Nymph Fishing Techniques

 Nymph Fishing Techniques

Gear Description

Most nymph fishing is usually done using fly rods ranging from 6 ft to 9 ft or 10 ft depending on the size of the water and your target fish. I personally use a 9 ft 5 wt rod for spring and eary summer when the rivers are higher or for larger rivers. For my small stream fishing, I use a 7 1/2 ft 4 wt rod most of the time. Occasionally in the late fall a 6 ft 4 wt fly rod.  Generally small stream rods are for 2, 3 or 4 line weights.

Fly Reels should be matched to the rod weight. Four weight reel with a 4 wt rod and so on. Match your fly line to the reel and rod. The rod weight can be found just above the cork grip on almost all fly rods.


There are two ways to go with leaders. Use a manufactured tapered leader or build your own. Each has advantages and disadvantages. You have your choice of nylon monofilament leaders and tippets or fluorocarbon leaders and tippets.

  1. Start with a 7 1/2 foot tapered monofilament leader in 4X, then attach a 15 inch piece of 5X fluorocarbon tippet plus your point fly, add a 12 inch piece of 5X or 6X fluorocarbon tippet and your tail fly.
  2. Or you can build your own fluorocarbon leaders starting with a 0X piece of fluorocarbon and tapering down to 5 feet for the base leader. Adding a piece of 2X or 3X tippet plus a fly and a 4X piece of fluorocarbon plus a fly.
  3. For a nine foot rod, leaders should be no more than  10 or 11 feet and I prefer about 8 feet total. I have found a 1.25 times the rod length is about the max that handles well.
  4. From testing in the summer of 2010, I will say that my homemade fluorocarbon leaders helped me catch many more fish than using monofilament leaders with fluorocarbon tippets. (A whole leader of fluorocarbon sinks much faster than the combination does.)

Casts to Use

The two most used casts in nymphing are the Roll Cast and the River Cast. The roll cast takes some practice and is a muscular cast. When done correctly, it is easy to get a 30 to 40 foot cast. With practice you can shoot a roll cast to 60 or 70 feet. The roll cast is used when you have trees, bushes or other obstruction at your back. I also use it becase overhand casting of a three nymph rig is not easy and is tiring.

The River Cast is basically a lob cast using the stream current to load the rod for the cast. Finish your drift and let the line straighten out below you. With a sharp sidearm horizontal or 45 degree forward stroke toward your target load the rod. The let the rod pull the line off the water slinging it toward your target. With weight on the leader or using weighted nymphs, stop the rod at 90 degrees from your target because the line will roll over the rod at a 90 degree angle. For dry fly fishing, stop the rod pointed at the target and the line will shoot directly off the rod tip. Learn to use the river cast, it will save your arm when fishing for a full day on stream.

Where to cast:

  • Forty five degrees and upstream
  • Straight across
  • Straight upstream
  • Forty five degrees and across downstream
  • Straight downstream


  • Dead drift where you attempt to allow the nymph, line and leader to be moved by the current in a totally natural manner. The dead drift is best used when imitating insects that tumble helplessly in the current such as stone flies or burrowing mayflies. To do this you may need to use a reach mend, a pile cast, an S mend slack line cast, a curve cast or a hook cast. This is where some off stream and on stream practice will pay off.
  • The Leisenring Lift to reduce drag, impart some motion to the fly and move it up or down in the water column during the drift.
  • The Skitter and Twitch at the end of the drift.
  • The Mini-Mend to keep your fly drifting in the feeding lane. The mini-mend also imparts a bit of motion which may attract a trout’s attention.
  • The Tip Twitch and Wiggle during a drift. This is a very subtle motion but it sure gets trout.

Strike (Drift) Indicators or Not

When learning how to nymph fish for trout, using a strike indicator is helpful. An indicator can also be used to show you the currents so you can get a dead drift.

Types of indicators most often used are yarn, the plastic thingamabobber or an otter bobber. If I am fishing heavy water, I will use a 3/4 inch thingamabobber indicator and a 1/2 inch for smaller streams and in the late season.

Too often the beginner lets a strike indicator become a crutch rather than a tool. In more shallow water, try fishing nymphs without a strike indicator by making a little “J” in the line at the water surface. Let the “J” become your indicator. It is amazingly sensitive. A jiggle, stop, sideways twitch, set the hook. Most often you will have fish.


Nymph fishing for trout is only as difficult as you make it. “Successful Fly Fishing for Trout” and the bonus books have much more information on nymphing for trout.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
“Successful Fly Fishing for Trout”