Big Purple Nasties

I’m especially fond of nymphs with rubber legs in spring, and purple of course

By Rob Breeding

I love spring fishing. I love it mostly because it replaces winter fishing.

It’s not that I don’t care for winter fishing. If you have access to a productive tailwater, there’s no better way to spend a bluebird afternoon than drifting nymph rigs through deep runs where trout tend to stack up during the slow months. There’s not much food out there at that time of year, so the biggest fish have to stay put in the most productive lies.

It’s just that winter is, well, winter. All but the most crazed skiers are happy to see it go. For them there’s always the Southern Hemisphere.

Higher, off-color water is the norm in spring, so this isn’t a season for subtlety. Big attractor patters rule the day. And when I go big I usually go purple.

I’m not sure why purple flies work, and frankly I’m not sure color is even important. When it comes to nymphing in off-color spring water, size is probably more important. Dark colors — like black or purple — are important, but my very unscientific method tells me that size matters and bigger flies work better in dirtier water.

That scientific method involves going to the fly shop, looking for bugs that meet my specifications, then going fishing. The flies are big, No. 8, No. 6. I look for ugly stuff rather than precise, hyper-realistic patterns. I’m especially fond of nymphs with rubber legs in spring. And purple of course.

Then I take those flies to the river. If I catch fish, I conclude I picked the right bugs. If not, I buy different patterns the next day and try again.

I know that some folks keep journals of this sort of thing. They can look back to see what worked the year before, or the one before that. I can’t keep track of my car keys, much less update a daily fishing journal. One would be handy, but that kind of organization is outside of my skill set.

The reality is that my most recent spring fishing excursion was my first of the season, something that subjected me to much scorn and ridicule when I stopped by the fly shop to pick up my license. Mid-April is embarrassingly late in the year to make this purchase, but this was a particularly harsh winter.

People act like I’m crazy, but as long as the temperature is above about 25 degrees, I’m perfectly fine winter fly fishing. I layer up, and with a bit of fleece underneath, breathable waders make for a pretty decent shell layer. If the ladies went for them, I’d keep them on later at the pub. Since I’m fishing tailwaters, the river is usually warmer than the air above, and the river itself creates a little microclimate.

But the high temp for most of January and February hovered in the single digits. You can’t fly fish in that kind of weather. It’s an ice fisher’s dream, perhaps, but I’ve never been into that sort of thing.

I need at least a little heat.

As said, I often buy flies based on the terribly subjective basis of what I think looks good, sometimes not even bothering to note the name. That can be a little embarrassing later if I’ve done well and can’t recall what I was using. People think I’m being coy when I tell them I don’t know.

My rod is still rigged up from the other day when we were fishing a river near here that was a little high and dirty from melting snow, but not too much. I was using a pair of nymphs, beadheads, and I caught everything on the bottom fly: a No. 8 Purple Prince nymph.

It was a bit scruffy from the trout that chewed on it. It looked even better than back at the shop when I fished it out of the bin.

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