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We have a fun conversation in this episode, about what’s more difficult — nymphs or dry flies. This is not a talk about which tactic is better. And this discussion isn’t even about which one we might like more.
What is more difficult? Nymphs or dries? This is a valuable exercise and an important discussion . . .
Just because nymphing might usually produce more trout, doesn’t mean it is easier. And how many trout we catch on each style is not the point. Try getting true, convincing dead drifts on a nymph. It is, quite simply, harder to achieve than a dry fly, because you can’t see success on the invisible flies underneath, and because the complexity of currents is far more intricate in three dimensions.
But many people just don’t take it that far with nymphing. They think their drifts are good enough, because they caught a few fish (maybe more than they did on dries.) But excellent nymphing requires excellent effort. And a lot more trout can be caught by acknowledging that kind of difficulty. The ceiling is high. And realizing that is the value of this discussion.
We Cover the Following
- The confusing boundaries of this conversation
- Why anglers are protective of what they like best
- How that holds an angler back
- Tight line complexities
- Dry fly complexities
- Where bias comes from
- A few streamer thoughts
- . . . and more
READ: Troutbitten | The Nymph Angler is Sustainable
READ: Troutbitten | The George Harvey Leader Design
READ: Troutbitten | That’s Not a Dead Drift
PODCAST: Troutbitten | Find Your Rabbit Hole
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T R O U T B I T T E N
Both of these are hard until you learn how to do either well enough. You will always have better days doing one over the other.
For spin fishers learning to fly fish, I think confidence that fly fishing is an effective method is one of the biggest factors. It’s hard to believe that the fish are going to see, let alone eat a small fly when you’re used to casting lures.
Spin fishers also look at a stretch of river differently, from the perspective of whether they can work the lure effectively through a stretch, rather than picking where the trout are sitting and trying to get your offering to them on their terms.
On the main topic of the podcast, I still think nymphing is an easier entry point for new fly anglers. Success (i.e. catching a fish) is easier to come by, even if your technique is lacking, and success drives confidence and a mindset to learn and improve. There are few people that will continue to persist in the face of constant failure.
My measure of a good angler is someone’s ability to read, adapt to and apply what’s needed, whatever the conditions. In fly fishing, that means being able to effectively fish dries, nymphs (tightline and indicator), streamers and even swinging soft hackle wets. If you’ve never properly learnt what’s needed on the day, then that’s the most difficult form of fly fishing.
Great podcast, guys. I’m even starting to like the commercials, which is saying a lot about how good you are.
I would like to emphasize something discussed in the podcast. In my view, by far the greatest difficulty in nymph fishing is blindingly easy when using a dry fly: knowing when a fish has eaten your fly. I have long believed that we get far more strikes when nymphing than we suspect. Registering those takes is a nymph fisher’s greatest challenge and, in my view, is what separates a good from a great nymph fisherman.
I don’t think registering takes is any harder than bait fishing and watching a float. The sighter behaves extremely similar to a properly weighted quill/pencil float.
I think the greater challenge with nymphing is getting the fly to the right depth and balancing the connection and slack just right to create as convincing a dead drift as possible. I agree with the crew that it’s easy to see if you’ve got this right with a dry – if the fly is floating it’s at the right depth, and if it’s not dragging you’ve got at least enough (but potentially too much) slack. The hard part with dry fly fishing is getting the landing just right, so it’s accurate in the current line you’re trying to drift it down but has enough slack to let it flow without drag.
I tend to agree with you guys that nymph fishing is a bit more challenging. I will admit I am not great at fishing drys but when it’s not working it is much easier to see and then fix the problem so long as I am not trying to cast outside of my range of proficiency.
Even after dedicating well over a 100 days on the water last year to doing nothing but nymph fishing I still get stumped on days. At least 3 times a month I have a day where there is something off and I struggle to diagnose the problem and fix it.
I am going to dedicate more time this year to getting better at dry flys. Maybe once I do a deeper dive into all of the nuances of the dry game my opinion will change.
Thanks for the great podcast. I am actually shocked no one has spazzed in the comments section.
Interesting podcast. After listening, it seems like you guys are saying that it is generally easier to catch fish nymphing than dry fly fishing, but nymphing is more complex and therefore more difficult to do well.
While I understand your point that it is wrong to say that it’s easier to catch a fish on a nymph and therefore nymph fishing is simple, I do think that fish should be the judge of which method is more meaningfully complex. We can make any aspect of fly fishing infinitely complex, but it doesn’t mean those complexities (such as how many tails we should put on a Hendrickson spinner) are meaningful to the ultimate goal of catching fish.
The way I would think about which is more meaningfully complex is to imagine the best nymph fisherman you known of. Drop him off on one side of the river on a day when fish are eating nymphs, and then drop off an angler with maybe a season or two experience on the opposite bank. How many times more fish does the expert catch than the beginner? Maybe 3 times, maybe 10 times more. Then do the same with the best dry fly angler and a beginner on a day when a fish will eat dries and see how many times more fish the expert catches than the beginner.
I’m not sure whether the nymph or the dry fly angler would do proportionally better than the beginner, but I think it would be pretty close. Gun to my head, I think there would be a lot of days that the beginner would be skunked on a technical dry fly hatch when the dry fly angler would clean up, so I would say that dry fly fishing is more meaningfully complex.
Thanks for your comment. I understand your argument. But I don’t agree with your premise at all.
“I do think that fish should be the judge of which method is more meaningfully complex.”
We talked about this in the podcast a lot. But the trout cannot be the judge here, because it just isn’t about what catches more trout.
What’s is more difficult to put together, a puzzle with 1000 pieces or one with 100 pieces? Nymphing is more complex, so it’s harder to achieve a great drift. I think your argument falls into the same trap we are trying to avoid. If we let the fish decide that we have succeeded, then we start to be too forgiving about our drifts on an unseen nymphs. We say, alright I’m doing pretty good! But so much more is possible by acknowledging when our drifts are not the best they can be.
Well, if we can’t agree on the premises, there’s not much hope for the conclusions!
By the way, love the podcast. Nobody goes deep into the topics like you guys do. Keep it up!
Right on! Thanks.
Hi Dom, thank you and to the crew for giving us a great podcast. One thing I didn’t hear you talk about (maybe I just missed it) was pattern selection in nymphs vs dry flies. In my experience, I have found that in heavy hatch situations the fish seem much more picky about fly pattern choice than in nymph fishing. Sometimes, I can’t even figure it out on the dry even when I think I’ve got a good fly choice. While there are exceptions, it seems a size 16 PT works all of the time (almost!). Anyway, I love both tactics equally and appreciate the challenges each of them provides. Also, I have a fraction of the experience you do, so maybe this isn’t even true. Thanks – appreciate it!
“While there are exceptions, it seems a size 16 PT works all of the time ”
I want to fish where you fish!
🙂 I find trout to be just as picky underneath as they can be above. The Parachute Adams is like the Pheasant Tail for me — usually works, if I get the right size.
Fishing in 3 dimensions. Way harder than fishing in 2.
Outstanding podcast topic, as shown by the internal debate among you guys, as well as in the comments.
Nymph fishing is 100 times harder, more confounding, and more frustrating than dry fly or streamer fishing. When I switched from indicator to tight line nymphing a few years ago, I foolishly thought I would begin effortlessly harvesting fish. It’s only marginally less frustrating.
It will always be harder to navigate three dimensions that you can’t see than two that you can.
Love the podcasts. One aspect that interesting is this really reinforces to me a good angler must be ready and work on dry, nymph, streamer etc to be prepared. The versatile angler.
I can’t remember with nymph fishing did you discuss reading water? With dry fly fishing you don’t even need to figure out where the fish are most of the time. I’ve observed excellent nymph fisherman and they seem to have a better sense of holding water.
I am having a major conceptual block. In this episode Dominick drives home the point that achieving the perfect dead drift is what makes nymphing more difficult. Certainly doing this without seeing the fly is a challenge. But my block is why you would ever want a dead drift. Everything I’ve learned to date indicates that nearly all nymphs are swimming, not merely floating (I think caddis might be the exception). In fact, apparently one should be surprised at how fast some of these nymphs are able to swim. So, why would we want a dead drift at all except to imitate a wounded nymph?
Hi Mike, thanks for the question. I think I can help.
“Why you would ever want a dead drift. Everything I’ve learned to date indicates that nearly all nymphs are swimming, not merely floating.”
I strongly disagree with your information, wherever it came from. Some nymphs are swimming sometimes. Most nymphs are drifting in the current. Can nymphs swim? Sure. Some are actually good swimmers. But they spend a lot more time drifting in the current than swimming. Even the strongest swimming nymphs still has limited propulsion when compared to the strong currents that we nymph in. Can they make progress across seams a bit? Absolutely, but not by much in medium to fast water. When nymphs swim the most is during emergence. Many caddis help themselves out with an air bubble around themselves. They emerge fast. Mayflies are slower, but yes, they still swim to the top. That’s when we see things like lifting at the end of the drift and Sawyer’s induced take working. BUT . . . a dead drift — a TRUE dead drift — should be our baseline approach. It’s where everything else deviates from. Basically, aim for a perfect dead drift, and the imperfections might look just a bit like a moving nymph, if you’re lucky. I just don’t think we can give nymphs too much credit for motion through the water. Hell, many anglers far overestimate how much even a sculpin can move. A nymph, at less than one inch, with limited propulsion moves so little compared to what most people do with even imperfect dead drifts that the trout find it unforgivable.
Lucky for us, trout still eat imperfect dead drifts, because of course, we are most often imitating living things with our flies. And living things move. So, by aiming for perfection in our dead drift. we end up with small imperfections that might very well make the fly look alive.
Last point: try the other things. Try swinging your nymphs and lifting them. Try jigging them. All of that works once in a while. But after a season of trying that stuff, I’m pretty sure that you’ll find aiming for a true dead drift is the best producer.
Hope that helps.
Thanks, Dom. I appreciate the reply and I really appreciate your articles and podcasts mostly for the different points of view that give me more of a framework for deciding what to do and WHY.
With regard to this topic, I have thought that the burrowers, crawlers, and clingers are living in the bottom and are only in the middle and upper columns if the are swimming to the surface to hatch (or if they get dislodged-but then much of that population would gradually move permanently downstream). The swimmers are moving around constantly.
So, with regard to that, are the nymphs that we see just off the bottom the swimmers. emergers, and dislodged others? Probably not emergers or I’d see nearly constant hatches!
I like the concept of most swimming movements are small and a solid dead drift matches that well.
I know I’m probably overthinking this and I should just fish it the way I should fish it. But I can’t grounded in why those nymphs are spread out so much if they aren’t swimming because that’s what they are or they’re rising to the surface. If they’re just drifting the entire populations move downstream over time.
Maybe they just drift small distances or they have a homing instinct to return to where they started after the hatch.
Hope I’m not trying your patience lol!!