How many times have you said, “why is everything so complicated?”. Starting out as a newcomer to nymph fishing for trout you may be saying it right now. I agree, there is a lot to learn about nymph fishing and many techniques you could study to pursue nymph fishing. But if you take a simple approach to nymph fishing as we do, you’ll catch plenty of trout.
How to make nymph fishing simple and easy to catch more trout? To catch more trout nymph fishing, keep it simple. Use a strike indicator, the right weight, and a small assortment of nymphs. Pay attention to keeping a good “line set”. That is, cast straight upstream using good leader length, the proper amount of weight, and keeping a tight line while dead drifting the nymph.
Keeping a simple approach to nymph fishing no matter how complicated it may seem, will not only catch trout but eliminate complications as you go through the “process” of learning and creating your personalized technique. My buddy, the “Professor”, and I have found the more you use a “process” as you go about nymph fishing the easier things become because it helps remove mistakes and replaces them with solid technique.
What is the “Process” of Nymph Fishing?
It may be fair to say, everyone who is new to nymph fishing can be intimated by experienced nymph fisherman and the jargon used when talking about nymph fishing. It’s true that equipment used and the approaches taken have been scrutinized to the point where every single aspect of nymph fishing has been dissected, studied, analyzed to the point it could be a college course.
But trout don’t care about your education or whether you’re using an Orvis or St Croix rod, whether you can pronoun the scientific word of the nymph or not. Their only interest is whether the nymph looks good enough to eat. The process we follow keeps this concept at the forefront. Everything we do is to present the nymph in as natural an offering as possible to the trout.
For now, whatever fly rod for trout you have can be used for nymph fishing. You can worry about getting that perfect nymph rod later. Once you have a better idea of what you’re doing and gain experience, then you can up the game with better equipment
The next set of tools fall into what we refer to as the “variables”. The variables are:
We coined the term “variables” because working with combinations of these items is what creates our line-set to match the conditions (We’ll talk about line-set in a second). Altering or changing these items is part of the nymph fishing process. Once on the creek, the conditions presented tell us how these variables will be used. Remember, trout want a natural-appearing food, and that’s the goal, to provide them what they want by presenting our offering to match the natural world below the water.
What Do I Need To Get Started Nymph Fishing?
Fly Rod, Reel, and Line:
Earlier I said whatever fly rod and fly line you have is good enough for now, but, you do want to match your leader to the fly line. For example, if you have a 5x line then use a 5x or 6x tapered leader. (Click here to learn about tapered leader) Also, we have found regardless of the rod length, an 8 to a 9-foot leader, including tippet, is a good overall length for nymph fishing. Tippet material is important to have and it should match or be a number higher than your leader. If you are using a 5x leader then having 5x or 6x tippet is all you’ll need. I would carry a 7x tippet spool as well, in case you need to go smaller. Again, leaders and tippets are variables subject to change once on the water. (need leader or tippet, click here)
Weight or Split Shot:
Weight or split shot is the next item you have to have even if the nymphs you are fishing are weighted. Getting down to the bottom quickly is the purpose behind weight by not at the expense of our dead drift. Weights come in dispensers and vary in sizes from AAA to #6. They are also known as micro weights or micro split shot.
Strike indicators are extremely useful in detecting if a trout has taken your nymph. As a newcomer to nymph fishing using strike indicators will help you catch more trout, than you would, not using them. They also help you to improve your dead drifting which is the key to nymph fishing. Our favorite is the “Air-Lock” and the “Football Foam” strike indicators. (Need Fly Fishing Strike Indicators click here)
I saved the best for last because you could spend a ton of money buying nymphs. So I put together the 5 must-have nymphs that I carry all the time. These can be purchased anywhere because they are popular and for good reason, they catch trout. If you have two of each of these nymphs in size 12 and 16 you’ll have enough for starters.
- Golden-Ribbed Hair’s Ear – It is a generic mayfly nymph made from rabbit’s fur.
- Bead Headed Prince Nymph – Consider one of the most productive patterns of all time due to its contrasting color scheme.
- Stonefly – a diverse family of insects they like well-oxygenated water and can only live in moving water.
- Pheasant Tail Nymph – Mimics a large variety of aquatic insect larvae that trout feed on.
- San Juan Worm – This is one of the simplest flies made and is deadly in high or stained water.
How Do I Rig for Nymph Fishing To Start?
A simple approach to nymph fishing is having everything you need ready to go. So we have already done most of the work. That is, we have a fly rod ready to go right down to the leader and tippet. Choose any one of the nymphs I suggested and tie it onto the tippet. Be sure to clip the tag end as close as possible for a clean knot. Place the strike indicator about 6 -7 feet up the line from your Nymph. Next, add a small amount of weight about 10 to 16″ up the line from your nymph and believe it or not you’re ready.
How Should I Fish a Nymph?
For nymph fishing, casting is a bit different because very little false casting is used. I use a technique I refer to as “water load” casting. “Water Load” casting is using the pull of the stream’s current to load energy to the line for the cast. Don’t worry this isn’t hard or complicated to perform. With your line laid out downstream, you will feel the pull of the current on your line. Using that tension, pull your rod into a cast and propel your line upstream. After a couple of tries, it becomes very easy to do. This cast is another aspect of a simple approach to nymph fishing and helps to set your line out with a soft landing.
As soon as the line is cast, lift your fly rod’s tip up and gather up any slack to have as straight a line as possible. Pull line in with your reel hand as needed and lift the rod tip as needed to keep a straight line as the nymph travels downstream. Be patient on the drift and allow it to finish whereby the line straightens out below you. Once it does, again “load” cast back into position and repeat the process. This is the essence of nymph fishing and it is redundant to say the lease. Casting into likely areas over and over to work every part of the section.
What is “Line Set”?
To understand “Line set” is to think in terms of three components and how they relate to each other. What we are trying to accomplish is, getting the nymph into the strike zone of the trout. If you think of the strike zone as an area 6 – 10 inches in front of and above a trout’s nose this would be where he sees the nymph and decides whether to take it or not.
Our goal is to have the nymph float into his strike zone as naturally as possible using a “dead drift”. Think of it as if you placed a cork on the water and it just floats with the current. Your nymph needs to do exactly that, float with the current. But you need to have the nymph down in the water column while it “floats”. To do this you’ll need weight.
There are many different ways to rig your line for nymph fishing but for our purpose we want to keep a simple approach to nymph fishing. Add a split shot about 10 to 16 inches up the line from your nymph. As mentioned earlier, we are also using a strike indicator that is positioned about 7 feet up your line from the nymph. These three items are the components of our “line set”. When cast correctly these three components of the line set will be in a straight line from the indicator to the split shot and to the nymph.
What is the Purpose of the Indicator?
Going back to the concept of a cork floating on the surface, this is what the indicator should be doing. If all is working well the indicator should float freely on the water. As it does any change in its behavior could “indicate” a strike or take of a trout. Intently watching the indicator is the key to nymph fishing. If the indicator stops or has a subtle change lift the rod tip up it may be a trout. Indicators help you detect a take and are a key element in a simple approach to nymph fishing by providing a visual for you to concentrate on in addition to feel.
The Challenge of Nymph Fishing.
We have put together a simple approach and easy process to follow for nymph fishing by keeping things to a minimum. Using an indicator to detect strikes, weight to help get the fly into the strike zone and a selection of basic nymphs is all the system you’ll need. We talked about leader length and about how long the leader and tippet should be. I explained what “Line set” is and with that, we have covered everything you need to know to basically get started.
But now comes the challenge that we all face when we go about nymph fishing. I can’t say it enough, the presentation must be as natural looking as possible for a trout to take it. Your goal is to accomplish this and the difficulty is, all of this is happening below the surface out of your sight. Additionally, current at the surface of the creek flows differently than it does near the bottom of the creek. Rocks, creek bottom variances cause the current to swirl, slow down or speed up.
Your Indicator is the Key
Watching the indicator will tell you if you have a good drift because it should drift freely with the current. It may bounce subtlety as your nymph touches the bottom or if your weight should bump something. At the same time, if the indicator doesn’t bounce it may be telling you, you don’t have enough weight. Another thing to pay attention to, if you’re not getting hung up once in a while then you’re not near the bottom and need more weight.
I suggested a basic, but effective selection of nymphs to use. When you fish an area or section of the stream make sure to “work the box”. What that means is to use all of those nymphs in that section of the stream before you move to the next section. If you do catch trout on a specific nymph don’t assume it will work all day and in every pocket of water. Work the box! I have often used a size 12 nymph only to change it to exactly the same nymph in a size 16 and bam.
The variables are the length of your leader and tippet, the size of your tippet, the weight amount and the nymph. Your line set is dependent upon these variables and changing them to suit the situation or condition of the exact spot you are fishing is a key element to being successful at nymph fishing. Adding or removing weight, for example, is a standard operating procedure. Every piece of water you fish during the day is different, acts differently, flows differently, so you need to accept that adding or removing weight is as important as changing nymphs may be. The same is true about the placement of your indicator. Sometimes based on the depth of the water you may need to move your indicator down towards the nymph a little more.
Anyone of these variables can have an effect on the nymph’s movement. Because we can’t normally see our nymph we really don’t know what’s happening to it. If we aren’t catching fish any one of these components could be the cause, not just nymph. It’s easy to blame the nymph and therefore change it, but many times you’ll find you didn’t use enough weight or had too much weight and that made the difference.
Using a simple approach to nymph fishing makes nymph fishing simple and easy by letting you concentrate on nymph fishing rather than equipment issues and complicated multiple nymph rigs. Instead, center your attention on your “Line set” and the three components of “line set”, indicator, weight, and nymphs – The variables.
- Adjust the variables throughout the course of your fishing day to match the condition or situation you face on the water.
- Focus your attention on the indicator as you fish. Be ready to set the hook whenever the indicator makes a subtle change.
- Finally, work the box. Changing up nymphs until you find ones that are working is the name of the game.
Most importantly, have fun. Learning is always more productive when you have fun at what you are doing and the beauty of trout fishing is, when you get things right, you’re rewarded with a trout on the end of your line.
What’s the Difference Between a Tippet and Leader?
Tippet is monofilament or fluorocarbon line of a specific gauge you tie to the end of your leader and then tie to a fly. The tippet, the smallest gauge line on your rig, is virtually invisible to the fish. Using a tippet extends the life of your leader and maintains taper.
How Do You Tie Tippet to a Leader?
There are two knots generally used to tie tippet to leader, a Surgeon’s knot or a Blood (or Barrel knot.). The Surgeon’s knot one of the best and easiest knots for joining lines of equal or unequal diameters. It is two overhand knots with the entire leader pulled through the knot each time. The Blood knot or Barrel knot is a tried and true fishing knot and a favorite of fly fishermen. The strength of the knot is increased by making at least 5 to 7 wraps on each side of the knot. It works best with lines of approximately equal diameter.
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