Ask any fly fisherman what they use most when fly fishing and I bet the answer is going to be a nymph. And for good reason, nymphs make up the majority of a trout’s diet. But ask any fly fisherman what he struggles with and the answer again is going to be nymph fishing. So I got to wondering, what are the basic skills to nymph fishing success and you may be surprised to learn they may be more simple than you thought.
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? Watching your indicator, setting the hook, covering water, getting down to the bottom, changing your offering, and simple slow casting.
Paul (the Professor) and I talk trout fishing constantly. To improve on anything we do to help us catch more trout is the never-ending search. Every little tip someone may offer us is always worth listening to and may add to our skillset. So I put together a list of “what are the basic skills to nymph fishing success” we use and after you read the following I’m sure you’ll up your catch.
Everyone approaches Nymphing differently, but the basics remain the same. This video is a quick overall view of what I will talk about in a little more depth below.
It Starts With The Cast
Casting a nymph is a bit different than casting a dry fly. A dry fly cast uses narrow loops to “shoot” the fly out across the water and additionally you are casting much farther. This same cast becomes difficult when you add weight, an indicator, or a weighted nymph, or two. A narrow loop will almost always end with tangles and a presentation that lands hard on the water.
Instead of using a typical cast, use the stream’s current to help you load your line and to cast a more deliberate, subtle cast. To do this let your line sit downstream in the current and pull your rod into motion with a lazy smooth “flip” upstream to set your line. It’s more like a pull than push motion all done in one single stroke. Nymphing doesn’t require long casts, in fact, most nymphing is done relatively close to where you are standing.
Used As Little Line As Possible
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? The biggest challenge of nymph fishing, a lot of the time, is detecting a strike. But once the strike is detected you have to set the hook before the trout discards your offering. To help in setting the hook quickly, try keeping the line off the water while using as little line as you can.
Strike indicators are in wide use today and are a big help in detecting a strike. But the time between noticing the change in your indicator and setting the hook can be the difference between a hookup and a missed trout. When you pull the trigger, a shorter and tighter line has less lag and puts you in contact much quicker. Every additional foot of line out past your rod tip increase the lag time between seeing or feeling a strike and setting the hook once you react.
Trout can pick up a nymph and spit it out with amazing speed at times and even the best nymph fishermen won’t react fast enough. That said, a shorter and tighter line will be your best bet to decreasing the delay in reaction time to set the hook. A general rule of thumb is to nymph fish within 10 to 15 feet if possible with a tight, short line.
Concentrate On The Indicator
Very seasoned nymph fishermen and especially the older ones rarely use indicators. Not because they frown on them but they enjoy the challenge of trying to feel strikes. But using an indicator is a great help for newcomers and I’d be lying to say they are just for newbie’s because they aren’t. I for one like using indicators and it makes my nymphing easier and enjoyable.
But to use an indicator effectively you have to concentrate on it during the drift. The whole drift from start to finish. You never know when a trout will take your nymph and he isn’t going to hold it very long. The one time you glance away from the indicator to look at something else is when Mr. trout will pick up your nymph and spit it out. Meanwhile, you have no idea what happened. Staying focused on the indicator throughout the entire drift takes concentration and dedication I might add. (For more information or to purchase indicators click here)
One of the things Paul and I do is to pause a bit between casts and drifts. You don’t need to be in a hurry to reset the next cast and drift. Look around a bit. Set up for the next delivery. These little breaks help with your concentration and also help alleviate eye strain.
Being able to tell the difference between a nymph ticking against a stone or the light take of a trout may be impossible. Whatever the indicator does other than drift calmly is a reason to think it’s a take. When an indicator suddenly drops down hard it’s easy to figure that’s a trout, but more often the indicator slightly twitches or pauses. It is a reasonable behavior to just assume that if the indicator does anything other than freely drift, set the hook.
Setting The Hook
When I was thinking about “what are the basic skills for nymph fishing success” I didn’t realize how much I take for granted setting the hook. But I noticed this topic came up a lot in conversation with some of my fishing buddies and more so than ever when talking nymph fishing.
Setting the hook actually has two actions to it we rarely even think about. The first is simply for you, the angler, to strike immediately the instant there is a change in the indicator. The second is to set the hook lightly by lifting the rod tip up.
Set immediately – means to react to the indicator accordingly. If the indicator twitches a bit, pull your rod straight up. If nothing is there lower the rod and continue the drift. What you don’t want to do is to yank the rod with a violent pull. Two good reasons for this. If you are slightly snagged a gentle upward pull may release the snag without having to do anymore. A gentle pull will hook a trout, but if there wasn’t a bite, you can continue the drift as I said, otherwise you’ll need to re-cast and start the drift again. Do this enough times in a day’s fishing and you’ll be worn out.
Set the hook lightly.- A light hook set has the benefit of not spooking trout should there have been no takers, let’s you continue the drift and prevents you from snapping the tippet off should it be a snag instead of a trout. Also, try and fish relaxed as you nymph fish. Tight muscles have a slower response time.
Get The Nymph Down To The Bottom
Nymphs crawl or swim around near the bottom of the stream. That’s the environment they are living in and more importantly surviving in. They crawl around, under, and in between the rocks and debris on the bottom of the stream. Knowing this is why it is vital to get your nymph down to the bottom for a trout to take it.
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? Fish the bottom. Have your nymph touching bottom or floating very close to the bottom. In fact when fishing nymphs, the norm is to get hung up on the bottom from time to time. If you aren’t getting hung up it’s a good indication you aren’t getting down. When watching your indicator you should see it “bounce” from time to time as well. This becomes one of the difficulties of nymph fishing too, is this a trout or the bottom.
Adding weight and removing weight should become a regular practice when nymph fishing. Each section or hole you fish has a different current flow that affects your nymph differently in each. Often I will drift a section and then either add or remove weight. Then re-fish the same exact section often picking up a trout that the previous attempts failed to produce.
In addition to the weight to get down to the bottom, is to use longer leaders. A longer leader is helpful as the extra length allows the nymph to settle quicker. Especially if you are using a floating fly line. The connections between the leader and the fly line will be on the water’s surface, a longer leader allows the tippet end to sink faster. In addition to the longer leader, keeping your indicator farther up the leader towards your rod tip lets your leader drop as well.
What About The Nymphs
Another consideration needed besides weight and getting to the bottom is the size of the nymph itself. Often we use nymphs that are size 12, for example, and never move away from using that size. I think a typical view of most who fish nymphs is that a larger nymph will attract the attention of a trout because he may see it better and enjoys a bigger morsel. But, smaller nymphs are more common and trout see them and feed on them regularly. Using small nymphs is a good idea.
We also know that trout feed on abundant food sources and become pretty selective too. We see this all the time when dry fly fishing and from this lesson we need to apply it to our nymph fishing. Trout feed on abundance below the surface and are just as selective when doing so, even near the bottom.
My point here is to use nymphs of varying sizes along with the type of nymph. We can’t see the bottom in most cases and we can’t see what is being taken by a trout. So, don’t be afraid to use small nymphs.
If It Ain’t Working Change Up The Pattern.
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? Knowing it is time for a change. Changing nymphs follows along with the above from the standpoint as I said, we can’t see what is happening on the bottom of the stream or what the trout may be doing. With this in mind, we need to be willing to make changes. If running a nymph through several times doesn’t produce and you feel you’re moving through the strike zone properly, that is, weighted properly and a good drift then going to a different nymph may be called for.
Turn over a few rocks and see what is living under them. Closely match what you find with something in your fly box. Between looking under rocks and changing patterns you should come up with a nymph that works.
Looking for clues in the stream really should be one of the first things you do upon arrival to the stream. But let’s be honest, getting to it is what is really on our minds. Going to the box and picking a favorite producer is what many instinctively do. Nothing wrong with this approach and it does bring trout to the net, but being ready to adapt to change is a key element to successful trout fishing.
Paul and I have a saying we use all the time “work the box”. Simply put it means, go through the nymphs in your fly box. Once something is working, fish it until it stops working. Then, repeat the process. How long you stay with a nymph is difficult to say. Sometimes a long time is measured in hours, other times you’re changing in less than 15 minutes. The most important thing here is to change up and work the box.
Be Prepared To Move
There is an old saying which says “don’t leave fish to chase fish”. It’s a good saying and practice. If you are in a spot where you can see trout then sooner or later you’ll figure out the right combination and hook up. But, this isn’t always the case. If you have worked a hole hard and haven’t caught anything, it’s time to move on.
I see guys all the time who park themselves into a spot and fish there all day. Then they complain that the fishing sucks because they haven’t caught anything. While that spot didn’t produce, a little bit upstream the trout were more active. Had they moved they would have possibly done much better.
One of the reasons this happens is the insect life in that location begins to get real active. How many times have you been fishing and suddenly a hatch happens right in front of you? Trout begin to rise and almost as suddenly it stops. That activity you witnessed didn’t happen a 100 yards upstream though and the guy up there didn’t witness a hatch.
Like humans, trout are individuals, not all follow the crowd. As most of the trout in a given spot seem content to sit, there’s one who has decided to feed. By moving and nymphing a new area you might present your offering precisely at the time this trout begins his search for food.
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? The combination of taking advantage of feeding trout and covering water ups your chances of catching trout. I know, there is a fine line between staying too long and not staying long enough. But I for one would rather walk a little more to increase my odds than stand all day.
If It Looks Like It Has Promise, Fish It
Here is another example of something I see guys do quite a bit. They look at a stretch of water and say, “I wouldn’t be surprised a trout lives there” only to continue walking upstream. If you are thinking to yourself, “that looks good” then find out. Get the nymph in the water and fish it.
Trout can and many times are, just about anywhere. If they can feed, hide and breathe in an area, then maybe one is actually in that area. Shallow water is often overlooked because, well, “I didn’t see anything”. These guys, trout, make a living and survive on the use camouflage and unless you spook them into moving many times they go undetected.
I was fishing with Paul on a stream near us and he said: “hold on I want to try that spot over there”. I looked at it and saw the stream in that spot was very narrow, shallow and the water was clear as gin. “Are you kidding” I responded just as he made a cast to the spot. Unknown to both of us, the creek had cut under the bank which we couldn’t see. When Paul made the cast his nymph traveled under the bank and bam, he hooked into a 20-inch rainbow that was sitting under the bank.
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? Most of the time we can easily determine what is good trout water and what may not be. The simple lesson here is to say, you have nothing to lose by casting into and running your offering through a questionable piece of water. (Learn about Reading a Trout Stream)
What are the basic skills for nymph fishing success? In this post, I have pointed out 10 areas to help you be more productive when it comes to fishing nymphs. I had to take a close look at how I go about nymph fishing. I engaged in conversation with my friend Paul, the professor, to discuss how we approach our nymph fishing. Also, I researched several articles and read many pieces of information from the fly guys out there that participate in nymph fishing to see what their suggestion, when it comes to nymph fishing, may be. I found these 10 points to be pretty common practices utilized by many.
Nymph fishing is a widely utilized form of trout fishing and is also a very productive form of trout fishing. Nymphing has been practiced probably since fly fishing began and writings on the subject abound. But nothing can replace taking your rod to the stream, casting your chosen nymph into the water, and well, simply doing it. Nymphing is fun, rewarding and the beauty of it all, there is no right or wrong to how anyone goes about it. You know why? Because the real judge and jury will be Mr. trout, and if you catch him then you did everything right. Fish on!
For more helpful articles, click here
To purchase items I use for my fly fishing visit the Recommended Gear Page, Click Here