Since its inception, tiers have tweaked, manipulated, and reworked this classic nymph into dozens of unique patterns.
BY KEN MCCOY
My dad’s fly box is chock-full of the classics like Hare’s Ear Nymphs, Royal Coachmans, mosquitoes, red quills, Elk Hair Caddis, and so on. Conversely, my fly box has a number of variations of his originals—flies like the Para X, WMD Pupa, hot-head soft hackle sow bugs, and Disco Beetles. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
Nonetheless, there is one classic that has taken a number of different twists and turns throughout the years—the Prince Nymph. Using the basic design and look of a Prince, different tiers from around the world have added their own twists over the years, with great effect. The great thing is you can change the tail, the body color, the shape of the hook, or even the size, shape, and shine of a bead and be fairly confident it will catch fish. Just about any variation will work well and have a role on the river. But like my dad, I tend to go back to the original.
The Prince Nymph’s roots go back to the 1930s and the pattern as we know it today was named after the fly’s creator, Doug Prince. However, the great-grandfather of the Prince was a pattern tied by brothers Don and Dick Olson that they called the Brown Forked-Tail Nymph. And while the Olson’s fly looks similar to most modern renditions, they attached the white biot wings so they curved up and away from the fly, versus down over the body, as it’s tied today. Both patterns are mainly used to imitate stoneflies, though Prince’s version is so effective year round, many anglers fish the nymph as a general attractor pattern, especially as a dropper beneath a buoyant fly like a hopper.
Over the years, tiers have recreated the Prince with somewhat foreseeable variations— like using a lead-wire underbody or a bead head for depth. Possibly my favorite deviated pattern is the Nymph Formerly Known As Prince. For the most part, you tie the pattern exactly like its predecessor. The alteration comes only at the last step. Instead of tying on traditional white turkey biot wings, they’re replaced by slivers of silver flash, giving the fly a highly-visible “sparkle” that is perfect for high, fast-moving, murky water. I discovered this pattern while fishing Colorado’s Vail Valley during spring runoff, and now I fish it regularly, often trailing behind a sow bug pattern.
Noted tier Rick Takahashi creates some beautiful flies, and one of my favorites is his Go 2 Prince Nymph. This pattern was born out of necessity after Takahashi sustained a neck injury that left his fingers without feeling. He found it much too difficult to feel the position of the biots as he was tying them on. It’s easier to tie than the original because it eliminates both the forked-tail and turkey biot wings (both of which I consider to be the most difficult materials to tie on to the original pattern, even with fully functional fingers). Instead, Takahashi uses Whiting Farms midge saddle hackle for the tail and white poly yarn for the wings. It’s a quick and forgiving pattern to tie and has proven to be an extremely effective substitute for the original.
“I first tested this pattern on the Cache la Poudre above Fort Collins, Colorado,” recalls Takahashi. “I caught five fish on my first five casts that day. My first thought was, ‘I’m not that good of a fisherman!’” Just as tiers have added their own flare to the original Prince Nymph, tiers have reimagined Takahashi’s variation a number of times, and my favorite, which I like to fish in the late spring and early fall with a trailing midge emerger, has an orange hot head.
“The pattern is extremely versatile and wasn’t designed to imitate anything specific,” Takahashi explains. “It’s meant as an attractor pattern and man does it catch fish.”
Another fly tier that’s leaving an indelible mark on the sport is Mike Mercer. He’s credited with dozens of pioneering, unique patterns, but he has also improved numerous classics throughout his career. Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably fished with one of Mercer’s patterns on more than one occasion. His take on the classic Prince is a pattern called the Psycho Prince and it’s a variation built around color and flash. Bright purples, hot pinks, neon greens, and other “loud” colors are common themes with the Psycho Prince, as is the wing tuft that adds an extra layer of “psychotic-ness.” The Psycho is an excellent prospecting pattern when fishing for everything from brook trout to steelhead.
Rainy’s Premium Flies out of Logan, Utah (www.rainysflies.com) sells Gilbert Rowley’s Black Jack. The Black Jack is a streamlined, no nonsense Prince Nymph variation that leaves out the herl and dubbing in favor of bright, contrasting threads and a glossy, cement finish. Rowley coats the body with Sally Hansen Hard as Nails just before tying on the white biot wings. This step gives the fly added durability and a glossy sheen. The Black Jack fishes well in both stained or clear water.
Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Others say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Prince Nymph and his direct descendants are proof that truth exists in both adages. Whether you add a tungsten bead, a copper one, a soft hackle collar, or you tie it on a straight hook or curved, the Prince is a classic that should have a place in your fly box year round, but of course, leave room for some of its offspring.
Ken McCoy is a freelance writer, technologist, and part-time guide. He likes night vision goggles and doing karate in the garage.