Effective Flies – Clarence Damsel Nymph

To complement Kiel’s recent feature, Craig ties a handy damselfly nymph.

As a flyfishing guide, I have had my share of frustrating moments. Most commonly, these result from poor casting. Now that I’ve retired from guiding in Tasmania, I can share one such moment that has particular relevance to our featured fly.

My client and I were fishing in the Western Lakes. The action had been rather slow, which was surprising as we had a warm day with excellent vision and a moderate breeze blowing from the north. You don’t get many such days in the central highlands of Tassie. While we’d had some opportunities, my angler was having difficulty with the wind and his presentations had not been good enough.

Eventually, we found ourselves fishing up a small weedy creek flowing slowly between two lakes, and it was holding some very impressive fish. But yet again, because of poor casting or an overly enthusiastic strike, quite a few chances were missed.

I was trying to hide my frustration that we were wasting a good day’s fishing, and to turn up the pressure, we were starting to lose the light. Thick cloud was beginning to blow over the Tiers, as often happens mid-afternoon when there’s a northerly wind blowing. We needed a fish, and we needed one quickly.

We came to a section of the stream where the bank had collapsed, forming a small island with a deep metre-wide channel running down our side of the creek. In this channel, I spotted a good fish holding station facing towards us. Fortunately, we were screened by bushes. However, my client wouldn’t be able to make a cast without the trout seeing us. From our natural hide, we watched the fish for a couple of minutes. It casually sipped down a black spinner and then swam around to the other side of the island and out of view. After 30 seconds or so, it came back to its original station. After a few more minutes, the trout swam off on the same beat.

This was our chance. When the fish swam behind the island, my client could cast a black spinner just upstream of its holding spot, setting up the perfect trap. On cue, the trout disappeared from view, and my client made the cast. Unfortunately, it thumped the water and skipped into the bushes on the other side of the creek. Quick as a flash, the fish responded to the splash and surged from behind the island looking for its meal. This big brown really wanted to eat! However, it had no chance of finding the fly, which was hanging in the bushes.

When things settled down, the trout continued its previous behaviour. Whilst it was behind the island, I retrieved the fly and we waited for our next opportunity. Three more times my client botched the cast, with the fish responding the same way, albeit with less enthusiasm each time. Finally, we got the fly in the correct spot and the fish simply ignored it. Had we blown our best opportunity and wasted a great fishing day?

Both angler and guide frustration levels were off the chart by now, and to make matters worse, the cloud had continued to build, making the trout extremely difficult to see. In desperation, I pulled a Clarence Damsel Nymph out of my vest and tied it on the leader. I could just make out the fish as it swam to the other side of the island. My client finally made a good cast, and the nymph slowly sank in the water. The fish ambled back, casually swam over to the nymph, and inhaled it without hesitation.

A furious close quarters battle ensued, culminating with the guide in water over his waders, scooping the fish out after it had weeded itself. To say angler and guide were relieved would be a serious understatement, and among other things, I said a quiet prayer of thanks to the Clarence Damsel Nymph!


Hook – Size 12 wet fly

Thread – Olive 8/0

Tail – Light olive rabbit cut from a Zonker strip.

Body – Olive Flexi Floss.

Thorax – Olive hare’s mask.

Wing case – Olive Scud Back.

Eyes – Small gold bead chain.

Tying method

  1. Tie in the bead chain eyes at the eye of the hook. I fix mine with a small dob of super glue.
  2. Tie in a slim section of rabbit fur for the tail. Marabou can be substituted; however, it is not as robust as the rabbit.
  3. Wind the Flexi Floss two-thirds of the way up the shank of the hook to form a slim body.
  4. Tie in the Scud Back.
  5. Dub in the hare’s ear mask fibres up to the bead chain eyes, teasing out the fibres with some Velcro to form legs.
  6. Bring the Scud Back over the dubbing and between the eyes to form the top of thorax.
  7. Whip finish between the bead chain eyes and the eye of the hook.

Damsel nymphs are available to the trout all year round.

The story above illustrates what a versatile fly the Clarence Damsel Nymph is. I often use it as a searching pattern, slowly fished around weed-beds in stillwaters. It’s also effective on tailing trout, or fished through backwaters on rivers, or as a point fly on a loch-style cast.