Skip to content

Basics of Nymphing

In our experience we’ve found that trout spend roughly 90% of their time feeding subsurface. What does this mean to us fly fishermen? To put it simply, we need to spend the majority of our time fishing subsurface. So how do we go about this? Nymphing. Without getting too technical with the multitude of ways to nymph, we’re going to be talking about the most universal method available, indicator nymphing.

The Components:

A standard indicator nymph rig looks complicated to begin with, but once you dissect the rig it’s actually relatively simple. The key components to a nymph rig are a leader, tippet, indicator, split shot, and one to three flies (depending on the regulations of your state). 

We can keep our leader size relatively simple, a 7.5’ 3x leader is the only leader you’ll need when you’re first starting out. The short taper allows the rig to turn over easier and its heavier strength stops us from rerigging as often. 


Tippet size can vary depending on the size of fish, flies, and water, but having a spool of 5x fluorocarbon is all you need to get started. 


There are many different types of indicators, such as stick on, reusable foam, plastic, or biodegradable, yarn, and colored leaders. To make it easy, starting off with a reusable indicator is the best route to go and it’s actually the most commonly used indicator. These indicators allow for quick adjustments and easy strike indication.


Split shot is a very important aspect to your indicator nymph rig. Without it, your flies will never be able to sink enough to get down to fish’s feeding size. Using heavily weighted nymphs is an alternative in lue of split shot, but it’s definitely not recommended for beginners because they’re rather difficult to cast. Split shot has a variety of sizes, so carrying a variety of sizes will cover your bases regardless of the scenario. 


Flies are very time dependent, so talk with your local fly shop before making any fly purchases.


Picture Of Entire Rig

How Do I Select My Indicator Depth?:

The depth you set your indicator is one of the most critical aspects of your nymph rig. Set it too deep and you’ll be rubbing on the bottom and losing flies. Set it too shallow and the fish will never see your flies. The best way to set your indicator’s depth is placing it 1.5-2x the depth of the river. In example, if the water is 4 feet deep, you’ll set your indicator at a depth of 6 to 8 feet. Where you reference your indicator depth is from the indicator to the split shot. 

How Do I Select My Split Shot Size?:

This is the most critical aspect to your nymph rig, without the proper split shot size you’ll likely never catch a fish. So how do I pick the right size? It’s really just a guessing game because there’s never one right answer. The best way to assess this is once you set your indicator to proper depth then play with your split shot. If you don’t have enough weight on, your rig will not hit the bottom and you’ll often see your indicator moving at the same pace as the bubbles on top of the water. If you have too much weight on, your indicator will go under the surface very often indicating that it’s dragging on the bottom. The perfect weight system will show that your indicator is moving slower than the speed of the bubbles and will tick bottom every 5-10 casts. Any more than this you have too much weight, any less than this you don’t have enough.

Making The Proper Drift:

Casting your nymph rig out on the water is only the first step. Most anglers think it’s the only step and they’ll let their rig drift through the water all willy nilly. To ensure your flies are moving through the water naturally to increase your odds of hooking up, mending is a huge step. Mending will make sure your fly line is upstream of your indicator, not allowing it to pull it downstream. We don’t want our indicator to be pulled downstream because our flies are now moving much faster than their natural speed. The speed of water moves much faster on the surface than it does near the bottom. So if we let our indicator to be pulled downstream by the fly line, the flies moving down near the bottom will be moving much faster than they should be. Mending will allow our rig to drift through the water at a natural pace, what we like to call a dead drift. A dead drift ensures that our flies are moving as naturally as possible without any outside sources affecting it. 

How do I mend? Mending is an incredibly easy step. All you need to do is once you make your cast, lift your rod tip up to roughly 45 degree angle. From here you’ll use the tip of the rod to launch your fly line upstream of your indicator. This is done with a simple waving or wiggle motion going upstream. 

Mending isn’t a one time thing either. Make sure that you’re mending throughout your entire drift, no matter how mends it takes. In general, once your fly line begins catching up with your indicator it is best to make another mend. You can wait until it passes the indicator, but there will be a few seconds where your rig is now being manipulated by the fly line drag. Every second counts, so be sure you mend beforehand to ensure a perfect dead drift every time. 

Mending video

Liquid error (layout/theme line 609): Could not find asset snippets/smile-initializer.liquid