Nymphing gadymphing (or part II)

Now for part two of a few noodles on nymph fishing. I spent some more time reading Ollie Kite’s book and reckon I’m closer to crystalizing my thoughts a bit. The last post on this basically consisted of reasons why indicator fishing is dodgy. There are some genuine reasons that are pointed out in that web article I linked to, chief of which is that you actually miss quite a lot of takes because you’re so focused on only one bit of the line. To be a good nymph fisher I reckon one of the most important things is to be able to look everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The sign of the take could be so many things it seems a shame to limit yourself to robotic oogling of a float.
So, what makes proper nymph fishing different, and how is it done really well?

It’s a nymph party and you’re all invited..!

The absolute key to this is what Ollie describes as “informed anticipation”. If you cannot see the fish you are fishing to, as is almost always the case where I fish in the riffles of spate rivers, you must do the next best thing and that is to imagine the fish. Again this may sound pretentious/stupid or whatever, but having done this a bit I can honestly say it is absolutely central to becoming good at this. He puts it much better than I could:

“Try to anticipate the movement for striking by picturing in your mind not only what is going on beneath the water, whether you can see it or not, but by what you intend to cause to happen beneath the water.”

A really simple way of putting this into practice is suggested in that article where the author describes how he teaches people nymphing:

‘When I’m teaching short-line nymphing, I often tell the students, “Find a reason to set the hook sometime during this drift.” This helps them to intensify their concentration and to expect a strike instead of being surprised by a strike.’

Angry stonefly nymphs face each other off!

What I like so much about this way of fishing is that you are truly hunting the fish. Generally you don’t get away with the kind of lucky hookups that can come with swinging/winging wet flies, or even prospecting with dry flies. These are obviously great methods in their own right, but there’s just no way they require the same levels of skill and anticipation that come with good nymph fishing.

When you are really fishing a nymph properly I’ve never found anything else that so completely absorbs your concentration and tunes your senses. If you then actually catch a fish it’s a thrilling mix of “strewth I actually hooked one” and “how the hell did that happen” and “hmm I think I’m becomming a bit Buddhist”. A good couple of hours of fishing like this and I need a drink..!
I should point out that I realise it’s probably not kosher for a Buddhist to fish (afterlives etc etc), but hopefully it makes my point. Actually I bet a Tibetan monk could make a flipping brilliant nymph fisherman.

Even crappy nymphs like these work well. The Kitester would have been proud of that one on the top right 😉

So what all of this is trying to say is that good nymphing comes from serious concentration, anticipation and quick reactions. Shedloads of practice helps as well.

“Maybe I should have fished a nymph…”


  1. Ian Scott’s avatar

    Some good stuff here. I’m going to keep this post in mind next time I’m out fly fishing (probably Tuesday!). We’ll see how I make out on the nymph.

    A lot of my nymphs are weighted with beadheads and longer leaders to try to get them down faster, with a lot of line mending going on.

    Some however, are simply soft hackled – all depends on where the fish seem to be feeding.

    I understand that some of the guys from the team that won the Canadian Fly Fishing Championships actually go to the Czech and Poland to study Czech style nymphing.

    They also have a coach that they fly over from Wales!

  2. Mik’s avatar

    thanks again for stopping by Ian! if my mublings actually benefit anyone at all in any way that’s grand 🙂

  3. Alistair’s avatar

    I once heard about a fishing Buddhist, he nipped off the bend of the hook, cast to trout and as soon as the trout took his fly he would strike, his thinking was that he was not harming the trout by catching it, he had achieved his aim which was to decieve the trout which he did 🙂

  4. Ian Scott’s avatar

    LOL, Alistair! I’ve done that myself – not on purpose though. I once participated in a fly swap and some of the flies came in tied with an overtightened vice, and likely too much pressure on the hook end –

    Kept wondering why I was losing all these fish – checked the fly, thought I should sharpen the hook maybe – but the hook had nipped itself off, probably on the first fish.

  5. Mik’s avatar

    That’s class Alistair..!

  6. Ian Scott’s avatar

    Well, Mik.. went out this evening.. started of with a dry because I saw fishing rising to caddis.. ended up with a nymph.. and tried to keep your posts in mind.

    It was tough, even though I think I was “successful.” But was I successful because of luck, fly selection, or what? Confidence?

    I mean.. there were a dozen drifts when I there was absolutely no reason to strike, even though I was trying to find one.. yet on others, the trout set the hook themselves when I was nymphing.

    I think perhaps I need to spend some time on the river, when ALL I do is nymph. But manoman, that is tough when you can see fish rising every so often to the dry, huh?

  7. Mik’s avatar

    Too right Ian. Good to hear you’ve been out. I go through phases where I just fish a nymph, then just dries..

    I guess that’s partly because I tend to fish long leaders with dries, and less long ones for nymphs, and I cannae be bothered to switch setups that often.

    I also find the ‘state of mind’ is a bit different. I guess I can’t always fish nymphs ‘properly’ (as I would have it) because of the concentration, but to fish a bushy dry is reasonably chilled out 🙂

  8. Ian Scott’s avatar

    “I guess that’s partly because I tend to fish long leaders with dries, and less long ones for nymphs, and I cannae be bothered to switch setups that often.”

    Interesting! All depends on the water for me. Sometimes, a nymph requires a long leader with LOTS of mending going on, just to give the nymph some time to go deep.

  9. Mik’s avatar

    You’re right of course, long leaders are definitely necessary at times. I guess the kind of nymphing I’m doing at the moment is through riffles and behind rocks etc so I’m really just trying to get good at spoting and reacting to takes.

    A mate of mine has told me about fishing a single upstream nymph to large grayling at the end of the summer, which requires a long (18′) leader because you have to cast over the fish. Will make a post about this later in the year.

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