Nymphing, in it simplest definition, is flyfishing using the subaquatic
forms of aquatic insects. In this definition, nymphing is not limited to
using the immature stages of mayflies, caddisses and stoneflies. It also
includes all subaquatic invertebrates including scuds, worms, snails,
leeches. During this FAQ I will use the generic term "nymphs" to refer to
these subaquatic organisms.
In other FAQs I have referred to a continuum of trout behavior. By this I
mean that nature does not split up behavior or development into nice little
stages for the convenience of fly fishers. We make these distictions
because it is an easy way for us to understand and teach flyfishing. Just
as we teach flycasting by separating the pickup, from the backcast, the
forward cast, and the laydown; we separate nymphing, from emergers, and dry
Our quarry, the trout, does not make such distinctions. He feeds on the
food source that is most available with the least expenditure of energy.
During the hatch he will follow the progression from nymph to emerger to
dry as a continuum. I doubt that he gives it any thought at all. He is just
eating what is available.
I want you to approach nymphing in the same way. It is just one method in
the continuum of fly fishing. We use it when it is appropriate, because
that is how the trout are feeding.
This FAQ builds on the other FAQs I have written. I will expect you to have
read the FAQs on Basic Flyfishing Equipment, Reading the Water, and Fishing
the Dry Fly. If you have not done so, I suggest that you read these FAQs
before going any further.
I have divided this FAQ into several major sections. The first section
continues my discussion of a systematic approach to fly fishing in the
context of nymphing during a hatch. The second discusses presentation and
the third discusses fly selection during non-hatch situations.
I want to reemphasize the concept of a continuum of flyfishing. If you
remember anything from this FAQ, I want you to remember that the trout will
feed on the food source that provides it with the most calories with the
least effort. As the hatch progresses, they will shift from one food source
to another. When the trout stop feeding on one insect stage and move to
another, they do *not* do so in unison. Each individual fish will make the
switch at a slightly different time until you find that the fly that was
working so well 45 minutes ago is now ineffective. I will show you a system
that can monitor these changes so that you can vary your flies and
techniques with the trout.
In the Dry Fly FAQ, I introduced the concept of systematic analysis. Since
trout feeding activity is a continuum, the analysis you did for the dry fly
will also serve you for nymphing. For dry fly fishing we examined the above
water evidence for hatch activity by picking flies off of the bushes, in
the air or on the water. We then matched our fly patterns to the naturals.
For nymphing we need to know more about the life cycle of the insect that
is hatching. Generally the aquatic forms of the insects (nymphs for
mayflies and stoneflies, and larva/pupa for caddises and midges) will
become active several hours before the emergence. They will come out of
their hiding places or their cases and in so doing, they become available
to the trout well before the hatch ever begins. The trout will be feeding
on the nymphs and larvae/pupae well before you see any rises. How then do
we analyse what patterns to use?
There are two methods that I use. The simplest is to arrive at the river
several hours before the hatch. You will have determined the time and type
of the hatch by doing some preliminary anaysis as outlined in the Dry Fly
FAQ. Use your sampling net to gather samples from the river bottom and
aquatic vegetation *in the location of the hatch*.
This is important since most river systems have many different species of
subaquatic organisms and they are generally specific to water type and
bottom structure (the microenviroment). You may have observed flyfishers
sampling the nymphs near the edge of the river. Or perhaps you have seen
them pick up rocks near the bank. They are sampling the river correctly
*only* if the nymphs that are emerging live in those waters. It does little
good to sample the river in the wrong areas. If you sampled incorrectly and
fish the wrong nymph, it would be analogous to fishing a caddis dry during
a mayfly hatch. You will only catch the occasional fish.
One clue you can use to tell if you have collected the right nymph is to
inspect the nymph closely. As a mayfly or stonefly nymph matures and it
gets close to emerging, the wing pads begin to enlarge. So look for bulging
wing pads. You can use the needle that you carry to clean out the eyes of
your flies to dissect the wing pads. If there are relatively well developed
wings underneath, the nymphs are mature.
The second method is to classify the hatch you will be fishing. This method
is especially important during mayfly hatches. This is a daunting task for
the beginner but usually, you will meet someone on the stream who will know
the *latin name* of the hatch. This is important since a generic name will
often include several different species. Once you know the the name of the
hatch you can look it up in a book such as "Hatches II" by Caucci and
By knowing the precise species of the hatch, you can learn in what waters
the nymphs live, at what times of the year they emerge, their size, shape
and coloration. You will find pictures of the adults and the nymphs to
match up to the actual stream samples you have taken. This serves a a cross
check to see if your identification is correct. And you will learn what the
mature imago (spinner form) looks like, and when it returns, so you can
fish the spinner fall as well as the emergence. Species identification plus
a good practical entomology book is the Roseta Stone of flyfishing. It will
unlock many of the secrets of successful imitation.
For example, the first major mayfly hatch in my native waters is the
Hendrickson Hatch, Ephemerella subvaria. This is a dark bodied mayfly about
size 12 that emerges from the riffle waters of the Prairie River, about 20
miles from my home. So I would need to sample the riffles to find the
nymphs, not the quiet pools below where the mayfly duns can gather. To
complicate matters, there is often a masking hatch of smaller mayflies size
14 to 16 that emerge at the same time. If you didn't observe this masking
hatch, you could easily fish the wrong fly. This masking hatch is
Ephemerella rotunda or the Dark Hendrickson. This is an entirely different
species which also emerges from the riffles. Because you are an observant
flyfisher you would have noticed both nymphs in your sample net. And you
would have read about both hatches and their relationship in "Hatches II".
You are not fooled.
Now you have identified the hatch and you know what the nymph looks like.
Using the hatch books, you have a pretty good idea what the emerger looks
like. It's time to choose a pattern. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be of
much use to you since choosing fly patterns is much like choosing clothing.
What is normal on Sunset Boulevard in LA is not going to play very well in
Fargo, North Dakota. You are better off using the patterns suggested in the
hatch books or seeking the advice of veteran flyfishers in your area. Some
areas have a killer pattern that seems to work well on on their home
waters. If you don't have someone you can ask, I would suggest that you try
the generic Levis and T-shirt approach. I use the pheasant tail nymph for
the smaller mayfly nymphs, the chocolate emerger for the small mayfly
emergers, and light and dark hare's ear as general patterns for the larger
nymphs. The prince nymph works well for the smaller dark stone fly nymphs
with the golden stone for the it's namesake. The Gary LaFontaine series of
caddis patterns is generic enough for most of the caddis patterns, but I
favor the copper and peacock as my caddis larva/pupa pattern, and I have
several favorite caddis emergers including a CDC emerger.
Now let's move on to presentation.
INTRODUCTION - NYMPHING IS BAIT FISHING WITH AN ARTIFICIAL:
Nymphing is considered by beginning flyfishers as an expert form of fly
fishing. Yet for many of you, who are making the change from spin fishing,
it should be the most familiar form of fly fishing. Most spin fishers began
as bait fishers. If you were any good at it, you learned some of the skills
necessary for successful nymphing.
A good bait fisher reads the water and judges where the fish are likely to
be holding. He knows that he must present his bait drag free, and he knows
how the various obstructions in the river can affect the drift of his bait.
If you are a beginner at this, you might want to check out the FAQs on
Reading the Water and Line Mending. Once you have identified where the fish
should be holding, you cast your bait upstream so that it will drift down
naturally into the lie. All the while, you took up the line as the bait
drifted back to you. You looked for the subtle twitch in the line or the
bounce of the rod tip that told you the fish had taken the bait. You gave
him time to take the bait, struck, and you had another fish on.
Well nymphing is something like that. You will need all your skills at
reading the water. Instead of bait, we will be using artificials, so we
need to learn some new skills of fly selection and presentation. The thick
flyline we use causes a big problem. It is more water resistant than
monofilament so you will need to learn a new skill called mending, which
compensates for the extra drag of the flyline on the water. And finally,
you need to learn how to detect the strike so that you can hook the fish
just as he inhales the fly.
With live bait, the fish will hold it in his mouth until you decide to
strike. However, with an artificial, the fish will spit it out as soon as
he finds out it is not natural. The take will be subtle, so you have to
become better at strike detection. This with line mending are the most
difficult skills to learn in nymphing, and what gives it a reputation as a
difficult form of fishing.
Well let's start turning you into a nymph fisher.
SETTING UP YOUR TACKLE:
The fly rod should be at least 8 1/2 foot and I would recommend a 9 foot
rod as probably the best all around rod. The longer rod helps you when
mending line and keeping line off the water to reduce drag. The line weight
should be heavy enough to cast the nymphs that you will be using and
generally a 5 to 6 weight is a good compromise. If you will be using large
patterns, a two rod set up with a 5 weight and a 7 weight will cover most
fishing situations. The rod should have a relatively quick tip which is
important for nymphing since the rod tip must transmit your strike to the
line immediately. A quick rod tip also makes line mending easier since you
can move line with just the flick of your wrist. If you use a soft action
rod for your dry fly fishing it will hinder you somewhat in nymphing.
I use the same rod for nymphing as I do for dry fly fishing. I use a 9 foot
5 weight Sage RPL. This is a progressive action rod which works well for
I use a floating line almost exclusively. It is the ideal line to start
with since it is easily mended. You can almost always fish the entire hatch
from nymph to emerger to dry without switching lines. I reserve sink tip
and sinking lines for streamer fishing, when nymphing in very deep pools
and runs, or for stillwater fishing. Unless you are using the Brooks
method, sinking lines are extremely difficult to mend adequately because
much of the line is under water and cannot be mended.
Nymphs can be tied weighted or unweighted. I use Gary Borger's system of
nymphing and use unweighted nymphs. There are several reasons for this. An
unweighted nymph is more versatile since it can be fished at any level by
adding the appropriate split shop to the leader. It can even be fished in
the film as a "floating nymph". Weighting the nymph by incorporating lead
into the pattern must be done correctly. If the nymph is incorrectly
weighted it will ride upside down in the water. This is why many weighted
nymphs are tied "in the round". They are impressionistic and symetrical
without a top or bottom side.
Beadhead nymphs have become very popular, and they are the only weighted
patterns that I carry. They are tied with a heavy metal bead at their head
and this causes them to sink rapidly after they hit the water. However, you
can get the same effect by putting a bead on your tippet before tying in an
unweighted nymph. The bead will slide down the leader and come to lie next
to the head of the fly. So make sure you carry an assortment of beads in
addition to microshot.
You will need a proper assortment of microshot. I'm not talking about the
size B or BB split shot that you can buy at any tackle shop. Microshot are
especially made for fly fishing and usually come in a round container
holding 4 to 6 different sized shot, the smallest of which is only about 2
mm. in diameter. For waters that have a ban on lead, these shot are also
made in a nontoxic formula which cost about as much as if they were made
with gold. Note that in some states or fishing areas added weights are not
allowed, so in these areas your only option may be to use weighted flies
and/or sink tip lines.
You can use the same leader for nymphing as you do for your dry fly
fishing. I generally use a 9 foot leader tapered to a 5X tippet. One
variation is to use a high visability monofilament for the first section of
the leader. Red Amnesia monofilament manufactured by Sunset can be used as
the link between your fly line and leader. It can give you a slight edge in
strike detection by making your leader more visible.
If it can be said that any one development helped make nymphing easier, it
would be strike indicators. In their simplest form they are essentially a
small float placed on the leader that telegraphs when a fish inhales the
fly. There are many different types of strike indicators but the all have
several qualities in common. They must have high visibility, flotation and
an easy method of placement on the line.
I use three types of strike indicators for my nymphing. I use a hard foam
indicator that is aerodynamic and has a central core that the leader goes
through. It is fixed to the line by a toothpick that is jammed into the the
core. I use this indicator when I am long line nymphing because its
aerodynamic shape allows longer casts than the yarn type of indicators.
Instead of buying the specially made indicators for flyfishing, I purchase
"walleye floats" that are manufactured to float leeches and crawlers just
off the bottom. They sell for about 10 for $2.00.
The second is a yarn indicator that is made by tying a piece of cord or
yarn onto the leader with a slip knot. The cord is fluffed out so that it
forms a big fuzz ball which is then treated with fly floatant. The
indicators can be made any size by varying the thickness of the cord you
use and how much you cut down the fluff. It is probably the most sensitive
indicator because its low mass telegraphs even the most subtle take. When
tied very small so that it is a 1/4" ball, it falls gently to the water and
can be used when emerger or dry fly fishing. Its disadvantages are that in
the larger sizes it affects your casting, and on windy days it will act as
a sail and actually pulls the nymph the way the wind is blowing. I use
macrame cord for the larger of these indicators and tow yarn to make the
The third indicator is made by Loon Outdoors and is called Biostrike. It is
a biodegradeable putty that can be put anywhere on your leader. You can put
as little or as much as you want to vary the amount of flotation. It comes
in several colors so you can use two different colors and two indicators to
help you tell the relative allignment of your leader. When spread thinly on
the leader or placed in small amounts on the leader knots, it will make
your leader more visiible under the water. It can be reused by removing it
and putting it back into its container. It is a must have piece of
Although the main purpose for an indicator is to telegraph a strike, it has
many other uses. If the trout are holding above a weed bed, the indicator
position can be adjusted so that the fly is suspended just above the level
of the weeds. It is used as a float to suspend the fly at the level of the
When fishing with small flys or emergers that are difficult to see, a small
yarn indicator can help you to judge the position of the fly. If you can't
see the fly, you cannot tell when there is drag. It is often hard to tell
when the rise is to your fly or a natural. The indicator is used as a
substitute for the fly. When the indicator drags, pick up and recast. Plan
your line mends so that the the indicator floats drag free. A two indicator
system can work well in these situations. You can monitor the "separation"
between the two indicators to tell you when the leader is about to become
tight between the indicators and therefore when drag is about to occur.
Nymphing FAQ Part II, continued:
Most neophytes do not recognize when they have a strike. Remember that a
trout can mouth and get rid of a fly in about a second. Any delay and you
will be striking well after the trout has already released the fly.
Most beginning nymph fishers take the bobber analogy too literally. They
expect the indicator to go under water or jump upstream. If this happens
great, but many takes are very suble, much like the sipping of a spinner.
Examples are a slight hesitation in the indicator drift, a indicator that
is lying on it's side becoming upright or an upright indicator which lies
down, a slight slowing of the drift, and the indicator staying in one place
when it should be moving. Chuck Rizzuto has a saying about nymphing on the
San Juan that rings true. He says if you strike 1000 times a day, you will
catch fish. So if you see any slight hesitation or movement of the
One tip is to use floating debris next to your indicator to gauge whether
you have a strike and if you have a drag free float. Some rivers such as
the San Juan have a lot of floating debris. Use it to compare with the
float of your indicator. They should float at the same speed and keep the
same distance apart. If not, then you have drag. If the indicator changes
its position to the debris more suddenly, you have a take or a snag.
Last year I fished with Chuck Rizzuto as he taught several beginners how to
nymph. On one occasion, he told his student to cast just behind a rock. The
cast was made and the indicator just stayed behind the rock. Chuck told him
to strike and he had a fish. When Chuck was asked how he knew a fish had
taken the nymph, he said that the indicator and nymph should have been
washed out just like the surface debri. The fact that it stayed behind the
rock meant that a fish had taken it just after the cast.
Most neophytes also strike too hard. Just lift the rod firmly just like you
are picking up for a cast. You don't need to jerk the nymph from the water.
If you have the bottom then you can just pull it loose and recast. If you
have a snag, you won't drive the hook too deeply.
THE TWO FLY SETUP:
Most flyfishersl use a single nymph setup. The nymph is tied to the end of
the leader. If you need added weight, it is placed about 12" above the
nymph. The rule of thumb for the placement of the strike indicator is that
it should be above the fly about twice the depth of the water you are
fishing. This works well for moderate flows but if the flow is faster, you
will need to place the indicator higher and if the flow is slower, the
spacing is less. You adjust the indicator until the fly occasionally bumps
the bottom. This assures you that the fly is riding at the level of the
I often use a two fly setup when fishing in a prehatch situation. As stated
above, all the trout do not switch their feeding from nymph to emerger
simultaneously. This switch is a population based phenomena with some trout
making the switch before others. If you fish just one fly, you will be
excluding the fish that have switched to the emerger. When you make the
switch to the emerger, you are excluding the fish that are still feeding on
the nymph. The solution is to fish both the nymph and the emerger, the two
In the two fly setup the nymph should be the point fly with the split shop
12" above the nymph. This keeps the nymph on the bottom where it normally
is. The emerger is tied 18-24" above the nymph. This allows the emerger to
be in the midcurrent just as it should be. To rig up, I first tie the
emerger to the end of my leader. I then get some tippet material allowing
enough extra length for the knots I will make. If the emerger is size 14 or
larger, I will tie the tippet to the bend of the hook. If the emerger is
size 16 or smaller. I tie the tippet to the eye of the emerger. In this
case the emerger will hang at a right angle to the leader. The nymph is
tied to the end of the tippet and the split shot place between the two
This rig is slightly harder to cast than the one fly setup but since the
flies are in line rather than off droppers, you won't get the tangles that
the dropper system causes. You will find that the fish will initially hit
the nymph more than the the emerger, but then they will switch over to the
emerger. When that happens, you may notice some surface activity with
rising fish. They are probably taking the emergers subsurface rather than
the dries. It may be time to change to a one fly set up. When you stop
getting hits on the deep emerger, take off the split shot and fish the
emerger in the film. You can also go to another two fly set up using the
emerger as the point fly fished in the film and a dry fly as the second
fly. In this case the dry fly also acts as a strike indicator.
Although this is a nymphing FAQ, the sequence above is a common scenario
and illustrates how analytical flyfishing allows us to follow the hatch as
it progesses. We can fish the entire hatch from bottom to top letting the
trout tell us when to change flies. Of course the situation can be
complicated by multiple hatches or sequential hatches. In these situations
choose representative flies from each hatch so that you will know when to
switch from one insect to the other.
Although I have made reference to fishing the entire hatch from bottom to
top, most of the trout feed within a foot of the bottom or a foot from the
surface. These are the areas with the highest concentration of food during
the hatch. The bottom is where all the nymphs must arise from and the
surface film is where most emergers must hesitate before they can hatch and
take flight. These are the two areas that we must concentrate our fishing
Most nymphs should be fished drag free. This creates a big problem for
nymph fishers. Getting a drag free float is technically the hardest part of
nymphing in my opinion. Unlike dry fly fishing where the differential
currents are on a two dimensional surface before our eyes; the currents
that we must deal with in nymphing are three dimensional, underwater and
invisible to us.
Because of frictional forces, the water at the surface flows the fastest.
As we move deeper and near the bottom the water flows slower due to the
friction against the river bottom and boulders. Since the fly line and
leader must travel through this water column, there is virtually always
drag by the strike indicator and the fly line on the fly. Our task is to
minimize the effects of this drag so that the fly is carried along at
exactly the same speed as the water it is in.
THE SOLUTION - SHORT LINE NYMPHING:
This is the most common nymphing technique that is sometimes called "high
sticking" because of the rod elevation that is the hallmark of this
technique. Since drag is caused by the faster flow of the fly line and
strike indicator on the surface versus the slower flow near the bottom, we
can minimize the drag by starting the float with the line and indicator
upstream of the fly. This is similar to an in the air mend for a floating
fly except that the mend is created through the water column. If we can
cast so that the fly enters the water downstream of the indicator, we have
created a drag free float until the indicator catches up to the fly and
starts pulling it downstream.
To accomplish this we perform a "tuck" cast. A tuck cast is essentially a
curve cast in the verical plane. When you make a normal cast the loop of
the forward cast is *above* the level of the fly line. When there is a
weighted nymph on the end of the leader and you add more power, the extra
energy flips the nymph and leader over so that the loop is now *under* the
level of the line and the fly bounces back to you *under* the leader. The
tuck cast is an overpowered forward cast done with finesse so that just the
right amount of extra energy is added forcing the leader and fly to tuck
under the fly line. When you make this cast upstream, it will cause the fly
to enter the water downstream from the leader. .
It may seem incongruous to mention "overpowering" and "finesse" to explain
the tuck cast but that is really what it is. You have to use just the right
amount of excess power to get the tuck you want, and this is a matter of
finesse. It is also a matter of practice since it is all done by the "feel"
of the cast. This is a cast you must master if you are to become an
accomplished nymph fisherman.
In addition to the tuck cast, you must keep your cast shorter than you
would use for dry fly fishing. This gives you less line to mend and a
closer connection to the fly. As the indicator drifts towards you, you lift
up the rod taking up the excess line. This means than you can have the line
coming straight out of the water to the rod tip as it comes by you. As you
follow the line with your rod lifted high (high sticking), you can get a
sense of where the line is going under water, and therefore, how you have
to mend to prolong the drift.
The mend is easy to do when the line is vertical. Usually it is just a lift
and an upstream mend. The lift straightens the the line to the fly and
allows the fly to "catch up" with the faster floating line. Since you have
all the line off the water, there is no floating portion of the line to
create the surface drag. Then you can flip some line upstream to prolong
the drift. It is analogous to performing a "tuck cast" in the middle of the
drift. As the line continues to drift dowstream past you, you feed line
into the drift by lowering the rod.
As the line continues to drift dowstream past you, you feed line into the
drift by lowering the rod.
Another solution to the drag problem is to cast directly upstream so that
the fly and the line are at least on and in the same relative current flow.
You can also cast upstream and slightly across so that the line drifts at
or less than a rod's length away from you. Both these techniques minimize
the surface cross currents so that you do not have to mend for the surface
currents as well as the subsurface currents.
Should you think the fly is dragging underwater at any time during the
drift, toss an upstream mend that repositions the indicator back upstream.
In so doing, you will temporarily make the fly jump up as the line is
repositioned in the water column. This no doubt is an unatural behavior,
but once that temporary disturbance is done, the fly will drift more
naturally than if you had not mended.
At the end of the drift, allow the fly to rise to the surface before
picking up the line to recast. Sometimes this "lift" of the fly will entice
a fish to hit the nymph, which simulates a natural making its way to the
surface to hatch. This can be used as a deliberate technique when fishing
caddis pupa which rise quickly to the surface during their emergence. You
can time the rise so that it occurs in front of a feeding fish causing it
THE BROOKS METHOD:
The Brooks method is named after Charlie Brooks who developed his technique
for taking big trout on big nymphs in heavy water. His method uses a full
sinking line tied to a stout short leader of about 4 feet. The leader is
short to keep the fly at the bottom with the sinking line. In addition he
used weighted flies to keep them on the bottom. This is a heavy duty
nymphing system and I would suggest you try it with a single fly rather
than the two fly system.
The cast is made up and across as with short line nymphing. Take up the
slack sinking line as the current brings it back towards you. There is no
strike indicator so this system relies on your skill at maintaining contact
with the fly but not taking in so much line as to move the fly.
As the entry point of the line into the water gets closer, you raise the
rod just as you would in high sticking. But don't raise your hand above the
level of your shoulder. Otherwise you will not enough lift left to react to
a strike. With the Brooks method there will be a bow in the line and you
are using big flies so you will need to strike hard and fast.
As the line comes by you, try to keep the sinking line going vertical into
the water. Then as the line passes you, you lower the rod to feed line into
the drift just as with short line nymphing. At the end of the drift, allow
the pressure of the water to lift the nymph off the bottom. As with with
short line nymphing this is the point at which you will get many of your
strikes so be alert. When the water pressure has lifted the sinking line,
you can recast and repeat the process.
It is difficult for a beginner to visualize what is happening to the fly
and line under water. We need to make our casts upstream with this method
to allow time for the sinking line to come back to us drag free. By taking
up the line as it returns toward us, we minimize the drag and allow the fly
and line to sink through the deep water to the bottom. Therefore, the
strikes will not come until the line is at the bottom where the fish are.
Once the line reaches the bottom, it is riding in a current seam that is
much slower than the water above it. The portion of the line that rises up
to our rod is pushed by this faster current into a curve. We must try to
keep that curve as straight as possible but not so straight that we pull
the fly towards us. And we cannot let the line balloon behind us either,
otherwise the faster current at the surface will pull the fly along. This
balancing act requires a skilled hand, and that is why the Brooks method is
not often used these days. But for those who are capable, it reaches and
catches fish that cannot be reached by the standard short line method.
The downstream or down and across cast is a technique often used by the
traditional wet fly fisherman. It is a technique that we can borrow for
nymphing as well.
While most nymphing techniques attempt a drag free float, the downstream or
down and across technique uses drag to imitate an aquatic insect rising to
the surface. After the fly is cast, line is fed into the cast to allow the
fly to sink drag free. Then the fly is allowed to swing in the current and
the current catches the fly line causing the fly to rise to the surface.
You can chose the point of the lift by raising the rod.
This process can be repeated several times during the same cast by
repeatedly feeding line into the drift followed by raising the rod. This is
a particularly effective technique during a caddis hatch and is the same
manuever as the lift of the fly at the end of the short line technique. I
have used this technique with midge hatches as well, but I have not found
it very effective during mayfly hatches.
As with the Brooks method, most of the time the strike will come when the
line is tight and the pupa is rising. Again a strike indicator is not
necessary for this method.
LONG LINE NYMPHING:
Sometimes you need to make long casts to reach the fish. The fish may be
holding further out, and you simply cannot get into position for short line
nymphing. Or often on the popular tailwater fisheries, the wadeable areas
have been pounded to death by other fishers. Although long line nymphing is
a more difficult technique to master, it may pay greater dividends because
you will be fishing to trout that have not been worked over.
First you need a long rod, 9 ft is a minimum. Second, if you are going to
make long casts, you need a strike indicator system that is compact and
aerodynamic. This eliminates the frayed cord or yarn type of strike
indicators. You just can't cast these very far because of aerodynamic drag.
I use molded foam indicators for this type of fishing, whereas I might use
the cord type of indicators for short line nymphing.
You must choose your spots wisely. You cannot efficiently long line nymph
all the waters. In rough or choppy waters the indicator bobs up and down
and this causes the suspended nymph to bob up and down. This is not very
realistic and results in a poor presentation. Also waters with many cross
currents are difficult to long line nymph because of the difficulty in
mending the line and keeping the drift in a single current seam.
I usually limit myself to smooth flows, a pool or run type of situation.
Here the water surface is uniform. The nymph, although suspended by the
indicator, does not have any unnatural up and down bobbing motion. Because
the current flows are smooth, there is less need for cross current mending.
You want to set the postion of the indicator so that the fly will be near
the bottom. I place the split shot about 8" to 12" above the fly. You then
cast into the current seam that you want to fish. As soon as the fly and
indicator hit the water, start making mends by throwing more line into the
drift-seam. If the initial cast was too long to flip mend, use roll cast
mends to stack the line into the seam. You are trying to fish the seam as
if you were standing in the seam with your rod pointed downstream with you
stripping line into the drift. As long as you keep stacking line into the
seam and the flow in the seam is even, you don't need to worry about cross
However, there will still be differential drag between the indicator which
is on the surface and the fly which is near the bottom. The indicator will
usually be moving faster than the fly and dragging it along faster than it
should be going. You can help to minimize this, if on your cast, you curved
it so that the fly landed downstream of the indicator. (This is essentially
what a tuck cast does from the downstream approach)
Eventually the indicator will catch up and pass the nymph and start to
cause drag. You can then temporarily lessen the amount of line you stack
into the drift which will slow down the indicator, allowing the nymph to
catch up or pass the indicator. Then start mending more line. You can do
this only once on a long cast because the moment you start to pull the
indicator back, the flyline starts to tighten and it will begin to pull the
indicator towards you out of the current seam.
What I do is to actually pull back on the line which moves the indicator
upstream and and repositions it into another seam. It also makes sure that
the nymph is now downstream of the indicator, and then I start mending
again. Sometimes the fish hits when I pull back because it thinks that the
nymph is rising to emerge.
The one problem with long line nymphing is that most of the time there is
slack line in the system and you will only hook 1/4 to 1/3 of the strikes
you detect with the indicator. But it is a thrill to get a strike since it
means that you are mending the line correctly. And besides, you would not
be long line nymphing if the short line technique was productive.
Eventually, the fish will migrate from nymphs to emergers. You will find
that you are catching most of your fish on the emergers. You will also
notice that some fish have started to rise along the current seams in the
prime lies. It is time to remove the the nymph and fish the emerger just
subsurface or in the film.
With the two fly set up, the point fly was the nymph with the split shop in
between the two flies. You can easly convert to a subsurface emerger set up
by cutting off the nymph tippet from the emerger and removing the strike
indicator. Now grease your leader to withing 4-6" of the emerger. This will
cause your leader to float and will hold the emerger patterns just under
the film. If you have a hard time telling the position of your fly, you can
use a small yarn strike indicator about the size of a pea to help you
locate your fly and to tell when it is dragging.
You may find some of your toughest trout when fishing emerger or subsurface
nymphs. This is where the crossover to dry fly techniques can occur. These
fish will be holding just below the surface, and if there is no overhead
cover, they will be extremely spooky. Their feeding windows will be small
and the techniques I discussed in the dry fly FAQ reguarding long leaders
and downstream approaches may be your only chance to catch these fish.
Although you want to fish the mayfly emergers drag free, caddis emergers
and midge emergers can be fished with slight motion to help the trout key
on your fly. The added motion will often entice them to strike. Again this
is often more easily done with the downstream approach. Time the motion
just as the fly reaches the edge of the trout's window.
In a non-hatch situation the nymphing techniques you use are the same as
during a hatch. The only change is that your fly selection is not based
upon what is about to hatch, but rather on what is available in the river.
In these situations it is imperative that you use a sampling net to get an
idea of what food sources are available to the fish. You want to match as
closely as possible the the size, shape and coloration of the nymphs and
caddis pupae that you find.
You must also sample the aquatic vegetation for scuds, sowbugs, or other
aquatic crustaceans that supply much of the food source of the trout during
these non-hatch periods. Your skill at stream sampling for nymphing is just
as important as your ability to identifly the surface fly for dry fly
I recommend using the two fly set up since this will double your chances of
selecting the correct fly. Usually the trout are feeding oportunistically
in this situation, so I would recommend using different types of patterns
for the two flies. Rather than two mayfly nymphs, choose a caddis pupa and
a mayfly nymph, or perhaps a scud and a nymph. I also recommend making at
least one of your patterns large enough to spot from a distance, say at
least a size 12. That fly will attract the attention of the trout and then
he will also see the smaller companion pattern.
Since you will be fishing blind, I want you to review the Reading the Water
FAQ and use the information there to help you locate the prime lies. You
will be fishing the waters in a searching pattern so it makes sense to
concentrate on those areas which are likely to hold fish.
Trout will by necessity feed on the food source that is most available to
them. Between hatches and during the prehatch periods, this means that the
trout are feeding on the subaquatic forms of insects, usually nymphs and
pupa. If we are to become accomplished flyfishers we must learn nymph
I have presented a systematic strategy and method of fly selection based on
the identification and sampling of the aquatic insects. Once you have
identified the insects, I have outlined a nymphing technique based on a two
fly system that can catch trout as well as signal you when to move onto the
next stage of the emergence.
I have explained various methods of nymphing presentation, short line and
long line nymphing, upstream and downstream, and the Brooks method. I have
tried to illustrate how we can compensate for drag by line mending, which
is one of the most difficult skills to master in nymphing.
Throughout the FAQ I have tried to emphasize that the feeding behavior of
trout is a continuum that is dynamic and changes from nymph to emerger to
dry as the hatch progresses. Therefore, we as flyfishers must be adaptable
as well and skillful enough to follow the trout as it switches from one
stage of the emergence to another. I hope I have been helpful in giving you
the information you need to become a successful flyfisher.
It has been my pleasure to write these FAQs for FLYFISH@.
Copyright 1996 by Henry Kanemoto.
No reproduction, electronic or otherwise, is allowed without permission of