Beginner Fly Tying – How to Tie a Sow Bug Nymph to Bounce for Trout

sow bugs and insect nymphs eaten by a brown trout

Various sized sow bugs (and insect nymphs) eaten by a Brown Trout.

My cousin Grayson came to visit and to learn how to fly fish.

With the help of my fishing buddy Jim O’Neal, who happens to be one of the best fly fishing guides on the Provo River in Utah, we got him off to a good start (more on that story later).

While we took a break during the heat of the day, I suggested that we tie a few sow bugs to use later that evening.

Sow bugs are aquatic crustaceans found world wide, with about 130 species in North America, meaning they are found in streams, ponds and lakes in every U.S. State and Canadian Province.

Since they can tolerate some pollution, they survive in areas where other aquatic crustaceans and insects don’t. If sow bugs live in your stream, you better believe the trout (and other fish) eat them.

sow bugs are good flies for beginning fly tiers

Grayson’s Size 16 Sow Bug

Young sow bugs hatch from eggs looking like miniature adults, so they can be smaller than even a size 32 hook. The largest we have seen on the Middle and Lower Provo Rivers are about a size 16 hook.

Sow bugs are our usual choice for the bottom tag for the Provo River Bounce Rig since they are available to fish all year and we presume they don’t naturally float high above the river bottom.

We had stopped by the fly shop and Grayson commented on how expensive some of the flies were. Jim told him he tied all of his flies and I try to tie many of mine. I still consider myself a beginner fly tier, but sow bugs are simple enough that everyone should learn to tie them. Grayson tied his first fly.

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Video: How to Tie a Sow Bug

As proof that sow bugs are easy to tie, we videoed 17 year old Grayson tying his first sow bug nymph for trout fishing. It was the first time he had even seen a fly tying vice.

I demonstrated how to tie a sow bug, then recorded video as he tied his own nymph.

I prompted him about what to do for each step of the process and he repeated each step for the camera (without remembering all the proper names and terms, but that doesn’t matter). Then he completed each step on his own.

The video has been edited to remove dead time, but each step is shown in it’s entirety (except for some of the initial wrapping and the whip finish, because the video showed only the back of his hand). So set up your vice and get the materials for tying a sow bug together. Then watch the video and tie a sow bug along with Grayson.

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Catch Trout with Flies You Tied

Later that evening, we went back to the river and rigged his fly rod to bounce his sow bug from the bottom tag and rigged another sow bug on the upper tag.

provo river brown trout caught on bounce rig with sow bugHe caught two nice brown trout on his sow bug before it started to get dark and we switched to dry flies and soft hackles.

How many of you can say you caught fish on a fly that you tied? Especially on your second day of fly fishing.

Excellent job Grayson! Come back next year and we will do it again.

Materials for Tying a Sow Bug

  • Size 20 – 14 nymph hook
  • 8/0 grey or brown thread – we usually use gray, but depending upon your local stream, you may use brown
  • dubbing – grey or brown – some include a little rainbow sparkle or orange color
  • optional – light colored partridge feather for legs

Steps for Tying a Sow Bug

  1. Place vice on stable surface that is well lit
  2. Secure hook in Vice
  3. Wax the hook so thread sticks
  4. Wax the thread so dubbing sticks
  5. Wrap thread with small amount of dubbing
  6. Wrap dubbing around hook and pull off or cut excess dubbing
  7. Secure the dubbing with a few more turns of thread (at this point, you could whip finish the sow bug and go fishing, but we usually add legs)
  8. To add legs, strip some vanes to expose the feather shaft
  9. Secure feather shaft to hook with several wraps of thread around exposed shaft
  10. Wrap feather several times around body with hackle pliers
  11. provo river brown trout caught on sowbugSecure feather with several wraps of thread
  12. Whip finish and trim thread
  13. Sow bugs float with legs out to the side, so trim feather very close on top and bottom
  14. Trim feather to 2 – 4 mm on the sides.
  15. Go Fish

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  1. I’d like to give a shout-out to Jim O’Neal and Dan at These two are the salt of the Earth…
    My son and I had the pleasure of meeting these fine gentlemen when I took my son with me to the Middle Prove. As I was taking my boy on a small jaunt up the river, these two gentlemen called us over. They said “bring that boy over here; the fish are biting like crazy”. I tried to decline, not wanting ruin their fishing hole, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They said it’s all about the kids; I couldn’t argue that statement so we joined them.

    They proceeded to teach my 7 yr old boy to fly fish with their equipment and their time. They each took turns teaching and instructing him on what to do. I was amazed at their generosity, knowledge, and patients as they taught…I was taking as many mental notes as I could, because I had no idea what I was doing… Before I knew it my boy caught his first fish on a fly rod! And he kept catching them! Jim took a look at my setup and completely re-rigged my fly rod and they both set me up with the correct flies and indicators that would keep my boy catching fish. As if that wasn’t enough, Jim took me out in the water were I proceeded to catch my first fish on a fly rod! It was a day that we will remember and retell for a longtime. So thanks again Jim O’Neal and Dan; I will pay this kind act forward…

    There was another gentleman that stopped and helped me, sometime after Jim and Dan took their leave. My son tangled the line so bad that I had to cut the line and start over. For the life of me, I could not recreate the setup that Jim rigged up for me. This other gentleman, I forget his name, took pity on me and my boy and helped me with a different setup. My boy wasted no time, putting what he was taught by Jim and Dan, to work and caught more fish.


  2. This is in response to a very nice letter from Matt (Read First Letter here).

    Thanks for the kind words Matt.
    It was our pleasure to help your young man (name withheld) catch a few fish…
    By the way, the rig you are looking for is described here.
    And don’t tell anyone, but I lost a 19 inch brown just downstream from the place we fished on Thursday…
    See you on the River.

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