PODCAST: What’s the Deal With Emergers? — S11, Ep4

by | May 5, 2024 | 10 comments

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Like anything else in fishing, you can take the emerger concept just about as far as you want. You get technical, or you can spin up a couple wet flies, float them in the film, and keep things simple.

I’ve often argued that you don’t have to match the hatch when fly fishing. I think it’s a fun approach, but having exactly the right shade of dubbing to match the most prevalent insect is rarely necessary. Most often, you can fish caddis imitations during a mayfly hatch and do pretty well, because there’s a lot more food in a river than what our eyes see at the surface.

But we don’t ignore the hatches either. Far from it. In fact, we look forward to these events, anticipating the response from the trout, observing their behaviors day to day, and often using flies and tactics that imitate the emergence. From the bottom to the top, when the bugs transform from water born to airborne, meeting them with an emerger often sells the presentation.

Our conversation in this episode covers those emergences.


READ: Troutbitten | You Don’t Have to Match the Hatch
PODCAST: Troutbitten | Night Fishing and the Mouse Emerger Concept
PODCAST: Troutbitten | Category | Dry Fly Fishing

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Season Eleven of the Troutbitten Podcast continues next week with episode five. So look for that in your Troutbitten podcast feed.

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


  1. If you take a pair of pliers and twist the tag end of a zip tie until it breaks, it will break clean and not leave sharp edge.

    • Hey now. That’s cool. But how do you twist without tightening it? Know what I mean? Sometimes I want the zip tie on a loop, like I have on my wading staff. Not tight

      • I suck with words. I will email you a short video.

  2. It’s good to feel that there are other people out there who are excited by the same sort of geeky things that I obsess over. Thanks, guys. This was great fun, not to mention educational.

    Now, for some somewhat unrelated observations.

    1. Dom, you mentioned Catskill style dry flies. I learned to fly fish in the Catskills, and these kinds of flies were, in the days of my dry fly-indoctrinated youth, just about all I fished. But even then, I wondered what the tails represented. As opposed to the split tails of Comparaduns, a clump of tails trailing a Quill Gordon just doesn’t look anatomical, and, besides, it sinks below the surface of the water more frequently than most anglers imagine. That’s when I realized that Catskill style dry fly tails probably don’t imitate tails, but trailing shucks, making Catskill dries emergers, at least some of the time.

    2. Many years later, I noticed that anglers would use the term “emerger” the way pretentious people who didn’t know anything about wine but wanted to sound cool would order a “Pouilly Fuisse.” “Emerger” was used to virtue signal, to suggest that the angler was more sophisticated than he probably was. I still find this to be the case on occasion, especially when someone tells me he’s fishing emergers when no bugs are emerging, or–and this is particularly amusing–when the fish are clearly eating spinners.

    3. But, bugs do emerge, and it sometime works to imitate that phase of their lives. I think of emergers in two ways: the structure of the fly and the way it’s presented. I think that any fly can function as an merger if fished that way. For example, there’s no dry fly that can’t be made to drift with its body in the water, and no nymph that can’t be made to simulate emergence.

    4. Finally, regarding the discussion, near the end of the podcast, of imitating emerging bugs mid-column, there’s a third possibility (besides dry-dropper and a tag on a sightline rig). One can trail an unweighted nymph behind a weighted (with a bead or shot) nymph. When cast upstream, the heavy nymph will sink to the bottom, but the unweighted trailer will ride much higher. I really like this rig

  3. I would argue that the most common dry flies that anglers use as dun imitations, are de-facto emerger patterns. Parachutes, Comparaduns, and Sparkle Duns all have straight bodies that lie flush in the film; they do not even come close to presenting the body profile/posture of adult mayflies. Probably why they are so effective, especially given the propensity of pressured trout to feed on the emerging stage. I fish in a bug-rich system and rarely observe trout eating duns. However, I agree that the best emerger patterns (Klinks and Wyatt’s DHE) have a curved body that lies below the film. Good topic.

  4. About learning to fly fish when you’re 70 vs 20 podcast. I agree with your intended message. But, there may be some young people out there learning to fly fish who learn incorrect techniques and are stubborn or don’t have anyone to correct their techniques and repeat the same old, same old until they’re 70 and have missed out on so much good fishing or quit because it’s too frustrating.
    There also may be 70 year old people out there who are open minded, energetic, in good health and eager to learn the proper fly fishing techniques. People who get into the details and the pursuit of perfection, like you Dom, that will in short time become good fly fishers, better than the 20 year old who is too stubborn to learn, change and grow.
    Yes, if that 70 year old with a great attitude would have started when he was 70 he’d be one hell of a fly fisher. But anyway, just saying age/experience can be one component but attitude, and a persons mind set can compensate for some of that experience, all things being unequal. I’m 75 and have been fly fishing since I was 17. And I’ve learned a lot and consider myself a versatile, good fly fisher, but I haven’t been as dedicated nor put as much time into the sport as, for example you have Dom, so I know you’re a much better fly fisherman than I am.
    Anyway, just expressing a random thought I had while listening to your podcast and for some reason felt compelled to voice it. love the info on Troutbitten.
    Have a great day and, as always,
    “Fish hard, friends”

    • Sorry, correction. “Yes, if that 70 year old with a great attitude would have started when he was” 20.

      • Woops. Sorry again. I hadn’t listened to the whole podcast when I commented. Later in the podcast one of your group contradicted you with the same thought I had. Should have listened to the whole podcast first but was afraid I would forget what my thought was by the time it was over, you know, being 75 and all. HaHaHa
        Damn, I’d better shut my mouth and finish listening to the podcast or I’ll be repeating what has been said in the podcast again.

  5. Hey Dom,

    What are your thoughts on the un-predictability of the trouts behavior to a hatch and if they’re provoked to rise or not?

    I ask because I’ve gone out a few evenings lately to catch a sulphur hatch hoping for some risers. I had very good success underneath with nymphs (weighted pheasant tail on bottom, unweighted hares ear emerger pattern I tie with a shuck on the tag) both dead drifting and swinging like the emerger techniques you discuss on the podcast and I could see fish flashing and darting under the surface feeding aggressively but the fish never seemed to switch over and feed on top. The hatch didn’t really start until 7:30-8 pm so perhaps the stage when the trout would be looking for duns or spinners was too late? Maybe sulphurs on certain waters that hatch late are just best fished with nymphs compared to other hatches?


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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