Nymph Fly Fishing

Now that we know that life cycle of flies, we can discuss the various ways that you can fly fish to imitate these stages. Because trout primarily feed under water, presenting them with the nymph stage of a fly will be the most successful.


Now that we know that life cycle of flies, we can discuss the various ways that you can fly fish to imitate these stages.  

Because trout primarily feed under water, presenting them with the nymph stage of a fly will be the most successful.

So, what is nymphing?

Nymphing is the fly fishing technique that utilizes the nymph or emerger fly patterns under the water. Historically, the first nymph fishing was used with what today we would call traditional wing wet flies. These were used in tandem up to 10 flies across, both under the water and on the surface. As time progressed and fly tiers concentrated more on mimicking species, the nymph was developed and is used today.

Today’s modern nymph fly uses natural and synthetic materials, including weighted presentations to bring the fly down into the feeding zone where fish will bite.  

This can be used in both still water and moving water. For this lesson, we are going to go into detail on moving water, because if you can master this, then you will easily be able to fish still water.

So, how do we start out nymphing?

Let’s start with your fly rig setup.

We start by using a full leader 8 to 10 feet, or by combining tippet to create a leader 8 to 10 feet.
We then tie on our first nymph. In later lessons, we will discuss using multiple nymphs, but for this lesson I want you to get comfortable using one fly, some additional weight, and an indicator.  

After your fly is on, make sure to debarb the hook by crimping the barbs down with your fishing pliers. This will make it easier when removing the fly after you have landed a MONSTER!

Adding Weight
Depending on the depth of the water, you might need to add additional weight to reach the feeding zone of the trout you’re seeking.

I typically use 2 to 3 #4 split shot, placed 12 to 16 inches above my fly. When you start to fish, you will immediately know if this is too much weight, because your line will feel like it is getting hooked up on every rock on the river. If you don’t like split shot, you can also use putty or wrap weights; it depends on personal preference.

I typically like to start with more weight and then remove some if needed, depending on how shallow of a section I am fishing. For deeper water, I’ll add one or two additional weights. For shallower water, I will sometimes fish with no weights at all.

Here is a quick graph showing the weights that I will add to a line depending on the depth of the water:

Now that we have our fly on and our weights attached, we need to add our strike indicator.

What is a strike indicator? An indicator is an additional attachment to your line that helps you easily see if a fish has taken a bite (or “strike”) of your fly.

As you grow in your abilities as a fly fisherman, you will get to a point where you do not need an indicator. You will be able to tell by the movement of your line or leader whether there has been a strike.

I recommend using a clear, bobber-style indicator. These are virtually invisible to fish from under the water and will lead to more opportunities for catching Monster Trout.

Now that we have the nymph rig set up, let’s discuss the cast. Because you have added additional items to your line, your cast is going to feel different than before. Don’t worry; the best thing about nymph fishing is that you can take it slow until you get used to the weight of the line and how it will react.

One thing to keep in mind when nymph fishing: We are not trying to cast our line 40 yards upriver. The largest fish that I have ever caught was just 3 feet off the end of my fly rod. The idea is to stay out of sight of the fish as you present them with an enticing meal.

Start by casting your fly 3/4 upriver. Let it float by you and continue past you until your line is tight on the downriver side. Your bobber will be hopping up and down on the water; when you feel this, simply lift up your rod for another cast upriver. You will sometimes hear this called the “water load.” Instead of your arm creating the force on the backswing, you’re letting the water do it for you.  

Once you get comfortable with the weight on your rod, practice the roll cast to see how it reacts on your rod. The most frustrating thing about nymph fishing is that when you try to do it too fast, your line tangles up in a million ways and you end up spending most of your day untangling the mess.  

Take it slowly! When you finally land a MONSTER TROUT, the time you took to place the fly correctly will be rewarded.  

Nymph fishing is considered a “dead drift” fishing presentation. This means that you are trying to make sure that the fly line has no movement at all as it goes down the water.  

So you might be asking yourself, how do I know if it’s dead drifting if it’s under the water? This is where your indicator comes in handy.  

Your indicator is a direct extension of the line below it. So if your bobber has a “V” behind it in the water or is getting pulled along by your leader, then you know that your fly under the water is doing the same thing.

So if you see your presentation not moving in a realistic flow with the river, mend the excess line accordingly. If you need more instruction on mending the line, go back to Lesson 9 for review.

In later lessons, we will discuss how to detect when a fish has taken your fly, and how to bring them in. But first, let’s talk about the art of dry flying.