/Stonefly/Caddis dry fly imitation and you’re ready to roll. This is my preferred Summer time rigging and possibly my favorite set-up to fish or teach clients to fish. The Bead Head seems to sink to the right level in the water without additional weight and you can also add an emerger behind the Prince if needed. Fish this rig in pocket water, along the banks or anywhere floating along with the drift boat. In the lakes of Colorado a Prince nymph can also be suspended under an indicator with one or two other flies in a nymph rig. The bead head helps it sink and it looks like many of the insects in lakes too.
The options for variations in the fly’s pattern and rigging are as endless as your imagination and creativity. The Prince nymph is simply a versatile fly pattern that can help transform fishing into catching. The next time you find yourself at the fly shop, or maybe the water’s edge trying to pick the right fly for the day, consider choosing a Prince and you just might be the one catching fish and making it look easy.
Mathewson, S. (2018). Know Your Pattern: The Prince Nymph. Two Guys and a River. Retrieved from: 2guysandariver.com