Fly Fishers' Republic


August 19, 2007

by Raif Killips




The Aztec is an adaptable pattern. By switching colours and adjusting the fly’s size and profile it can be used for a large range of species and presented using a number of techniques. The version illustrated is a classic steelhead fly, but the Aztec can be used for saltwater species, And both cold and warm water species. The Aztec has been used for largemouth bass, pike, Trout, Salmon, Steelhead and Striped Bass to name a few potential quarry.

How to fish:

The method of presentation depends very much upon the particular version of the Aztec you are fishing and the species of fish you are targetting. Fish on a floating or sinking line in fresh still water or salt water, with a strip retrieve or rolly-polly retrieve. Use an upstream and across quick strip or downstream swing on a sinking, sink-tip or floating line in running water. The Aztec will even work with a greased line presentation for salmon and steelhead.


The Aztec was created by Dick Nelson in 1976 and first publicised in Outdoor Life and later in Fly Fisherman.

Dick wanted a pattern that, like the Matuka, kept its profile when retrieved. The fly needed to be durable yet develop plenty of built in action. Using acrylic wool looped into the body Nelson achieved all his goals. The Aztec, though often forgotten, is the precursor to any number of later patterns like Ken Hanley’s Tron Minnow, and is perhaps the inspiration behind patterns like Enrico Puglesi’s baitfish.


Dick Nelson tied a whole range of Aztecs. Some versions incorporated a rib and others had a tinsel body. They were tied for salt water, warm water and cold water fish species. The version illustrated in this article is a Steelhead fly dressed in classic colours.

Further reading:

'Advanced Fly Fishing for Steelhead', Deke Meyer, 1992, Frank Amato Publications.

'The Fly Tier's Benchside Reference', Ted Leeson & Jim Schollmeyer, 1998, Frank Amato Publications.

'Patterns of the Masters', Vol. 2, 1991, Federation of Fly Fishers.

'Greased Line Fishing for Salmon & Steelhead', Jock Scott, 1991, Frank Amato Publications.