Nymphing for Trophy Trout

As your fly fishing progresses, you will be more in tune with scouting out trout and will be able to find ones that you are sight fishing. But when I'm fishing for quantity or quality, I will typically switch up my rig for the water that I am fishing. In this lesson find out Advanced Nymphing Techniques to help you catch Trophy Trout.



In previous lessons, we discussed our basic setup for nymph fly fishing. I use this setup a good portion of my time with great success, as it is easy to set up and get out on the water. But when I'm fishing for quantity or quality, I will typically switch up my rig for the water that I am fishing.

These techniques are more technical than the basic two-fly set up, so when you first try them, don’t get too frustrated. They are more challenging to maneuver.

The first set of water I want to discuss where you can find a large abundance of trout and find ones that you can write home about are tailwaters.

As your fly fishing progresses, you will be more in tune with scouting out trout and will be able to find ones that you are sight fishing. Tailwaters are fantastic areas for these as the water is typically clear throughout the year, and some of the more massive beasts are easily sighted from a distance.

When nymph-fishing tailwaters, I will typically change up my nymphing rig to be more stealthy. This includes a much longer leader and multiple nymph setups. We also regularly change weights to accommodate the flow of the water and the depth.

Nymph Rigs for Tailwaters

90-degree rig

This rig is a modification from Ridgway, Colorado, guide Matt McCannel, who regularly finds trophy trout for his clients on the Uncompahgre River. The tanks in this tailwater typically will only show themselves once or twice a day, and if they get a glimpse of you, they are gone. They are also very skittish to fly line, so increased leader length is a must.

  • 2ft to 15ft 0X or 1X leader, or 40lb Mono if you're building your leader
  • Clear bobber indicator with a perfection loop
  • #14 Swivel
  • 6ft to 7ft of 6x or 5x tippet to the first fly. Tie fly on with the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Split shot 12" to 16" above the first fly (add as needed depending on depth)
  • The fish will typically be 1 foot from the bottom of the river feeding, so you will need to add more weight; it’s necessary to get it down through the water column fast enough to be in the feeding zone by the time your fly crosses the fish’s path
  • 12" to 14" of 5x or 6x tippet to next fly
  • The second fly tied with Non-Slip Loop Knot

I have started using this setup exclusively when sight hunting MONSTER Trout and I find it to be hugely successful. The key to this setup is that the line at the bobber makes a 90-degree turn. When the flies hit the water, they swing down like a hinge at 90 degrees, dropping the fly in front of the trout. The placement of the fly is vital to give it time to swing down in front of that monster for the take.

When casting to your particular target, before you even get close, make sure that you have approached from behind and below the fish. Make sure that you have all of the line out that you need to make a single cast to your target. Typically you’ll want your flies to land 10 to 15 feet above the trout, so the heng at the leader has enough time for the flies to swing down into the feeding zone. You will have to play with this timing, as water currents will change your presentation. In faster water, you will have to cast up higher.

The downside with this rig is because you have less fly line out, it takes a while to get used to the cast because you do not have as much weight from the line to cast the rig. Before going out and spooking that once-in-a-lifetime catch, make sure that you have mastered casting this rig in multiple environments. You might only get one excellent cast to present the fly to that beast.

This rig is fantastic, and you will find yourself catching larger trout as you get accustomed to it.

I will typically fish this rig in water that is no deeper than 7 to 10 feet. For tailwater like the Green River, where you can have deep pockets over 20ft deep, I will change up my fly fishing rig to to a drop shot rig setup.

Drop-Shot Rig Setup

This is an excellent setup if you're fishing deep pools or runs where you want to have multiple flies in different levels of the water column. This is also great for fishing dirty water because this setup and technique are deadly. You can fish as many flies as your heart desires, but check your local fishing laws to make sure you're not breaking any rules. This can be fished with an indicator or tight lined.

  • 8ft Leader 4x or 5x - Sometimes even longer depending on depth. The idea is to combine enough lines, so the split shot is bouncing on the bottom as the flies ride above it. So if you’re fishing in 20ft of water, give yourself a 12ft leader and then another 6ft of droppers.
  • Clear indicator
  • Weight on the bottom
  • Triple Surgeon’s Knot with the tag end as a fly connection

Or you can build it as an Overhand Knot and connect with a dropper loop.

  • Overhand Knot, connect fly with a dropper loop
  • Overhand Knot, connect fly with a dropper loop
  • Continue as needed. Keep flies 8" to 12" apart.

When fishing this setup, it's best to keep as much line out of the water as possible. The idea is to have a tight connection from your rod tip to the weight that is bouncing along the bottom. This way, when you do have a take from a fish, you can quickly set the hook and bring the bad boy home.

Also remember to use darker or dull-colored flies on the bottom and make your top flies lighter and shinier, as those are the natural color forms of flies as they move up the water column. Closer to the sun, the brighter they look.

Be careful casting this rig because with every dropper that you add on, the higher the chance of getting a complete rat’s nest out of your leader. I will typically do a water load cast with this as this straightens out your entire line and loads your rod with enough energy to make an elongated loop to your next feeding zone.

Nymphing Is Visualizing

The age-old battle for nymph fly fishing has been that it’s boring and that we are nothing more than mindless bobber lobbers. I completely disagree with this, as it takes more mental foresight to visualize what you cannot see than it is to cast to a rising pool of trout.

As a fly fisher, you need to visualize the current, water depth, and your surroundings, and factor all of these things into how you’re going to set up your rig to how you’re going to fish a particular stretch of water.

We have discussed how to read the water, but you might be wondering how I can break down a section and prepare my rig, flies, and presentation for that particular stretch of water.

Let's break down this section of pocket water


As you look at this section of water, we have multiple divergent currents, and if we were to cast and let the indicator pull our flies through this zone, it would be pulling our presentations all over the place. This section would be best presented casting behind the rock into the soft pocket and letting the flies get into the strike zone as it slowly moves out of the pocket.

If you are targeting a trout in the seams or on the front of the rock, move as close as possible to the location. You want to be able to lift your indicator above the divergence and let your flies float through it naturally.

You might be asking, but how do I know if I have a hit? This is when you will need to focus on the line/bobber and water action. If you see any movement or pause in any of these three areas, set the hook.

Shelf Drop-Offs

This is a typical deep run that on busy stretches of water, you will most likely find four anglers in, but today we are lucky and can fish it. What I want to show here is how this one rock formation creates a unique shelf that is an excellent location for shelter and food. But, this is well over 15 feet deep. How are we going to get our rig down to the feeding zone to catch one?

This is where you need to visualize the run and say to yourself, "Yes, I need five more feet of tippet and about four more weights to get my flies down to the trout."

This visualization takes time, but the more you fish, the better you will get at reading the water and judging depth. If you are in a super fishy run and you are not getting any takes, add more weight. You are most likely riding above the strike zone.

Always be thinking about depth and current when you are approaching any section of water. If the water is slow, you might not need to add any weight to get it into the strike zone. If the section is fast, you might need to add more.

There is always a battle with drag and weight that you need to consider when approaching water.


One of the most impressive areas that I see fly fishers pass up is ripple zones. Trout need oxygen, and during warmer times of the year, move to these zones for increased oxygen levels and great lies for food.

When the sun is setting, or what I like to call the hour of power, the larger trout will migrate out of their holding areas into these zones for nighttime hatches.

Let's break down this section of water. Even though it is turbulent, there are micro seams running throughout. Trout are going to sit in these micro seams and eat. Look for this when you are nymphing throughout the day and especially in the early morning and late evening.

If you’re not sure how to pick out this section of water, start with what I like to call grid casting. Start low in the bottom left-hand corner and work your way up. Then move over 1 foot and do the same thing. Continue this until you have covered the entire section. I will typically do 2 to 3 casts per section.

If you have no luck, move up 10 yards and continue the process. If you hook into one, remember that spot, as you most likely picked off the smallest trout in that seam.

Trout have a particular pecking order; the largest will get the most optimal feeding lie, and the others get the leftovers. The Head Hen will be sitting most likely at the highest spot on that run, where she gets first dibs on food.

If you didn't get a chance to review how to read water, check out our beginner video on reading water. Also, if you didn't have the opportunity on how to stalk large trout, check out our previous video.


Don't waste time to strike
As soon as the indicator gives you a sign, the trout is at the nymph. You need to hit immediately. You can't afford to wait too long as you'll miss the fish. At the first light pull, you need to be ready to strike, which means that you should keep your position as you watch the indicator. However, striking fast doesn't mean striking hard, as we'll discuss in the next point.

Strike immediately but lightly
Striking fast doesn't have to involve your entire body strength. When you're nymph fly fishing, it's best to keep your strike as light as possible; otherwise, you're at risk of tensing and, as a result, slowing down your reactions. Additionally, a strong strike might rip the fly entirely out of the fish's mouth, leaving you empty-handed.

You have to remember that the trout can be extremely light and gentle when they catch the nymph. Keeping things as light as possible will give you the best chances not to miss the fish. Besides, in the event when your strike comes too late, a light strike keeps your nymph underwater.

In doubt, always strike
It's not always easy to tell the difference between the nymph catching on a rock and the light take of a trout on the fly. While keeping your eyes on the indicator can let you see the sign, the indicator doesn't know how to differentiate a rock from a fish. Ideally, you want to strike when the indicator goes down, whether it is lightly or violently. Striking gently every time means you're less likely to miss the trout.

As I mentioned in earlier videos, take things slow. Take everything from your approach to the water, to where you are going to cast to your actual cast, in a calm, collected manner.

When you are hunting for large trout, you might only get one or two shots at them before they disappear, and you will not get another chance at them again for another day.

Your heart is going to race, and your muscles will feel shot. But stay calm. Focus on the one perfect cast, and everything will come together.