8 Ways to catch more trout fishing nymphs

How to catch more trout fly fishing with a nymph

Nymphing is perhaps the method of fly fishing that most reliably and consistently produces trout. Available prey does vary from river to river, but in most instances nymphs make up the majority of a trouts diet. Knowing this, is it any wonder that fishing a nymph is one of the most effective methods of targeting trout?

As mentioned nymphing is extremely effective method of fly fishing for trout. The following techniques, tips, and tricks will help increase your catch rate while fly fishing nymphs even further.

Use the right indicator

There are a wide range of indicators available for fly fishing. They work much like a bobber does in spin fishing, in that they help the angler detect a strike. The primary difference is that indicators typically have very little weight to them. In my experience a good indicator needs to be three things:

  • Buoyant and bulky enough to float while still supporting the weight of the nymph suspended below it.
  • Light and small enough to be able to detect even the lightest of strikes from a trout.
  • Easily visible to the angler (bright green or yellow are my go to choice of colours).

I like to go as small as possible with the indicator as it allows for much easier casting, makes maintaining a natural drift easier, and helps avoid spooking trout when casting. I prefer to use closed foam indicators with wooden pegs. they stay on the line well, and if you buy a variety with a slim profile it cuts down on drag. One tip with these indicators is to cut the wooden peg in half. Cutting the wooden peg in half prevents the line from getting tangled on it, and you get two uses out of one wooden peg. I would recommend staying away from slip on indicators. While slip on indicators allow you to remove and apply them without retying the rig, I find they tend to fly off the line occasionally when casting.

I have heard good things about both thingamabobbers and indicator yarn, but I’ve been so happy with foam indicators I have yet to give them an honest try for myself. Currentseam.com gives a good overview of the different types of indicators available.

Use a split shot

It takes time for a wet fly to sink into the strike zone. Every second of the drift that a fly takes sinking down into the strike zone is one less second you’re actually fishing. It pays to get the fly down to the river bottom as quickly as possible, and the easiest way to do that is to add weight. There are some situations where I like to add a small split shot a few inches above the fly. The split shot needs to be very small, as to much weight will make it very difficult to roll over the rig while casting. You also risk adding more weight than the indicator is capable of supporting. The split shot I use is about 0.13 grams per shot, but you could get away with split shot slightly larger than that if needed.

Many fly tyers add weight to the fly itself. All my hares ear nymphs have weighted wire under the thorax in addition to the patterns characteristic beadhead. The poster child for a heavy fly is the copper john, I’ve heard it said that while there are other flies that will sink like an anchor, the copper john  is an anchor that just happens to also catch fish.

Other ways of getting the fly down more quickly include using a leader with a thinner diameter, applying sinkants to the fly, and using a thinner profile fly. One thing to keep in mind is that the bulkier and fuzzier a fly is, the slower it will sink in the water column.

Shorten the leader

The combination of an indicator, nymph fly and (possible) split shot makes a nymph rig noticeably heavier than fishing a dry fly. The heavier nature of the rig makes it harder to turn over when casting, and a shorter leader will help combat this. Another reason to shorten the leader is that it can be hard to keep the presentation natural and drag free with to much line out, as you can’t see exactly what is happening under the water.

Make sure your are fishing the right depth.

The aim when nymphing is to have the fly in the strike zone throughout the drift, and this means having it drift right in front of a trouts face. Typically this involves fishing the fly within a few inches of the river bottom. The easiest way to determine the depth of the river is to adjust the indicator until it starts “bouncing” or “bobbing” on the surface. This tells you that the fly is hitting or dragging on the bottom. At this point, shorten the length of leader between the indicator and the fly. It’s okay for the fly to occasionally tick the bottom of the river, but for the majority of the drift the fly should be an inch or two up of the river bottom, mimicking a nymph that’s tumbling along in the current after being knocked off a rock.

As much as loosing a fly sucks, if you’re never getting snagged on the bottom, you’re probably not fishing your nymph deep enough. It’s natural to loose a fly or two while out nymphing.

Use a tandem rig.

Why not double your odds of enticing a trout by fishing two flies at once? A tandem rig is a fly rig that uses two or more flies. I like to use a tandem rig when I’m not quite sure what exactly the trout are feeding on, as it allows you to try multiple different patterns at once.

The most common type of tandem rig I use is a weighted nymph such as a hares ear or stonefly nymph pattern paired with a weightless much smaller pattern, like a size 20 or smaller midge or emerger. The weighted fly goes first and brings the whole rig down, and the smaller fly floats behind the weighted fly. This not only allows you to fish two different flies, but allows you to fish them in slightly different areas of the water column, with the heavy fly on the bottom of the river bed, and the lighter fly floating up in the current.

Another commonly used tandem rig is to tie the nymph off the back of a buoyant dry fly pattern such as a hopper, stimulator, or large mayfly pattern. It can sometimes be difficult to fish a nymph deep using this method, as you have to re-tie the rig to adjust depth, but it works well when using emergers and other patterns that are effective when suspended in the middle of the water column.

After having overly enthusiastic trout strike at my yellow foam indicator a dozen to many times, I decided to tie a fly that is basically a yellow indicator with a hook. The pattern is very effective as an indicator and has landed me a few fish as well. The “fly” is quite simple, and simply consists of foam wrapped around the hook shank in such a way that it creates a football shape.

Tandem rigs are not just limited to nymph fishing, it is often used while dry fly fishing, and less commonly with streamer fishing as well. Midcurrent.com has a good post that covers some of the most common types of tandem rigs.

Be sure to check your local regulations as fishing multiple flies at once may may not be legal in your area.

Fish without an indicator at all.

Indicators are great, they greatly aid in detecting strikes and help maintain a consistent fly depth throughout the entire drift, but they do have limitations. The primary draw back of using an indicator is you lose the ability to “feel” the fly, by creating slack between itself and the fly. When fishing without an indicator you can feel through the fishing line whether the nymph is ticking along the bottom or not, and slightly retrieve line in or let line out accordingly.

In a nymph rig with an indicator, you have the current at the top of the river pushing the indicator, and the (often slower) current at the bottom of the river pushing on the fly. This difference in the speed of water flow can cause drag, which translates into an unnatural presentation. Removing the indicator allows the angler a much higher degree of control over the drift, which enables a more natural presentation of the fly.

Another major advantage to not using an indicator is that you are going to have better hooksets. You are going to have much better reaction time and be able to set the hook more quickly when you feel the strike as opposed to visually seeing the indicator under the water. There are two reasons for this.

  • The indicator creates slack between itself and the fly. This creates a delay between the time you pull the line to the time to hook is actually set, as the slack line has to be tightened before the fly will actually respond to your hookset.
  • There is a slight delay between when the trout takes the fly, and when the indicator wobbles. Sometimes a trout will hold the fly in it’s mouth for such a brief period of time that it has already spit it back out by the time the indicator even registers a strike.

One of the best times to fish without an indicator is when sight fishing in low, clear water. Sure the trout see me, and know I’m there, but by fishing without an indicator it’s possible to present the fly in such a natural manner that enticing the trout to take a fly is often possible, even while making “eye contact” with the trout. I’m usually high sticking in these situations, very often without any fly line in the water at all, only the leader. I’ve actually caught by personal best brook trout by using this method.

Look into Czech nymphing if you’re interested in a more technical take on fishing without indicators. The subject of Czech nymphing is well beyond the scope of this article and deserves a post all it’s own.

Match the hatch, not just for dry flies

While many fly anglers have a wide variety of dry flies to match the hatch, just as many anglers are also guilty of having a trout nymph box with only a handful of different flies. While it’s important to have confidence flies, it’s also important to realize that the variety of shapes, sizes, and colours of forage under the water is just as diverse as the many different kinds of insects buzzing around above the water. I think the key difference is that since we can actually see the many different kinds of insects above the water, we subconsciously think it’s more important to match these insects than it is to match the insects below the water that we can’t see. It’s very easy to see whats crawling around the river bed, just start flipping rocks!

Cover ground

You will catch more fish the more water your cover. While this is true of all types of trout fly fishing, it seems like it’s especially easy when nymphing to become overly attached to one specific fishing hole. Continually casting to the same spot over and over again is not the most productive use of the precious little fishing time we sometimes have. Sure you’ll catch a few fishing sticking to the same hole, but those fish have been spooked after the third, second, sometimes even first cast. By moving up or down the river, you’ll find new fish that might not have seen an angler that day and will be much more willing to strike at your fly.

Final Thoughts

Fly fishing nymphs will no doubt land you plenty of trout. I hope that some of the techniques mentioned above help you land even more trout. Let me know if you have any other tips to catch more trout in the comments below!


  1. Willson

    One more tip. If you can see the fish be ready on the first cast as this is the one most likely to connect. If you have can see the fish and you have the correct drift and the fish stuff refuses to take them change flies now. Don’t pound the run with wrong fly. Change flies and change again, you will be surprised at how often this will increase chances.


    1. bensmckinley@gmail.com (Post author)

      Thanks Willson,

      That is so true, I will add that in addition to changing flies, changing your presentation can be just as important.

  2. Rafel Nuri

    Actually the most efective tecnique, i think, is the spanish sistem, ” pesca al hilo” semiparabolic rods of 10 to 11foots for 3,4 lines , extra long leaders with indicators composed with parts of leader in fluorescent colors making the indicator, finals of 0,12, 0,10 or less. With that system the fly line no used. The nimphs are “perdigon” (pellet) litle patterns tied in bright holografic colored tinsels and painted with uv barnish. And tungsten beads.

  3. The River Damsel

    I think that you covered most everything nymphing… I’m a passionate nympher because the percentages of catching are the highest down under and closer to the bottom. Simple. I see quite a few people pounding that run like you said. Over and over with the same fly. Nice write up. =)

    1. bensmckinley@gmail.com (Post author)

      You’re right about that. Nothing quite brings in the numbers like nymphing.

      I see that so often, and have to admit I’ve been guilty of pounding a run to long myself more than a few times.


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