3 Tips for Nymphing Success

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Smart Nymphing

I can’t tell you how many times just this year, that I’ve heard clients tell me no wonder I’m not catching very many fish nymphing on my own. For most novice to intermediate fly fishermen they get far less hook-ups than seasoned veterans nymphing for three simple reasons.

1. The difference between an average and advanced nymph fisherman is one split-shot.

Often anglers fish the right fly patterns when nymphing but fail to get bites and hook-ups because they don’t have enough split-shot or weight on their nymph rig to get the flies down in time, or to the appropriate level and strike-zone of the fish. I’ve got holes on small streams that I fish that require me to add upwards of three to four BB size split-shot in order for me to get consistent bites. This holds very true in fast water where trout are reluctant to rise up into the current to take a fly for the simple fact that they’ll use more energy than the value of the food specimen.

If your nymphing and your not bumping the bottom occasionally during your drift your probably not getting down to the fish, and will fail to get strikes. You don’t want to be hanging up every cast either though. I always set my rig accordingly and if I make a few casts with no bites and no bumps on the bottom you’ll find me adding more split-shot. If after that I know I’m getting down to the strike zone and I’m still not getting bites, you’ll find me changing my fly patterns.

2.  The second reason nymph fishermen fail to get bites is their strike indicator is set too shallow.

I had a client this past month that said he nymph fished in the smokies quite often but failed to really ever have much luck catching fish. After about an hour of me guiding him and fishing my nymph rig he realized he had been setting his strike indicator far too shallow and wasn’t getting down to the fish’s level in the water column.

If your nymphing a deep pool that’s seven feet deep and you’ve got your strike indicator set three feet above your flies is won’t matter how much weight you have on your rig, because your flies will not be able to get down deep enough. In this situation and depending on the current speed you should have your indicator set at a minumum of eight feet deep. Chances are, you’ll need to raise your indicator to the very top (butt section) of your leader, and still may need to add some tippet or lengthen your dropper in order for your flies to get down deep enough. Aquatic nymphs are mostly found on the bottom foot of the water column. If your not drifting your nymphs in that zone your not going to get very many bites.

3. Never assume you’ve hit bottom when your strike indicator goes under.

The best nymph fishermen in the world are constantly setting the hook. Everyone knows you can’t hook a fish 95% percent of the time unless you set the hook. Yet, just about every one of my clients on guide trips fail to set the hook 35% or more of the time because they think it’s not a bite, and instead that they’re flies are hung up. I can often see them pondering in their head is that a bite…?, should I set the hook…?, No wait…I bet that’s bottom. Too late now folks, if you find yourself doing that on the water you’ve already missed your opportunity. Remember that there’s a delay time between when the trout eats your fly and when the strike indicator actually signals a strike. Bottom-line, you don’t have time to ponder or distinguish whether it’s a fish or bottom, just SET the HOOK. Yes of course when nymphing you will hit bottom occasionally during your drifts if your rig is set up correctly. This tells you that your flies are getting down in the strike zone of the fish. Just remember though, that rock you snagged two casts earlier, might have a fish sitting just on the outside edge of it, and this time your drift looks the same, but in actuality your drifting your flies six inches to the right and going right over the fish. A veteran nymph fisherman will set the hook and catch the fish, but the rookie will make the mistake of thinking that they’re hung up again on that same rock and wont’ set the hook.

High-Stick Nymphing on the Roaring Fork - Photo By: Louis Cahill

In conclusion, adding enough weight and setting your strike indicator deep enough will allow your flies to get down to the trout’s feeding level, and you’ll find yourself hooking up far more often. Just make sure you set the hook when your strike indicator signals as well. Keep in mind also, you’ll need to get the same drag-free drift as you do when your dry fly fishing. Tension on your line or bellies that are formed during your drift will pull your nymph rig to the surface and out of the strike-zone. Proper mending during your drift will help you keep your flies down deep and at a dead free drift just like the naturals on the water.  Lastly, at the end of your drift lower your rod tip to the waters surface, strip in your slack, and allow your flies to swing. Quite often you’ll find yourself getting bites at the end of your drift on the swing. Most important part of this though, is for you to keep your rod tip on the water during the swing. Otherwise you’ll have slack in your line and won’t feel the trout taking your flies.

Hope these quick tips help you hook into more fish when your nymphing on your own. I’m confident if you follow these tips your catch rate will double.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline

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4 thoughts on “3 Tips for Nymphing Success

  1. Hi I was wondering if you could help me I was taught by a friend to nymph without an indicator I am starting to realize their are certain situations where you have to use an indicator in order to catch fish. i started learning how to fish with an indicator and i am getting into alot more fish but wether i use an indicator or not its always the same result. I lose more fish then i catch. on a recent trip to the eagle river i started out without an indicator but changed to an indicator because i kept losing flies there are alot of rocks in that river. but right away i started hooking into fish but as usual i kept loosing them. i hooked twelve fish before i landed my first one i dont know what i am doing wrong i try to set the hook down river ive tried all kinds of ways but still lose way more fish then i land what am i doing wrong please help!

  2. Pingback: Fly Fishing Q&A - What Would Kent Do | Gink and Gasoline, The Blog home of Kent Klewein and Louis Cahill-Fly Fishing photography, video, tips and news.

  3. If you’re setting the hook after your strike indicator has go downstream of your position – that means that your nymph is also quite a ways downstream of you, too — which means, you could be pulling the nymph from the trout’s mouth.

    If you’re setting the hook when the indicator is still upstream of your casting position, when you set the hook – the hook is more likely to be pulled into the corner or other part of the trout’s mouth, which means you’re going to have more hook-ups and more landed fish.

    • Mark,

      I agree, if you are getting a bite pretty far downstream of you, it would make sense that a straight up or sweeping side arm hook set would work best. Its kind of similar to setting the hook on a bite when you are swinging your fly at the end of the drift. A smooth side arm hook set works great for this situation when you have very little slack left in the drift.


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