A Complete Guide to Stillwater Nymphing

The nymphing techniques and strategies covered in this series are mostly geared toward catching trout in rivers. But let’s not forget that trout also thrive in stillwater lakes and ponds of all sizes. And since lake-bound trout do the majority of their feeding on aquatic insects subsurface just like stream trout nymphing is often the best plan of action.

But before we get into three of the best ways to fish nymphs in stillwater, a quick word of caution:

When you take away the swift currents of a river, the act of fly fishing slows way down. So before you attempt stillwater nymph fishing, know that copious amounts of patience are required you’ll be waiting around for your flies to sink followed by sometimes painfully slow retrieves.

Don’t worry any boredom will vanish as soon as that first football sized rainbow hits your nymph!

Indicator Nymphing in Stillwater

Take your basic two-fly nymph indicator rig described in our post, How to Tie a Basic Indicator Nymph Rig make the leader several feet longer with extra tippet, then position your strike indicator to match the water depth. There you have it you’re stillwater-ready.

lake nymphing rig
lake nymphing rig

While there’s a little more to it than that, using an indicator rig is one of the easiest ways to fish nymphs in stillwater and is a great starting point when you begin your lake-fishing journey.

Here are a few tips on fishing and modifying your indicator nymph rigs for stillwater:

  • Indicator nymphing is best in stillwater ranging from 2 to 10 feet deep. Any deeper and it becomes difficult to position the leader far enough up the line.
  • Use long lengths of level tippet to help your flies sink. Thin diameter tippet sinks faster than the thicker diameters of a knotless tapered leader. If you use a knotless leader, be sure to add several feet of tippet off the end to help your flies slice through the water more easily.
  • Don’t let your strike indicator spook fish. If you plop down a two-nymph rig with a big thingamabobber into a crystal clear lake, any fish present will flee for cover. One solution is to simply use a more subtle strike indicator like a New Zealand Wool Strike Indicator paired with weightless flies. Another solution is put as much distance between your flies and your strike indicator by lengthening the leader. Or, you could simply reserve your indicator rig for slightly stained or turbid water, and use the following stillwater nymphing technique for those gin-clear waters.

Fishing Nymphs “Naked” Style in Lakes

“Naked” nymphing boils down to fishing without an indicator, like you would with a traditional nymph rig. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Using a floating fly line and a very long leader 15 feet or longer a “naked” rig allows you to cover a wide range of water depths. When cast out, the leader, tippet, and flies slowly sink through the water column then hang from the floating fly line. In essence, the tip of your fly line becomes your strike indicator.

The ability to get your flies deep down to around 20 feet or so, is one of main appeals of a “naked” nymph rig. But naked rigs also have a high stealth factor. The long leader puts plenty of space between your fly and your fly line and you don’t have to worry about a strike indicator making a splash landing. This is one of the best options when trying to catch spooky fish in clear waters with nymphs.

Here are the basics of how to rig and fish nymphs “naked” style:

  • Try to use a floating fly line with a heavy head. Since you’ll be using a very long leader, a heavier shooting-style head on your fly line can help turn over the flies.
  • Lengthen both the butt and tippet of a standard leader. You can build your own leaders from scratch, or you can skip a few steps and modify a standard knotless tapered leader for “naked nymphing.” Start with a 9-foot tapered leader then add 3 or 4 feet of butt material off the back end and as much tippet off the front as you need to achieve the proper leader length.
  • Leader should be roughly 1.25 times longer than the depth you’re trying to reach. Your leader and flies will hang off your fly line at a sloping angle, so it takes more leader length than you’d expect to get to a specific depth. For example, if you’re trying to get your flies down to 12 feet, you’d need a 15-foot leader.
  • Give your flies time to sink. As soon as your flies hit the water, make a few strips to remove any slack and straighten the line, then patiently wait as your flies sink. Especially if you’re fishing unweighted flies, it’ll take quite some time for your flies to get deep. A 20-count is a good starting point, then you can increase or decrease the count to get your flies to the proper depth. Using a wristwatch to time your flies as they sink is a great way to keep yourself from retrieving too early.

A great fly line that I recommend is the AIRFLO Fly Line developed by Kelly Gallop. This is a specific fly line made to turn over nymph rigs. Check it out on AMAZON – AIRFLO Fly Line Kelly Gallop Nymph/Indicator.

BH Pheasant Tail for Nymph Fishing
BH Pheasant Tail for Nymph Fishing
  • Use a hand twist retrieve. After you’ve waited for your flies to sink, it’s time to initiate a slow, patient retrieve. The hand twist retrieve is perfect for this, but don’t hesitate to throw in a few small twitch strips here and there. Make frequent pauses to let your fly sink back down but stay alert ? trout often hit flies on the fall. ?

Fishing Nymphs with Sinking Lines

You know you’re serious about stillwater nymphing when you swap out your floating line for a sinking line. While sinking lines aren’t as enjoyable to cast, they’re often a fly angler’s only choice to catch fish in 30 or 40 feet of water.

In terms of technique and presentation, fishing with intermediate or full sinking lines isn’t much different than fishing nymphs “naked” style. You cast, let the flies sink, then perform a slow, longsuffering retrieve.

But there are several unique challenges you’ll encounter when experimenting with sinking lines. Here are a few tips to help you overcome them:

  • Use the right sink-rate for the job. Sinking lines come in a huge range of designs from integrated sinking and sink tip lines to more elaborate running line/shooting head/sink tip systems. What’s most important is that your line’s sink-rate is matched to the depths you’re fishing. Intermediate lines are relatively slow sinking lines that are great for fishing shallow to moderate depths down to 15 feet or so. But to truly send your flies plummeting to the deepest depths, a heavier full sinking line is necessary.
  • Knotless tapered leaders work great with sinking lines. Since its the line that’s doing the sinking, no additional weight is needed. Keep things simple and stick with a standard 9-foot nylon tapered leader, the kind found in almost any fly shop. highly recommend the Scientific Anglers Freshwater <- Link to Amazon for price check.
  • Learn the roll-cast pickup. Getting your line up off the water to make a cast is one of the biggest challenges when fishing sinking lines. Since they sink, you have to lift the line through the water instead of only off the surface. The easiest way to get your fly line airborne is to start with a few short roll-cast-like movements. At the end of the retrieve, raise your rod tip up and to the side lifting the line as you go, then sweep the rod forward like you would for a roll cast. Do it one or two more times until your fly is near the surface, then cast as normal.
  • Minimize false casts. Most sinking lines have thinner diameters than floating lines. As a result, they don’t cast as easily and are prone to tangles. The best way to combat this is to make as few false casts as possible. Instead, focus on shooting line to reach your target.

Slow Down!

Stillwater nymphing isn’t complicated. It doesn’t involve any special tackle beyond the basics unless you opt for a sinking line, that is. Modifying the nymph rigs we outlined is simple and intuitive once you get the hang of it, and there are only a handful of different insect species you need to know to match the hatch mainly scuds, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, and midges AKA chironomids.

But when it comes to successfully catching trout in ponds and lakes, slowing down your approach is more important than anything else. Take your time casting, let those flies sink, and don’t let your mind drift too far or you’ll miss the strike!

Sources and Related Articles

To help you think about catching those beautiful brook trout, I’ve got an awesome article. How to Catch Brook Trout: a Beginners Guide.

If you’d like to double your chances to hooking into a still water trout. Read my article on tying a dropper fly onto a dry fly in this article. Tying a Dropper Fly to a Dry.

Lake fishing requires great sunglasses read about the sunglasses I recommend in this article. Sunglasses for Fly Fishing

Guide to Fly Fishing in Stillwater
Guide to Fly Fishing in Stillwater
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