Dry Fly vs. Nymphing

25 September 2006 By Dan Bachman • Opinion • Comments (3)

No-hackle PMD &  Pheasant Tail nymph on Diplomystus Dentatus fossil

My very first experience at age 10 with a fly rod was using a dry. It was what my father taught me and what his father taught him. I don’t think that I knew what nymphing was until in my late teens and then only vaguely referred to it as ‘wet-fly fishing’. It was something like Polish Economics to me, I couldn’t have cared less about it.

In recent years I have nymphed more and more and now even have a fly box dedicated to just nymph patterns with a couple hundred flies stuffed in it. I’ve had modest success when nymphing considering how little time I have spent honing the skill and art of the underwater variety of fly angling.

On some of the various fly fishing discussion boards there seems to be a continual debate discussion around the merits and advantages of nymphing versus dry flies. In one corner you have the submariners talking about how 90% of a fishes diet is composed of things found under the water and they are always catching fish regardless of conditions. In the other corner you have the dry fly guys talking about how technical catching fish on top can be and it’s heritage as the ‘true-form’ of the fly fishing.

What I think it comes down to, like anything, is personal preference. Some specialize in either nymphing or dry-flying and still others enjoy both and do them very well. I even have a friend that will switch to a bait rod and throw spoons when he’s not catching with a dry or a nymph. Heresy, to be sure.

For me though, it’s one simple thing-the thrill of watching the take. The shot of adrenaline you get when water breaks upward as a trout rises to pull down a bit of feathers and fluff tied onto a hook is hard to beat. Last week on the South Fork of the Boise I had one of the most memorable takes in quite awhile. While fishing a rusty spinner through a deep side channel a 20+ inch rainbow rolled casually on my fly. The entire side, from nose to tail of the beautifully colored fish broke the water in one fluid arcing motion.

While the opportunities to dry fly are certainly less frequent than nymphing, with a little planning I have been able to hit most water with close approximation to a hatch. I have only been blanked on 1 out of over 30 trips this year. I avoid rivers after an extreme change in water flows, it freaks out the fish. Fish early morning or late evenings during the hottest months of the summer. And on rivers like the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the South Fork of the Snake you have a pretty good chance that cutthroat will hit dries during most of the daylight hours.

I consider myself a dry fly guy.

What do you like? What works for you?


  1. 26 September 2006 Brian

    A dry fly on top and a nymph dropper 90% of the time. If the hatch is on, its a species combo like a sulpher dry with a p-tail dropper or emerger in the film or just under. If there’s no hatch, its an attractor of some type with a bead head hares ear or some other type of nymph, scud or worm. Either they take the floater or the floater acts as the indicator. But never during the spinner fall or tricos. Then its all on top.

  2. 29 September 2006 Jay

    The pheasant tail nymph really looks like a prince?

    I fish 90% of the time with nymphs. Dunno but I feel more confident fishing with nymphs. But I love fishing with hoppers when the fish are looking up. That explosive strike is really something else!

  3. 1 October 2006 Dan Bachman

    Jay-you are correct. it is a prince. I took several pics of different nymphs (including a pheasant tail) to see which one looked to the best. The photo description has been updated.

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