The reason I want to write this article is to hopefully give some people a deeper understanding of how to be successful when nymph fishing. Nymphing is the style of fishing that I am most comfortable with; the kind that I am best at. I do really like to fish dries, but as I talked about in an earlier article, I feel that nymphing offers me the best chance to catch the most fish. However, unless you buy a book on the subject, you’re likely to find just the same basic information hashed over again and again on different websites. So hopefully this article will be able to articulate some of the things that I focus on when nymphing to increase my success. I don’t want to go over the exact same stuff that everyone says all the time, but hopefully this post will give you a few new tricks in your nymphing arsenal.
First and foremost, you can’t be lazy as a nymph fisherman. I am constantly adjusting my weight and indicator placement. I adjust them both every single time I switch spots in the river. That’s why I use an indicator that I can slide up and down my leader with ease. Another great purchase is some soft tungsten putty to use in addition to your split shot. Many people think that tungsten putty is designed to replace split shot. However, it is much more effective to combine the two methods for the ultimate in weight customization. You can use the putty to make slight adjustments in your weight quickly and easily. Just mold a chunk over your split shot. You can add or subtract putty as needed. This way, you can always keep your nymphs in the strike zone, maximizing the fish you catch. Another little trick is that the current on the bottom of the river nearly always moves slower than the surface current, especially in deeper runs. Therefore, your indicator should be moving a bit slower than the current around it. That’s how you can really tell if you are in the strike zone or not. Pick a bubble or a leaf and watch the speed of your indicator in relation to it. If your indicator is moving the same speed as the surface current, you probably need some more weight or you need to go deeper with your indicator.
The second thing is the fly itself. Everyone talks about matching the hatch with their dry flies and emergers, but many don’t think about matching the hatch below the surface as well, whether it’s with midge pupae or stonefly nymphs. The fact is, most fly shops have a larger assortment of nymph patterns than dry flies or streamers for a reason. Nymphs are extremely varied, and since over three quarter’s of a trout’s diet consists of underwater organisms, trout are used to seeing a lot of nymphs. Also, trout’s behavior is irrational, so they may love a certain pattern one day, and completely spurn it the next. That’s why it always helps to have a variety of nymph patterns for any given hatch.
As a general rule of thumb, I carry three or four patterns for each bug in two or three sizes. Also, I ALWAYS tie at least six of a pattern. Having the right pattern makes no difference if you only have one and lose it. Be prepared for this by having an assortment of each insect. Some bugs, like midges, have a larger variety, and others, such as worms, have less of a selection. This will cause you to spend a lot of money buying flies (or tying materials), but you will be happy when you can reach into your box and pull out a different pattern or a duplicate of the same fly when you lose a fly on the river.
Last, but definitely not least, is how you present your flies to the fish. Weight and indicator placement is certainly a part of this, but I’m not talking about that right now. I’m talking about wading and casting to the fish. You should always try to start downstream of the stretch you want to fish. This is not always possible, and there are certainly times when you have to be straight across stream or even upstream of your target, but you should always at least try to start downstream. This reduces the chances of the trout noticing you and spooking. I always say, “The trout that doesn’t know you’re there is the easiest to catch.” So, stand downstream if you can, and make sure your cast lands softly. It’s tough not to make a splash when your split shot hit the water, but that splash will get smaller as you practice casting with shot more. Don’t strive for a tight loop like you do when fishing a single dry fly. Rather, let your loops open up a bit, both to make the rig land more softly, and to reduce tangles. I learned to “paint the sky” with your rod tip, keeping the tip high off the water and exagerating the arm motion a bit, which opens up the loop and drops the whole rig more gently on the water. A final tip in this category is to not stand too close to the fish. I always try to stand at least 25 feet away from the area I’m targeting. Even if you approach from directly downstream, getting within 15 or 20 feet of a fish drastically increases the chances of that fish spooking. Counteract this by pulling a bit more line off the tip of your rod to give yourself extra reach when short- line (high stick) nymphing. I ususally have about 5- 10 feet of line off the tip of my rod, and I also generally use 9- 12 foot leaders. This way, I have the maximum reach possible and can target fish in a larger area than with less line and a shorter leader.
These are probably the three most important things that I worry about when nymphing. Some of them are small changes, like adjusting your weight each pool, but they make a big difference. However, the biggest piece of the nymphing puzzle is learning to do all these things in harmony with one another. Even though the elements that I have laid out here are listed in order of importance, it is most important of all to realize that when you do all these things in tandem with each other, you will see the best results. When you are able to successfully combine all these pieces of the puzzle, you will enjoy nymphing much more, and you will be able to catch many more fish than you used to while nymphing.