This page covers all the tips and tactics that I cover in my advanced nymphing classes and it’s perfect for anyone interested in fly fishing nymphs better. You will find methods, tips, and tactics used by the best river guides and competition fly anglers.
What Is Fly Fishing Nymphs?
Fly fishing nymphs simply means that you are presenting subsurface flies to trout or steelhead or even salmon. Nymphs are small bugs that live in the river but fly fishing nymphs can also be fishing worm flies, leech flies, Crayfish flies, sunken terrestrials, or any fly below the surface.
Fly fishing nymphs also means presenting your fly in a natural presentation. You want to make your fly drift through the current as if it would if it were not attached to a fishing line. To do this well, you need to have the right setup and presentation.
Catching trout and steelhead looks almost effortless when you watch the pros do it, but how do they do it so well?. These are the key tips for modern nymphing styles.
When I teach my advanced nymphing classes these are the top 5 goals I want my students to know.
- Present your fly as naturally as possible.
- Get your fly or flies down and into the strike zone as fast as possible. I will discuss the best methods for this.
- Keep your flies in that strike zone for as long as possible.
- Control your speed and try to keep your flies moving at the speed of the bottom current.
- Keep your flies off the bottom.
The 7 Nymphing Methods And Which Ones Are Best
10 years ago when I taught my nymphing classes I taught 7 different styles of nymphing because knowing all seven meant that you could adjust and adapt to any river situation.
Now, I teach only the 3 best and most effective methods or variations. These are the most effective methods for small to medium-sized trout rivers like the one you see in the picture above.
The 3 best methods when fly fishing with nymphs are Spanish Nymphing, Suspension Nymphing, and the Bottom Bouncing method. There are variations, of other effective methods such as French Nymphing and Czech Nymphing blending in when needed.
I also use these 3 methods for steelhead fishing just by up-sizing everything to the size of the river the size of the steelhead.
The 7 Nymphing styles I used when fly fishing nymphs are:
Using strike indicators is the most popular way to nymph but in many cases, it’s far less effective than other nymphing methods.
The basic 1 or 2 fly indicator nymphing which is the most common way for anglers to fish with nymphs is something that I still use under certain situations.
I only use indicator nymphing when it’s windy, or when I’m fishing bigger spots, or when I’m fishing bigger rivers, or when fishing slower and deeper water, or when I need to fish spots that are far from me and I can’t reach that spot with other methods.
This method usually uses a standard Indicator like the ones seen in the picture, some split shots to get the flies down, and 1 or 2 flies.
Most anglers that fish this method do it poorly without even realizing it so if you do this method I recommend that you check out my page Indicator Nymphing: 13 Tips From An Expert River Guide
There is also a better way to fish with indicators known as Suspension Nymphing which I will discuss below.
High Stick Nymphing – The Standard Old School Way
The high stick nymphing method was used before indicator fishing became popular. It simply meant you held your rod up high to keep all the line and leader off the water as the fly drifted through the river.
If the line tightened you would set the hook. Only the leader and maybe a little bit of fly line was used. This was a method where you fishing close.
I never use this method and I do not teach it anymore simply because there are better variations that will enable you to catch more fish.
You have probably never heard of Polish Nymphing however you may have heard the term Euro Nymphing.
Polish nymphing was what gave Euro nymphing its start and it was basically the same as high stick nymphing with the exception that the rod was held lower and almost horizontal and it uses a short leader of about 2 thirds the length of the rod.
The fly line is not used in this presentation and only the leader was used to present the fly to the fish. This is a very close-to-the-fish method and was used with heavily weighted flies and was the first method to use a sighter which is a colored piece of mono built into the leader.
This method is excellent at detecting strikes.
Polish nymphing is a very effective method in faster deeper water where the fish do not spook easily. When this method was used by its founder Vladi, it was near impossible to beat by all other methods.
I rarely teach this method or use it unless I am fishing deep and fast water.
Czech Nymphing is what made Euro nymphing popular. Many anglers have heard of Czech nymphing and many anglers think that Czech nymphing was the start of Euro nymphing but based on my sources, the original version of Czech nymphing is just a modified version of the Polish nymphing method.
Czech Nymphing is good in fast and deep water and uses a similar leader and flies.
With most Euro nymphing methods they are used extensively by the best tournament anglers in the world and are constantly evolving so the original method of Czech nymphing may be different than a modern version.
A big advantage to this method and all Euro nymphing methods is that there is no indicator used and that it used a tight line presentation which enables the angler to detect strikes better.
Spanish nymphing is simply a modified long-line version of Czech nymphing and was designed to be able to fish the sighter and weighted flies at a longer distance.
The Spanish nymphing leaders use a sighter that is placed 3 to 6 feet up the leader and a Spanish nymphing leader can be 20 to 40 feet long. No fly line is used.
I have had the opportunity to train with the Spanish world champion competition David Arcay to see this method used and it is an exceptional method for catching trout and I use it for Great Lakes steelhead too.
This is the style of nymphing that closely resembles the advanced nymphing methods that I use when fly fishing nymphs.
It is a great method for fishing most North American trout rivers and it allows the angler to fish upriver or across the river to wary trout that would be spooked by other methods.
This is the method I recommend to anglers fishing small to medium size rivers.
It’s also excellent in shallow water, pocket water, very clear water, and in depths up to 7 feet deep.
French Nymphing is very similar to the Spanish nymphing method and is used to fish shallow clear water with very wary trout.
The primary difference to the Spanish nymphing method is that the french method uses small flies fished straight up river so the anglers can stay directly behind the fish and not spook them.
I have had the opportunity to fish with excellent french tournament anglers and have seen firsthand how effective this method is compared to traditional indicator and high stick methods used which is why I do like this method and would recommend it. A good book for this method is Nymphing – the new way: French leader fishing for trout
Euro Nymphing or Modern Nymphing
Polish, Czech, Spanish, and French nymphing could all be considered as Euro nymphing but as I tell my clients if you talk to 20 North American guides teaching Euro nymphing you are probably going to see 2 different versions of it.
I say this because you may see anglers or guides teaching something slightly different and that is OK because that is their version. With that being said I have read some articles and watch some videos from guys that just don’t get it and they are offering advice or tips that are not good.
In one article I read, the guy (a nobody) said to pull your flies slightly faster than the current.
What makes most Euro nymphing and modern nymphing so effective is the ability to match the speed of the bottom current. Pulling your flies faster than the upper current like he said is wrong and a big mistake.
Anyone reading that published article from that guy will struggle to catch big trout and steelhead.
Whenever I see one of my clients catching all the fish and the other client catching none, 90% of the time it’s because the client not catching fish is pulling or dragging his fly to fast.
Less than 5% of the time I would pull my flies and when I have trained with the real pros and watched the top tournament anglers teach they almost never pull their flies.
So be careful where you get your info. I will provide some resources from guys I would recommend you can learn from because these guys do it right.
In my opinion, Euro nymphing is ever-evolving and is often a combination of many methods. There are often multiple variations of these methods as guides and anglers tweak them to match their type or river or just to do it the way they like it.
When I see the term Modern Nymphing it is simply a version or combination of multiple methods that have originated from one or many of the Euro nymphing methods.
One of the best videos I have ever seen on Modern Nymphing is the video called Modern Nymphing by Devin Olsen and Lance Egan. These are two competition anglers from the USA.
The methods these guys use are very similar to the style of nymphing that I have been using for the last 14 years and I highly recommend this style and this video because it works for most North American trout rivers.
Best Books On Euro Nymphing
I have a good collection of books on Euro nymphing and these are the ones that I recommend.
- Dynamic Nymphing – George Daniels
- Tactical Fly Fishing
- Nymph Fishing: New Angles, Tactics, and Techniques
The 7th method that I use is called bottom bouncing and it is a great method for both indicator fishing or with euro nymphing.
This method uses weight below the flies and it allows the angler to fish with non-weighted flies or micro flies using any of the above methods.
This is a method I teach in my advanced nymphing class because it’s a great way to present your flies on a tight line with both Euro or Indicator when your flies are not weighted.
Providing that once you start feeling the weights touching the bottom, you lift the rod tip to hover the weights off the bottom or to slightly drag the weights, with this method, the flies always stay off the bottom and in the strike zone.
With this method, I may lose a bunch of weights but I rarely lose flies, and because it creates a tight line system the strike detection is better.
The other great thing about this method is that it works in combination with all other nymphing methods.
When fishing a river that only allows a single hook or a single fly with micro nymphs, (size 18 to 22), this is a great way to be able to euro nymph while maintaining a tight line directly to the fly.
If you add weights 12 to 20 inches above a micro nymph or non-weighted nymph, there is often slack in the line between the fly and the weights and this can prevent strike detection. Strike detection is one of the key things you get with modern nymphing and Euro Nymphing.
Fly Fishing Nymphs With A Sighter
A sighter is simply a piece of colored Mono line in the leader and there are many advantages to using a sighter when fly fishing nymphs.
- When using a sighter properly there will be no slack in the line which will enable you to see even subtle strikes.
- Using a sighter combined with a thin tippet means there is nothing on the surface of the water to pull or drag your flies at an unnatural speed. Speed control is one of the most important things you can do to catch more and bigger fish. Controlling your speed means you a presenting your fly at a more natural speed.
- The sighter can be lifted and lowered and is the best method to control the depth of your flies.
- The sighter acts like an indicator without the splash down and without anything big and intrusive on the water that might spook the trout.
One of the best sighter materials is RIO 2-Tone Indicator Tippet in the pink and Chartruese color and I usually use 2X or 3X. The thicker the line the easier it is to see but if it’s too heavy it can sag.
Another one of my favorite sighter tippets is the Scientific Anglers Absolute Tri-Color Sighter.
The Euro Leader – Advanced Nymphing Leader
The leader I use in my advanced nymphing class is similar to what is known as the Mono Rig leader.
It can be anywhere from 16 to 40 feet long.
I tend to make my leader up to 40 feet so I can fish the entire leader at long distances.
In the diagram, I show the leader set up with the weights at the bottom, however, if you are using weighted flies just leave that bottom tag with the weights off the line.
I also use tippet rings or a double perfection loop to connect my tippet. To make a perfection loop a double loop I just double the line and I make the loop as small as possible.
When using micro flies I will also use Loon Outdoors Deep Soft Weight and I will put a small amount about 3 to 5 inches above the fly.
A 40-foot leader is not necessary for all anglers is it’s difficult to cast for new anglers. I recommend only using about 12 to 14 feet of this leader and when you get good at it add 2 feet and get good at that and then just keep adding 2 or 3 feet at a time until you are able to cast 20 to 30 feet with little effort.
With a leader of this size, a water load cast is great. When you get good at it you can cast a 30 feet leader like a dry fly cast.
All your casting should be low and the fly should travel straight in towards your target as if you were casting a dry fly. The up and over or lob cast is not great.
Using a good 10 to 11-foot rod designed for Euro Nymphing really helps you cast and your presentation and I will discuss this below.
You can use any type of mono but a popular mono to use for many tournament angles is Maxima Chameleon Monofilament Leader Material.
I also use 35-pound OPST Pure Skagit Lazar Line for the long part on the back end of my leader set up and it works better than anything that I have tried so far for long-distance casting.
Part of advanced nymphing is to know where to stand and how to present your fly. When fly fishing nymphs you also need to how to cove the water effectively.
- Always make your first cast in close and work your way across the spot 1 foot at a time.
- Land you flies in the water but keep your sighter off the water and be ready for an instant bite.
- As soon as your flies hit the water, lead the flies down the river keeping the slack out of the line but not pulling the flies faster than the current is pushing them.
- Adjust the sighter’s height up and down based on what you think the bottom depth is.
- Always run your flies in a straight line and always try to match the speed of the bottom current.
- For big trout in clear and shallow water, only fish up river and down to you and then pull the flies out and repeat. Big trout down river probably know you are there and won’t bite.
- In deeper water cast upriver and drift the flies downriver in a straight line past you and as far as you can go.
- Keep your rod tip as steady and smooth as possible so that your sighter is not bouncing all around. A steady hand is required and a smooth sighter is easier to detect strikes.
- Try to ready the bottom and detect rocks, sticks, snags, deep spots, and then lower and raise your rod tip and your sighter and flies to avoid snags and lower your tip when needed to get into the deeper spots better.
- Avoid any snags or problem areas that you see. Use good polarized glasses. Snagging could mean spooking fish not to mention lost flies and needing to retie your leader.
- Get your flies down into the strike zone as fast as possible and try to keep your flies there throughout the entire drift.
- Once your fly hits the bottom, lift your rod tip and your sighter up about 12 inches to keep your fly off the bottom.
- KEEP YOUR FLIES OFF THE BOTTOM. A recent study indicated trout feed down 13% of the time so if your flies are constantly dragging bottom you will catch fewer fish. My experience indicates that the angler who can keep their fly 6 to 12 inches off the bottom will catch 10 times more trout. You also snag up less and lose fewer flies if you are not dragging the bottom.
- Fish in lines as seen in the picture above. This will ensure that you are not missing fish.
- The smaller the fly, the more casts down the same line. With size 18 or smaller flies I will make 6 to 10 casts down the same line before moving it over, then repeat again and again.
- For size 12 to 16 flies, I will make 3 to 6 casts down each line before I move it over.
- with huge flies like a worm pattern, I only make 1 cast down the line before I move it over.
- Use my high, medium, low presentation with each line that you do with smaller flies. This means the first cast is really high in the water column, often 6 inches to a foot below the surface and each cast after that will be 12 to 16 inches deeper and I will repeat until I hit the bottom. Once I hit the bottom I will lift the fly up about 12 inches. This method helps me determine if the fish are feeding higher or lower.
- With lighter flies, you should have a slight belly in the leader. A straight line often indicates you are pulling the flies too fast.
- With heavy flies, the leader will be straighter.
- Adjust your flies based on the speed and depth of the spot you are fishing. Heavy flies in slower shallower water may drag the bottom and lighter flies in fast and deep water may never get down to the fish.
- Use a low casting stroke to keep your flies low and moving in a straight to the target cast.
- Low casts cut into the wind better, give you more distance, more accuracy, and allow you to cast under branches better.
- Remember angles. A fly straight down the river will likely only cast straight up the river. If you want to work your fly 1 foot at a time across the pool your flies will need to be behind you and opposite the direction that you want to cast. The further across the river you want to cast the further the fly needs to be behind you and in the opposite direction of where you want to put your fly.
- When Euro nymphing it’s better to keep your elbow low during the presentation and in a relaxed state. High elbows all day will tire out your arm and shoulders.
- Use your wrist to elevate your rod tip and your sighter instead of lifting your elbows to get the sighter up.
- Only reach and lift your arm and elbows up to get extra distance if need but as the flies come closer to you lower your elbow again and use your wrist to keep the sighter up.
Detecting The Strike
Both Sighter and Indicators are meant to help anglers detect a bite when they are fly fishing nymphs.
The sighter is more accurate and better simply because the line from the tip of the rod to the fly is under controlled tension at all times and any stopping of the fly can be detected.
When using an indicator, there is sometimes slack in the leader below the indicator which can prevent the indicator from moving when the fly stops.
When using a sighter I tell my clients to set the hook on any movement of the sighter. The movement of your sighter, which includes any straightening, stopping, bouncing, twitching, pulling, and even as subtle as a slowing of the sighter can mean a fish has taken your fly.
I add a tiny amount of Loon Bio Strike Indicator Putty to the sighter knots to help me and my clients see it better or you can use a Euro Nymph Tippet Marker as seen in the picture below.
Attaching Your Sighter
The double clinch knot is a stronger knot than the knot you will likely tie your flies to and they will prevent you from breaking off your entire tippet at the sighter.
To make the double mini perfection loop you simply double the line when you tie the perfection loop and before you pull the know tight, put a hook in the loop and pull the tag loop and the main loop apart slowly.
Pulling the two loops apart will make the loop with the fly very small and that is the loop that you will tie on your tippet using the Double Clinch knot.
Then pull the mainline of the sighter and the single strand of the tag to tighten it all up.
You can go as small of a loop as you want, I go to the size you see in these pictures. It may take a few tries but with practice it’s easy.
I make sure my knots are stronger at the top and weakest at the bottom. The top knots are stronger either because the line is thicker or because they are double knots.
Your weakest knot should be at the fly so when you do break off for any reason you only lose the fly and nothing else.
Setting The Hook
You may think setting the hook is something you do not need to read about but most guys DO NOT set the hook well.
I have had clients set the hook so hard that they launch small trout out of the water and hit me or they fling them into the bush behind them.
When fishing with a short line you should set more with your quick wrist and less with your elbow.
I can set the hook multiple times during the same drift without pulling the fly out of the water if I use a very short but very fast flick of the wrist hook set.
With a short line and a fast hook set, you will end up with flies in trees behind you, tangles around your rod tip, and even broken off tippets on the hook set. And usually, those broken-off tippets are on the big trout that you do not want to lose.
If you are experiencing any of these things, stop using your elbow and whole arm to set the hook.
I recommend to all my clients to practice the short quick hook sets at the end of every drift until they are perfect at it.
You could be using the best fly, the best method, and the best gear but none of that matters if you spook the fish before you even make your first cast.
When fly fishing nymphs, you approach, and where you position yourself is very important.
Often times anglers will catch a ton of little fish but no big fish. Catching small fish often makes them think that they are doing things right but that they were just not lucky to catch a big one. Luck is not how you catch big fish.
Often, most guys spook the big fish as they enter the spot and before they even make their first cast, but the little ones are too dumb to know any better so they will be the only ones to bite.
If you want to start catching more BIG trout you need to change your approach.
- I always assume there is a large trout in every spot that I fish and I approach them like I’m sneaking up on them so I don’t spook them.
- I tell my clients that it’s better to take 5 minutes to tip-toe 5 feet into the pool one inch at a time and catch a big trout right away than it is to stomp into the pool fast and need to wait an hour for the big trout to settle down and start feeding again.
- Imagine trying to sneak up on a deer or a rabbit. The second they hear or see you they will freeze and stop eating. Big wild trout exactly the same.
- Approach from downriver and keep a low profile.
- Work your way upriver if possible so you are not kicking mud in their faces and so you are not coming at them head-on.
- If you are working your way downriver to the next pool, walk quietly, stay low, and as far away from the pool as possible, and then enter the pool from behind the fish.
- If you are fishing a section of river with fast broken water or deep water you can get away with being noisier and coming in from any angle.
- The further away you can stay from the fish the better.
- Cleated boots make noise that big trout can detect.
- Wading staffs with metal bottoms that are stabbed into the rocks make a ton of noise that the trout will hear.
- Staying low and even fishing on your knees makes it harder for fish to see you.
- Wear clothing that blends into the background so you look more like a blur than a pylon on the road.
When fly fishing nymphs for trout, I try to never use an indicator unless I have to.
If I do use an indicator, I use a method known as Suspension Nymphing instead of the traditional indicator rig.
The traditional indicator rig uses an indicator, 1 or 2 non-weighted flies, and weights in between them. This rig has a higher potential for slack in the line.
The suspension rig uses weighted flies or the bottom bouncing method which I mentioned above and it prevents slack in the line which greatly improves your strike detection.
If you are not sure about what the best indicators are check out my page What Are The Best Indicators For Fly Fishing? Guides Advice
Best Rods For Fly Fishing Nymphs
I think I have used just about every Nymphing rod sold in North America, with exception of some customer rods and imports.
I have used $300 nymphing rods and rods over $1000.00.
When fly fishing nymphs, you could nymph with just about any fly rod, and you could nymph with shorter 8-foot rods but the trend is to use 10 to 11-foot nymphing rods.
These longer rods protect your light tippets on both hook sets and when fighting fish. The longer rods are also great for line control and for casting.
The nymphing rod that I am using now when guiding is the 10 foot 2 weight Syndicate Pipeline Pro P2 fly rod. This rod is handling everything I catch including many trout in the 24 to 26-inch range.
One of the best Euro nymphing rods on the market is the 10 foot 3 weight Sage ESN Fly Rod
Although I am recommending 2 weights and 3 weights, these longer rods feel more like 4 weights and I have tried some of the 10 and 11 foot 4 weight rods and found some to feel more like 5 and 6 weights which for small to medium-sized trout river is too heavy.
Fly Reels For Nymphing
When fly fishing nymphs, any reel is good for nymphing as long as it is balanced to the rod. The exception is that now that you know how to fly fish nymphs better you are more likely to catch more big trout and a fly reel with a good drag is best.
If you are looking for a good reel for Euro Nymphing some of my clients have come out with the Redington Tilt Euro Nymph Fly Reel which was a nice reel.
Fly Line For Nymphing
With Euro Nymphing or when fly fishing nymphs, you can use any standard fly line since the line is not actually used.
Because do both indicator and Euro nymphing I use a standard weight forward line and this is what I recommend to my clients. My favorite line is the AIRFLO RIDGE 2.0 SUPERFLO UNIVERSAL TAPER FLY LINE.
Do You Need A Euro Line To Do Euro Nymphing
You do not need a Euro nymphing fly line to do Euro nymphing. Because the leaders are 20 to 40 feet the line is rarely used for most Euro nymphing methods.
Euro nymphing lines are very thin lines and they are designed so there is less sag in the line between the rod tip and the water and between the reel and the first guide.
Euro nymphing lines do not cast dry flies or streamer flies well and they do not mend well so they are not great for indicator nymphing.
The only time I might consider recommending a Euro Nymph line is if you have a rod and reel that you were only going to use for Euro-style nymphing and nothing else.
Or if you were going to start competing and doing tournaments, then maybe a euro line is a good idea.
Tippet For Euro Nymphing
For trout on most small to medium-sized rivers a 5X tippet, 3 or 4 pounds is good. When I guide, I use good quality 5X fluorocarbon tippet like the RIO Fluoroflex Plus Tippet and this is what I recommend for new anglers fly fishing nymphs.
Not all tippet brands are equal. some are just stronger and better than others.
However, when I fish for fun I use a 6X tippet but some competition anglers are using 7x and even 8X tippet, yes there is such a thing as an 8X tippet.
However, for beginner anglers, I do not recommend going as light as 7X
The reason for such a light tippet is that the super-thin tippet allows the flies to sink to the strike zone faster and the current does not push the leader as much because it is so thin, and that results in a slower more natural presentation.
I also use 6x simply because I know how to play and land big trout up to 27 inches on a very light tippet.
My long rod also helps to protect the tippet when fishing fish.
Flies For Euro Nymphing
There are tons of great flies that you could use when fly fishing nymphs. There is a saying in the fly fishing world “a bad fly fished good is better than a good fly fished bad”.
What this means is that most flies will work as long as you fish it well, so don’t get all hung up on finding the right flies.
When it comes to nymphs, most of my nymphs are weighted for use with suspension Indicator nymphing and with Modern nymphing or Euro nymphing methods. I rarely use no weighted flies anymore.
Some of the best Nymph patterns are:
- SOS Fly
- Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph
- Surveyor Scud
- Pheasant tail and bead-head pheasant tail nymph
- Rainbow Warrior
- Midnight Intruder fly
Some of the best flies and the best fly patterns I have seen and used are from the Fly Fiend. You can check out The Fly Fiend Youtube channel or the Fly Fiend Website where you can order these awesome flies.
My favorite fly patterns from The Fly Fiend are:
- Glassy Peacock Nymph
- Sexy Walts Worm
- Hot Tag Hares Ear
- The Bio Biot
- Ice Dub Pheasant tail
- D-Rib Stonefly
- Polo Club Pheasant Tail
- The Last Tag Nymph
- Flash Back Quill Baetis
- Olive Wired Soft Hackle
- Diamond Braid Biot Emerger
- Surveyor Scud
- UVP Nymph
Got A Question About Fly Fishing Nymphs?
If you have a question, a comment, a favorite trick, or even a tip to add to this article about fly fishing nymphs just let me and the reader know in the comments sections below.