Depth Charge Bird's Nest

Depth Charge Bird's Nest
Photo Jeff Simpson

A workhorse attractor nymph gets even better

Photo Jeff Simpson

The most successful fly patterns appeal to trout in diverse ways. Take the Adams, for example. Its hallmark is that it appears as two or more bug species at once. It was originally developed as a caddis pattern but fly fishers have used it as a mayfly imitation for decades.

Why does it work so well? Likely it's because the Adams appears like several different insects at the same time.


Many other successful patterns we've come to know and love work for the same reason. The Pheasant-tail Nymph mimics dark mayfly nymphs of any species. The Stimulator simulates several species of stoneflies, caddis, and even grasshoppers. The more species a particular pattern can mimic the more successful it is.


Years ago, as I progressed from the attractor-fly stage toward the match-the-hatch stage, I began reading entomology books by authors such as Dave Hughes, Swisher and Richards, and Ralph Cutter. As I read Cutter's book Sierra Trout Guide, I noticed a recurring theme. It seemed that whether it was a stonefly, mayfly, or caddis, he frequently recommended the same nymph: the Bird's Nest.

I became a little conflicted, as I was now trying to step up to what I thought was the next level of fly fishing (matching the hatch) but my new fly fishing sensei (Ralph Cutter) was suggesting just the opposite. The Bird's Nest may be the most generic nymph pattern ever tied, but

because he was the guru and I the student, I decided to try it.

I soon discovered that the Bird's Nest — like the Adams, Pheasant Tail and Hare's Ear — is not merely an attractor pattern. It matches several different aquatic insects and it always works because it just looks right. You can also tailor the Bird's Nest colors to more closely match specific insects.


The Bird's Nest possesses the perfect silhouette of most aquatic nymphs, and the soft translucent materials shimmer with the slightest current, giving the illusion of life. Maybe best of all, the thick buggy dubbing provides the fish with an oral sensation that tells it to grab and hold on rather than to reject.

Photo Jeff Simpson

Originator Cal Bird tied the Bird's Nest in two colors — the natural gray-brown color found in fly shop bins today, and what he called "spectral." The spectral Bird's Nest used a mix of guard hairs died in both the primary and secondary colors of the color wheel. His theory was that the fish would see at least one of these colors regardless of the light situation at any particular time.


Despite Bird's specific recommendation of spectral dubbing, in actual practice he used whatever materials he had on hand. One of his tying friends said that the only thing consistent about the Bird's Nest was the inconsistency.

My only critique about the Bird's Nest is that the original version doesn't carry enough weight to get to the bottom of moderately deep or swift holding water. My Depth Charge Bird's Nest eliminates this weakness by stacking double tungsten or other beads up front in addition to a tungsten wire underbody. The Depth Charge version sinks like an anchor, and it's especially suited for seeking out large trout in deeper water. The regular version is better for shallow-water nymphing and as a dropper under a dry fly.

Greg Vinci is a contract fly tier with Umpqua Feather Merchants.

Fly Tying The Depth Charge Bird's Nest

HOOK: #6-12 Tiemco 2302 or equivalent.
THREAD: Olive or yellow 8/0.
BEADS: Small brass and large black tungsten.
Antennae & TAIL: Ginger goose biots.
WIRE: Tungsten .015" or .020" wire.
RIB: Small or medium copper Ultra Wire.
ABDOMEN: Arizona Synthetic dubbing, peacock/golden.
LEGS: Partridge.
THORAX: Arizona Synthetic dubbing, peacock/golden with hare's mask guard hairs blended in.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 1 of 6

Slide the small bead on first, followed by the second oversize bead. The countersunk hole of the larger bead, which normally faces backward, should face the hook eye so the small bead can nest within it. Put the hook in the vise, and wrap thread behind the small bead and tie in two goose biots as shown.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 2 of 6

Wrap the thread back to the bend of the hook to create a larger foundation for the oversize bead. Continue to create a thickly tapered underbody so the large bead sits snugly. Whip-finish the thread and clip it off. Slide the large bead firmly against the smaller bead.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 3 of 6

Reattach the thread behind the large bead. Wrap the hook shank with 8 to 12 turns of tungsten wire and secure it with thread. The wire and thread dam helps hold the large bead in place. Wrap the thread back toward the hook bend. Add a small dubbing ball and tie the tails on each side of it. Tie in the copper wire rib.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 4 of 6

Dub the abdomen to just behind the large bead. Wrap the copper wire forward, tie it off, and clip the wire.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 5 of 6

Tie in partridge feather barbules 'in the round ' so they extend around the circumference of the thorax. The length of the barbules should be approximately half the length of the hook shank.

Depth Charge Bird's Nest Step 6 of 6

Use a dubbing loop to create a buggy/shaggy thorax. Whip-finish directly behind the large bead.

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