Some Nymphing Fundamentals


My lackluster guiding and blogging last season got me thinking that this year I need to be more active with it. I also have thought about the kinds of things that I wanted to post, one of which is a tutorial on nymphing. I previously thought that if I post ” how to’s ” on my site then people wouldn’t contact me for lessons and advise. However, I realize the fact that no matter how many times you read about it or see a video, it does not equate to actual time on the water and personal tutoring.

I like to teach and have been very fortunate to learn from one of the best American fly fisherman of all time. Joe Humphreys has been a mentor of mine but more importantly a good friend for a very long time. He has taught me so much and I owe it to him to pass it on. He is without a doubt one of the greatest nymph fisherman of all time- no one knows how to use casting techniques, leader design, and use of weights/weighted flies better than him !

joe and mike 2011

So I am going to discuss some basic fundamentals that every nympher must follow if they want the greatest amount of success no matter what style that they are using- strike indicators, euro nymphing, or traditional ” old school ” like I prefer.

1.) Take inventory of what kind of biomass is present:

Seine the stream and see what’s there and when its there. What types of nymphs are present ? What size ? What color ? Which ones are the most mature and active ? Which ones are the most predominant ? Also, look under rocks and within the vegetation in the stream or along the bank. Look in the air, on the banks or rocks, and in the trees to see what adult insects are present- the nymphal forms may still be available to the fish. And, don’t forget about land born food items like terrestrials, mice, frogs, etc. They end up in the stream too, and become items that could be nymphed as well.

2.) Fish the velocity changes:


You want to nymph the imprecise borders of all the little velocity changes. Look for changes in fast vs slow water, look for color changes of depth, look for rocks, logs, root wads, and undercut banks – anywhere where the currents are going to provide shelter for fish. Think about which direction the currents are flowing. Trout face into the current so you may see in a big back eddy that fish are facing downstream because the currents are moving back upstream. Think about fishing around and under woody debris, undercut banks and rocks because that is where fish also hold and where most nymph fisherman fail to do for fear of losing flies, etc.

3.) Lift your line over as many current changes as possible:

2011-06-07 12.50.05

Try and position yourself to cast over those dragging currents if you can. Or think about using a longer rod if you are able to. This is were I differ from almost everyone else in terms of fly rods. Of course I like a rod that casts, looks, and feels good. But, I’m more interested in what it does for me as a tool. If I’m on a big river I might want to fish a 10 footer. If I’m on an Eastern CT stream that is small to mid-sized, I probably can get away with a 9 footer… a small brook may call for a 7 1/2 or 8 footer. The length of your rod will help you hold your line over those conflicting currents.

4.) Don’t let the fish see you:


Wear earthy tones if you can. Approach carefully if you can and fish near cover if possible. Your chances decrease by 50 % if you haphazardly enter the river and start fishing without thinking about some of this. Learn the tuck cast so you can fish some distance by shooting some line. By combining the two you can fish a good distance away from fish and still get a good drag free drift.

5.) Lead your nymphs with the rod tip the whole way through the drift:

DSC00039 (2)

Steve Skvarka leading his nymphs through the drift on Kinzua Creek

When you are nymphing straight upstream then leading the nymphs means that you are lifting your rod tip straight up and back…if your fishing across or up and across then you will need to lead with the rod tip downstream ahead of your nymph(s). If you are getting so that you are rolling the bottom down below you then you will need to lower the rod tip. But, you are still leading ahead of the nymphs-ALWAYS ! You want to stay in control and in close contact with your line, leader, and nymphs by eliminating excess slack yet still maintain a 90 degree angle from your rod tip to nymphs. By trying to keep this 90 degree angle,  you are giving the fish enough slack to pick up your nymphs but still tight to enough to control the drift and set the hook when a fish picks up your nymph.

6.) Adjust your leader, weight and nymphs  to get the point fly on the bottom:

2015-08-12 14.03.38

I prefer the Harvey/Humphreys’ leader system and formula because it is so much more superior and adaptable to any other formula(s) out there. I adjust my weights and/or weighted nymphs to try and get to the bottom and stay on the bottom for as long as I possibly can. This means that for each pocket, each seam, each riffle/run, I’m considering changing one of them or all of them to maximize my drag free drifts. In addition, I’m considering what type of cast I’m going to use that will help me use these changes for the best effect…the tuck cast, modified tuck, or the down-and-upper.

You can’t always follow each and every one of these rules for every pocket or riffle/run that you face but the more you incorporate these fundamentals into your nymph fishing the more you will be successful.

Good luck out there. Opening day is right around the corner.

I added a video clip that shows most of these fundamentals put to use. Enjoy !


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