June 2, 2020
Fly fishing is easily one of the most iconic and popular forms of fishing out there and fly fishing with nymphs is one of the core techniques an angler needs to master. Nymph fly fishing is referred only as nymphing and that is the term we will use moving forward. Every year, anglers from all around the world flock to rivers, lakes, and streams with their fly fishing gear in search of fish. There are plenty of different fly fishing techniques, in this fly fishing series, we are going to explore nymphing. Before we get going, let's take a moment and answer some introductory questions. Advanced anglers feel tree to jump ahead.
The nymphing series will start with this introduction, move into basic techniques, the best nymph flies, advanced nymphing techniques, where and when to nymph fish, and progress onto trends like euro nymphing. Nymphing is one of the most effective ways to fly fish for trout in almost any water, so let’s talk about it!
Nymphing is a general term used to describe a wet fly that represents subaquatic insects. Nymph flies are intentionally designed to look like immature insects in a juvenile or larvae stage. Many types of insects spend more time in this nymph stage of development than the adult stage and make up a big part of a trout’s usual diet. The most common insects that are eaten are nymphs (mayflies and stoneflies), pupa (caddisflies and midges), and mergers.
Unlike fly fishing with dry flies, nymph flies are fished entirely beneath the surface of the water and are often weighted in order to help accomplish this. This can prove to be extremely productive as most trout spend most of their time feeding under the water and not at the surface. No matter what time of year or the hour of the day, nymphs can be found in most rivers or lakes. And where there are nymphs to be found, there are sure to be hungry trout snacking on them!
It is estimated that 75%-90% of a trout's diet consists of nymphs, so there is always a good chance there is a nymph along the bottom waiting to be eaten, and a trout in search of that nymph.
A nymph is an insect that lives in the water. Let's take one great trout favorite, the stonefly nymph. Stoneflies are big bugs living 2-4 years in the water before hatching, so trout eat them year-round. Stonefly nymphs live under the rocks along swift currents with good oxygen levels in order to survive due to their underdeveloped gills. Like all nymphs, they go through a larval and pupal stage before they emerge as winged adults, reproduce and die. Before a nymph fully hatches, there’s a time period anywhere from one hour to several days, depending on the species, of increased activity. The extra crawling and scurrying around results in many nymphs getting dislodged and drifting downstream to an always ready trout.
Nymph flies are intentionally designed to look like immature insects in a juvenile or larvae stage. Many types of insects spend more time in this nymph stage of development than the adult stage and make up a big part of a trout’s usual diet. The most common insects that are eaten are nymphs (mayflies and stoneflies), pupa (caddisflies and midges), and mergers.
We have covered what is nymphing and what is a nymph. Ultimately that should provide the answer to why nymphing is the best approach in many situations. First and foremost, because many times that is what the trout wants. If they are feeding on nymphs and you are using dry flies you could be in for a long day. The simple answer to why nymphing, that is where the trout food is, and we want to imitate that insect to catch fish.
While fishing with nymphs basically involves fishing under the surface of the water for trout, it does not necessarily mean that it will be easy to catch them. A beginner will quickly discover that, just like fishing with dry flies and fly fishing in general, there is plenty of trial and error involved. The key to using nymphs is just like other flies, baits, or lures in that you must imitate the natural nymphs in a given fishing spot as close as you can in color, size, and behavior.
While that sounds simple, it is impossible to see everything that is going on under the surface and what the fish are feeding on at any given time. This is what makes nymphing so much fun and full of mystery, and why nymphing is many anglers’ favorite way to fly fish. Trout are notoriously picky eaters, but if you follow the right steps from selection to fishing, you can find plenty of success with nymphs. This also leads us to one of the key secrets of successful nymphing, make sure you bring a variety of nymphs to the water. I suggest a good variety of types and sizes. Having a good nymph assortment can make a long day pick up when you start hitting the right nymph. Study the water, look for evidence, rely on your instincts, and above all, experiment with sizes and types.
One of the greatest things about nymphing is the versatility it provides. No matter what type of fishing you may be into, being versatile and adaptable will result in the ability to catch more fish. Every single body of water, whether a giant lake, a small pond, a fast-flowing river, or a slow creek, is likely to have some sort of population of these insects. So no matter where you are fishing, you can likely use nymph flies in order to catch fish.
I like to look for pocket water that might be hard to reach, fast-moving water. Pocket water will be highlighted by boulders breaking the rifle into small pockets. It can be difficult to get nymphing rigs into this area, especially given the fast water. The advantage is less fishing pressure and more trout. Cast along the seams along the edges of the rocks so the nymph drifts through the pocket and down the seam. Keep your fly rod high as you dead drift through the pocket water.
The first thing you need to do is identify what kind of natural nymphs the trout are eating so that you can match your artificial fly to the real thing. Try to match not only the colors and design but also the average size and style as close as possible. While it doesn’t need to be perfect, the closer you can match the naturally occurring insects, the better.
The second thing you will need to do is learn how to read the water in order to present your nymph in the best possible spot with the best possible presentation in order to trick a trout into biting. The more lifelike and real your fly looks, the more likely you are to catch any trout you are targeting. We will cover more details and specifics about nymph fishing techniques later in this series.
Getting started on any new type of fishing can sometimes be pretty costly, given all the necessary gear, but luckily with nymphing, it doesn’t have to be. From fishing a dry fly to hanging a euro nymph, the nymph rig can easily be added to any setup. While you can buy specialty nymphing fishing rods designed specifically for this task, you can easily use your fly fishing rod that you already own.
Of course, in addition to a fly fishing rod and reel, you will need the nymph flies and other nymph-specific pieces of gear, but as long as you already have a good rod and reel you are off to a good start! The fly line is typically the same. I like to use a strike indicator, especially in fast-moving water or of course in any situation where it is hard to see. We will cover nymphing techniques in the next article in the series but a few weighted flies, an angler with good mending skills and enough tippet to keep adding to your nymph rig is all you need. In another section of this series, we will discuss all the specifics on gear and nymphs that you should consider getting in order to be the most effective on your next trout fishing trip.
I hope this small introduction is enough to get you excited about nymphing and all of the exciting possibilities nymphing will bring to your trout fishing. We hope to provide some of the best possible information to help all anglers become the best at fly fishing with nymphs. In this series, we will be covering everything from basic techniques, where and when to use nymphs, the best flies to buy and choose, advanced techniques, and nymphing on the river.
By reading this series, you will not only start to grow your general knowledge on everything fly fishing, but you will learn the ins and outs of nymphing. So sit back and enjoy this 5 part nymphing series and thank you for following along!
The Guidesly Nymph Series walks the angler from introduction thru techniques, tactics, flies and latest trends. For fly tiers we have several of our favorite nymphs along with our resident fly tier Sean putting together nymph how to videos.