In the previous article (chapter), we talked about how traditional nymphing techniques are centered around presenting one or more nymph flies much like you would a dry fly by making an upstream cast with a series of mends to maintain a drag-free drift.

But before we get into how to fish a traditional nymph rig, let’s go over how to set one up.

The Basic Traditional Nymph Rig

For simplicity’s sake, think of a traditional nymph rig as one that lacks the addition of a strike indicator or weight added to the leader.

Sure, there may be times when you need to get your flies deep quickly in which case a few split shot can be crimped to the leader above the flies. But for the majority of your trout fishing efforts in shallow, riffled, or pocket water, here’s the basic weight-less and indicator-less rig you’ll want to start with:

  • A standard nylon tapered leader, 9-feet long ending in 3X to 5X tippet. Most leaders come with loops tied in the butt-end which are attached to the fly line with a loop-to-loop connection. While you might end up fishing with 6X or even 7X tippet for extra-spooky trout, it’s a good idea to start with a leader ending in the slightly larger diameter 3X tor 5X tippet which allows you to add lighter tippet without having to rebuild long lengths of your leader.
  • Start out fishing one nymph fly at a time. Fishing two nymphs at a time is standard practice when traditional nymphing but can be a frustrating experience if you aren’t confident in your casting. In terms of rigging, fishing a single nymph is as easy it gets simply tie your fly of choice to your tippet with your favorite fishing knot, like an improved clinch knot.
  • Here’s how to tie a traditional two-fly rig: Start by selecting two complimentary flies you can use the same two flies but it’s best to pick two different ones, say one that’s bright and flashy and one that’s drab and buggy. Tie the first fly typically the lighter of the two to the end of your tippet, then tie the second fly to the hook shank. Here’s a quick video.

Alternatively, you can tie your second fly to an additional piece of tippet tied to the bend of the first fly’s hook. Another option is to tie one fly to the end of the tippet then tie the second fly to the leader with a dropper. So many options… Experiment to see which works best for you.

Upstream Nymph Presentations

With the basic one or two-fly traditional nymph rig setup, you’re ready to fish. A good first presentation to make is the dry-fly-esque upstream dead-drift.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Find a nice stretch of river with some fishy-looking features riffles, pocket water, or a cut-bank. Make a cast either directly upstream or up-and-across at a 45-degree angle.
  • There are a few casting tricks you can do here to improve your success, but those will have to wait for a future article (chapter)!
  • As soon as your flies land, throw a mend into your line to introduce slack into the system to ideally eliminate any influence of drag on the flies.
  • Throughout the drift, follow your flies with your rod tip and watch the end of your line for any signs of a strike. If the line twitches, stalls, or does anything out of the ordinary, quickly raise the rod to set the hook.
  • Continue making mends as your line and flies drift towards and past you. As soon as your flies start to drag, which typically happens 45-degrees downstream of you, strip in the slack and cast again upstream.

How to Get Your Flies Deep when Traditional Nymphing

Getting your flies into the “strike zone” e.g. near the bottom is essential for effective nymphing. But how do you get your flies to sink without adding a split shot or using a sinking line?

The key is to give your flies a “sinking head start” so to speak. This is achieved by casting further upstream of where you anticipate a trout to be holding. In shallow water, casting only 10 feet or so above your target area might be adequate, but if you’re trying to dive your flies into a 12-foot deep hole, 40 feet or more might be needed.

You can also use features in the river to accelerate the sinking of your flies. Look for small waterfalls or pinch points between boulders with stronger currents then cast your flies upstream so they drift through these features, effectively pulling your flies down into the water. You’d be surprised at how much depth you can gain by working a river this way.

Another tactic to employ when traditional nymphing is to use a longer and lighter leader. The more thin-diameter leader and tippet you can put between flies and fly line, the faster those flies will sink.

So if you’re having trouble getting your flies to sink with a 9-foot leader, increase its length to 12 or 15 feet. It might be more difficult to cast, but the challenge will be well worth the effort when you start catching fish.

Experiment with Fly Selection and Presentation

As you get comfortable fishing a traditional one or two fly nymphing rig, play around with fly selection. Try different combinations of flies until you find what works in a particular stretch of water.

And don’t be shy when experimenting with different fly presentations. Fishing an upstream drag-free drift with nymphs is a great starting point, but other perhaps more “traditional” presentations like the downstream swing or Leisenring Lift can catch fish like nothing else under certain conditions but we’ll save those for a later article (chapter)!

Sources and More Reading

You might want to try combining a Dry Fly and a Nymph to cover two water columns. This is a great technique, read more in the article – How to Tie Up a Dry Fly with a Dropper.

You can learn about coping wit different water currents in theis article – How to Cope With Different Currents While Nymph Fishing.