Anchor Nymphs: The Meaty, The Mean, and The Evolution of the Jiggy Bug

A juicy cranefly imitation surrounded by eager jiggy nymphs.

 

I remember the first time I plunged my arm into a cold stream, excavated a slimy rock, and exclaimed, “Yo! What the hell are all those creepy critters?” Crazy looking little buggers were scurrying for cover as I tried to nab one from the wet, slick rock. Got it! A mean looking stonefly nymph. So cool!

Mean Stonefly Nymph. Courtesy of Bob Henricks. Taken from Flickr

I’m really not sure which I appreciate more, the beauty of wild trout or the various nymphs and larva living underwater. Some nymphs, like the stonefly pictured, have perfectly segmented bodies, devilish tails and antenna, and beautifully decorated wing cases; you gotta love them! And, so do the trout! Then there’s the juicy, helpless worms, grubs, and larvae. Trout REALLY love these meaty critters!

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A couple helpless cranefly larvae.

They might not have the intricate details and the agility of a stonefly nymph, but the soft, fat grubs are such easy, meaty meals for trout – delicious! I don’t know; I could even be tempted to eat a juicy, fat cranefly larva like the one pictured – a perfect riverside snack! And if I can be tempted to eat one, I can only imagine how psyched a trout is when a plump morsel like that undulates in front of its hungry face.  Its no surprise that these soft, juicy grubs are what many tight-line nymphers such as myself try to imitate with our anchor flies.

Meaty anchor flies. From top: Mop jig, Silistaz jig, Green Weenie

With most of your high-stick / tight-line nymphing methods, the anchor fly is the point fly – the last fly tied on the end of your leader. Other lighter flies are tied on short droppers above the anchor / point fly where they drift higher in the water column imitating swimming or emerging nymphs. The anchor fly not only is intended to catch fish but also serves as the weight – kind of anchoring the whole rig to the bottom, thus called an anchor fly. Since these flies are weighted and fished on the bottom, it’s smart to tie anchor flies on jig hooks so they ride hook-point up and resit becoming snagged. Flies imitating meaty worms, larvae & grubs are always productive anchor flies. Probably 90% of the time I’m nymphing, I have a mop fly, squirmy wormy, or green weenie tied on as the point / anchor fly. You just can’t go wrong with one of these juicy bugs – they’re in the water pretty much year round, and trout LOVE them!

Green Weenie variations.

Here in Maryland and Pennsylvania, I have caught countless trout using the green weenie. Notice how chewed up that green squirmy weenie jig is at the bottom of the photo? Trout take this fly for a a variety of different grubs and larvae, and the chartreuse color seems to draw strikes. Those big browns in the Little Juniata couldn’t get enough of that juicy little green grub.

As popular as the green weenie has been for years in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the most popular larvae imitation, and probably the most hated by purists, is the mop fly. People think this fly, as well as the green weenie, is not a true fly – that it is too easy to tie and doesn’t imitate an actual aquatic insect; it just fools fish into biting. So, some anglers turn their noses up at the green weenie and mop fly and ignore their fish catching potential. The truth is, however, that the green weenie is an accurate imitation of the big, bright green caddis larvae we have in our streams, and the mop fly imitates the size, shape, and motion of a cranefly larvae perfectly. Since craneflies live in almost every stream I’ve ever fished, mop flies work pretty much everywhere!

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It’s hard to beat a tan mop fly as an anchor nymph!

As delicious as the meaty morsels are to trout, there are times when trout ignore the worms, larva, & grubs and focus on nymphs. Devilish mayfly and stonefly nymphs periodically sneak out from their lairs to feed, find new homes, mate, or emerge. When these bugs are on the move, they can draw the undivided attention of hungry trout. So, if the trout are ignoring your mop fly or squirmy wormy, you gotta have some heavy, bottom bouncing mayfly and stonefly nymph patterns as anchor flies.

Probably the most common mayfly nymph imitation is the pheasant tail. This classic pattern developed by Frank Sawyer in the 1950’s is an excellent imitation of a variety of different nymphs. It’s pretty amazing how the feathers from this bird create such nice looking nymphs, but they’re not good as anchor flies; they don’t have the weight to get deep enough, and the materials are too fragile, lacking the durability needed to fish all day without changing flies. A copper john is a good, pretty durable alternative and sinks quickly to the bottom – the fly pretty much consist of a bead, lead, and copper wire. But, copper johns snag easily on the bottom, and I’m not a big fan of the stiff, lifeless goose biot tails, the fragile peacock herl thorax, and the feather hackle used for legs. I need my anchor flies to be heavy, snag resistant, durable, and super lively. So, I came up with the Jiggy Bug.

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The original Jig Bug – tie it with 3 tails for a mayfly and 2 tails for a stonefly.

The Jiggy Bug essentially is an improved, heavily weighted pheasant tail jig. First off, I tie the jiggy bug with a heavy, oversized tungsten bead and as many wraps of lead wire as I can fit on the hook. I get over 20 wraps of .010 lead on a size 16 hook by wrapping the lead all the way up the shank to the bead then wrapping it back down over the existing wraps of lead to the middle of the shank. The weight is more important than any other aspect of the fly since this is what will carry the fly down to the feeding zone and will “anchor” the leader to the stream bottom, allowing you to keep a “tight” connection to your flies and the stream bottom.

For the body, I take advantage of pheasant tail’s subtle buggy effect discovered by Mr. Sawyer so many years ago. But, instead of ribbing the body with wire, I use a micro sparkle braid from Veevus called irredescent thread. This adds some sparkle, color, and life to the fly.

I use a material for the tail and legs that’s more durable and much more lively than the feathers and biots used on other nymphs. I wanted something that would come alive in the water –  wiggling and pulsing on the bottom of the stream. Luckily, I stumbled on a material called Daddy Long Legs made by Hareline Dubbin. This is very similar to Spanflex made by Wapsi, but Daddy Long Legs material is much thinner and straighter. It really wiggles and is perfectly suited for smaller flies. I love this stuff and think I’ve settled on Daddy Long Legs as the best material for nymph tails and legs. It’s durable, thin, and lively – perfect!

Instead of peacock herl as used in the pheasant tail and copper John nymphs, I use a “peacock” dubbing that I blend myself. Don’t get me wrong, peacock has great color, shine, and movement; peacock creates such a nice thorax on nymphs,  but it is fragile. So, I take different colors of fur and ice dubbing to create a flashy, buggy dubbing that looks much like peacock herl only buggier and more durable.

Lastly is the wing case. If I decide to make a wing case, I’ll do it by clipping the fur from the top of the thorax and coating the top of the thorax with UV resin. This step, however, is just for show. After trial and error, I am confident that the fly attracts just as many fish, maybe even more, without a wing case, leaving the thorax furry all over. But, people want to see wing cases on their nymphs, so I often build wing cases on the Jiggy Bugs.

I really feel as though the Jiggy Bug is the perfect mayfly anchor nymph. I developed a killer stonefly anchor nymph pattern called the Stoned mop Jig, which I use a lot out west for the bigger stones found in the bigger rivers, but the Jiggy Bug does a fine job imitating smaller stoneflies! It has all the properties you need to be the point fly on your tight-line nymphing rig. It sinks like a stone; it’s durable; it’s buggy; and it imitates a variety of mean mayfly or even stonefly nymphs.

Sometimes, however, I need even more weight, especially with size 18 and 20 Jiggy Bugs where there isn’t enough hook shank to wrap on enough lead or to slide on a heavy bead. So, instead of the pheasant and sparkle body, I use copper wire. I like copper wire in size medium for sizes 16 and bigger, which has more weight and much better segmentation than the brassie size. Since this makes the fly look very similar to a Copper John, I call this variation a Jiggy John Bug.

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Jiggy John Bug size 16 – with UV wing case.

If I don’t need as much weight but want a nice sparkly segmented body, I will just use the irredescent thread from Veevus as the body, no pheasant tail. This variation is called the Jiggy Sparkle Bug. For size 16 & 14 Jiggy Sparkle Bugs, I twist 2-3 strands of irredescent thread together. For size 18 and 20’s, I just use 1 strand, but I still twist it; twisting is crucial if you want good segmentation!

 

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Jiggy Sparkle Bugs. Check out the sparkly segmentation, nice!

After using my Jiggy Bugs extensively for about a year, I can confidently say that this pattern has exceeded my expectations. I have found my new, go-to anchor fly for times when the meaty grubs aren’t producing. As long as I get the fly on the bottom and have control over my drift, hang on! Trout just can’t resist the buggy, wiggly sparkle of a mean Jiggy Bug.

 

 

 

How to tie the original Jiggy Bug:

6DFB5799-A8B5-4677-BEB6-182697BCD411Step 1: Select a quality jig hook and a quality tungsten slotted bead. I like beads in sizes 7/64 & 1/8 for most of my size 16 hooks. Wrap the lead tightly up to the bead then back down the shank about half way. I use size .010 lead for size 16 and smaller. Start with the thread behind the lead. Build a dam to hold the lead tight to the bead.

68733CE9-A9ED-4047-BDEB-6ED98BA56C66Step 2: Cover the lead with thread, building a tapered body without too much bulk. Coat the body with glue, let dry, flatten the body with pliers to get that flat, clinger nymph shape.

4FA7B200-810F-48F6-810D-0329CA874C30Step 3: Cut 3 strands of Daddy Long Legs and tie them in as the tails at the bend. Cut off the excess material and trim the tails to about the length of the hook shank. If you’re trying to imitate stoneflies over mayflies, just use 2 tails and cut them a little shorter, or not. Longer = more action.

1132A965-D2AE-4DBD-8047-CB3E8000FC01Step 4: Tie about a 6” piece of Veevus peacock iridescent thread at the bend in front of the tails. This will be the ribbing. Tie in 6 pheasant tail fibers by their tips next to the Veevus ribbing. Use a bodkin to separate the fibers. This will make a much nicer, buggier wrap. Keep the pheasant tail fibers close together as you wrap them all the way to the bend, but DO NOT TWIST THEM! Tie them off and cut off the excess.

0A490413-8F6B-47BA-BE51-36F637800352Step 5: Counter-wrap the Veevus iridescent thread in nice, even segments. You really need to twist this material constantly as you wrap to get a nice, thin, sparkly, buggy wrap. Tie it off and cut off the excess.

F3982EC5-EC4D-4FD8-9A7F-E033BD31DF42Step 6: Wrap your thread back down the shank to where you want your thorax to start – about half way down the shank. Dub the thorax with flashy peacock colored dubbing. I blend my own, but you can buy pre-made peacock dubbing. Make sure it has some flash! End with your thread in the middle of the thorax.

1C61A4EB-27EC-41F9-90E0-A13B25CA83EEStep 7: Attach 2-3 strands of Daddy Long Legs to each side of the thorax. Spin the thread beforehand, making it thin so that the leg material sinks into the dubbing at the tie in point and flares out.

EED18529-CD1E-403D-9FE7-25FCE15A2CA3Step 8: Wrap the tie in point with more dubbing to hide the thread around the legs and bring the thread back to just behind the bead. Trim the legs a bit to make whip finishing easier. Whip finish then whip finish again. With 2 good whip finishes, I’ve never felt the need for head cement.

492B8F62-88E3-4EEB-9B7D-957F52B21A39Step 9: Trim the legs and tails to the final, desired length. Brush out some dubbing to make the bug extra jiggy!

I fish the Jiggy Bug on a tight line using the high-stick, or Czech nymphing, technique or by using an indicator to keep the Jiggy Bug bouncing at the perfect depth. No split shot necessary; these bugs are heavy!