Beginning Fly Fishing with Nymphs

Beginning Fly Fishing with Nymphs

There is a myth perpetrated on beginning fly fishermen that fly fishing with nymphs is really difficult. If you can bounce a salmon egg bait on the bottom with a fly rod and catch fish, you can catch trout with a nymph. The dead drift bouncing the bottom is a very similar technique. In my opinion, learning to make a perfect cast and a drag free dry fly drift is much harder than nymph fishing. You can make a sloppy cast and still make a good nymph presentation to catch trout.

In broad terminology, a nymph is the immature stage of an aquatic insect. Such insects form four of the major trout food groups.

  1. Mayflies – burrowers, clingers, crawlers or swimmers
  2. Caddis flies – Cased, net builders, free swimming
  3. Stoneflies – crawlers or clingers that hide under rocks or in the bottom gravel.
  4. Midges –  a major food group for trout. They exist and hatch year round. If not for midges, many trout would starve during the winter.

There are two main ways that nymphs can be used to catch trout. Sight fishing to a trout that you can see. Or prospecting for trout where they should be holding. Many fly fishers learn the prospecting method and never really learn the sight fishing method which is as challanging as dry fly fishing for trout. Especially when you are sight fishing nymphs for large trout.

Techniques for Prospecting for Trout:

  • If you take time to use an insect seine at each location on a stream, you will be able to see the predominate insect(s) in that area. You will also gain an idea of what dry flies to use should a hatch happen while nymphing. Choose a nymph fly to match the one insect that is most prevelant and a second nymph for the next most numerous insect. This will give you a good two fly rig to start fishing. While insect seining does not ensure a successful day, it certainly increases your chances over nymphing blind.
  • For blind prospecting, a beadhead goldribbed flashback hare’s ear is my choice of a point fly followed by a size 18 grey RS2 or an 18 Gregs Emerger. The hare’s ear represents, mayfly nymphs, caddis, and stone flies. The RS2 represents a mayfly or a midge. And the Greg’s Emerger is an all around emerger pattern. If a hatch happens, while I am nymph fishing, I will observe the insects a bit before switching to a dry fly. But if the trout are really keying in on the hatch, switch to a matching insect and have some fun.
  • In the early spring, nymphs of most species are larger in size and darker in color than later in the season. Example, some mayfly or stone fly nymphs will be very dark in the early spring and grow lighter as the summer progresses toward fall. This is where insect seining will help you to choose a correct size and color.


Nymphing is only as difficult as you make it. “Successful Fly Fishing for Trout” and the bonus books have much more information on nymphing for trout to help you become successful.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
“Successful Fly Fishing for Trout”