Steel Back Nymph (SBN)

Steel Back Nymphs - SO GOOD THEY MAY HAVE TO BE BANNED! – an alternative to using weighted beads


“SO GOOD THEY MAY HAVE TO BE BANNED! – an alternative to using weighted beads.”

The Nymph

I’m convinced the SBN has that X factor to rival the use of beads which revolutionised weighted nymph fishing.

Beads add weight and “bling” whereas the bling is optional on the SBN’s and the weight is distibuted more evenly along the hook shank.

Since most anglers will use a bead pattern in order to get their nymph down, the SBN provides the trout with a totally different profile and, let’s face it, is there a trout on the planet that’s yet to see a bead head nymph???

A client recently showed me his nymph box and every single nymph had a bead head! He then proceeded to list the various insects each was supposed to represent.

In my view there are only two results possible with a bead head nymph. Either the fish will grab it with gusto or the trout will disappear at a great rate of knots in the opposite direction! I’m not knocking beads and I still use them under certain conditions but the SBN provides a more natural alternative in my opinion.

You can also add weight (lead or lead free wire, copper wire tungsten strips etc.) to the shank of a hook but to keep proportions, it means that only the larger sizes have significant sinkability or you end up with a smaller bulky nymph which will be refused by educated trout. In my view less is best.

Adding weight to the leader is good allowing the use of lighter, slimmer nymphs but it is not popular because it’s a bit fiddly to set up.

Characteristics of the “steel back” nymph

  1. No bead = more tying space with no loss of weight.
  2. Thorax right to hook eye. No space lost at tie off (tie off is concealed).
  3. Bold side profile.
  4. Descends water column in a horizontal plane – not head first as with forward weighted flies.
  5. Hook will remain upside down – less bottom weed.
  6. Allows slim body construction while still retaining weight.
  7. Curved appearance with straight shank hookability.
Brown trout from Twizel river.

As a professional fishing guide, (since 1995) and specialising in sight fishing, I get to see at first hand how trout react to presented flies. Sometimes the pattern is less of a factor than the actual drift, depth etc. but when a good drift at the right depth doesn’t produce a reaction then it’s time to change your fly!

I have fished nearly exclusively with my SBN’s the past few seasons safe in the knowledge that I’m the only one using them and, more importantly, because they are absolutely lethal! I have seen brown trout refuse to take a size #18 hare’s ear nymph only to grab a similar size SBN after a change of flies. Of course, if you have already caught that trout recently, you are going to need to change your pattern no matter what fly was used.

More reasons to use the SBN …

SBN013 - back view
SBN013 - side view


“Bling” can be incorporated into any part of the hook shank whereas with a bead nymph, the bead has to be behind the hook eye or in thorax. Both flies are #16 and 9mm total length (excluding tails) .

SBN014 - back view
SBN014 - side view


More detail can be tied into the fly since the 2.4mm (plus tie off space) required for a GBHE is completely available to tie the SBN.

Both flies #16 and 9mm total length (excluding tails) .

SBN014 #18 - back view
SBN014 #18 - side view

SBN014 #18

A thinner body is easy to make with the SBN tying system whilst a 2mm bead on this #18 hook reduces space on the shank and reduces gape which can equate to less hookability. Even with a 2mm tungsten bead, the SBN is heavier for this size hook. Both flies #18 and 7mm total length (excluding tails) .

SBN003 - back view
SBN003 - side view


In these images the bead headed nymph ends up looking like a “blob” as the added legs and dubbed thorax adds to the bulk. In comparison, the SBN has a slimmer body, dubbed thorax and micro legs and looks longer even though both nymphs are the same length, 9 mm (less tails) for a similar weight. The bead (2.4mm in this case) also makes threading your mono tippet through the eye more difficult. Both flies #16.

SBN040 - back view
SBN040 - side view


The edge bright is not a thin material but the extra space available on the SBN shank allows several wraps. Tie off is visible behind the bead on the hare’s ear. Both flies #16, 9mm in length and of similar weight (excluding tails) .

SBN031 - back view
SBN031 - side view


The two SBN’s have natural stainless steel backs for the bling compared to the silver bead hare’s ear. Top is a SBN 031 and on bottom a synthetic version of the standard SBN001 with rubber legs. All three nymphs #18 hooks and 7mm total length.


The steel back nymph started from an idea I had some 10 years ago to make use of some left-over steel wire ties from a building project.

The original model was very complicated to “tie” but proved irresistible to trout on it’s very first outing on the Tekapo River accounting for 8 good fish in the same pool in an hour. I was convinced I was on to something ground breaking! 

Since then, I have refined the design to make it more durable and more consistant to make. I hesitate to use the word “tie” since there are several steps which have more to do with engineering than tying in the classic sense of the word!

It’s my “go to” pattern especially since there are so many back/body/thorax options, and it has caught trout in every single stream and lake I, and my clients regularly fish.

The SBN represents, as far as I can deduce, everything from mayfly and caddis nymphs all the way through to snails! One classic occasion was when I had Mike fishing to an awkwardly placed brown. I tied on a small SBN but the trout didn’t appear to be interested and I could almost hear Mike thinking “what the hell has he tied on my leader!”. After trying several classic patterns the trout remained unperturbed and uncaught! I changed back to the original SBN and, this time, as soon as the fish saw it eureka! Hook up at last.

Now ok, it may have been simply a question of a better drift but Mike was now sold on the new nymph and he and Sheralee proceded to entice other trout that day using the new pattern.

SBN Nymphs
SBN 71 & SBN 72
Happy anglers

The Details


Steel backs are available in natural stainless (shiny) and natural stainless (matte).


Colours include black, brown, blue, olive, yellow and ruby.

Sizes #14, #16 and #18.


Steel back nymphs are tied on Tiemco #3769 or Kamasan #B175 heavy wire barbed hooks. For those who prefer barbless, it is a simple task of crimping the barb over on these hooks.


Include ribbed tying thread, dubbed and ribbed, tinsel and rib, copper wire (Copper John style).


Standard dubbing material including: Natural fur, CDC and synthetics. Fine rubber legs feature on most S.B.N’s.


Steel back nymphs are tied to order on a first in first served basis. You will receive email confirmation once your order has been lodged with the estimated production time. If the delay is too long for you please let me know BEFORE the estimated production date to get a full refund.

  1. Click on desired model.
  2. Select size
  3. Select quantity (minimum 4 of same size).



While every measure has been taken to make the SBN as durable as possible, care should be taken NOT to twist the steel back or pull up on it when removing the hook from a trout or obstacle. I strongly recommend a hook disgorger tool or pliers (hemostats) for this purpose.

Fly tying instructions for SBN 40.

This steel back nymph is tied on a size #16 Tiemco 3769 hook making the fly 9mm in length. The SBN 40 along with the SBN 60, use edge bright (brite) as the body material. Especially effective at spawning time, the orange glow is very appealing to trout and other fish species as well. The steel back tying system allows for a more prominent body and thorax while still maintaining a compact profile.

The instructions for finishing the fly vary from the nymphs sold @ since those steel backs are soldered prior to the epoxy being applied for additional strength.

Give them a try. I know you won’t be disappointed.

Alan Campbell.


Franck Après un séjour en Nouvelle Zélande en avril 2019, à mon retour J’ai essayé les nymphes à Alan en juillet sur ma rivière préférée en Autriche, les conditions étaient parfaites (grand plat devant un barrage, eaux transparentes et profondeur d’environ 2 mètres) pour observer le comportement des truites.

A chaque passage de la nymphe, la truite est venue prendre celle-ci juste au début de la dérive en se déplaçant sur des distances étonnantes. De retour en France j’ai continué l’expérience sur les gros chevaines les résultats ont été très convaincants.

Après avoir vu l’efficacité de ces nymphes en Nouvelle Zélande et en Autriche il me tarde de continuer les essais sur les rivières française en 2020.

Septembre 2019



Dear Alan. Now it is only three months until we meet again. Looking forward as a kid !!

I met Alan for the first time in 2016, and have had many nice fishing trips with him ever since. Alan is always gentle and nice to be with. 

He also has solid knowledge of trout fishing in the region and in addition very keen on the fish’s well-being and not least the nature around. And that is in my spirit too.

He has also developed his own technique for fly tying – so his flies are irresistible to the trout …. I have also had the pleasure of meeting his pleasant wife Marie “at home”, several times, and greatly appreciate her and Alan’s hospitality. Visiting is always so nice. So, we’ll see you in January Alan.



Mark Easton

Like Alan I have the privilege of living in the shadow of New Zealand’s largest mountains where we are blessed with superb fishing opportunities. I regularly fish the area on my own and with friends but for over a decade twice a year I treat myself to “a day on the water” with Alan.

Everything about the day is special starting from the heartfelt warm greeting to the reflective warm inner glow as I drive my weary body home after an action packed day.

Alan chooses the best location for the conditions; He spots fish that others walk past. He makes and selects exquisitely tied flies. His patient skillful technique instruction ensure that I catch fish that my friends and I can normally only dream of guiding to the net.

If you want to live your fly fishing dreams spend a day in the spectacular McKenzie Basin with Alan. You won’t be disappointed.

Mark Easton


– fishing guide for over 25 years and the creator of the “Steel back Nymph”.

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