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 divinities. 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.
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 beyond 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.
Drifting 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.