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Nobody got into fly fishing to fish nymphs

To paraphrase the great Hank Patterson, any idiot can nymph. Hank is not always right - but maybe he is this time. (I hope everyone understands that when you begin a post with Hank Patterson, it is all a bit tongue-in-cheek.)

Watch the video before moving on and the rest may make a lot more sense...or not.

For those of you that are new to fly fishing, nymphing can best be described as exactly the same as fishing with worms.

-The Great Hank Patterson

Trust me, you don't really enjoy fishing nymphs - you enjoy catching fish. Yeah, you're going to tell me you enjoy me - and Hank - you don't. Nobody really enjoys fishing nymphs but it is a necessary evil sometimes.

A Necessary Evil

Nymphs catch fish. I could go on and on about what trout eat and how even during a significant hatch, only a portion of the population is actively rising to dry flies at any point in time. Sure, I could research and write a bunch about what scientists find when they examine trout stomachs. Or how the density of subsurface drift outweighs the biomass of hatching insects several-fold most of the time. But this is not your standard The Scientific Fly Angler post, none of that science stuff in this post. I won't because we all understand that as "drift feeding fishes", most of what trout eat are aquatic insects and most of the time - maybe even the oft quoted 90% of the time - they are eating nymphs.

nymph flies in fly box
Pick a nymph - as Hank says, they're all the same - and tie it on. Hard to go wrong.

But let's face it, nymphing is boring. Who wants to watch a bobber? Or worse yet, a "sighter" on your dedicated "Euro-rig". Paying a $1,000+ to nymph fish, shoot me now! You folks that pay $500 or more to watch a bobber while your guide drifts the boat at just the right speed so you can set the hook when your bobber moves are maybe worse. By now, you are probably getting upset by the self-proclaimed dry fly snob calling your strike indicator a "bobber". Sorry but it is a bobber, it does the same exact thing that a bobber does - it controls depth and indicates strikes. If it floats like a bobber...

My bobber collection
A portion of my strike indicator collection. If you're wondering, New Zealand Indicators and the stick on foam ones - or a dry fly - are what I use most.

"Strike indicator" - pfffffft - who is the snob now? Calling it a "strike indicator" is all about distancing yourself from the guy - or six-year-old kid - fishing a worm under a red and white bubble bobber.

Fish counter
I've never bought a "Euro rig" - any truth to the rumor that one of these comes with each purchase of a Euronymph rod?

Fishing a nymph - whether under a bobber, on a "Euro-rig", or behind a dry fly which is a a bobber with a hook in it so you can feel better about fishing nymphs - is, in a word, boring. But damn does it work! If I were a fish counter, it is how I would fish much of the time. But I don't have to catch fish - it makes me no more money, I am not a subsistence angler - I don't even like to eat trout all that much. My ego can handle the fact that there are anglers that catch more and bigger fish than me - so I fish in a way that does not bore me. Greased leader nymphing or fishing nymphs without the bobber - now we are (sort of) talking.

You Streamer Folks are No Better!

Streamer folks are feeling pretty bold right about now but, come on, you are not much better. With your 90's retro flannel, hipster beard, and fancy bowler, fedora, or Howler Brothers baseball hat, you certainly look the part - and like every other streamer chucker. It is certainly less boring than watching a bobber, you have that going for you, which is nice. But when "Hey, I just turned one" is the highlight of the day, I might choose to watch a bobber instead.

streamers hanging up
Big streamers hanging up as a decoration. They're as much fun to tie as to fish.

A Little Confession...

I used to be a really good nymph fisherman, it is how I learned to fly fish. It was mostly out of necessity. Back in the day, there was a southwestern Wisconsin early season that started on January 1st that was limited to less than ten Wisconsin counties. Fishing a nymph was just about the only game in town. With a lot of practice, I became a really good nymph fisherman. Slowly, over time, I became confident in fishing a nymph under an indicator. I could watch a bobber with the best of them. And I mostly enjoyed it and I certainly felt a bit of pride in being able to catch trout on some of Wisconsin's tougher streams.

Driftless stream
An old, scanned from a photograph, picture of one of my favorite SWWI streams. A place I learned to fish nymphs.

Yeah, there is more to nymph fishing than watching a bobber. It is about making the right cast to put the fly in the right place, getting the drift right (mend it! Mend it!), getting the depth right (deep, usually), and setting the hook right (and often). Like anything, experience and learning from your experiences is key to getting good at a skill. To be honest, good nymph fishers have a patience I do not have. I once did but today, I am just as happy to try to figure out the bird I saw or I heard calling while on the stream.

Dry Fly Snob

I am a self proclaimed dry fly snob - I make no bones about it. I could come up with some more flowery explanation about trout entering our world and how (mostly) limiting myself to the dry fly provides a meaningful challenge, makes me one with the trout or some other such bullshit. What it truly is, is that I enjoy watching trout rise to a dry fly. Watching a bobber get tugged down just does not compare. In fact, it's not even fucking close. And we all know and accept that truth.

Milwaukee Leech
The Milwaukee Leech - and early season favorite. It's certainly not rocket science - cast it upstream, let it get deep, and strip it slowly.

I don't write this to be better than you or anything like that. It is simply how I enjoy fishing coupled with the fact that from mid-April through the end of the season in mid-October, I fish places where I can fish a dry fly almost all the time. I am very fortunate in that regard. I can certainly "slum it" with the best of them other times of the year. I am not above stripping the leech, fishing a nymph or two under a bobber, or tossing double articulated Brown Trout imitations that force me to wear flannel and a hipster hat. But given a choice, I am fishing a dry fly.

Chernobyl on a fiberglass fly rod
A small Chernobyl on a fiberglass rod on a small stream - my favorite way to fish.

Yes, I had some fun with that - it is certainly not my typical post. If you took it too seriously, well, you shouldn't have. Fish the way you want to fish and have fun doing it. But you are not fooling anyone thinking that you actually enjoy nymph fishing. Trust me - and Hank - you don't.

Next week, what bobbers to use when you do fish the Dark Arts...

Hank Patterson Links

Fishing Nymphs Links

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I will turn to nymphing to avoid getting skunked but I have to admit there is nothing more exciting than catching fish on dry fly. That's what hooked me on fly fishing.


David Stakston
David Stakston
Sep 20, 2022

I can understand why you don't like fly fishing with a nymph as you were not a nymph fly fisherman but instead a bopper or indicator fly fisherman. Where as, when your dry fly fishing the dry fly serves as a bopper or indicator for you. YouTube video, Measurement at home challenge: Reaction Time.


john welter
john welter
Sep 19, 2022

Well now, Dr. J., do we feel better now after getting that off our chest?

Jason G. Freund
Jason G. Freund
Sep 20, 2022
Replying to

A little bit...

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