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GUIDE FLIES: The Darbees

American Angler

Fly Tying Royalty

by David Klausmeyer

Darbee’s Stonefly Nymph

Hook: 3X- or 4X-long nymph hook, sizes 12 to 4.
Thread: Brown 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Two ring-necked pheasant tail fibers.
Abdomen: Shaggy dubbing, amber.
Rib: Brown monofilament.
Wing cases: Two split jungle cock eyes. Use the small enamel section of the jungle cock eye for smaller hook sizes and longer eyes for very large hooks.
Thorax: Shaggy dubbing, amber.
Hackle: Partridge or grouse.

The Catskill school of fly tying is best known for its sparse dry flies; I chronicled the histories of some of those patterns in a little book titled 101 Favorite Dry Flies. Those dainty flies ride the surface like small aquatic ballerinas. Harry and Elsie Darbee, who lived in the heart of the Catskills, were considered fly tying royalty during the middle of the last century.

Harry and Elsie are best known for tying dry flies, probably because there remains a passion for those patterns, but they also tied effective wet flies and nymphs. Darbee’s Stonefly Nymph is an imitation of a golden stonefly nymph, a large insect common to many streams through the Catskills—especially the Delaware River—and much of North America. The Darbees utilized seal fur dubbing dyed amber for the abdomen and thorax of the pattern, but today you’ll have to use one of the many seal fur substitute ingredients; you’ll find these in any fly shop that stocks materials for tying trout flies.

A lot of tiers create complicated patterns for matching large stoneflies; the great size offers a more generous platform for adding legs, antennae, and other features. Darbee’s Stonefly Nymph is far simpler, and it is a great pattern for tiers possessing modest or intermediate skills. But don’t be fooled by this fly’s simplicity; it is a fine fish-catcher.

David Klausmeyer is the editor of our sister publication, Fly Tyer magazine. Check it out at

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