Commentary Tips/Tactics

The Nymph Angler is Sustainable

on
October 31, 2018

I write so much about nymphing that people assume I don’t fish dries. That’s not true at all. I fish dries all throughout the year, happy to take the chance to fish on top when the trout give me a good reason to do so. I also fish streamers almost every trip, and I fish a lot of wet flies (mostly at night). I like being a well-rounded angler, ready for anything at any time.

But I’ve also spent large portions of my angling life focused on just one aspect of the game. I once dedicated a full year to fishing only with streamers, no matter the river or the conditions. I went just as long with tight-lining nymphs, never attaching an indicator or a dry fly to the line, only so I could see what could really be done by tight line nymphing exclusively — so I could learn the strengths and weaknesses of the tactic. And when I first got serious about fly fishing a couple of decades ago, I made up reasons to fish dry flies all the time too, spending years refining the leaders and the casts, especially on small streams, and always with my Border Collie along for the trip.

I’ve written this often: I fish flies and a fly rod because it gives me the best chance to meet the fish on their own terms. Trout take big meaty five-inch streamers as a baitfish. But they also eat size #24 Trico spinners and everything in between. They take food from the streambed and from the surface of the water. And no other tackle allows me meet trout in all these places, with all manners and sizes of patterns, with as much efficiency as a fly rod.

So then, being well-rounded is a unique advantage available to fly fishers. And the best anglers I know are adept at every method of delivery. They carry dries, wets, streamers and nymphs, and they fish them all with confidence.

With that said, most of the die-hard anglers I run into are nymph-first fishermen. Or at least their nymphing game is strong, and they don’t hesitate to break it out. That’s because nymphing catches a lot of fish — more than dries and streamers combined over the long haul.

Nymphing is sustainable. Here’s why . . .

All conditions | All seasons

I live in Central Pennsylvania because the trout fishing is excellent here, year round. Wild trout fishing in this region is a twelve month affair. And for the dedicated angler, there is no off season. There are a lot of us in the area who just keep fishing, no matter what the winter weather brings. Our limestone spring-fed rivers remain open from ice in all but the most extreme temperatures.

But to make the most of the winter months, a good nymphing game is critical. These wild trout demand solid dead-drift presentations in the cold waters of the dark months. But with good skills and the right patterns, the action is often fantastic.

Dry fly guys are relegated to waiting for a midge hatch or perhaps a lucky late or early season BWO event. Otherwise, fishing dries in the winter is a waste of time, and the trout start making that point to us somewhere around the last weeks of October every year.

Nymphs are flies for all seasons: spring, summer, fall and winter. No matter the river conditions, nymphing is a safe bet.

Sloop. Livin’ large.  Photo by Matt Grobe.

Bigger fish? | More fish

But what about catching bigger trout? That’s what the streamer angler is going for, right?

Sure, the average trout on streamers is larger than the average sized trout caught on other fly types, overall. But most of the really big trout I’ve caught have been on nymphs, even though I fish streamers a lot.

It’s often repeated that once trout get to a certain benchmark, they become meat eaters — predators that no longer eat small meals. It may be true, but even a predatory trout will make quick work of a stonefly or small crayfish danced compromisingly close to his spot. An easy meal for minimal movement? Yes please.

My best strategy for catching big trout is to catch a bunch of trout, and one of them is sure to be big. Nymphs hook a lot of trout, and depending on the river, one in fifty might be something worth calling home to Mom about.

Photo by Bill Dell

More to refine | More to control

That brings me to this final point about nymphing: While catching those fifty trout and looking for the big ones, the nymphing angler gets to experience a lot of success.

Catching trout is exciting. It’s why we’re out there. And when you start to average a fish every ten or fifteen minutes you realize that the things you are doing — the refinements you’re making in the casts and the drifts — is catching fish. The trout let you know that you’re doing something right, and it’s a rewarding feeling.

There are more options and ways to deliver a nymph than with any other discipline. Depth, angle, drop speed, lead speed, indy or tight line, there’s more to refine than with streamers or wets, and there’s more options for changing a nymphing presentation than a dry fly look. The nymphing game runs deep.

Nymphing is sustainable

Throughout my years on the water, I’ve seen a lot of anglers come and go. I’ve known more guys and women who picked up fly fishing and then gave it up than anglers who stuck with it.

Sure, that’s human nature, in part. We all go through spells and phases of interest. That’s probably healthy.

But inevitably, the anglers who hang up their waders are the ones who don’t branch out to learn the complete game of fly fishing. So they lose interest.

Nymph fishermen keep catching fish through all conditions and all seasons. But the dry-flies-only crew meets a lot of conditions where it’s best to sit this one out.

Likewise, I see a too many streamers-only guys burn out. It’s fun to believe that you’re dedicated to chasing trophy fish. And that might last for quite a while. But eventually, the low fish count catches up to everyone. And it becomes more appealing to sit home than to hit the river for one or two fish in the slow season.

So however you enjoy fishing on a fly rod, by all means do that. Do it until you catch all the trout you could ever want to catch. But as soon as you feel a tinge of boredom creep in, if you find yourself skipping out on a chance to fish because the hatch isn’t on for dries, or the water is too low for streamers, then turn to nymphs.

Because the nymph angler is sustainable.

Fish hard, friends.

Photo by Bill Dell

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Alex Argyros

Those are some beautiful perdigons. Did you tie them? Have you fished with them?

michael maynard

I wish we had your generous season length up here. We’re shut down on September 30th and we don’t get back on the water until April 1st. Realistically, April up here resembles February so fishing won’t commence in earnest until late in the month, if not May. I’ve also done the ‘fishing one discipline’ thing before; it forces you to learn. I’ve spent a season doing nothing but fishing wets and most recently I did it with nymphs. Your thoughts on nymphing have helped a great deal in several aspects of that. Streamers and dries travel with me but they’re… Read more »

Tomas

I’m like a baseball manager who plays the percentages, so I nymph. When I first started fly fishing, I didn’t know the percentages, but I had seen “A River Runs Through it!” LOL. So, like everyone else, I thought fly fishing meant dry fly fishing, with long, flowing, beautiful loops, with droplets of water flying off – in backlit sun, of course. Then when I learned that the damn fish are not eating on top but a small percentage of the time I switched to nymphing. Duh. I’m about 90%’er I’d guess, nymphing. Only if I see rising fish that… Read more »

Alex Argyros

I’m with you, Tomas.

And, often, a rising fish will take a soft hackle, which is sort of like nymph fishing.

Tomas

That’s a good idea, Alex. I have soft hackles, I just never use them!

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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