Nymphing: The act of fishing with artificial flies that imitate aquatic insects in their juvenile, larval state or other sub-aquatic lifeforms including worms and crustaceans that trout find irresistible. In other words, a fly fishing technique to catch lots and lots of fish in practically any body of water, any month of the year, and any time of day whether there?s a hatch happening or not.

Before mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies become creatures of the air, they spend their humble juvenile lives underwater as nymphs. Some cling to rocks in cocoon-like husks and some crawl around or scoot through the water, inevitably getting washed downstream by the river’s current.

Caddis Nymph
Caddis Nymph

Regardless of the specific species and how they look and behave, at some point, all nymphs “hatch,” leaving behind their sub-surface dwellings to become winged adults. They shed their nymphal exoskeletons, rise through the water column, emerge through the surface film, dry their wings, then head skyward to mate, lay their eggs, and die.

Why should you care about these strange aquatic insects and their anti-climactic life cycle?

Because nymphs are trout food.

And if you want to catch trout consistently ? both in size and numbers ? knowing how to fish flies that imitate nymphs is absolutely essential.

To get started, let’s dive into why you should be fishing in the first place.

Why Nymphing is More Effective than Any Other Style of Fly Fishing

Although dry flies get most of the attention and praise among fly anglers, the truth is that trout spend the vast majority of their time feeding underwater ? not on the surface.

Nymph  for fly fishing
Nymph for fly fishing

And what are they eating down there?

You guessed it ? lots and lots of nymphs.

No matter the time of year or hour of the day, nymphs are present in rivers and lakes. And most of the time, trout are snacking away.

That’s why fishing nymphs is so effective ? since trout are always eating nymphs, you don’t have to time it right or wait for a hatch to catch fish. Simply tie on one or more nymph flies in approximately the size and color that matches the natural insects in the water and get to fishing.

When and Where to Fish Nymphs

The beautiful thing is that just about every type of water ? be it a fast-flowing freestone, a glassy spring creek, or even a stillwater lake or pond ? likely hold resident populations of aquatic insects. And like we mentioned, the nymphs are underwater all day long, regardless of whether a hatch is happening or not.

So no matter what stream or lake you’re on and when you’re fishing, you can use nymph flies to catch fish. The first key to success, then, is to know what kind of natural nymphs the trout are eating so you can match your artificial to the real thing. The second key is to know how to read the water in order to deliver your offering to the right spot with the proper presentation to entice a trout to bite.

We’ll get into the specifics of how to do all this later on, but the point is, if you know there are trout in a stream or lake, you can use nymphs to catch them.

What Gear do You Need to Start Nymph Fishing?

Many times in fly fishing, going after a new species or learning a new style of casting requires an expensive trip to the fly shop to buy all new specialized gear. Luckily, this isn’t the case with nymph fishing.

Nymph fishing rods can get a little technical. If you really want to get into this kind of fishing, (it really catches lots of fish) you should think about getting the TFO Drift Fly Rod. It’s a 3 wt 9 foot fly rod in it’s basic form.

The ground breaking feature of this rod is that you can add length without un-stringing your fly line. The rod sections extend the rod from 9 foot up to over 12 feet. Read about the rod in this article – The Best Nymph Fishing Fly Rod or in my recommended gear section – HERE.

If you want to check the prices and reviews on the TFO Drift here’s a link to AMAZON – TFO Drift Fly Rod – Definitive Nymph Fly Rod.

Most of the nymphing techniques we’ll cover involve short casts, so a high-performance rod isn’t necessary. Unless you hook into a true giant, your fly reel won’t see much action when nymphing other than conveniently storing line ? most fish can be landed by stripping line by hand.

To give you an idea of the basic fly fishing outfit required for nymph fishing, here’s a quick gear list:

  • Rod: 9-foot 4,5, or 6-weight, medium to fast action
  • Reel: Standard single action fly reel matched to rod
  • Line: Weight-forward floating line
  • Leader: 9-foot nylon tapered leader
  • Tippet: Spools of 3X, 4X, 5X, and 6X

Pretty simple, right? Of course, you’ll still need some flies and several other nymphing-specific pieces of tackle, but as long as you have that basic rod and reel setup, you’re ready to start putting the nymphing techniques we’ll cover to the test!

nymph fishing with an indicator

I’ve got an article called Nymph Fishing Putting it All Together (Link to article). It summarizes many of the articles on this website.