Nymph fishing is one of the most effective ways to fly fish for trout in any water, so it’s a good idea to master some nymph fishing techniques.
We all know that trout eat under the water 90% of the time, so they’re more likely to take a bite of your nymph flies than your dry flies and streamers. Nymph fishing is so exciting, but it can also seem mysterious and tricky at first. There are a few new techniques and new methods to learn, but don’t worry!
Here’s our guide to get you nymph fishing confidently and reeling in those fish! Read on to discover how to select your nymphs, master your line, leader, and indicator, spot a strike, and more!
How To Nymph Fish for Trout
Fishing nymphs basically means subsurface fishing for trout, and it’s the best way to make sure you’ll get a good catch as trout eat most of their food down below rather than up on the surface.
But that doesn’t mean that when you fish nymphs, it’s easy. You’ll quickly discover that there’s a lot of trial and error involved, as the key to successful nymphing is to replicate the natural nymphs in your chosen fishing spot as closely as possible in size, color, and behavior.
But it’s impossible to see exactly what’s going on under the surface and what the fish are feeding on at that precise moment. That’s what makes fishing nymph flies such an exciting and mysterious type of fly fishing, and why it’s one of my favorite ways to fly fish. Trout are notoriously fussy and selective about what they eat, but if you follow my tips, you should get off to a good start when you fish nymphs.
Getting your Flies to the Right Depth
When it comes to nymph-fishing, you need to get your fly down to the bottom and into the strike zone, where the trout are lurking.
They prefer to stay down here where they can use as little energy as possible, and won’t move far for a fly, so you really do need to get your nymph to the right depth. Too high, and the fish won’t bite – it’s out of their strike zone. Too low, and you could get snagged on the riverbed. This means either fishing nymph flies that are weighted, or adding weight to your leader.
You’ll most often have to add a split shot or weighted nymph to your leader if you’re fishing nymphs and small flies in deep water. I find that the best way to add weights is to use forceps to add a weight above a knot on your leader, so it doesn’t move about. Start with as little weight as possible and add on more gradually as you need them. You’ll know when you’ve got it just right when you tick bottom every few casts but it’s not dragging along the riverbed and getting caught up.
How To Detect a Strike
Detecting a strike can seem almost impossible at first, especially for beginner nymphers. I’ve seen many fishermen nymph-fishing missing trout after trout by being too slow at picking up on strikes. You’ll need to keep your eye on the tip of your floating line or your leader at all times. Trout seem to be able to tell when you’re distracted for a moment, and that’s when they’ll strike!
Make it easy on yourself by using a strike indicator. You can get foam indicators, plastic ones like the Orvis Thingamabobber, and yarn indicators, all in a range of colors and sizes. We highly recommend yarn indicators as they’re less likely to make a splash and scare the fish away. Indicators can also alert you if your fly is dragging along the bottom – if your indicator seems to be struggling against the current, this is probably what’s happening.
Better yet, you can use a large dry fly as an indicator, then tie your smaller nymphs trailing off this. I’ve always thought that the best indicators have hooks in them. Multi-nymph rigs are outlined in the advanced section (see below).
An obvious sign is if your indicator suddenly disappears or dips down in the water, but strikes can also be much more subtle. Any wiggles, twitches, or hesitations could also be a sign of a strike. Trout can spit our your fly in a split-second, so try to act as quickly as possible.
Which Length of Rod for Fishing with Nymphs?
For fishermen nymph-fishing, you want to think carefully about which rod to take out with you. I find that the best rods for nymph-fishing are the long, lightweight rods that won’t tire you out over the course of a full day out on the water.
Long rods definitely do give you an advantage, especially on big water. But you also want to consider the balance point – you want it to be near the handle of the rod, ideally. You can see more about rod lengths in our beginner fly rod article here.
Presentation Techniques for Nymph-Fishing
The wet-fly swing involves casting across the current and letting your fly swing below you. It’s probably the least exacting method, but it’s also less effective most of the time. The best time to adopt this method, in my opinion, is when there’s a hatch on and emergers are popping up everywhere. It works best on slow, sedate waters.
Your fly will be pulled across the current faster than the flow of the river, thanks to the leader and line on the surface. The best way to counteract this is with short mends without moving the fly or the leader, and by raising your rod in the direction of the fly to keep your line off the surface if possible.
If you’re attempting the wet-fly swing, I recommend that you use a lightweight or unweighted fly. Soft hackles and traditional nymphs are well-suited to the wet-fly swing.
Upstream with No Indicator
Fishing with no indicator is an excellent tactic if the fish are easily spooked and they’re just not biting. When an indicator hits still, shallow water, that splash is all you need to scare the fish off.
So if you’re nymphing in calm water that isn’t too deep, you could definitely have a go at fishing upstream without an indicator.
The way to perfect the upstream approach is by casting in the same way as you would a dry fly, straight upstream. You want to drive your nymph under the water, with your leader sinking it evendeeper. I like to use a slack-line cast or the famous Tuck cast and mainly fish upstream in faster waters.
Now, make sure not to mend as it will give your fly an unnatural presentation. Don’t life your rod tip here – instead, hold it low over the water and strip in line.
I recommend high sticking if you’re making short casts into the deepest part of the river, especially if you’re standing in the shallow waters on the edge of the river. To avoid your fly being pulled upstream in an unnatural way by your line, try to lift and hold your rod tip high. This will reduce the length of your fly line that is on the surface, allowing your nymph to drift along in a much more natural way under the water.
Fly Fishing with Multiple Fly Rigs
Nymphing with multiple rigs allows you to fish your flies at different depths in the water, and it ups your chances of hooking a trout. If I’m having a bad day and I’m just not catching anything, I like to fish two or even three flies. It allows me to experiment with different pattern sizes and types and work out where the trout are and what they are eating.
My preferred way to fish with multiple rigs is by dead-drifting a tandem nymph rig below my strike indicator (or a large dry fly). I normally choose a heavy fly for my point fly, and a smaller fly below as the dropper – something that imitates the local forage if possible. I attach my flies with a surgeon’s knot or an Orvis tippet knot.
There are lots of other ways to fish with multiple fly rigs, from the hopper-dropper to the modified European nymph rig. I encourage you to try them out and see what works with you, and whichever method you use, make sure you swap out your flies and try different combinations from time to time.
Nymph Fishing Tips and Tricks
Try out different spots if the fish aren’t biting!
I’ve seen too many fishermen lose out by staying too long in the same spot. If the fish aren’t there, you won’t catch anything, no matter how expert you are with your methods. No matter how good the water looks, the trout just aren’t there!
What I recommend is that if you’ve had no luck after six to eight good casts, it’s time to move on. This way you’ll get to know the water and you’ll discover where the fish are lurking. You’ll minimize wasted time and you’ll definitely catch more fish than if you’d hung on in that one spot.
Experiment with different patterns
What the trout are eating can change from day to day and even from hour to hour, so don’t just rely on your trust favorite pattern – even if it has brought you success on every other occasion!
Trout can be just as picky when it comes to nymphs as when it comes to dry flies. It really depends on what’s hatching, what’s going on under the surface, and what the forage is like in that exact spot.
Don’t pigeon-hole yourself or get stuck using the same flies again and again. Shake things up a bit and be bold enough to try different patterns. I find that just changing my pattern is enough to turn the whole day around sometimes! Make sure you have a wide variety of flies of all types in your fly box, as you never know what will work on any given day.
Use smaller flies – really!
Now we’ve already covered the fact that trout are fussy, selective feeders. I’m willing to bet that your patterns are much bigger than the larvae and emergers that the trout feed on most of the time. The way you’ll get the most success is by copying these specimens as closely as possible – not only in appearance, but also in size.
If you take a close look at the natural flies in your chosen fishing spot, you might just be surprised by how much smaller they are than the flies in your box. This is why it’s an excellent reason not to write off those smaller flies
Reduce slack in your line
Having too much slack will slow down how quickly you’ll detect that strike – meaning that if your line is too long, you’re much more likely to miss setting the hook on that trout! I personally find it much easier to notice a strike if I’ve gathered in any slack line, and I don’t waste time picking up the line either.
A longer line means a more delayed reaction time, and many more missed fish. Try to keep just enough slack in your line to allow your indicator to drift freely, but not enough to create drag.
Master the soft, quick strike
Trout are pretty quick to spit out your fly, so you need to act quickly or you’ll miss the chance to hook that fish. I don’t know how many trout I’ve missed by letting my attention waver for a second!
To make sure you catch the trout, keep your eye on your indicator for any dips, twitches, or erratic movements. As soon as you see any hint of these, strike swiftly but strike gently. If you tense up and pull back too hard, not only will you actually react more slowly, but you’re more likely to either miss that fish or snap your tippet (or both!).
It takes some practising, but once you’ve mastered the soft, quick strike, you’ll be hooking more trout than ever before.
Take your time when casting
When you’re fishing with weighted flies, a strike indicator, or even added shots on the line, it’s a completely different ball game to casting dry flies. My top tip to casting when nymph fishing is to slow down and take your time with your casts to avoid tangling.
You want to aim for smooth, wide loops to cast your nymph rigs. You can even avoid having to cast at all by just swinging your rig out if you’re fishing at a close distance!
Try out different nymph techniques – don’t just stick to one method
There’s a big split between traditional nymphing and Euro-nymph fishermen, but I think that we should get over this and adopt all the different methods. There are times when one method will just work way better than another, and if you have a range of techniques under your belt, you’ll have much more success than if you stick to just one method.
Sometimes, you might have a go at long-range nymphing, Czech nymphing and using a swimming nymph on a sink line – all on the same day! Let’s embrace the variety, learn the techniques, and use them when they will work best for you.
Advanced Nymphing Techniques
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So there you have your basic guide on how to nymph fish! Whether you’re just getting started as a nymphing angler, or you want to up your catch rate and hook more fish with nymphs, these tips and tricks should raise your nymph fishing game!