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Quick Tips When Fishing with Nymphs For Trout

Updated on December 30, 2016

Fishing with Nymphs can be fun and rewarding one moment and then frustrating the next!

The subtle strikes and quick reflexes required to set the hook may be spot on, then without warning every strike is a miss.

In hopes of reducing the misses and improving hookup rates, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when fishing with Nymphs for Trout!

Quick Tips.

  1. Be sure to stock your flybox with the following "essential" Nymphs:
    - Gold Ribbed Hares Ear Nymphs,
    - Pheasant Tail Nymphs,
    - Prince Nymphs,
    - Zug Bugs,
    - Copper Johns,
    - Don't forget local Variants recommended by Flyshops and Anglers in the area!
  2. When tying your own fishing flies remember:
    - Nymphs are tied with heavier hooks compared to dry flies in order to break quickly through the water's surface.
    - Do vary each pattern to include non-weighted, weighted, and bead head variants as fishing situations.
    - Use tungsten beads to get the Nymph down deeper for situations such as fast currents and deep pools.
  3. When fish are actively feeding on nymphs:
    - Trout may ignore all other patterns, so be prepared to fish with Nymphs.
    - Fish below the water's surface where damselflies, mayflies, stoneflies, caddis and dragonflies live before they metamorphosis into the adult stage.
    - Be prepared to fish a variety of depths, depending on where the fish are feeding.
    - General Rule: The angler is imitating the juvenile stage of aquatic insects; subsequently, fish nymph flies underwater, not on top of it.
  4. Be ready for the subtle strike:
    - Nymph fishing flies are not readily visible as dry flies,
    - An angler may not see a rise or the fish itself pop through the surface when taking a fly.
    - Not being able to see the fly gives new anglers the most problems,
    - Strikes are difficult to detect and may result in missed hook sets,
    - Trout tend to “slurp” in nymphs gently – often times just being lazy and waiting for the nymph to float right to it.
    - Because of this, setting the hook properly (and knowing when to do it) is extremely important for success.
  5. A simple and effective setup for nymph fishing that can be used in the majority of situations calls for:
    - Start with a 9' tapered leader.
    - Cut off the last (thinnest) 16" of leader, then re-tie to the leader using a blood knot.
    - Tie on a nymph with a standard or improved clinch knot.
    - Pinch a tin split shot onto the leader above the blood knot so it won't slip down to the fly.
    - Attach a strike indicator 1.5x the depth of water to be fished.
    - As flies are changed and retied, re-tie tippet material to the leader instead of using a new leader.
  6. Select the right strike indicator; keep it readily available:
    - Choose one that is easy to use and adjust.
    - Be sure it floats well and is easily visible in low light.
    - Must support the combined weight of your flies and split shot.
    - Try different strike indicators until you find a couple that you like.
    - General Rule: Must see the strike indicator else you will not see the strike and will miss the hookset!
  7. When fishing nymphs:
    - Add split-shot or other weights to get the nymph near bottom.
    - Every 3rd or 4th drift, the strike indicator should "tick" from striking bottom, else add more weight.
    - Anticipate “bumping” into underwater obstructions – particularly rocks.
    - Bumps will be mistaken for strikes, snags will happen, and flies will be lost.
    - Regardless, when the strike indicator hesitates, bounces, or sinks set the hook; strikes are subtle!
    - Set the hook downstream, setting the hook upstream may pull the fly out of its mouth as the fish was likely facing upstream when it took the fly.
    - General Rule: Bring enough of each pattern for your fishing trip. Else, suffer the frustration of Trout taking the one pattern that you no longer have!
  8. When choosing flies, size matters ("LOL"):
    - Select flies based on: size, shape, color, and then action.
    - Bring a small dip net and collect samples to gauge the size, shape, and color of the nymphs the Trout are feeding on.
    - Also, in the early spring, late fall, and winter flies tend to be darker while lighter flies typically appear in warmer weather.
    - If not able collect samples, keep changing flies until you hit the right combination.
    - If you catch a Trout, examine its contents using a "Stomach Pump" - tube with a bulb on the end that looks similar to a Turkey Baster.
  9. Fish more than one fishing fly:
    - To fish more than one pattern and increase your chances of a hookup.
    - A simple rig calls for tying a small nymph onto 14-18 inches of tippet material tied to the bend of a dry fly (doubling as a strike indicator).
    - A variation of the simple rig replaces the dry fly with another nymph, fishing with two nymphs in tandem under a strike indicator.
    - Also, use a lighter tippet material for the second fly (lower fly). In the event of a snag, only one fly will be lost hopefully!
  10. When casting and setting up for the the drift:
    - Cast across and upstream from the Trout, allowing the indicator and rig to dead drift to where they are holding.
    - Mend line one or more times as needed to achieve a good drift else the line's drag may pull the nymph off the bottom.
    - A good drift is when the strike indicator is drifting slightly slower than the surface current (the current on bottom is slower than the surface).
    - General Rule: If the strike indicator is drifting at the same speed as the surface current, then the flies are moving too fast and wary Trout will not strike!


More On "Essential" Nymphs


Gold Ribbed Hares Ear Nymph

  • GRHE Nymph (Go to Nymph when uncertain what the Trout are feeding on)
    - General purpose Nymph imitates more than one insect
    - Imitates Caddis Pupa and Mayflies in Sizes 12-16
    - Imitates Stoneflies and large Caddis Pupa in Sizes 4-10
    - Fast, jerky action to simulate swimming action
    - Weighted or add split-shot to get the fly into the Zone
    - Lake or slow current, fish the bottom
    - Strong current, cast upstream or cross-current
    - Use unweighted when fishing shallow riffles

Pheasant Tail Nymph

  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (Next Nymph of choice after the GRHE Nymph)
    - Fish just below the surface
    - Use short pulls (jerk retrieve) and fish parallel to cover when fishing lakes and ponds
    - For Streams like pools, backwaters, and slow current, fish unweighted on floating line
    - For faster currents, cast upstream and/or cross-current
    - Recognize variants like the Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph that are effective for a given area
    - More slender and darker than the GRHE and most productive when mayflies are the critical part of the trout diet
    - Like the Hare's Ear, is effective in rivers and lakes and is an excellent searching pattern
    - Suggest brown and olive colors in sizes sizes 10 through 16

Prince Nymph

  •  Prince Nymph (Attractor pattern that is more Streamer than Nymph)
    - Simulates a baitfish
    - Fish the bottom using split shot placed ~1' above the fishing fly
    - Use short stroke retrieve "1-Beat" or "2-Beat" pulls on the flyline
    - Can be fished like a traditional Nymph (dead drift, upstream cast, or cross-current cast)
    - Can also be fished downstream in fast water

Zug Bug

  • Zug Bug (Easy to tie)
    - Represents a mayfly nymph or caddis pupa
    - Works well when drifted along slow banks or in eddies below faster water
    - Bead Head Zug Bugs work best in fast water - sinking down to where trout look for caddis pupae

Copper John

  • Copper John (Imitates a small Mayfly Nymph)
    - Tied with copper wire enabling drifts that are close to the bottom
    - A "go to" pattern when trout are feeding on small nymphs in fast water
    - Good choice to fish as a dropper behind a large dry fly like a hopper


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