What is a Nymph in Fly Fishing

I’ve written a bunch about the act of nymph fishing, but I haven’t talked much about nymph flies themselves. Using a nymph while fly fishing is probably the most effective method of catching trout. It doesn’t have the glamor of dry fly fishing, but nymphing can change a skunk into a productive outing.

What is a Nymph Fly?

A nymph fly is a fly fishing lure that simulates a sub-surface bug with a hook in it during the larval stage. Mayflies, damsels fly, stone flies and caddis flies start life as eggs on the stream bottom. The eggs hatch into a nymph or larva and become a prized meal for trout.

Examples of Nymph Flies

Nymph Fishing Flies
Nymph Fishing Flies
  • Pheasant Tail Nymphs in size 10 through 16. These flies should be in every fly box. Proven effective, and easy to tie if you’re a fly tier. Get a couple with beads and you’ve got most situations covered.
  • Hares Ear Nymph in size 12 through 18. I like using a hare’s ear as a dropper in size 16 off a buoyant dry fly. The light color of the hare’s ear simulates so many bugs. If you want to fish this nymph a little deeper find flies with brass beads.
  • Green Caddis size 10 to 16. When the trout are keyed into green caddis you’ve got to fish them deep and on the bottom. I’m always amazed at how vibrant green these nymphs are.

Tips for Selecting an Effective Nymph for Fly Fishing

A common quote in fly fishing circles goes like this. So what are they biting on? Those little brown flies about 3/8 inch long with a hook inside.

This hits home the important factors in selecting a nymph fly. If you pickup a river rock or submerged log and get your nose down close and look. If the water you’re fishing has trout, odds are you’ll see lots of little brown bugs crawling around.

Here’s the tip: Size up those creepy crawlies you see under rocks and woody debris and select a fly that’s close in color and size.

Green Caddis are really common on my home water. I’ve learned through years of experimenting that the best nymph for me to start out with are those green beauties.

caddis fly nymph bug and fly
caddis fly nymph bug and fly

How to Fly Fish with a Nymph

The simplest way to start nymph fishing is to use an indicator. Basically rig up a longer leader 9 to 12 feet is best. An indicator is a float that can be positioned along the leader. I start by placing the leader 3 times the water depth when fishing in a moderate current. Tie on a fly like the hares ear or green caddis and hang on!

Read more about nymphing with an indicator in this article. What is a strike indicator in fly fishing

Another method is called “high stick” nymphing. This method uses a fast sinking nymph fly and fish relatively close (10 to 15 feet away) Instead of letting the fly drift in the current, while high sticking the angler actually leads the nymph through the fishy water.

I’ve written a great article that goes into all the details of high sticking. How to High Stick Nymph Fly Fish

If you see occasional trout rising, setup a dry fly with a dropper nymph. This combination can be super effective, and you can get a double hook-up.
I like the floating lead fly to be something like a Elk Hair Caddis or a Yellow Humpy. The hollow hairs used to tie these flies help them float. If you can remember treat these flies with floatant before getting to the water. If you give the floatant plenty of time to dry they’ll float longer.

I wrote an article all about rigging up a Dry/Dropper in this article: How to Setup a Dry Fly with a Dropper for Fly Fishing

Recommended Fly-Fishing Gear for Fly Fishing Nymphs

If asked I would say the number one item I would recommend is a nice fly rod. Behind that a decent selection of flies followed by fluorocarbon leaders and tippet.

I really believe in investing in getting the right gear to fly fish. You might plan a trip for weeks and you’re excited about the chance to catch a trophy. When nymph fishing fluorocarbon leaders and tippet is an inexpensive way to improve your odds to netting that trophy.

Nearly invisible and stronger than nylon in the same diameter fluorocarbon lines have less stretch making them more sensitive. Pick-up a couple fluoro leaders and tippets – highly recommended.

Fly Selection – in one way you could say an item that costs between $1-$3 is cheap. Having 2-5 fly boxes filled with 100s’ of flies is an investment. To fish nymphs effectively you will lose flies. Trout like to hide in wood and around rocks so snagging and breaking-off will happen.

Fly rods above 9 ½ feet in length excel when nymph fishing. Water current speeds vary across the top of the water and through the depth. The more fly line that can be held off the water will minimize the amount of drag/pull inflicted on the fly.

Longer fly rods also enable the fly fisher to “reach-out” into little pockets of trout holding water. Example: those back eddies behind a boulder

Tips from Fly Fishing Guides When Using Nymph Flies

Many times, when you’re not catching anything the first thing you do is switch out the fly you’re using. DON’T SWITCH – if you’ve picked a fly that remotely resembles the natural bugs – FIRST add a little bit of weight. Nymphs and fish are on the bottom, your fly needs to be close to the bottom as well.

Bouncing a nymph on the bottom will dull a hook fast. Regularly check the hook for sharpness and carry a hook file to re-sharpen.

Add a little bit of tippet length to get down deeper. Nymph fishing is way harder that dry fly fishing on the surface. Usually you can’t see the fly, in turn you don’t know what’s happening. Adding tippet length until you start ticking on the bottom will improve your hook-ups.

Set the hook often. Learn to strip set whenever you even think the fly has paused, ticked or changed direction. Fish learn to spit-out anything that isn’t food – SUPER fast.

The strip set is a method of tightening the fly line and hooking a fish without completely pulling the fly out of the water.

How to strip-set: The key is to keep your rod tip stationary. I hold the rod with my right hand and have the fly line in my left.

To set the stage, your nymph is drifting nicely with an occasional tick on the bottom. Then you see a pronounced pause in the line – with your rod tip stationary QUICKLY jerk/pull the fly line back 2 feet or so with left hand.

Another benefit of the strip set is that often after striking you can continue drifting the fly through the holding water without re-casting.

More Articles about CATCHING Fish on a Fly Rod

Learn the ins and outs of catching Brook Trout in this article: How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout

A perfect summer evening for me is fly fishing for Bluegills. I detail the steps in this article: How to Fly Fish for Bluegills: A Complete Guide

Read about my favorite fly rod – especially for nymph fishing in this article. The Best Fly Rod, Reel and Fly Line for Nymph Fly Fishing

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