I use every flyfishing method you can think of to catch steelhead, and some methods that probably don't have names. My preference is dry flies, but I do spend the majority of my time nymphing. Not only is it more productive, but it is also more interactive with the river and requires a higher ability to read water if you do it right. I think most of us have had this discussion at some time or another with other flyfishermen. I think that when most people think of traditional steelhead flyfishing, they think of swinging and so I think this is where some people feel it is the "purist" method of catching a steelhead. It is also damn cool to have a steelhead slam a fly on the swing and try and take the rod out of your hand.... It has always seemed to me that if you really look at it objectively, nymphing is a more pure form of flyfishing than swinging. When you are swinging, you are using streamers that don't really imitate anything natural and trying to induce a strike by pissing them off. With nymphing you are at least generally trying to imitate something natural and present it in a natural manner. Steelhead clearly respond to flashy, audacious flies, so the flies don't always end up representing natural bugs all the time, but we do use a lot of stoneflies, caddis, shrimp, and egg patterns. I also don't for a second buy the argument that it is just gear fishing with a fly rod, or that it is the easiest method. Gear fishermen use monofilament line and heavily weighted jigs, often with additional weight attached somewhere on the line. They can just cast it out there and generally do not have to worry much about line management. Having used every method and taught others each method, nymphing is by far the hardest one to teach somebody to do properly. Setup: With swinging, the setup is easy. Tie a fly on the end of your line, either with a longer leader for greaselining or a shorter one with a sink tip. With nymphing, just getting set up with your indicator at the proper depth for the water, getting the proper amount of weight to get it down but not drag down the indicator, etc. is difficult to get the hang of. Line management: With swinging, you pretty much just need to be able to cast, mend, and set the hook. You need to be methodical in making sure that you hit the whole river, but as you are bringing your fly through all of the various current seams on each cast, you really only need to make a few mends, all upstream. With nymphing you need to manage the amount of line you have out (cast upstream, strip in as the flies come toward you, then mend out line as they move downstream of you). You also need to manage your mends in order to maintain a dead-drift. Your mends may be upstream OR downstream and in some cases you may need to make an S-shaped mend in which part of your mend is upstream and part of it is downstream. Reading water: With swinging you need modest understanding of how to read water. You need to be able to find water that is going to hold fish and the speed of the current may require you to mend more or less aggressively, but generally you find a run and cast across the hole, set up your mends, and let it swing across the currents. Step down a couple of steps and repeat the process. When you get more advanced at swinging you do start using the currents to swing the fly into specific current seams in some locations. Nymphing requires a whole other level of understanding the river, the currents, and the potential holding spots for the fish. You need to be able to identify specific likely holding spots and then figure out how to get your fly there on a dead drift. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to get the drift past a specific point just right and get the take. When you start targeting holding spots on the far side of multiple currents it gets really tricky to figure out the mends or get out further into the river to take some of them out of play altogether. You have to be very methodical in working through a hole to target each and every little holding spot individually and get the proper drift along each side of each rock, current seam, etc. Setting the hook: Hooking a fish on the swing is an awesome sensation. Just pure power. You definitely don't get the same experience hooking one on a nymph. The nice thing about getting a hard take on the swing is that the fish often sets the hook themselves. I still recommend driving it home, but once you make your cast and set your initial mends up, you can essentially swing blindfolded and hook fish. With nymphing you have to be much more in tune with what is happening to hook a fish. You have to detect the strike, which is sometimes surprisingly subtle, and then you need quick, powerful reflexes to set the hook the minute you detect a strike and also have the proper line management skills to be able to set the hook. With swinging the line will already be under tension, with nymphing you may have some slack line to account for. It also can make for an interesting first few seconds of the fight if you have to pick up a bunch of line. You may not have much ability to take up line if they come at you. I do get the argument that it is more rewarding to catch one swinging, because the strike is more ferocious and it is a less frequent occurrence. By that argument though, I'd say the ultimate would be landing one on a size 20 BWO on the dead-drift with a 0-wt rod.