Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Red Fox Squirrel Nymph

This dressing is an unweighted composite of primarily early directions for dressing the fly with a few of the later modifications, and in keeping with the standard for hook size and representation on the blog, it uses a size 14 dry fly hook rather than the nymph hook Whitlock prescribes. It largely follows Dave Whitlock’s “Standard Red Fox Squirrel-Hair Nymph” recipe from the June 1984 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine, using natural, prepackaged belly fibers for the abdomen and unblended back fur taken from a road-kill fox squirrel as the thorax. It adds the hackling and tailing that Whitlock suggests in the book chapter on nymphing. 



Burnt orange

Red fox squirrel back fur (optional)

Gold twist

Red fox squirrel underbelly fur

Red fox squirrel back fur (dubbed slender)

Dark speckled brown hen hackle

Including the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph as soft hackle might be criticized as taking too much liberty with the blog definition of the style, as in the case of the northeastern Breadcrust, the ubiquitous Greenwell’s Glory, or the Tup’s Nymph (or most other patterns dressed by G. E. M. Skues). Nevertheless, it an impressionistic pattern and lends itself to dressing in many familiar styles. Pinpointing the inception of one of Dave Whitlock’s most iconic flies is a task likely best left to Whitlock himself. Since tracking down every reference to the fly would be even harder, a sample of Whitlock’s own words on the pattern must suffice.

An early publication that includes the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph was The Masters on the Nymph (1979), to which Whitlock contributed a chapter 7, “Nymphing Tackle.” The first of the four “favorite nymph patterns” he includes is the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph,” which he describes as his “favorite all-purpose nymph, as versatile and effective for a nymph as the Adams is for a dry fly. It works as well where mayflies, stone flies, caddis pupae, and scuds of similar colors exist, and where there are no nymphs.

Hook:   Mustad 9671, sizes 4-18
Body weight:   6 to 10 wraps of lead wire at thorax
Thread:   Black
Tail:   Sparse tuft of red-fox squirrel back hair, including both guard and underfur ½ length of hook shank
Rib:   Small oval tinsel
Abdomen: Red-fox squirrel belly fur
Thorax:  Red-fox squirrel back fur (with guard and underfur included)
Wing case:   Dark-brown swiss straw or turkey tail
Legs:   Either guard hairs of red-fox squirrel back or one turn of dark partridge hackle”

He also cited it as the nymph he used in his nymphing system in a pair of articles in Fly Fisherman magazine from 1983, but did not give it an explicit treatment of the fly itself until a June 1984 article entitled “Red Fox-Squirrel-Hair Nymph.”  In this article, he describes how to trim a red squirrel hide to preserve the scarce belly fur—split the skin down the back when dressing the body—and how to sort the fur into like colors. (He also notes that a shaved, tanned red fox squirrel skin can repurposed into buckskin nymphs. Very little of the animal goes to waste for the savvy, creative fly tier.)  More importantly, he discusses the reasons for the fly’s success. Rather than clinging to a narrow representational niche, the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph aims for impressionistic representation and is, as a result, characteristically versatile. By adjusting the length and thickness of the abdomen, and thorax, as well as the sparseness and length of the hackle, the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph could give the impression of a broad array of insects. In this article, he gives a dressing for “Dave Whitlock’s Standard Red Fox Squirrel-Hair Nymph” that looks much more like a soft hackle:

“HOOK:  Mustad 9671 or Tiemco Nymph Hook, #2 to #18.
THREAD: Black or dark brown nylon.
CEMENT: Dave’s Flexament.
WEIGHT: Lead or copper wire.
ABDOMEN: Belly fur from red fox squirrel skin, may be blended with synthetic sparkle dubbing. Abdomen should be ½ to 2/3 of the overall body length.
THORAX: Back fur from red fox squirrel skin, may be blended with synthetic sparkle dubbing. Thorax should be ½ to 1/3 of the overall body length.
RIB Gold wire or oval tinsel.”

In his Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods (1982), Whitlock’s fly boxes illustrate this versatility: it shows up, for instance, in his “Box No. 1: General Utility Box” at the head of the list in sizes 6-16, as well as “Box No. 4: Terrestrials and Summer Midges” in sizes 16 and 18.

Whitlock’s prolific writing has continued to describe the efficacy of the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. He contributed a short article on the pattern in the September/October 2010 issue of Eastern Fly Fishing that reflects many of the modern, commercial interventions in fly dressing that have risen alongside media popularization of the sport, especially in print but also in film. This version updates the materials that Whitlock originally posted for the do-it-yourself fly tier of the late seventies and early eighties. In their blend of synthetic and natural fibers, these newer, branded materials regularize the color and consistency of the abdomen, thorax, and hackling, and they incorporate colors and sparkle that are more likely to attract a trout’s attention, particularly in off-color water. Both the original and contemporary versions have a place in the angler’s fly box. This Red Fox Squirrel Nymph uses:

Hook: TMC 5262, size 2-20
Thread: Orange Wapsi Ultra Thread 70
Weight: Lead Wire the diameter of the hook wire
Cements: Zap-a-Gap and Dave’s Flexament
Tail: Back hair of red fox squirrel
Rib: Small or medium gold oval tinsel
Abdomen: 50-50 blend of red fox squirrel belly hair and similar colors of Antron and SLF or No. 2 (red fox squirrel abdomen) Wapsi Dave Whitlock Plus SLF dubbing blend
Thorax: 50-50 blend of red fox squirrel back hair blended and hare’s ear Antron and SLF or No. 1 (red fox squirrel thorax) Wapsi Dave Whitlock Plus SLF dubbing blend
Legs: Dark ginger Metz hen back feather for hook sizes 2-12; for smaller hooks, pick out the dubbing guard hairs for legs
Head: Orange thread or gold bead.”


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Mark! This is my searching fly in the Smokies on a size 14 nymph hook.

  2. Thanks for the thorough overview of the Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. Fished as a Soft Hackle makes this a great variation to a great nymph pattern.

    1. My take on Whitlock's pattern - on his impressionistic method overall - is the importance of infinite variabity.