Tips for Fly Fishing Nymphs and Strike Indicators (2021)
Every fly fishing angler loves using dry flies because the experience is next to none, whether that be on a classic Adams pattern or on a big juicy hopper. However, the majority of fish are actually caught using nymph patterns. The reason for this is because nymphs and other pupae in the water amount to the majority of a fish’s diet. When a large fly hatch is happening, then the fish will all be rising and feeding from the surface of the water, but the majority of the time, hatches are not on and fish are subsurface eating.
When I learned out to nymph fish, I drastically increased the number of fish in my landing net. I would say that I use nymphs about 75% of the time when fishing in rivers and lakes because of their effectiveness. If you aren’t using them yet, or you are looking for some great tips, this blog is for you. We will dive into how to setup a nymph rig, great nymph patterns to utilize, where and how to nymph fish, and casting nymphs.
Using nymphs when fly fishing is a must to have the best chance of landing a large number of fish. I do know anglers that won’t nymph fish, but they rarely will ever out fish the angler’s using nymphs. A big misconception with using nymphs is that you can’t land large fish. That would be incorrect, as nymphs bring in some real hogs!
What is a nymph and the act of nymphing
- A nymph is an artificial fly that imitates aquatic insects in their juvenile state of transforming into adult caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies, and others.
- Nymphing is the act of using nymph flies under the surface of the water when fly fishing.
What is a strike indicator
A strike indicator, also known as a bobber in standard types of fishing practices, is a small flotation device that is often a bright color. It is tied to the fly fishing line or leader. When a fish strikes, the indicator will drop below the surface of the water, showing you that a fish is biting your fly/hook.
There are many different styles of indicators on the market. Fly fishing anglers tend to prefer specific ones over others, so don’t be surprised if people you fish with have different indicators than what you use. The most common style of strike indicators on the market are air lock indicators for their simplicity and effectiveness.
How to setup a nymph rig
Many anglers don’t use nymphs when fly fishing because they think it is difficult or they are unaware of how to set it all up. It is actually very simple. I will break it down in point form!
- The first thing you will need to do is to tie the thick end of a 9-foot 3x leader to your fly line. Any leader will work, but this is the most common one.
- Next, you will want to tie the largest wet fly or nymph that you plan on using onto the small end of the leader. Preferably you will want to use a barbed hook.
- From here, measure around 18 inches of tippet, normally 3x will work just fine. Tie one end of the tippet to the steel round part of the first fly you tied on.
- Tie on a nymph to the other end of the tippet. Now you will have two flies tied on. If you wish to tie a third fly on, use another piece of tippet, 18 inches in length. Tie the one end to the second hook and your third nymph to the other end of this tippet.
- Once you have your 2 or 3 hooks tied on, next you can add a small weight also known as split shot onto your leader. Place the weight about 4 inches above your first hook.
- Finally, you will want to place your strike indicator onto your leader. The rule of thumb is that you place the indicator twice the length of the water depth that you are fishing in. So, if the water is 3-feet deep, place your indicator 6-feet above your first fly on the leader. If you are constantly hitting bottom, I would lower your indicator. If you aren’t hitting bottom whatsoever in 10 casts, I would raise your indicator up. You want your nymphs near the bottom of the water.
If you plan on only using two hooks, your bottom hook can be barbless. If you are using 3 hooks, the top two should be barbed and the bottom hook can be barbless. Why this matters, is that if you tie tippet to a barbless hook, it will often slide off and you will lose your hooks.
How to fly fish with nymphs and strike indicators
If it is windy, I normally only use 2 hooks, but if there isn’t much for wind, then I use 3 hooks. Depending where you are fishing, there will be laws on how many hooks you are allowed to fish with. Where I am from, 3 are allowed. The more you use, the better chance you will have of catching fish and finding out what fly pattern the fish are biting.
Some anglers like to use multiple of the same hook, but I always use 3 different hooks. The reason for this is so that I can find out what the fish like, and different fish bite different patterns. If I am using a larger woolly bugger as my top fly, brown trout might be going after it. The bottom two hooks could be for whitefish and walleye.
Just like when you are using dry fly patterns, presentation is everything when nymphing. Normally, nymphing is done in rivers with a slow or fast current. You will cast upstream of where you are, and you will want to mend your line so that your indicator moves the same speed as the current is moving. If your indicator is moving slower or faster than the current, then this will not look natural to the fish and they most likely won’t bite your flies.
Mending means to flop your fly line to the side of the indicator or even upstream of the indicator. You may also have to keep your rod tip high in the air so your fly line doesn’t drag if you are in a slower part of the water then where you casted. Mending is very important for presentation. Most new fly fishing anglers that try nymphing won’t catch a whole lot because they are not mending their line enough. Sometimes, you will have to mend numerous times as your indicator is floating down the current.
Casting nymph rigs
Casting a nymph setup is generally quite simple if you are used to casting a fly rod. However, there are numerous hooks, a weight, and an indicator that you will be casting.
A simple back to front cast is fine, but when you are in your back motion, you will want to pause and let your bottom hook get all the way to the back of the cast before you start the forward motion. If you don’t pause long enough, the hooks will likely get tangled, and you will lose the distance on your cast. Untangling 3 hooks is a pain in the ass and can take up valuable fishing time.
Best nymph patterns
Zinger Fishing has a blog on the most common fly fishing nymph patterns. There are classic patterns that are tried and true and have been around for decades. Some nymph patterns work better than others, but I find it all depends where you are fishing and for what type of fish.
4 very common nymphs:
Hare’s Ear Nymph
With all these nymphs, there are many different variations on the market. People have changed the colors, but the characteristics will be similar with all the different patterns. Bead heads will also be on some variations and not on others. Bead heads are added to nymphs for weight. The added weight helps the nymph to sink into the deep-water columns faster, increasing your chances of catching the fish that like to hang out down there.
Matching your nymph to the hatch
Zinger Fishing also has a blog on matching the hatch. When you get to the river, lake, stream, or pond, go stand in the water and try to see what is floating around in the water. Often you will see different small insects, these will be what you want your nymph to match. If there are an abundance of natural insects in the water, the fish will be feeding on them. Matching your nymph to them will give you the best chance of getting a fish on the end of your fly line and hopefully into your landing net. Try to match the size and color of the natural.
This is where having a solid variety of different nymphs in your fly case will come in handy. I have seen anglers that get on the hatch and catch 20+ fish.
Trying different nymphs
If there is no hatch on and no naturals to imitate, or if you have tried to match the hatch and it didn’t work, go ahead and try random patterns! Zinger Fishing sells a vast amount of different nymphs because there are so many random colors and styles of nymphs that seem to work well when the classics aren’t generating any strikes. The other day I tied on a dark blue and bright orange tactical nymph and caught 3 goldeye in 10 minutes.
Nymphing is one of the best styles of fly fishing that there is. It is sure to improve the amount of fish you catch. It will take a few hours to get use to, but you have to mend your line. Also remember that if you use multiple hooks, you will have a higher chance of catching fish. Every detail matters, so don’t forget to add a split shot and experiment with it. After 30 minutes, you might want to change the size of your split shot as you might not be getting your hooks down deep enough. Have fun out there and catch fish!
If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.