Fly Fishing Nymphs (Beginner’s Guide, Tips & Tricks)

Fly fishing nymph up close

Learning about fly fishing nymphs is a great way to get into fly fishing. It’s all about using fake lures that look like young insects underwater. If you’re new to this, don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it seems. 

Here, we’ll start with the basics: what nymphs are and why they work so well for catching fish. This guide will show you the different kinds of nymphs, the gear you need, and how to cast them. 

By reading this guide, you’ll also pick up some easy tips and tricks. Let’s dive into the world of nymph fishing and get you ready for your next fishing adventure.

What Are Nymphs in Fly Fishing?

Fly fishing nymphs on white table

Nymphs in fly fishing are special kinds of bait. They’re like fake insects that live underwater. When you use them in fly fishing, you’re essentially mimicking these insects. These nymphs are usually weighted to sink below the water’s surface, where fish like trout often feed. 

The use of nymphs in fly fishing took off between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before then, most fly fishing was done using dry flies on the water’s surface. 

Frank Sawyer played a big role in changing this. He developed new ways to fish with nymphs, which shaped how we do it today.

Watch this video to get a good overview of what nymphing is all about:

Fly fishing: How To fly fish Nymphs or Nymphing

Fun Fact: Did you know fly fishing has existed since about 200 AD? That’s a long time ago! It only shows how much people have always enjoyed this sport.

The history of fly fishing, and the switch to using nymphs, really shows how well anglers have learned about fish. Over the years, this connection has only gotten stronger, especially with nymphing techniques.

Different Types of Nymphs for Fly Fishing

Did you know that the physical characteristics of nymphs make a big difference in fly fishing? 

For instance, nymphs with tungsten beads sink three times faster than those with brass beads. This means smaller, denser nymphs can reach deeper waters quicker. Likewise, the shape of a nymph is also crucial.

These factors barely scratch the complicated technicalities of choosing a nymph. Let’s look at some of the different types of nymphs and see where each one excels. 

1. Beadhead Nymphs

Beadhead nymphs

Beadhead nymphs are a type of nymph recognizable by a small bead near the hook’s eye. This bead makes them heavier, so they sink quickly, which is great for fishing in fast-moving streams. 

Their weight also makes them move in the water in a way that looks natural and attractive to fish. These nymphs are really good for catching fish in deeper areas. 

Examples of beadhead nymphs include the Pheasant Tail Nymph and the Hare’s Ear Nymph, both known for their effectiveness in deeper waters.

2. Non-Beadhead Nymphs

Non beadhead nymph

Non-beadhead nymphs are great for fishing in clear and calm waters. They don’t have a heavy bead, so they drift in the water more naturally, just like real bugs.

These nymphs are especially good in places where the fish are cautious of heavier, more obvious flies. 

However, you need good casting skills to use these light nymphs effectively. Experienced fishers often choose them for their natural presentation. 

Examples of non-beadhead nymphs include patterns like the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear and the Griffith’s Gnat.

3. Euro Nymphs

Euro nymphs

Euro nymphs are made for a specific type of fly fishing called European nymphing, and they are heavier than other types. 

This extra weight is crucial for techniques where you must keep a straight line to the fly, like in high-stick and tight-line nymphing.

Moreover, these nymphs are shaped to resemble the insects found in European rivers, which helps them work better. 

Their design helps them sink fast and get down to where the trout are feeding, which is why they’re becoming increasingly popular with anglers everywhere.

Watch this quick video to learn more about European nymphing:

Euro-Nymphing A Run | How To

4. Emerger Nymphs

Emerger nymph

Emerger nymphs work best just under the surface of the water. They’re great to use when insects are hatching and fish are looking for food near the surface. 

These nymphs often have parts that look like wings or tails and are best used with a gentle touch. They’re usually paired with a floating fly. 

Types of emerger nymphs include the Blue-Winged Olive Emerger and the Caddis Emerger.

5. Attractor Nymphs

Attractor nymphs

Attractor nymphs are designed to get noticed in the water. They’re not meant to look like any particular insect. Instead, they shine and flash with bright colors intended to grab the fish’s attention. 

These nymphs work well in cloudy water or when fish, like trout, aren’t picky about what they eat. Their eye-catching look can make even uninterested fish bite. 

Some examples include the Rainbow Warrior and the Psycho Prince Nymph. They’re especially good for drawing strikes in challenging fishing conditions.

6. Jig Nymphs

Jig nymphs

Jig nymphs use a special hook that keeps them upright in the water, helping them avoid getting stuck on the river bottom. 

They usually have a beadhead, which makes them sink fast, and they move in a way that is irresistible to fish.

These nymphs work well in different kinds of water and are liked by a lot of anglers because they don’t snag easily. They are especially good in rivers with rocky bottoms where other nymphs might get caught. 

Examples of jig nymphs include the Frenchie, Perdigon, and Jigged Hare’s Ear, each known for their effective design in attracting fish.

7 Best Nymphs Flies for Trout

Selecting the right nymph flies for trout fishing depends on various factors. Key considerations include the fishing environment and location. 

Another important aspect is the type of trout you’re aiming for. Whether you’re fishing for rainbow, cutthroat, or cutbow trout, below are some of the best nymph flies to try out.

1. Pheasant Tail Nymph 

Pheasant tail nymph

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is a well-loved and adaptable fly, great for imitating lots of underwater bugs. Its slim, pointed shape is made from pheasant tail fibers, often mixed with copper wire for added weight. 

This fly works well for catching trout because it looks real and works in clear waters. It excels at copying mayflies and is a popular choice in different fishing situations. 

2. Hare’s Ear Nymph

Hares ear nymph

The Hare’s Ear Nymph is a classic fly that looks like many types of water bugs, such as caddis larvae and mayflies. Made with fur from a hare’s ear, it has a fluffy, natural look that moves well in the water. 

This fly is particularly useful when you’re unsure of what trout eat in the area where you’re fishing.

3. Zebra Midge

Zebra midge

The Zebra Midge is a simple but very effective fly, perfect for mimicking the pupa stage of midges — a common food in a trout’s diet. It has a thin body that is usually black and has narrow stripes.

This fly is a go-to in cold weather when trout are mostly eating midges, making it essential for winter fishing. Its small size and quiet look help it perform well in calm waters and slow streams.

4. Prince Nymph

Prince nymphs

The Prince Nymph is a classic choice among fly fishermen. It is characterized by its striking peacock herl body and white biots that mimic wings and tails. 

This nymph includes a beadhead, which adds to its weight and enhances its versatility in different types of water. It is usually effective in fast-moving streams, capturing trout’s attention with its vivid appearance. 

Commonly used to imitate stoneflies and mayflies, the Prince Nymph is one of the best fly fishing nymphs for trout.

Fun Fact: The Prince Nymph, created in the 1930s by Doug Prince, was originally named the “Brown Fork Tail.”

5. San Juan Worm

San juan worm
Image credit: sash0k / Instagram

The San Juan Worm, resembling small aquatic larvae, is a simple yet highly effective nymph. It has a slender, worm-like body that is usually made from brightly colored chenille. 

I have used the San Juan Worm a few times when fishing for rainbow trout and found it to be particularly useful for high water conditions and winter fishing. 

I also use it for murky water conditions. This nymph is a top choice when trout are feeding on aquatic worms. I’ve also observed its effectiveness after it rains when natural worms get washed into the water.

Fun Fact: The San Juan Worm is controversial among fly fishers. Some see it as too simple, not fitting the traditional craft of making intricate insect-like flies. 

However, many others value it for its straightforward design and effectiveness. This debate about what truly makes a fly “authentic” started when the San Juan Worm gained popularity in the 1980s.

6. Copper John

Copper John

The Copper John is a modern classic known for its bright copper wire body that sinks quickly and reflects light. This nymph fly, often featuring a beadhead, mimics a variety of aquatic insects. 

It is usually useful in deeper waters or fast-moving streams, where its visibility and weight make it irresistible to trout.

The Copper John is a staple for trout anglers, especially in situations where getting your fly to the bottom quickly is key.

7. Woolly Bugger

Woolly bugger

The Woolly Bugger is a fly fishing nymph known for its versatility, fuzzy body, and marabou tail. Typically, it comes in various colors, with dark shades being very popular. 

This nymph excels in trout fishing thanks to its ability to mimic a range of aquatic prey, including leeches, larvae, and even small fish. 

Anglers often use the Woolly Bugger in murky water conditions or when fish are less active, as its movement can lure even the most inactive trout.

Tips for Fishing Nymphs for Beginners

Nymph fishing can be a rewarding way for beginners to enter the world of fly fishing. However, it requires a blend of skill, patience, and knowledge about fish behavior and habitats. 

Fortunately, there are tips to make things easier. Below are some simple yet effective techniques that can significantly enhance your fishing experience:

  • Learn basic casts. Start with mastering the roll cast and standard fly cast. These two are essential for nymph fishing.
  • Understand nymph selection. Choose nymphs that mimic local insects, and be prepared to switch based on what the fish you are catching are feeding on.
  • Understand line control. Master how to adjust your fishing line to avoid unnatural movements of your nymph in the water. This way, your nymph will appear realistic to fish.
  • Adjust depth and weight. Continuously modify the depth and weight of your nymph to target the deeper zones where trout typically feed, especially near the riverbed.
  • Make use of floats. Floats, or indicators, are essential in detecting when a trout bites your nymph. Select a float that is appropriate for both the water conditions and the size of your nymph to increase your chances of noticing a bite.
  • Perfect your hook setting. Develop a rapid and firm hook-setting technique to secure the fish efficiently. This means reacting fast and pulling the hook sideways or downriver but not too hard to avoid losing the fish.
  • Experiment with techniques. Explore different nymph fishing methods, such as high sticking in fast-moving waters for better bait control and Euro-nymphing for a more precise and hands-on approach.
  • Observe and adjust. Carefully observe the trout’s behavior and be patient. Adapt your fishing strategy in response to the fish’s reactions.
  • Identify prime fishing locations. Find streams with diverse features such as varying depths, currents, and structures. These areas are typically hotspots for trout feeding, making them ideal for practicing.

With these tips, you can kick off your journey in nymph fishing. Remember, every cast is a new learning experience. Enjoy the process, and with time and practice, you’ll eventually get the hang of fishing nymphs.

Pro Tip: Beginners often confuse ‘rig’ and ‘nymph’ in fly fishing. A ‘rig’ is your entire fly fishing setup, including the rod, reel, line, and flies. 

Remember, a ‘nymph,’ on the other hand, is a specific type of fly that imitates insects underwater. While ‘rig’ refers to the whole arrangement, a ‘nymph’ is just one component of it.

For more tips and tricks about fly fishing, read our guide on fly fishing for bass.

How to Choose the Right Nymphs

Fish caught using nymph

Selecting the right nymphs for fly fishing is an essential skill that combines knowledge of local fish species, water conditions, and fishing techniques. 

Below are simple steps that aim to simplify the process of choosing which nymph to use: 

  • Identify your target fish species. Start by researching the fish species in your chosen fishing area. Different species respond to different nymphs. For instance, trout may bite more frequently on French or Prince Nymphs, while bass may prefer Bead Head Black Rubber Leg Stone or Damselfly Nymphs. Keep in mind, though, that these vary on a case-to-case basis.
  • Understand the fishing environment. Consider the type of water body you’ll be fishing in, such as a river, lake, or stream. The environment influences which nymphs will be most effective. In moving waters like rivers and streams, choose nymphs that can mimic the natural drift. This ensures effective behavioral nymphing.
  • Consider your gear carefully. Ensure your rod and reel match the nymph fishing requirements. A standard 8- to 9-foot rod will be enough for most situations, but techniques like Euro Nymphing might require longer rods. Select the right line and tippet to match your nymph selection.
  • Learn nymphing techniques. Familiarize yourself with different nymphing techniques, including Euro Nymphing and high sticking. Understanding and practicing various casting methods is crucial.
  • Adapt to conditions and observations. Pay attention to the environment, weather, and fish behavior. Be ready to adjust your nymph selection and fishing technique based on these observations to improve your success rate.

By following these steps, beginners can make smart choices when picking nymphs for fly fishing. This will help them catch more fish and enjoy their time by the water. 

After all, it’s all about using the right tools and knowledge to get the best out of fly fishing.

Setting Up a Nymph Fishing Fly Rod

Preparing your fly rod for nymph fishing can be straightforward if you know the right steps. Here, we’ll breeze through the essentials and cover everything you need to get started.

Here’s a simple guide on setting up a nymph fishing fly rod:

  1. Choose the right rod and reel. Go for a longer rod, about 9 to 11 feet, to achieve better drifts and greater reach. A 4 to 6-weight rod is best for the delicate handling of nymph flies. Ensure your reel matches the rod’s weight for smoother casting and mending.
  2. Select appropriate leaders and tippets. Generally, the recommendation is to use a 9-foot, 4x fluorocarbon leader as it’s light enough to avoid scaring fish yet strong enough for durability. Add a 20-inch 5x tippet with a double surgeon’s knot for extra length and flexibility.
  3. Include a strike indicator. Strike indicators, like bobbers or putty, are important for noticing bites and judging nymph depth. Choose one based on your preference and the water conditions.
  4. Choose effective nymph flies. Select nymph flies suitable for your fishing location. Match them to the local insect patterns and your target fish species.
  5. Decide on the line type. Opt for a weight-forward line, ideal for getting nymphs to the right depth in the water.
  6. Understand nymphing techniques. Learn to cast upstream at a 45-degree angle and follow the fly with your rod tip. This technique is effective for spotting fish strikes in deeper waters.

Pro Tip: One of my go-to rigs is the dry dropper rig. This rig pairs a floating dry fly with a sinking nymph, letting you check if fish go for the nymph below or the dry fly above. 

It is an excellent way to see if fish are biting at the surface or underwater. This lets you adjust your technique for better chances of a catch.

Here’s a video showing how to set up a dry dropper rig:

Educated Angler - THE DRY DROPPER RIG

When to Use Nymphs for Fly Fishing

Fly fishing nymphs on wooden table

Nymphs for fly fishing are best used when fish are feeding below the water’s surface, which is often the case. They are especially effective in early mornings or late evenings when insects are active underwater. 

Moreover, nymphs work well in colder months when fish are less likely to rise to the surface. They can also work well in murky or fast-moving waters where visibility is low. 

Use nymphs in streams and rivers, mimicking the natural drift of insects. Finally, nymphs are ideal when you’re unsure of the fish’s feeding patterns, as they cover a broad range of insect life stages.

Where to Buy Nymphs for Fly Fishing

Finding the right place to purchase nymphs can make or break your fishing experience. Ideally, you should pick places that are convenient, reputable, and offer a wide variety of options.

Here are the best places to find nymphs for sale:

  • Orvis – Orvis is a well-known retailer offering a wide selection of high-quality nymphs suitable for various fishing conditions. Orvis is renowned for its range of fly fishing gear and accessories. 
  • Cabela’s – This popular outdoor retailer provides an extensive collection of nymphs, including exclusive patterns. Cabela’s is a go-to for both beginners and experienced fishers.
  • FlyShack – Specializing in fly fishing, FlyShack offers an impressive array of nymphs at competitive prices. They are known for their quality flies and helpful customer service.
  • Local Fly Shops – Don’t overlook your local fly shops. They often offer hand-tied nymphs and can provide valuable advice on what works best in nearby waters.

When choosing where to buy your nymphs, consider the shop’s reputation, the variety of flies offered, and the knowledge of their staff. 

A good source will not only provide quality nymphs but also valuable insights into the best choices for your specific fishing conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Set of fly fishing nymphs

What’s the Difference Between Dry Flies and Nymphs?

Dry flies float on the water’s surface, imitating adult insects or other surface prey. Nymphs, on the other hand, sink below the surface, mimicking immature insect stages that live underwater.

Is a Streamer or Nymph Better for Fly Fishing?

It depends on the fishing conditions and behavior of the target fish. Streamers are effective for aggressive, predatory fish and in murky or deeper waters. 

Meanwhile, nymphs are better for mimicking the natural diet of fish feeding on insects underwater. It is usually used in clear or shallower waters.

Can You Fish a Nymph Without an Indicator?

Yes, you can fish a nymph without an indicator using techniques like Euro-nymphing or high-stick nymphing.

These techniques require you to closely control the line and rely on feeling the bites instead of using an indicator for visual cues.

Hopefully, this guide has equipped you with new ideas for your next fishing escapade. Be sure to leave a comment below with your thoughts and ideas about the different kinds of nymphs for fishing!

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