To the average person, the terms "dry-fly" and "nymph" are likely foreign words that hold little meaning. However, to the angler, they are as familiar as the 'ABCs'. The terms refer to two kinds of lures used in the sport of fly fishing. Nymphs are lures that submerge beneath the surface of the water when cast. They represent insects in their immature life phases. Around 90% of a fish's diet consists of food found under the water, so there is a more likely chance that a fish will go after a nymph because nymphs impersonate a fish's most common diet. A nymph floats by under the water, passing right in front of fish lurking near the bottom. It is basically like handing food to a fish, presenting it before him as an easy meal. If you want to significantly up your chances of catching a fish while fly fishing, go for a nymph.
Dry-flies, on the other hand, are designed to float, like a bug that has landed on the surface of the water and that is riding the current down stream. If a dry-fly is presented in a convincing way, the idea is that a fish will believe that it is, indeed, the insect being impersonated. If convinced, the fish will strike the surface where the dry-fly drifts. To present a dry-fly in a convincing manner is a lot more challenging than it is to present a nymph. A dry-fly must land on the surface of the water in such a way that there is no doubt in the fish's mind about its legitimacy. This means ensuring that there is no drag from the line catching in a current, and that the line does not coil up on its self, revealing the deception and alerting the fish to danger. While 90% of a fish's diet comes from beneath the water, only about 10% of a fish's diet comes from the surface of the water. This means that even if a dry-fly is presented perfectly upon the surface, a fish may be finding plenty of underwater snacks to satisfy his hunger and therefore may have no interest in what drifts by overhead - even if it is a delicious, perfectly presented Purple Haze.
While most anglers enjoy using both nymphs and dry flies, depending on the time of day or the body of water that they are fishing, there is a rare breed out there - some may even call them crazy - that crave the challenge and art of using nothing but dry flies. My husband, Ben, is such an angler. He grew up fishing the blue ribbon rivers of Western Montana, slinging dry flies and reeling in countless majestic beauties that had to be wooed with deceptive accuracy. For him, using a nymph, or anything other than a dry-fly for that matter, would be cheating. One time, Ben and I were in a fly shop near where we live, talking to one of the guides working there named John. When Ben explained how he only fishes with dry-flies and preferably only in blue ribbon rivers in Montana, John shook his head in wonder and said, "You know, they write books about guys like you."
When he was first teaching me to fly fish, he explained to me how the majority of a fish's diet comes from beneath the surface of the water. I remember asking why, then, we chose to use flies that are less desirable to fish. To me, using a nymph and ensuring myself a catch seemed appealing. That was the point, wasn't it? To catch fish? But Ben, shaking his head, explained to me the point was not to simply catch fish. The point is trying to catch a fish. That is the beauty of fishing with a dry-fly. It is not easy; it is not about simply catching a fish. It is a challenge. An art. It takes skill and a true understanding of how a fish thinks and the various patterns of a river. If one is out on the water with the sole intent of catching a fish, then perhaps a nymph would be a better option. However, if one is out there to fish, then tie on a dry-fly and enjoy the process.
The process of fly fishing is what ultimately won me over. Once I learned that catching a fish is not the ultimate objective, I began to see the beauty of the sport. It is a beauty often lost on many people who think of fly fishing as a simple, mindless hobby which wastes time that might be spent doing something more productive. But I learned that fly fishing is anything but easy, and it is certainly not mindless. Reading the water, knowing where to cast in order to have the greatest likelihood of having your fly float over a hungry trout, and then getting the fly to actually go right where you want it to is a challenge unlike anything else I have tried. But all of the technical aspects aside, fly fishing is about so much more. It is about being in nature, one with the river. It is about enjoying the river as it exerts its force on your legs; It's about feeling the coolness of the water through your waders and the slick firmness of the stones beneath your boots.
As I have become a die-hard angler myself, I have absorbed some of the crazy. I am a bit of a dry-fly snob now, and I like it that way. I love the challenge and the art of using dry flies. I crave the uncertainty of success and I like how whether or not I catch a fish depends entirely on my skills as an angler. Sure, there are days where I wont get even a single bite, and at those times it becomes tempting to throw on a nymph and indulge the fish where they lay, submerged beneath the surface, unwilling to rise for whatever reason. But then I look over and see Ben, swinging his line in a perfect rhythmic 'C' shape, sending a dry-fly with precision to an intended pool in the river. He is at one with the water, his rod seemingly an extension of himself. That is the joy of fly fishing. It is not the catching of a fish, although nothing beats the feeling of the line tightening against your finger tips when a fish hits your fly. But it is the process of presenting a fly in just the right way, and the challenge of being out there in the river with your rod in your hand, that make up the true essence of fly fishing. And that essence can only really be found on a dry-fly...or so the crazy ones say.