By Nick Simonson
Fish, and trout in particular, can be very picky about what they eat. Whether it is wild brown trout in a stream in the driftless area of Minnesota, or stocked rainbow trout in the lakes of North Dakota, this selectivity is due in part to what’s going on in the world around them. If they’re eating a small gray mayfly that’s been hatching all morning, they’re unlikely to take an offering that looks a bit off the menu, say a yellow grasshopper or a black caddisfly imitation. But even when something close to the insect du jour is offered, it may take even more realism to seal the deal.
With a multitude of hook options available today for fly tying, the standard, straight-shanked hook isn’t the only easel on which to craft the mixture of art and science that is a homemade fly. A number of curved hook models exist to not only provide platforms for those humped or arched aquatic patterns like scuds, shrimp or caddisflies, but also to provide a different look to more traditional offerings, like the pheasant tail nymph or gold-ribbed hare’s ear, which are usually tied on a straight-shanked hook. Transitioning a few of those favorite patterns to these curved offerings gives fish a look at something different, with all those features that make it seem oh-so-familiar and as a result, all the more edible.
Think about it. Flipping any rock on a small stream or river will provide insight into the little creatures that serve as the bottom of the food chain. As they wriggle and drift away, pulsing and swimming with the current, how many of those mayfly nymphs, damselfly nymphs or various other aquatic stages of the insect world lay perfectly flat and shoot in a straight line? None. They all move in some sort of bendy, wiggly fashion that propels them haphazardly through the water back toward the safety of the next rock. Scoop one up with a small net and see exactly how far they can bend as they try to wiggle free. It’s pretty amazing.
Enter the curved version of any popular nymph pattern. This type of fly provides a bit more realism or at the very least, something the targeted fish didn’t see on the last 20 drifts over its holding area. Having this little variation available in a fly box can pay off with big dividends when that touch of something different is needed to change a fish’s mind. Arguably, the curved pattern mimics that twisty, curling movement more accurately than a nymph that just lays flat in the water as it is drifted or retrieved.
Beyond adjusting for the bend in the wire of the hook, little change is needed to transform traditional patterns into curved ones. Simply manage the materials based on hook length, and the pattern easily takes shape on its new frame. There’s no need to replace all those traditional nymph patterns with curved options in a fly box, but having a mix of both will help and provide added insurance when the bite gets tougher.
Winter is a time for experimentation at the fly vise. On the next order of new fly hooks, sub in a couple of packages of curved options for both wet and dry patterns. The way these versions hang in the water column adds a bit of realism that fish can’t resist. Give it a shot, and throw the fish a curve this spring.
(Featured Photo: When fish get fussy, try offering up the same thing, only different. Curved nymph hooks provide a new look to established patterns that can convince trout and other species that it is indeed time to eat. Simonson Photo)