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Fly Tying the Perdigon Nymph

These dense, indestructible flies will improve your subsurface game.

Fly Tying the Perdigon Nymph
The Perdigon Nymph is perfect for situations where you need a small fly to sink quickly in deep or fast water, or as part of a dry/dropper rig. Photo Charlie Craven

I’m not gonna lie. The hardest part of writing these magazine articles is coming up with a compelling subject. Just like when my wife asks me every morning what I want for dinner, I never know what to say when editor Ross Purnell asks what I’ve got on tap for the next issue. In both cases, I generally answer with something like, “Uhhh...what sounds good to you?”

In this case, Ross came to my rescue and suggested I look into “that French fly—tied on a jig hook—that everyone is talking about.” It only took me a minute to figure out that he was talking about the Perdigon Nymph. I still don’t know what we’re having for dinner, though.

Perdigons were first developed by the Spanish competitive fly-fishing team but were really popularized by the French. These simple nymphs epitomize what I look for in good fly design. They’re simple, they sink like rocks due to their inherent weight and slim design, and when you put in a bit of effort, they can even be pretty.

There. I said it. I like my flies to be pretty. I also like them to be a bit more complicated just so I feel like I earned my catch, but the Perdigon is of no help in that regard. They’re simple, bordering on artless, and quick to tie even when dressed up, but they catch fish. They have an important niche in places where trout are looking for small flies in fast water, and you don’t want to lose contact with your flies by adding a lot of split-shot to the tippet.

While Ross specifically mentioned a jig hook, my research showed that the original Perdigons were tied on conventional competition-style hooks and have been modified in recent years to include a jig hook. While the jig versions are effective, they look like an apple on a stick to me and thus, I have opted to display here the more beautiful twin, tied on a curved Firehole 317 hook. The iron you use is up to you; all are appropriate.

It seems most of the other parts of the Perdigon are interchangeable, save for the tail, which is consistently made out of the stiff, glassy fibers from the saddle of a coq de León rooster. These fibers are fine and tough and lend themselves well to a sparse pattern like this, although I often find myself questioning their stiffness in relation to sink rate. I’ve often wondered if softer fibers might cause less resistance to sinking ... one day I’ll have to do a little experiment on that, but in the meantime I’ll stick with the original plan.

Perusing the Internet, I found Perdigons crafted with bodies made of everything from plain thread, to Krystal Flash to “special” Perdigon tinsels and even dyed and stripped peacock quills. These quills really caught my eye and remind me of fine goose biots with their dark-edged segmentation.

I opted to show the full-dress Perdigon here and wrap the quill with some spacing over an underbody of Holographic Tinsel to create an inverse rib just to show off a bit. The resulting body is beautiful and requires just a bit of forethought and skill, and just might make you a better tier when you concentrate on these aspects.

One of the trickier parts of tying this pattern is maintaining an ultra-smooth thread underbody. The taper and texture must be extremely even to allow for a smooth tinsel body, and it takes a bit of time and attention to detail to get it right.

The UV resin coatings should be the thinnest resins available to keep the flies slim. I like Solarez Ultra-Thin Bone Dry for this application, but many good tiers choose Loon’s Flow formula.

Perhaps the most innovative part of these flies are the wingcases. Rather than use a slip of feather, some genius figured out that he could just paint a wingcase onto the finished fly. It works!

The original patterns show wingcases of black fingernail polish dabbed onto the top, but I opted for a smudge of black marker topped with an extra drop of UV resin to achieve the same effect. I categorize this into the “crafty” portion of our sport, and love when I see new techniques like this.

Tying the Perdigon

  • Hook: #18 Firehole 317.
  • Bead: Copper 332" tungsten.
  • Weight: .010" lead wire.
  • Thread: Fire orange 14/0 Veevus.
  • Tail: Ginger speckled flor de Escobar coq de León fibers.
  • Underbody: Fine copper Holographic Tinsel.
  • Overbody: Hand-stripped Polish peacock quill, dyed brown.
  • Wingcase: Black marker, coated with resin.
Photo Charlie Craven

1. Slide the oversized bead up to the hook eye. Make six turns of lead wire and push the lead wraps up into the bead. Build a tapered thread dam from the bare shank up to the diameter of the lead wraps and create an ultra-smooth thread base. Return the thread to the hook bend.

Photo Charlie Craven

2. Even the tips of a half dozen coq de León fibers and tie them in at the bend to form a sparse tail that is about a shank length long. Wrap smoothly forward over the butt ends to just short of the back of the bead. I try to keep the fibers along the top of the shank here to ensure everything stays smooth. Clip the remaining butt ends close.

Photo Charlie Craven

3. Return the thread to the base of the tail and tie in a pre-soaked Polish peacock quill by its tip end with a single firm turn of thread. Be sure the dark edge of the quill is toward the bend of the hook and leave the tip of the quill extending forward to about where the lead wraps start. Tie in a strand of fine Holographic Tinsel right on top of the wrap you used to tie the quill in place.

Photo Charlie Craven

4. Wrap forward over the stub end of the quill and the tinsel, forming a smoothly tapered thread underbody up to the back edge of the bead. Wrap the tinsel forward in slightly overlapping turns, and tie it off at the bead. Clip the end of the tinsel.

Photo Charlie Craven

5. Use your hackle pliers to spiral-wrap the quill forward, taking care that the darker edge is on the backside of the turns. Leave about a half quill width of space between the turns to allow the tinsel to show through and create an inverse rib. Tie the quill off at the bead and clip the excess.

Photo Charlie Craven

6. Build a narrow band of fire orange thread behind the bead to form a short collar. Whip-finish and clip the thread.

Photo Charlie Craven

7. Coat the entire body and collar of the fly with Solarez Ultra-Thin Bone Dry. Be sure to get all the way around the shank and from the back of the bead to the base of the tail. Rotate the fly a few times to even out the coating then cook it with your UV lamp while continuing to rotate your vise. You may need to add a second coat to smooth things out.

Photo Charlie Craven

8. Use a black marker to create an oval-shaped wingcase on the top of the fly. The wingcase should start on the back edge of the bead and reach back over the fire orange band onto the front edge of the quill/tinsel abdomen. Place a drop of Solarez Bone Dry onto the marker spot, letting it pool into a slight hump. Quickly zap it with your UV lamp to form the wingcase.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie’s Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the author of two books: Charlie’s Fly Box (Stackpole Books, 2011) and Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns (Stackpole Books/Headwater Books, 2016)

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