Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury, MN, Always Looking to Learn from the River

A 22” brown caught “Speed Nymphing”
A 22” brown caught “Speed Nymphing”

Every time I hit the river, my goal is to catch fish. Admittedly, I have some favorite techniques. I wish would work every time, but I have yet to find the “silver bullet” fly or technique that always works. Thus, every day is a new day where you have to figure out what the trout want. A guide friend of mine calls that, “cracking the code”.

Recently I wrote on “Speed Nymphing”. It is an unorthodox method, but effective. In brief, “Speed Nymphing” uses a two-fly set-up. The lead fly is a dry fly capable of still floating with a bead head dropper fly. I use parachutes, caddis, stimulators, and SIF (Strike Indicator Flies – see my blog from last year) for the lead fly. If you have another favorite high-floating pattern, give it a try – it will probably work. The bead head dropper fly can be just about anything. I have used hare’s ears, pheasant tails, Copper Johns, girdle bugs, wooly buggers, and stonefly patterns. Unweighted droppers also work when you are fishing shallow waters. See the previous blog for details on how to set this up.

The main point is that the two-fly rig is strip-retrieved like a streamer. When the fish are aggressive, you can go as fast as you like. If the fish are missing most of the time, add a little pause between strips. When the fish are less active, I jostle my rod tip until the lead fly moves 4-6 inches, pause, and repeat. If the lead fly goes under, it’s okay. I have taken many fish on sunken dries. Most notably a 16” brown recently took a sunken parachute Adams.

This doesn’t work all the time but is worth a try every now and then during an outing. Below is the account of how “Speed Nymphing” was surprisingly effective in early July on one of my favorite local streams. If this doesn’t convince you to try this, nothing will.

Sometimes breaking “the rules” pays off BIG. It was slightly over 90 degrees with matching humidity. I had decided to fish despite the weather. My goal was to refamiliarize myself with a stretch of one of my favorite streams. I had not fished it for years as it gets pounded to death. A little over a week ago, I had come from the downstream direction and caught 63 fish (30 from one hole) but nothing over 13 inches. So, I thought I would fish in a leisurely fashion going downstream to arrive at the target hole around 5 p.m.

I arrived at the first pool around 2 p.m. About half the pool was in the shade. The closest portion, the back eddy, was in full sun. I was pleasantly surprised to see some active fish and missed two takes on the nymph at the edge of the shade; both fish were decent (likely mid-teens). Since the eddy essentially had no current, I elected to twitch my two-fly set-up across the sunny portion (the lead fly was a #14 green caddis with a 45” dropper to a #14 Copper John). Two smaller fish had followed on the first two passes and swatted at the nymph but missed. I was pretty relaxed as I continued twitching the next cast.

Just past a large boulder in the middle of the backwash, a monster brown appeared behind the nymph. He accelerated and inhaled the nymph! Usually I am pretty good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by setting the hook too early, but not today! Everything went into slow motion (this happens every now and then), I watched the fish take the nymph, close his mouth, and turn – then I set the hook. I had him! It looked like a torpedo and was none too happy to have a hook in his mouth. I was using 5x tippet for the dropper so the nymph would flutter in the current more naturally. My first thought was to lower the drag so the fish could run easily. I lowered the drag too much and had an immediate bird’s nest on the first run. Fortunately, the fish turned and I was able to undo the bird’s nest as the fish fought back and forth. Eventually I got him on the reel. It seemed to take forever but eventually the fish came straight into the net. I lifted the net with one hand while slamming my other hand with the rod over the fish to keep him in the net.

Quickly, I measured the fish – 22 inches!! He was exhausted and laid still for three quick pictures (I attached the best one). Just as the camera clicked for the final picture, the fish started flopping. That was a good sign, as I feared he might not revive since there was no flopping during the pictures. Back in the water the fish revived after just a couple of minutes and swam slowly back into the shade.

Pretty cool. Midday, in full sunlight, while twitching a nymph like a streamer. Fish like this are supposed to come in low light with the biggest fly in your box on 0X tippet. Fortunately, this fish didn’t read the rule book or chose to ignore it. This is the biggest trout I have landed on this river. About a month ago, I had a similar size fish break me off in the middle of another large hole while using the same technique. I knew it could work, but never dared to dream it would.

Recently I modified the set-up described in the earlier blog. I switched to using fluorocarbon tippet for all of my 5X droppers. It is more abrasion resistant and sinks. I prefer using 5X tippet so the dropper fly can flutter more naturally in the current. Last fall a friend and I both ran out of 5X tippet half-way through our outing. I tried 4X tippet and he only had 3X. Both of us stopped getting takes. The next day I returned with a fresh spool of 5X and immediately started getting takes. I use standard monofilament for 4X and up. 5X tippet works for tungsten bead heads up to hook size #14. After that, I find that the fly breaks off after a few casts. So I switch to 3-4X for tungsten head flies size #12 and above.

As you can see, “Speed Nymphing” can deliver truly large fish in the most unlikely situations. So far this season I have landed two 17” browns in addition to the 22 incher and had near misses with a dozen or more larger fish. The technique works well on smaller fish as well. So give it a try and let me know what you find out.


  1. A very interesting technique you have there Joe. I too sometimes notice that a wickedly pitiful drift can tempt a savage strike, and I wonder whether it has something to do with a predatory chase reflex of some kind. I’ve gotten strikes by stripping my “caddis worm in a case” pattern upstream, something no cased caddis could do. I’ve also gotten a couple of strikes by carelessly upstream-stripping a stone fly larva pattern, and supposedly they can’t swim a lick either.

    Maybe some anglers might write it off as mistakes made by hatchery trout or just the stoopid ones, but I don’t think that quite explains it–not in a way that could be useful anyway. I can’t say I’ve focused on a dry-dropper rig, but maybe that’s got something to do with it too–your nymph “chasing” a dry.

    All I can say is it’s certainly food for thought. Thanks for some thought-provoking posts.

    – Mike

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks for your comments and encouragement.
      As I tell the story more, it seems everyone has their own story about “accidentally” catching a nice fish while stripping a nymph in some fashion. The main point, as you detected, is that this may be more general than trout fishers think. As a scientist, which I am, there’s only one way to find out – we need to run the experiment and try twitching and stripping nymphs to see what happens. Give these a deliberate try several times at least (I haven’t cracked the code when it will definitely work) and let me know what you find out.
      All the best, Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *