Water Nymphs

Most fly-fishermen are aware of “nymphs,” the immature stage of numerous insects that develop in the water. Many anglers fly-fish with a “nymph,” often allowing their imitative lure to drift along the current of a stream or river at some level well below the surface.

Less well-known is the fact that nymphs were female spirits representing the various aspects of sacred nature. The ancient Greeks peopled every aspect of nature with DSCN5485divinities. Nymphs were feminine energies, short of the divine realm but with links to the eternal. They personified the beauty of particular places, and they often lived long lives. They persist today in the minds and bodies of some people who are close to nature, and they reluctantly force me to say the following: fly-fishing can be sexy. It usually isn’t sexy (understatement), but it can be.

The classic nymphs most interesting to me as a fly-fisher are the Dryads, the protectors of forest locales, and the Naiads, the protector spirits of water, i.e., of springs and streams, of rivers, marshes, ponds, and lakes. What makes them attractive to me, for other than the obvious male reasons, are their characters– unlike the gods and goddesses, they are mortal, like ourselves– plus their intimate connections to a place on earth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Naiads are completely dependent on the body of water that they represent. If a stream dries up or becomes polluted, the Naiad for the stream is finished. Alive and well, the classic Naiads were sex symbols, of sorts, and played the part of a seducer (often of men and demi-gods and big fellas like Zeus). Their waters were thought to have a mixture of medicinal, prophetic and inspirational powers. People who partook of these waters, drinking them (or fishing in them), were said to be “captured by the nymphs.”

These spirits of locales are attractive to me, as well, because they’re personal, and thus OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbeyond the point of general worship. We’ll make no religion out of Nymphing (we could leave that to the dry fly purists, maybe). And we’ll not speak of “nymphomania”, leaving that to the psychologists, nor of “nymphets,” as in the great Lolita.

All of which leads me to a recent evening on the river.

I came to the river expecting a hatch of Isonychia, and saw examples of the big gray mayfly on the surface, but the trout weren’t rising to them, for some reason or another. After half an hour of futile casting, I was about to quit, but then decided to give the big pool one last shot with an Isonychia nymph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADrifting the fly deeply through the current at the head of the pool, it was as if I had called upon the crafters of beauty there to open up the door. It was as if some deity, personified, gave answer to the call. It gave me the power of poetry and the visible embodiment of something… divine.

Yeah, it gave me the biggest trout of the year, a 21-inch brown, from my home river.

Thank the gods for those sexy Naiads and the artificial Nymph.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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17 Responses to Water Nymphs

  1. Brent says:

    Pretty impressive fish! It’s interesting that, aside from the classic Greek nymphs, you find similar beings in northern European mythologies (mermaids, for example). I guess mankind has always found water seductive.

  2. Ah yes, the northern Euro-myths contained them, as did many tribal cultures throughout the world. Good point. Water is/has been one of the great seducers/Sirens.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Could that first picture be called a “flashback nymph”? Great fish, Walt. I’m no big trout snob, but hooking, playing and landing a fish that big is another ballgame. Did you get my email? Sometimes my email says its been sent but it ain’t.

    • Yes, “Flashback”! Perfect. I’m gonna start tying ’em, Bob. Ain’t getting any younger. As for the trout, this year the elusive Inland fisheries 20″ trout took longer to discover… No, Haven’t checked my email in a couple of days, so will do it.

  4. Lester Kish says:

    Good one Walt. Nice post about the fishing spirits. As Robert Traver said: “I fish because…. one day I may catch a mermaid.” Well, that’s one of many reasons.

    By the way, I’m going nymphing today (don’t tell my wife).

  5. Mark W says:

    Walt – these days the nymph is the price of admission except on those days when the olives are out in force

  6. Thanks Mark. The nymph’s the thing, except there are still exceptions. Yesterday was cold and blustery– olives were out all over the water but a nymph counted for the couple of catches we made. Today I was on Cedar Run, and the nymph did little. When the water warmed at midday, a dry Ant was the ticket. So, that’s fishing, and I’m glad for the exceptions, too.

  7. Leigh says:

    Great post Walt. Congratulations on your biggest trout this year.

    • Thank you, Leigh. River fishing was slower this year, in these parts, due to high water and other problems, but it’s finally come around some. The small streams have been fishing well, and they’ve been fun, with smaller trout, and all.

  8. argosgirl says:

    Really enjoyed reading this post. Lovely trout!

  9. Those are some chunky browns. Nice fish!

  10. Dale says:

    I seen one of those one day on the kettle! (The first pic). How’s it goin Walt

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