Brown trout caught with gridle bug fly pattern

Complete Guide to Fly Fishing with the Girdle Bug (Fish & Tie)

Before I started this article, I had recently read a great piece on the girdle bug. I know, weird, but it was a very informative article written with such depth and thought. The article was headed ‘My Love Affair with the Girdle Bug.’ It was a great read about how this angler fell for this fly pattern and favored it over many other popular flies.

I loved the title of this article and thought it was very fitting for such an auspicious fly pattern.

Gridle Bug for Fly Fishing
Gridle Bug for Fly Fishing

My relationship with the Girdle Bug is a little less romantic. I was never a massive girdle bug fisher; I never really knew about them, and I never really needed to know about them as I had many other patterns that worked.

I am now a confessed girdle bug lover! They can be very deadly patterns to fish in the right circumstances. I really love fishing them in the faster waters as they get down to the bottom fast, and the trout rarely refuse them.

Why the Girdle Bug is Great

There are a few reasons to have this fly in your box for the next trout mission.

  1. When tied with lead wire on the shank before the chenille, the end pattern is well weighted for the faster waters and sinks like a rock. You don’t even have to be that experienced to know how to utilize this sinking property to your advantage.
  2. It makes for a great point fly and allows the angler to always keep in contact with the fly.
  3. It’s just a buggy-looking fly and has all the attractors we, as anglers, could ask for in a pattern.

“It’s something about the rubber legs on a Gridle Bug that drives trout crazy”

A Little History of the Girdle Bug

The girdle bug is said to have first been tied way back in the late 30s or early 40s. A gentleman named Frank McGinnis invented it to imitate the large stone fly nymphs of the Big Hole River. The fly pattern was originally called the ‘McGinnis Rubber Legs’ but later became known as the Girdle Bug because the legs for the pattern came from an old girdle.

The pattern was originally designed to imitate a stone fly nymph; as we know, the stone fly can get rather large. What I like about the girdle bug is that if tied with shorter legs and in lighter tans and browns, it can also imitate a cased or peeping caddis.

Either way, whichever the fly imitates on the day, it catches fish, and big ones at that.

What Fish Does a Girdle Bug Catch?

As mentioned earlier, the girdle bug was originally tied to imitate the stone fly and catch trout. But over the years, it has become more of a prospecting pattern to start the day or when the going gets tough. The girdle bug has also started getting a few more species to its name. Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout consider this pattern very enticing.

Fly Fishing Brook Trout
Check out this article 👉 How to Fly Fishing for Brook Trout

How to Setup a Girdle Bug

No special setup is needed to fish the girdle bug. I always recommend the angler to fish with a rod and reel setup that is comfortable and that they are familiar with. This is very important when it comes to fishing light tippets. You need to know how much pressure you can apply to the rod before the tippet pops!

Once you know this, you will be much more of an accomplished angler. Being able to fight a large fish on a light tippet takes a certain amount of skill, but it is also to the type of gear you are fighting the fish with.

When I fish my glass rod, I know that I have a certain extra amount of tippet protection compared to when I fish my dry fly rod. It is these small differences that I feel are important to know about your gear and use them to help you become a better angler.

I generally fish the girdle bug when I’m out nymphing, so that will mean my 3wt 10’ DRIFT Fly Rod paired with my SHILTON CR3, a nymphing line with a 9-foot leader and 6X tippet. For the larger girdle bugs, I would upsize to a 4X tippet.

PRO TIP- When the fishing is slow, switch to a nymph rig with a heavy girdle bug on as point fly and tie it on using the Rapala knot. This will give the pattern a little extra movement in the water and allow you to keep in contact with the fly at all times.

What Does the Girdle Bug Represent

Tied by Frank McGinnis to imitate a stone fly. The pattern has, over time, been said to imitate a few other insects and, in dirtier water, could be passed as any food really. One interesting thing is that the girdle bug is a lethal fly to fish at night, and that just proves that it isn’t really what the fly imitates but rather how it swims in the water.

Girdle Bug Favorite Size and Color

The pattern stays the same in many ways throughout the variants. The hook size and weight are what are mostly changed to suit the fly. For the rest of the fly, it’s lead, chenille, and rubber legs.

Below are my top three girdle bug patterns. These are all fished in sizes #14-6

  1. Bitch Creek is a great pattern to fish, it has all the triggers, and the colors are spot on.
  2. Bareback is the pattern I tend to get other species on a lot. It has great movement with the water, and with the curved scud style back, it is rather deadly.
  3. Rubber Tungsten is very similar to the above patterns with the addition of the weighted tungsten bead. This is a great way to fish this pattern weighted. With the older style patterns, you needed the lead wire on the shank to get the weight, but that would sometimes make the body too thick, especially on the smaller-sized patterns. The bead solves this issue.

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Where to Buy Girdle Bug

Best to tie your own flies if you can; that way, you can tie up the right weights and sizes. This I particularly important with this pattern.

If you don’t tie your own flies, this isn’t a train smash. Pop down to your local fly shop and grab a few. They are bound to have them in stock.

Suppose you don’t have a shop near you, then its best to get them online. Now there are loads of online stores that would sell them but look for more boutique stores to buy from. This way, you know the hooks are competition quality and won’t open on the first big fish you hook into. I recommend Umpqua for online fly purchases.

How to Tie Girdle Bug


Hook: Size 8 Wet Nymph Hook
Thread: 6/0 Brown
Body: Coffee Chenille, or chocolate brown
Legs and Antennae: Medium Brown Rubber Legs Optional: Lead Wire

Get a FREE PDF Copy of the materials list and high definition pictures to help tie this fly 👉 HERE


  1. Secure hook in the vise
  2. Tie in a level thread base
  3. If you add lead wire apply the wraps behind the eye now and secure with thread.
  4. Run the thread back to the bend of the hook.
  5. Tie in the chenille.
  6. 2 mm in front of the chenille tie in your first set of legs.
  7. Wrap forward and tie in your second set of legs mid-shank.
  8. Tie in your third set of legs 3mm behind the hook eye.
  9. Now wrap your chenille forward and between the kegs making sure they play out nicely.
  10. Tie off the chenille at the hook eye and fish with a nice thread head.
  11. Apply head cement or UV Solarez thin.

One Last Cast with the Girdle Bug

The love affair with the girdle bug is one that even your wife will approve of. It is a fly pattern that is steeped in history and hasn’t changed much over the past 80 years. It catches fish and big fish at that. It’s a great pattern to fish in tandem with another smaller pattern or as a single nymph.

Whichever way you choose to fish the girdle bug, be sure to fish it! It won’t disappoint.

Happy fishing and tight lines!

Kyle Knight writer Guide Recommended

Kyle Knight

Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.

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