Sunday Classic / 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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31 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / Nymph Fishing, There’s Nothing Wrong With It

  1. “…does it make since (sic) to instead fish a dry fly if your chances of catching fish are slim to none?”
    There are other effective ways of fishing besides dry flies and watching fishing bobbers. I have no problems fishing with nymphs, but watching a bobber to me is nothing more than cane pole fishing, just using a fancy rod and reel and calling the bobber something else. Fishing nymphs without an indicator takes more feel and patience. Once this style of fishing is mastered though, it is far more effective than fishing with a bobber (indicator).

    • I disagree there are times were you must suspend your nymphs higher up in the water column and an indicator will aid in doing that. I flyfished and tied for over 30+ years and watching and indicator get ripped under is just as exciting as Euro nymphing or dry fly fishing. Not trying to argue but jeez guys ! Just fish and enjoy yourselves

  2. I’m with you all the way, almost. If I run into a trout fisherman who is interested in learning to fly fish, I always start them off nymphing before introducing them to flies, for several reasons. It’s a natural transition, if you think about it. Any guy who can successfully fish live bait already understands how to fish more by feel without a visual on his bait. That’s half the battle with nymph fishing. I start them out straight-lining with a single nymph and an indicator. That means very little fishing, but usually results in a high catch rate because it’s so similar to fishing live bait. And you don’t have to go to great lengths to teach them to cast. Usually it involves doing nothing more than making an upstream flip at the end of a drift. It also introduces them to the aquatic life cycle from the stream bed up. If you get them on the right water they start catching fish right away and are hooked. From there, it’s not a big leap to tandem rigs and fishing streamers, which is so similar to fishing spinners and spoons. Dries come lkast, but by now most people are comfoirtabe with getting a line out. It’s a lot easier to get them casting effectively. Like any other fishing experience, they get off on seeing the take on the surface. But they already know how successful nymphing can be. There’s no talking them into it.

  3. These difference of opinions, as long as they stay good natured, are one of the things that make our sport so interesting. I have a friend, let’s call him Ed, because that’s his name. Ed is a dry fly fisherman, like the skies have opened up and it’s raining as hard as it possibly can and Ed is still floating a size 16 parachute Adams, kind of a dry fly fisherman. He doesn’t believe smallmouth or saltwater presentations are appropriate at TU meetings and often refuses to attend those meetings. Ed is a purest and can get a little cranky about it, but he’s often the guy at the other end of the log or across the table when we need him at a meeting. Ya just gotta love Ed and all the guys and gals like him for who they are.

    • uhhh, I guess I will see you at the pig roast? lol, Ed is just gonna have to deal with that!

      I can somewhat understand Ed’s feelings. A lot of our rivers are not optimal for nymphing because of all the woody debris. That’s partially why a certain few rivers near us are almost exclusively fished with dries by your weekend warriors and novices. But I am fairly certain I know Ed…I know Ed likes to hit up a certain sand trap…and I tell ya what Greg, I have done really well down there with princes and copper Johns. Personally I enjoy all the different types of fishing, they make one another more fun, variety…They are also often seasonally delegated so all the tactics fit in nicely together, except that chuck’n duck bullshit. Had to say it.

      • It’s true we don’t have trout streams we’have brush piles with water running through them. That’s why God gave us 10 pound fluorocarbon, sighters and tippet rings.

  4. I guy I know is fantastic nymph fisherman. His secret to success is to “add one extra split shot”. He land upwards of 800+ trout per year although he has yet to reach his goal of 1,000. He’s a fish catching machine and somehow his 727th trout is as meaningful to him as his 1st.

    I’m a dry fly purist. My goal is to see some heads and land just one fish per trip. Most of the dry fly guys I talk with have a similar attitude. We’re much more like hunters than fishermen. We rarely cast without a target.

    To each his own and I must say that I have never ran into a DFG who has disparaging comments about nymphing. Most of us started out doing it and simply found it unchallenging, unrewarding, or simply an unappealing way to pursue trout.

  5. I always tell folks, and myself at times when I find myself starting to look down my own nose at another Angler for how they are fishing be it dry fly, bait, spinner, ect, that an person should fish in whatever way brings them joy. After all, what are you out there fishing for? If you are fishing in a legal manner and not leaving all your fast food trash behind and are a honest, ethical sportsman, then fish whatever style brings you hhappiness! Fish and let fish in Jesus name, Amen!

    • You are exactly right jsa! Fish the way you want and the way that makes you happy. People get too caught up in what other people are doing and how others are fishing and it’s just not necessary. If it isn’t negatively effecting you, the fish, or the water, then who cares? Looking down on others is pointless and only makes you look like an ass. We’re all here for the same thing, we just have different ways of doing it.

      • Thank you Justin; well put. Fish what works for you. The best advice is what you or others are catching fish with & makes you feel good. Stay well

  6. Good article and some excellent comments. Tom Panel made some excellent points about bring people to the sport, and this is one way to do it. In Southern Missouri, especially Lake Tanneycomo and the White River in Arkansas, nymphs are my go to .

    My friend Tom , can stand 20-30 yards from me and caught fish with,woollie buggers at the same time. Most often though , one of will yell over, what’s the bite , and copy the guy who is getting the best result.

    It’s fishing, learn the technique that lands the fish and go for it .

    • I have to admit I had much rather fish a dry fly and watch the take on the surface as oppose to not watching the trout take the subsurface pattern; but if the nymph pattern lands fish for me and 90% if the time it does then so be it I will fish it. Thanks for reminding all of us that we shouldn’t get lock in on one pattern when fly fishing.

  7. Those who may be “chastising or bad mouthing nymph fishing” are probably hypocrites since they’ve done it sometime in their past, or are just grumpy by nature and to be ignored. However, fishing only dries has nothing to do with “purity,” “more worthy,” or other status-type labels for most of us. It’s just what we enjoy. For me, I dry fly fish to see the take, to make the hunt for that rising fish, then position myself for a certain presentation to that fish, and make a slow smooth cast without anything but the fly on the leader. Its the hunt, the stalk, the visual aspect. And yes, I agree its easier too. It has nothing to do with fish counts, how many I can catch or have caught, or the odds of catching more. I don’t seek the easiest or most efficient way to catch yet another trout. I’ve become most rewarded with fishing dry, and simply don’t enjoy fishing with indicators, split shot, weighted flies, or flies fished deeper than the surface film any more. For that, I should not be looked upon as “not making any sense” any more than the nymph fisherman should be chastised or bad mouthed. I have certainly spent plenty of days and years fishing wet, weighted, and/or bobbered. I’m not ashamed of it, and enjoyed the hell out of it! I just choose not to do it any more because I’m so content and satisfied fishing dry, or moving around the river waiting to cast my dry, or even blind casting my dry despite what the chances are.

    I think we all agree one should fish how one enjoys, and make their own decisions based on that, not what the teachings of others may have handed down or the best statistical odds of catching another fish, or hundreds of fish. I don’t count ’em, I try to make them memorable. It’s the “cool takes” that I see, in unique lies, perhaps with a tough cast, that I remember.

  8. Often times the guys I hear bashing nymphers are the same guys that don’t have the skill or patience to do it. So it’s easier for them to bash others than to learn the skill themselves. My opinion is all aspects of fishing are worth my time because the more I can experience the better angler I can become. Sure I would rather swing flies all the time but it’s no substitute for a subspended drift presentation

  9. Great article. I personally have to say I am not the biggest fan of nymphing but I still do it, and have fun when I catch fish nymphing. Actually I’m really not that good at it, can’t tell the difference between the bottom or a strike. But I still do it. It’s all about fishing all aspects of fly fishing, and being able to fish where ever you go. I have spots that I dry fly fish only, I regularly fish a dry dropper set up, and I fish spots where the only way you will catch a fish is on a nymph rig. Fly fishing had so many styles, and all of it should be part of fly fishing. And I’m all for havin fun and fishing how ever you want to fish. It just pisses me off when the spin rod guy throws one cast just above the hole I’m fishing and catches a slob. Really I’m just jealous.

    • DJ,

      One of the best tips I received this past spring from two guide buddies is to work on your “check set” when nymphing. What has really helped me is the mentality that you should either be tapping bottom or hooking fish on every drift.

      During the drift at any little tick or tap I will check set, or do a pseudo hook set that doesn’t end my drift but puts enough tension on the line to allow the fish to hook itself if it truly is a bite.

      This technique has greatly improved my nymphing by allowing me to get longer drifts while still setting on just about anything that could be a fish. It takes some practice but is a great way to keep focused in nymphing water that you can’t sight fish in.

      As always though, adjust your technique to fish you can sight especially if they are suspended happy fish.

  10. I just got back from a 3 week dirt bag trout trip through SD/WY/UT/ID/MT. I caught one fish on the hopper part of a hopper, copper, drop rig. Rest of the fish came on nymphs with a H/C/D or straight up indy rig.

    Best fishing of the trip was a tie between Upper Henrys Fork and Gallatin. Both places had a strong PMD hatch going. Others were fishing dries and picking up a few fish. I was swinging caddis pupa on my micro-spey and they were absolutely hammering them. I switched to 3x because the fish were hitting on the rise, when the line is tight, and popping the tippet.

  11. I have also been called a cheater for fishing San Juan Worms. In my fisheries, worms tend to be the best 4 season flies that can be fished in almost any condition. On the pressured waters I sometimes frequent, it’s still very easy to get skunked with the “easiest” of flies.

    On another note, I would venture to say that close to 75% of the time when nymphing, I’m not watching my indicator aimlessly, I’m watching the fish I’m trying to catch.

    I think others can attest that in the game of sight fishing, my indicator is primarily to suspend my rig at the correct depth and give me an indication of strike if I lose sight of my target during the drift. I’m almost always looking for fish.

  12. I only recently learned to nymph, I was taught the no-bobber, direct contact, method. It rocks.

    This spring I fished a couple days with a buddy and his friend on the Owens River in CA, a week or two after I was taught to nymph.

    At breakfast the first AM the friend asked what technique we would be fishing, and my buddy said dry fly, I said nymph, and the friend said he’d be fishing streamers.

    With a nod toward me, he said his goal was big fish and that was not a knock on any other method.

    I honestly never had any idea that people thought only small fish come from nymphing, but apparently there is that thought out there.

    Anyway, we happened to meet up at about lunch time, and he told me he’d caught 4 or 5 and asked me how I had done. I replied that I had caught around 20.

    After we ate he asked to watch me do my thing, and he watched me quickly hook a 15″ – 16″ rainbow, and he said “That’s not a small fish.” I gave him a couple of the nymphs I had tied and he went on his way.

    Shortly after that my buddy found me and said he’d caught 2 or 3. I told him how I was doing, and gave him some of my nymphs, and he sat down to tie one on.

    While he was tying the fly on, I caught 5 more out of the hole he was sitting next to.

    Needless to say, he became excited about nymphing.

    At about mid-afternoon I could see that my buddy and his friend were at the truck ready to go, so I started downstream, throwing a few more casts as I went.

    At the last hole before the truck, while they watched, I hooked a tanker rainbow that measured out to just over 20″.

    With close to 40 fish to hand, and by far the biggest fish of the day, you can bet that I spent dinner that night explaining to them how to nymph!


    • Andy,

      There is also a strange belief out there that small flies catch small fish. While I will say in certain situations, bigger flies can equal bigger fish, this is not always the case.

      In the more pressured waters I sometimes fish, small flies (nymphs) are a way of life and I typically always go a size smaller than any natural I’m trying to imitate.

      My exception is when fishing worms as I do find that in streams with large and small fish, the larger fish tend to go for the bigger worms.

  13. Interesting article. I fish because I enjoy catching fish. Trout being the only freshwater fish I care to catch. I also fish salt in a flats boat. The day I think catching a trout on a dry fly only, makes me some sort of purist, or artist, I hope there’s a mirror stream side to see my ridiculous reflection. I simply enjoy trout fishing. Jeez, I never knew it could be so superior.

  14. I relearned this lesson recently when the dry fly fishing on my home stream had slowed, and I watched another tenkara angler hook fish after fish. Swallowing my pride, I asked him what he was using. He was fishing a #14 unweighted olive wooly bugger. When I got back to my car, I rummaged around in my flybox and found a couple old #12 wooly buggers. Back on the stream I had a blast fishing these and catching some pretty nice trout.

  15. This is an interesting article. I’ve been fly fishing for just about two years now, and I started out nymphing, because well, everyone around here nymphs. I went on a guide trip about 6 months in with a guide who insisted on fishing dries. When the dry fly fishing proved fruitless, we were then allowed to nymph, sans indicator of course, because nobody gets into fly fishing to look at a bobber right? Anyways, it wasn’t a great experience and I didn’t really think much about fishing dries after that. Over the course of the next year, I got pretty proficient at nymphing with an indicator, to the point where I wasn’t really worried about getting skunked anymore on my local rivers. Nobody around here (I live in Oklahoma) gives you much flack for fishing with an indicator anyway, because everyone does, and it’s the most effective method for fishing for the dumb stocked trout that live in our two year round tailwaters. I say that a little tongue in cheek, because if you’ve ever been to the Lower Mountain Fork River you knows there’s actually a healthy population of naturally reproducing trout there, but it doesn’t stop the wildlife dept from dumping them in by the thousands either. Anyway, Fast forward to a month ago, and my dad and I take our first trip to SW Colorado. Day one we’re fishing the San Juan Quality water and the nymph bite isn’t quite there, but there are risers all over the place. So he decides to tie on a size 26 parachute adams and tells me to aim at rising fish over on the bank. I manage to make a decent cast and somehow track that tiny little fly. Watching the fish take that fly was a life changing experience for me. We got to do the same style fishing on the Animas a couple days later (two days before the mine spill) and it was awesome.

    I used to laugh at these so called “purists,” that would only fish with dry flies, but now I get it. I don’t think I’ll ever be a dry fly only guy. I look at it as another arrow in my quiver. Now when I run into a situation that calls for a dry fly, I’ll feel confident tying one on. Doesn’t mean I won’t nymph or streamer fish though.

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  18. I started fly fishing as a kid in the Midwest and then ended up moving to Montana/ Idaho when I was 19 because I was so infatuated with fly fishing, it was the dry fly that did it to me. I fished dry fly for 12 years straight and got bored with it and discovered nymphing and it opend up a whole new world to me. Not only is it more effective, it’s actually harder to master. Since thAt time I guided on all the of the Golden Ring’s waters and learned even more from folks like Davy Wotton whom employs a traditional upstream wet fly appproach. Davy got me to start fishing without the indicator bobber and really start hunting with a wet fly…fish your nymphs up and across…just dont swing them…thats an American thing to do…it just opens more doors and really makes you work for your fish. Nymphing just ads to another hatchet to your armory.

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