Nymph flies make up over two thirds of a trout's diet. Read our guide to the essential nymph flies.

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Why fly fish nymphs?

You need to include them in your box of fly fishing flies if you want to be ready for a day of fishing. If you have looked at the supply available at your local fly shop or sports center you may have become confused; there are hundreds of options. 

This guide will explain what nymphs and their flies are, and describe some of the essential nymph flies.

What Is a Nymph?

In Greek mythology a nymph is… oh, let’s not go there.

In fly fishing a nymph imitates the immature stages of insects that spend part of their life underwater. They are either insects that are swept away in the current or are hatching and emerging to the surface.

Nymphs also include drowned insects and small crustaceans like shrimp. It is a term used for subsurface, mostly dead drifted flies.

They are sometimes retrieved at a slow speed near the surface to imitate an emerging fly.

Learn the techniques of nymph fishing.

Essential Nymph Flies for Trout Fly Fishing

Most of these nymphs represent more than one aquatic insect. As your collection grows you may need a dedicated fly box just for your nymphs. Here are some of the most common, and effective nymph fly patterns.

Bead Head Prince Nymph

The bead head prince nymph is used in both lakes and rivers. (Without the bead head it is called a Prince Nymph.) Like many flies it does not resemble any particular bug. It does however resemble many different bugs in general. Fish this nymph below an indicator in rivers or with a slow retrieve in lakes.

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Sometimes just called a Hares Ear this fly comes in tan, dark brown or dark olive. The pattern is very useful because it suggests many different species. It also comes with or without a bead head. It can be fished in rivers or lakes.

Pheasant Tail Nymph

The pheasant tail nymph resembles March browns, blue-winged olives, pale morning duns and a host of others. There are hundreds of small and brown mayfly species in North America; this makes this nymph one of the most common nymphs found in a fly fisher’s box. It is most commonly fished along the bottom but can be fished on the surface as well. When some flash is added to the nymph it can be really effective in lakes (called the Flashback Pheasant Tail).

Stonefly Nymph

The stonefly nymph is a large fly that can sometimes be irresistible to a trout. Because they have fixed gills they can get oxygen only from moving water. As they move to shore to hatch the current sometimes carries them away. These big stonefly nymphs can create quite a feeding frenzy during the two weeks before a hatch and the first week of the hatch. A must-have nymph for any river fly fisher.

Zug Bug Nymph

The zug bug nymph represents a cased or living caddis. Because it also suggests many other insects it is a good nymph to have in your box. The peacock herl and silver tinsel make it a nice attractor pattern. Like many nymphs it is dead drifted near the bottom of the river with a tight line presentation or beneath an indicator.

Woolly Bugger

Woolly buggers are a must-have for lakes. Keep a variety of sizes and colors in your box. Good colors to have are olive green, black, maroon, purple and white. They can suggest baitfish, leeches or dragonfly nymphs. These can be used in rivers as well.


Nymph flies do not need to match the color and size of streamside bugs exactly. A fly box with most of the nymphs above will give you a good chance of getting close.

All About Nymphs

Having nymphs in your fly selection is an absolute must. Our insect specific, curated fly boxes feature nymphs that match the hatch. Our Nymphing Guide will give you the best chance at tight lines on the river