by David Hart
Trout fisherman sure love watching a dry fly drift across their favorite stream. Who can blame them? There’s something alluring, even a bit romantic, about dry flies. Too bad trout often ignore them.
The truth is, trout take most of the food underwater, not from the surface. That’s why every serious trout fisherman should at least learn how to fish a nymph. It may not be as glamorous as catching them on dry flies, but it’s the only way to catch trout when they aren’t rising. The good news is that catching fish on nymphs isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems.
Match The Hatch?
The bad news? Trout can be as picky as a 3-year-old. There’s no hiding a stalk of broccoli from a kid. Just as trout can reject a dry fly that doesn’t closely resemble a specific insect, they will turn away from a nymph that doesn’t look like something they are used to eating. Thankfully, there are countless nymph patterns are designed to closely mimic a variety of aquatic nymphs. There are plenty more that are close enough.
Hare’s ears, pheasant tails, brassies, zug bugs or copper Johns, known as attractor nymphs, all resemble something found in just about any stream, even if only vaguely. Take a variety. If you aren’t catching fish, switch flies. Try a different size or a slightly different color. Keep changing until you hit on the right fly for the day.
Get Down On It
If you still don’t catch anything, it could be your technique. Or more specifically, your fly may not be getting down to the fish. Trout feeding near the bottom tend to ignore even the best-looking nymph that drifts above their head. They may rise a little to take a swing at a nymph, but they won’t come up very far. That’s why it’s vital to get the fly in front of their faces. That’s easy. Lots of nymphs are made with a weighted bead on the hook. Known as bead-head nymphs, they will get the fly down deep enough in most situations. You just have to give it time to get down before you lift your rod tip and make another swing. Cast well above your target to allow the nymph to fall to the right depth. In deeper water, anything over 5 or 6 feet, or in swifter current, you may have to add a little extra weight in the form of a tiny split-shot or a moldable weight.
You’ll also need a strike indicator to tell you when you have a bite. It’s difficult, if not impossible to detect a strike on a nymph without one. A strike indicator is little more than a piece of water-proof yarn, a small piece of pinch-on foam or an actual plastic float attached to your leader. Not only will it help you see strikes, it will also help control the depth of your nymph.
Set The Hook
Generally, you want your nymph close to the bottom, but not too close. Nymphs don’t often hang on rocks. They tend to be light enough that the current will carry them over or around hard obstacles. They can, however, hang on sticks, leaves and other debris, creating the illusion of a strike. Set the hook. Every time you think you might have a bite, set the hook. You have nothing to lose.
By snapping your rod tip upward every time you think you might have a strike, you eventually learn to read your strike indicator and the subtle changes in its movement. Pay close attention. If something looks like a strike, it could be, so set the hook. Swirling currents can pull them under, but sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between current and trout. If you aren’t sure, set the hook.
Deep Water, Shallow Water
Detecting a strike is certainly easier when the nymph is drifting through a slow, deep pool, but those can be tough places to dredge up a trout. Any trout that gets a long look at a nymph will likely figure out it’s a fake or them may see your tippet. It certainly can’t hurt to make a few drifts through one of those bottomless holes, but don’t overlook the same places you’d throw a dry fly.
Faster water, the tail of riffles, even the riffles themselves can be ideal places to drift a nymph. Any fish that sees your fly in that faster water won’t have time to analyze it. They either have to eat it or miss an opportunity at a free meal. Catching trout on a nymph may not be as glamorous or exciting as catching them on dry flies, but it sure beats catching nothing.
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