Pteronarcys dorsata nymph – Giant Stonefly

Pteronarcys dorsata nymph – Giant Stonefly

Pteronarcys (pronounced tear-a-nar-sis) dorsata is the largest stonefly found in the Upper Midwest trout streams. Its common name is the Giant Stonefly and out West it is called the American Salmonfly. The nymphs take 2-4 years to fully develop. So, these large morsels are trout food 24/7, all season long.

In the cold-water trout streams of northern Wisconsin, you can find these big nymphs underneath decaying logs and branches in the shallows. Dorsata stonefly nymphs feed on detritus and diatoms. Also, can look in the faster rocky runs, but it is much easier to find them in the shallows on woody debris.

shallow water with woody debris

This past September I captured and released several Pteronarcys dorsata nymphs from the spot in the above photo. The nymphs were approximately 1-3/8″ long from their head to the end of their abdomen. They were all at least one year old and will eventually crawl out of the river next year. These large stonefly nymphs ranged in color from dark brownish to black.

Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph

Turning the big stonefly nymphs over, you will see their gill tufts between their legs and neck. Placing the dorsata stonefly nymphs in water you can really see their gill tufts.

Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph gill tufts
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph gill tuft
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph gill tufts
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph gill tufts

When I set the nymphs back in the water they immediately flipped over on to their back. Their bodies were always slightly curled as the nymphs slowly sank to the bottom of the river. There was no swimming or struggling movements as they drifted towards the bottom.

Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph in the drift
Pteronarcys dorsata stonefly nymph in the drift

You can see in the above photo why a Girdle Bug (also referred to as Pat’s Rub Legs and other names) does so well imitating these large stonefly nymphs.

2 thoughts on “Pteronarcys dorsata nymph – Giant Stonefly

  1. On my first day as a fly fisher on the Kinnickinnick, I met a fisherman who had just captured a pteronarcys and showed it to me. I was stunned to see it on the Kinny.

    1. Pteronarcys dorsata get up to 2″ long. The ones in my photos from this Fall were 1-3/8″ long, from head to end of their abdomen. The trout do love them.

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