Nymph Fishing, There’s Nothing Wrong With It

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My good friend Dan Flynn nymphs a run, because it’s the right method for the conditions. Photo By: Louis Cahill

It seems like every where I look, I see blog posts all over the place chastising and bad mouthing nymph fishing.

I hear comments claiming nymph fishing is nothing more than mindless fly fishing. That watching indicators floating down the river all day is boring. So let me ask you this, does it make since to instead fish a dry fly if your chances of catching fish are slim to none? To me, that’s what’s boring and ridiculous. My objective on the water is always to decipher what the fish are predominantly feeding on, and then fish the appropriate rig and fly that allows me to imitate it to my best ability. Whether or not the fly pattern is a wet or dry fly has no bearing to me at all. All that matters is that it’s the right choice for the moment. To frown upon nymph fishing and purposely avoid it, even when it’s obvious it’s an anglers best bet for success, is like a golfer choosing to putt with a driver instead of a putter. It will work but it’s obviously not the best gear choice.

We don’t go through life purposely choosing to take the most difficult path in the off chance we’ll find success. Just as in fly fishing, it doesn’t make any sense to fish one method of fly fishing over another just because it feels more pleasing to the soul. I can stomach doing it every now and then, but to ignore fish behavior and throw away my adaptive fishing tactics, just because I dislike nymph fishing or any other method, seems to go against all the teachings that our fly fishing pioneers have worked so hard to pass down to all of us.

It doesn’t matter what type of fly pattern your fishing, whether it sinks or floats, they all predominantly are designed to imitate various stages of aquatic insects or other food that’s preyed upon by fish in the ecosystem. Nine times out of ten, fish will prefer to forage on the easiest and most abundant food source available to them at any given time. Fish aren’t prejudice towards their food or flies we throw at them. All they care about is eating enough for survival and reproducing. I believe all forms of fly fishing and fly patterns are created equal.

Here’s another thing about nymph fishing that I find hilarious about the critics. A nymph rig, specifically a tandem nymph rig, is much harder to cast than a single dry fly or streamer rig. It takes more casting skills to pull off presentations without getting tangles. For anyone that wants to argue with me on this, hand a first-time fly fisherman a dry fly rig, and a nymph rig, and see which one they cast more efficiently. And if nymph fishing isn’t harder and more technical, than why is it that more often than not, nymph fishing is the last fly fishing method novice fly fisherman learn? And if trout feed below the surface on average 75% of the time, then why shouldn’t we be fishing subsurface for them?

There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite way to fly fish and catch fish, just don’t claim one way is purer or more worthy over the other. All flies are created equal, and they all begin with a hook.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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32 thoughts on “Nymph Fishing, There’s Nothing Wrong With It

  1. I started out learning how to fly fish by nymphing. I enjoy the challenge more…type of nymph to use…how much weight to use…where to cast and how to control the line. I also enjoy dry fly fishing but the simplicity (to me) of looking for fish feeding and determining what they are feeding on and casting a fly above the fish and allowing the current to carry it over the fish and waiting for a strike seems a bit simplistic, although I enjoy it when the hatches are on and the fish are hungry. I also enjoy using a indicator.

  2. We don’t go through life purposely choosing to take the most difficult path in the off chance we’ll find success…. just because it feels more pleasing to the soul.

    Well, actually, we do. You’ve got to admit, if it came down simply catching fish, making it a numbers game, we probably wouldn’t be fly fishing to start with. We’d be slinging bait. So I don’t get hung up on folks choosing not to nymph. They’ve just chosen to define their passion a bit tighter than you and I.

    Oh, and don’t get started on the whole indicator thing…

    • Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not the best with analogies, ha.

      I don’t care what people fish, my point, was that I don’t agree with the anglers that look down on nymph fishing, and then go about chastising other anglers who love to nymph fish. Almost all fly patterns are tied to imitate food, so that makes fishing them in my ryes equal.

      Its good to hear from you Mike. Thanls gor your participation.


  3. Great dialogue here guys. I agree we do make things deliberately harder for ourselves…if it was just about catching we’d throw bait and be done with it. Spend my time fishing to get away from base human emotions like arrogance and competitiveness.

    Gotta be frustrating at times being a guide trying to teach and facilitate success while others attempt to define what you “should” be doing. Way to vent without ranting.

  4. Nice post! Agreed upon 100%. I go through the motions multiple times in the fly shop everyday, trying to explain the reason I choose nymphs over dries, on most occasions. Just playing the odds fellas!

    • Matt,

      Being that you come from my neck of the woods, you know how important nymph fishing is in our trout fishing. I’ve been in your shoes many times over the years. Thanks for adding your two cents.


  5. Amen!

    Case in point: A friend of mine travels from Vegas to Wyoming each summer for our annual fishing trip. He is a decent angler, but he’s more about catching fish than caring whether it’s with a spinning rod or fly rod. We fished this river we always start our trip on and tore it up dry fly fishing. We both did equally well.

    Then we decided to fish the Mile for a day. We get up to a run and I set up my nymph rig. He laughs and tries to fish the same way he was the day before. I start pulling in fish from the same run he’s fishing and he gets pissed. He’s not one to ask for help, but finally he had enough and I showed him how I set up.

    After a few casts, he gave up. He could not get his cast slow enough and was tangling every time. He said “You fish your way, I’ll fish mine.” He never caught a single fish in two days until he went back to his spinning rod.

    To each their own, but nobody wants to go out and not catch fish. The romance of a dry fly being taken is uncomparable, but truly… how many fish that are trophy size get that way by blasting up out of the water to your dry?

  6. Kent,

    First off, fantastic blog! I’ve been sharing it with my buddies. There’s a lot of really great stuff here.

    This is a little off topic, but I thought it would be the best place for this question. Ever since I read your post on 8 classic mending mistakes, I’ve been meaning to ask you about nymphing technique. Specifically, when casting a double (or single for that matter) rig, do you want the flies to land up or down stream of the indicator? Though it may be a wash, I tend to think that this affects the presentation. Your thoughts?

  7. My name is D.A.N. It stands for Dirty A$$ Nympher. I fish dries, streamers and of course nymphs. When the situation calls for it adapt, just like your quarry. Fly fishing is pure, not just what style. As for nymph fishing, I enjoy the game of figuring out what they are feeding on when I can’t see it…

  8. Interesting blog post and really enjoy the discussion. I both agree and disagree. I completely agree that anyone chastising anyone for the way they fish, as long as legal in that body of water, is elitist snobbery and is a detriment to our sport. I do, however, disagree that we always choose the most effective means of catching fish. I enjoy the added thrill of a take on a dry and may forego the chance at more fish for those one or two on top. I do admit to often changing back to nymphing to get the skunk off though! To each their own, but ridicule has no place in our sport.

  9. Amen to that Kent. I have friends who won’t chuck n duck, they prefer to indie fish. I enjoy indie fishing, but it doesn’t work in some runs and holes. I’ve had them work a hole for ten minutes or more only to have me hook up on my first drift through.

    As I like to say, we’re all just bothering fish.

  10. People still sneer at nymph fishing? I thought all that dry-fly centrism ended decades ago. I find nymphing much more challenging, because not only do you have to fool the fish, you have to find it, too. Deciding where to cast, getting your fly to run at the right depth & speed, choosing a good pattern (fish get a much better look at a nymph than a dry), visualizing the drift — nothing mindless about it.

    • Morgan,

      I agree with you in full my friend. Thanks for voicing your opinion on the post. Its good for me to hear how our followers feel about these topics. I’m glad that most of you are on my side, ha


  11. I fish to be out in it. Breathing fresh air and suckin up the sunshine. I don’t think the air taste any sweeter, the sun any brighter, or the shade more welcoming with a dainty dry on my line, I don’t let flies dictate my way of fishing any more than I let people dictate my life. And as we will all see here shortly I ain’t no glamour boy.

  12. Sanctimonious purists…who needs them? I was brought up dry fly fishing on the Green River in Utah, and the guide my father always used was definitely a dry fly purist. So growing up I never really learned the ways of nymph. Over time I taught myself enough to get by, and I love. Sometimes the fish just aren’t feeding on the surface…so in those cases throwing a dry fly and watching it float down the stream is as “mindless” as watching a floating indicator…except you probably will catch fewer fish. I was fishing the Pequest River in West NJ near where I grew up this last May. Th water was very low, so I ventured upstream and found a relatively deep hole with a nice quick riffle at the top of it. I threw a few casts with a bead head (copper!) and after a couple tangles threw the perfect cast and watched an 18 inch gorgeous rainbow slam my fly. This was just as intense as watching a trout slam your dry…and this was one of the most beautiful fish I’ve caught… on a nymph!

    • Alan,

      Thank you for sharing that story and background. If you exclusively grew up dry fly fishing and have learned to love nymph fishing, there’s still hope, ha

      Thanks for commenting. I enjoyed the read.


  13. I fish 95% of the time using nymphs.
    Why? Fish feed on subsurface food all day long, that’s why.

    However I do enjoy sight nymphing a lot too. That’s casting to a feeding fish (generally in skinny water) and watch the fish move to detect the take.

  14. Skiers vs. snowboarders, surfers vs. boogie boarders, fixed-gear vs. free wheel, dry vs. nymphing… All the same worthless “purist” trash talk. What’s worse is the equipment snobs. You catch fish because of practice and/or some luck, not because of what brand of gear you’re using or wearing.

    BTW, spent a day fly fishing the Miracle Mile area near Casper, WY with no luck. Drove back to our hotel and caught a 25″+ brown right in the middle of town on the same river on a cheap travel spinning rod and spinner. Point is, it’s all fishing. And that’s always better than the alternative.

  15. “Sense” not “since.” 80% pd a trout’s food is eaten sub surface. Some bigger fish never surface feed. I would love to only fish dry, but I would also love to date Reese Witherspoon. It just isn’t going to happen.

  16. I got a “douche factor” friend as you called them. I hate that he talks like he’s somehow a “better” fly fisher because he is “bored” by nymphing – as if anyone would fish nymphs when dries were in play.
    If you’re reading this, you know who you are!

  17. There’s an infinite amount to learn with any technique. Nobody ever masters any of it completely.

    …And since it is a hobby for the huge majority of people, as long as they aren’t harming the environment and animals, who cares how they get their kicks. I don’t say that in a negative way. Enjoy your hobby however you see fit.

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