Nymph Fishing


NYMPH FISHING by Jimmy Millar


Let's be clear from the start, imitative nymph fishing is all about copying the food you expect the trout to be feeding on and, perhaps more importantly, copying the way that food is moving in the water. Every form of invertebrate trout food is at the mercy of wind and wave. To be truly imitative, we have to present our artificials in the same way the trout expect to see them. Most of what I see being described as nymphing is little more than pulling with nymph patterns, and that is if you believe Montanas or what pass as damsels are realistic nymphs in the first place. 


Imitative, or dead drift nymphing is best used on waters rich in buzzer pupae, corixae, hoglice and caddis. It does not work so well on lochs that are more dependent on terrestrial trout food. Locally, I can think of no better venue than Linlithgow Loch to practice this form of fishing. By the same token, if you want to get the best from waters like Linlithgow, the nymphing technique is an essential string in your bow.

Tackle: The sensitivity of light tackle is better suited to this style. I use a 9'or 9'6" rod, with 5-weight floating lines, switching to 6-weight if I want to fish with heavily leaded flies.

Leader Length: Leaders for nymphing are usually a bit longer than the norm. The length, depending on what you are trying to do, can be anything between 15 and 24 ft. Standard start-off length for me is usually around 20 ft. If I reckon the fish are feeding in the top 3-4 ft of water I will use the shorter leaders of 15-18 ft. On the other hand, if the fish are on the bottom in 10-12 ft of water, in anything more than a gentle breeze you will need the longest leader you can manage; plus a heavily weighted point fly.

Leader Make-up: To construct my leaders, I like to have a 5-6 ft butt piece of 6-8 lb standard nylon. The rest is made up from one of the stiffer brands of pre-stretched (double strength) monos, such as Kamasan Fly Cast, in 6 lb. For a standard 20 ft three fly leader, I will have 6 ft between point fly and first dropper, then 4 ft between first and top dropper. I never like to have much more than a rod length between my point fly and top dropper; certainly no more than a foot or so, as this gives me nettmg problems with fish hooked on the point fly (despite the advice given by Chris Ogborne). Long leaders are difficult to turn over, so a balanced team of flies is even more important than usual. Always put the heaviest fly on the point, with lighter flies on the droppers.

Fly Patterns: For 95% of the time, all you will need is a selection of midge pupae, sizes 10-16, in black, claret, olive and brown (keep them sparse and slim), and hare's ears, sizes 10-14, in various weights and unweighted. The hare's ear is a good general representation of trout fodder, as well as being a fairly good copy of the hoglouse, corixa and caddis. I find they are the point fly supreme for this type of fishing, and I carry them in various different colour blends of dubbing: dark to very pale. Be careful with weighting: too much lead in the fly for the prevailing conditions can be detrimental to your presentation. You must strike a balance between the depth you are trying to reach and the speed of water drift.

Boat Set-up: The boat must be anchored using two anchors, creating a solid platform, exactly square across the wind. You cannot have the boat swinging about on the anchors, because you will not detect the subtle takes. If the boat is not positioned good and square, you will have one angler with too much movement in his flies, while the other poor angler has his flies dead in the water. Getting the boat set up correctly is crucial, if both partners are to have an equal share of the sport.

Anchoring Procedure: Approach your chosen anchorage from the side and 20-25 ft upwind of where you want the boat to rest. Drop the stern anchor first, and move away from it, across and slightly upwind (letting out rope as you go). When you have let out 20 ft or so, drop the bow anchor and let go the same amount of rope. Tie off each anchor when you have reached the desired position. The boat should appear as in the diagram.


Catching Fish: Now that we have the boat in position, we cast at an angle to the side of the boat. An angle of 45 degrees is about right; any more than this creates too much of a belly in the fly line, which in turn moves the flies too quickly. There is no retrieve as such. All you have to do is keep in touch with the flies as they swing round on the breeze. Focus your attention on the end of the fly line for signs of a take.

Eventually, the fly line will finish up straight downwind from you. The dead drift phase is now over and you can now retrieve the flies slowly back, figure-of-eighting, until ready to recast. You will take fish on the retrieve phase, which is ironic, since no natural food items could ever swim against the flow of the drift like this. Whatever the reason, some trout will be caught on the retrieve, but it is fair to say that the lion's share will take the flies as they swing round naturally on the wind.

Detecting Takes: Depending on how well the fish are feeding, and how realistic your presentation is, you will get a variety of takes. These range from extremely subtle twitches or dips at the very tip of the fly line, which you will not feel at all, through to a savage wrench, where you will see the whole fly line move, and feel it at the same time. A good indication that you have the presentation just right is when you get those lovely slow, confident, slide away takes, when everything tightens up on you. These are the ones you cannot fail to convert. The lightning quick stabs and twitches need a trained eye to spot, and must be struck immediately. My rule of thumb is to lift into anything that appears different. After a bit of practice, you will be able to spot these little movements on the line tip, and learn how to sharpen up your reflexes accordingly. You must concentrate hard, but it is very rewarding. A tip here is to grease up the fly line tip regularly, so that it is always riding high on the surface. Also, keep your casts fairly short (10-12 yds) until you become adept at recognising the takes.

(Ed: While Jimmy manages to see all these takes simply using pale coloured floating lines, I found the learning phase of take detecting was greatly improved by using a tuft of greased-up fluorescent red wool at the end of the fly line. After I graduated from that, I went on to using a High-Viz, fluorescent orange fly line. The latter, I am still using. Nuff said!)

Hitting the Takes: Those of you who have quick reflexes will do well with this type of fishing. There is, however, a way to maximise the efficiency of the strike. Instead of lifting the rod vertically in the usual fashion, try striking horizontally. This way, you do not waste any energy lifting the fly line off the water. A sideways strike across the water surface speeds up the contact with the fish. That's the theory anyway: I still miss more takes than I would like, but I'm certain that I'm converting more by striking to the side.

Boatcraft: Those of you who have fished with me before will know how quiet I like to be in the boat. All my fishing is based on being aware that you can never catch a scared fish. I believe we have nothing to lose by giving more respect to the survival instincts of the trout than we would think is necessary. In my book, the less aware the trout is of my presence, the greater my chances are of catching it. A stealthy approach can surely do us no harm. A noisy boat will soon alert every fish in the area, considerably reducing the chances of catching them. This is especially so when sitting at anchor. So, please, if you don't do so already, do yourself a favour and give the fish the benefit of any doubt. Don't stand up. Don't make any banging noises that will cause vibrations to go through the hull of the boat, and keep your false casting down to a minimum.

Tight Lines

Jimmy Millar