While purest dry fly fisherman will often give those who take part in nymphing a hard time, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Yes, 95% of people who nymph use an indicator as they cannot see their flies nor the fish eating them. And odds are if you were to aimlessly cast a nymph rig versus a dry fly rig, the nymphs would more than likely outperform the dries. The truth of the matter is, trout predominantly feed sub-surface and there is no shame in nymphing. In fact, you’d be silly not to. Here, we will give you a few pointers that will help you cover more water, land more trout and ultimately improve your nymphing game.
Fly Depth: One of the most important things to consider when nymphing is your fly depth. You can have the right flies in the right size and color, but if you are not fishing the appropriate depth, you will miss a lot of fish and waste your hard earned time. This can be tricky as the time of day and water velocity will often dictate where in the water you should be targeting. However, if you apply the right amount of weight and use the appropriate amount of tippet while managing your indicator position, you can easily hone in on the right depth.
Weight: Weight, or split shot, is a nymph fisherman’s best friend. We always recommend playing around with different weight set ups before switching flies. More often than not, you have the appropriate flies, but you’re fishing the wrong part of the water. Now this might sound silly, but we have to say it. The more weight you apply the deeper your flies will go. However, the size and quantity of your split shot does matter. You can always go with one larger split shot to ensure you get your flies down, but that could end up being too much. We like to put on several smaller sized weights, spread two to three inches apart and 6 inches ahead our lead flies. From there you can add or subtract weight as needed.
Indicator position: The general rule of thumb is to set you indicator at 1 times the depth of the river plus a foot. So if the water is three feet deep and you are targeting the deepest water column, you should position your indicator four feet from your last fly. However, we tend to side on the shorter side with more weight.
Water Velocity: Water velocity, or the speed at which the water is moving, is crucial when deciding how much weight to apply to your rig or how much line to give yourself. The goal is to get your flies to the desired position as quickly as possible. If you are fishing a faster run or riffle where the water velocity is high, you’ll need more weight than if you were fishing a slower moving pool, assuming the same depth. If you notice that you are catching fish towards the tail end of your drift (not the swing), it typically means you misjudged the water velocity or depth and need more weight. By adding more weight, your flies will drop into the feeding zone faster, which allows more trout to see your flies and increases your odds of landing a fish.
Fly Position: Equally important to depth is the positioning of your flies. Whether you are using a double or triple nymph rig, your lead fly will generally be your deepest fly as it is closest to your weight. There are different strategies around placing split shot between your lead fly and trailers, but we’ll save that conversation for another day. Your lead fly will generally be an attractor fly or search pattern. Whereas your second and third flies should either be larva of the upcoming hatch and or an emerger pattern. Let’s say you want to fish a triple nymph rig and you know there will be a midge hatch at some point, but you don’t know exactly when. Your first fly could be a search pattern like a Pheasant Tail or Hare’s ear and your second and third fly could be a Zebra Midge or Mercury Midge, followed by an emerger pattern like the Chocolate Foam Wing Emerger or Top Secret Midge. If you find that the trout are hitting your second and third flies, swap out your attactor/searcher fly for something more imitative.
In theory, nymphing is very simple conceptually. You tie on a couple flies, an indicator and split shot and then cast. However, in practice there is far more than meets the eye. You can drift countless variations of fly patterns through the water, but if you are not reaching the appropriate depth, odds are you will miss many fish. Judging water velocity and depth are crucial to success as it will ensure your flies are spending as much time as possible in the feeding zone and more fish see them.