Ditch Damsel

Ditch Damsel

Photo | Charlie Craven

This sexy, slender creation rides hook point up and wiggles when wet

Jay Zimmerman's Ditch Damsel is one of the most creative interpretations I have seen for this ubiquitous stillwater insect. The design elements on the wing and wire body ensure the fly rides hook point up, and the use of dyed mallard flank adds a slight bit of variegation to the pattern.

Damselfly nymphs inhabit lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. They are most active in the late spring and early summer. They emerge on dry land, and as such, their pre-emergence is marked by a mass exodus toward the bank, where the nymphs can crawl out onto a sun-laden stick and dry their exoskeletons before hatching into the wonderful and acrobatic flying blue darts we see in the thrushes. Damselfly nymphs are long, skinny critters with big eyes, and they slide and swim with a seductive side-to-side action as they migrate toward dry ground. Trout, bass, and panfish all have a taste for these slender bites, and when you're in the right place at the right time, the action can be crazy.

Damsel patterns need to be tied slim and sparse, with a bit of weight to keep them swimming shallow and with as much wiggle and shimmy as one can manage. This is a tall order from a fly-designing standpoint. Luckily for me and you, I just happen to work with Jay Zimmerman, one of the most creative fly designers any of us will ever meet.

He and I often take a minute at the shop first thing in the morning to discuss what we tied the night before, or to share theories and ideas on new patterns. It was in one of these little brainstorming sessions that Jay first revealed this pattern to me. It immediately caught my eye, not only from a creative standpoint, but also from Jay's seamless melding and blending of materials to reach an end.

A good damsel imitation is essential on most stillwater fisheries. Trout, bass, and panfish all have a taste for these slender bites, and when you're in the right place at the right time, the action can be crazy. Photo | Charlie Craven

The Ditch Damsel, as Jay calls his fly, is clearly a product of his wonderfully creative and sometimes scattered brain. His damsel nymph pattern achieves the highly sought-after combination of being truly unique and unconventional while still being perfectly practical and easy to tie. There aren't many patterns that strike me as completely unique these days, and I knew the moment I saw Jay's creation that it was going to be a hit. Every single material on this fly is used and applied in a distinctive and thoughtful way, and they combine to create a wonderful profile and shape. The fact that Jay went so totally out of the box to create it makes it even more appealing to me.

I get so excited about stuff like this at this point in my life and I am not embarrassed to say I really wish I would have come up with this one myself. Tied on a long-shank hook in the inverted position, the fly swims hook point-up and relatively snag-free. The ingenious use of a two-toned wire body to counterweight the hook and achieve this point-up attitude in the water while still being accurately slim and beautiful is one of those things that a fly designer looks at and smacks his head. Though this technique is well used in other tying arenas, applying it to a small and thin damsel nymph is pure brilliance. Jay uses a marabou wing to further help the inversion, as well to give the fly a slinky action in the water. Not leaving well enough alone, Jay also adds a few strands of finely barred dyed mallard or wood duck fibers to the flank of the wings to create a bit of mottling and variegation as well as a heaping teaspoon of class.

Perhaps the most underappreciated and trailblazing technique he used here was stacking a small clump of rabbit fur on the top of the front of the wing. While the fly is dry, this clump just seems to blend into the wing and may leave you wondering why it's even there, but when wet, this clump melds into the wing, creating an ever-so-slightly thicker thorax to accurately mimic the real thing. Finished off with a pair of wriggling Sili Legs and melted mono eyes, this fly is a dead ringer for the real thing and is easily cast, won't foul or snag up, and is completely different than anything we've seen before.

Simple, common materials blended together smartly to create a unique look and a practical fly — man, I love this stuff! The fact that this fly can cross over well and imitate a leech makes it a great searching pattern for both cold and warmwater fish during the warmer months.

Charlie Craven co-owns Charlie's Fly Box in Arvada, Colorado, and is the featured tier in two Fly Fisherman DVDs: Warmwater Fly Tying and Saltwater Fly Tying. His latest book is Tying Nymphs: Essential Flies and Techniques for the Top Patterns, available from Stackpole Books/Headwater Books (2016).

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Fly Tying

Perdigon Nymph

Charlie Craven - January 15, 2019

These dense, indestructible nymphs will improve your subsurface game.


How to Catch Smallmouth Bass on Topwater Flies

Dave Karczynski and Tim Landwehr

Modern methods for catching smallmouths on topwater flies.


2019 Most Endangered Rivers

Fly Fisherman - April 16, 2019

American Rivers today released its annual list of America's Most Endangered Rivers,...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Adding Bass Popper Legs

Bass maniac Ben Romans showcases his balsa wood poppers and demonstrates how to add rubber legs to hard, durable, bass bugs.

Basic Fly Casting

When learning to fly fish, casting is the first thing to master. Lean what to do, and not do, to successfully make a short fly cast.

Anti-Invasive Species Boots

Editor Ross Purnell joins K.C. Walsh of Simms to talk about a new rubber compound material that was specially designed to outperform and replace the use of felt boots in effort to combat the spread of invasive species.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Fly Fishing Community Stunned by Twin Slayings on Belize Saltwater Flat

Fly Fisherman Online Staff - June 27, 2019

The fly fishing communities in the U.S. and Belize are mourning after twin slayings that...


Alpine Lakes for Remote Monsters

Landon Mayer - April 18, 2018

You don't always catch large trout in these alpine lakes and streams, but even the small ones...

United States

American River California

MIchael Wier - March 23, 2017

American River California

See More Stories

More Fly Tying

Fly Tying

Tying the Amy's Ant

Charlie Craven

A Jack Dennis classic, first designed for the Jackson Hole One Fly.

Fly Tying

Water Boatman Fly

Charlie Craven - September 16, 2016

Read "Boatman Fly" to learn how to tie this neat fly!

Fly Tying

Avalon Permit Fly

Hans Van Klinken - January 28, 2016

Secret ingredient to a Cuba grand slam, the Avalon Permit Fly.

See More Fly Tying

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.