Nymph Fishing

By John S. Barr


There are many effective ways to present nymphs to trout and they all work. The two approaches I use are the standard indicator method and the hopper-copper-dropper techniques.

Indicator Technique

Fishing nymphs under an indicator is a deadly technique in flowing or still waters, and may produce more trout than all the other disciplines combined. Because it so effective some anglers never tie on a dry fly or a streamer and might be missing out on some fun. I enjoy indicator fishing but if there are rising trout I fish dry flies, or if there are no surface feeders and I am in the mood, I will launch a streamer.

1. All indicators work well no matter the design or composition. They can be yarn, foam or any material that floats. There are just a few requirements. An indicator must be buoyant enough to float whatever you hang under it and you must be able to see it. I like an indicator that is easy to slide up and down the leader to allow adjustment to different water depths.

2. I use a 9 foot 4 or 5 wt rod for indicator fishing which is set up with a floating line and a 7½ foot, 2x, RIO Powerflex Trout Leader. I add a 2 foot length of 3x Fluoroflex Plus Tippet to the end of the leader. I usually fish two or three nymphs and if the first nymph is large I will tie it to the 3x. With medium size patterns I will add 4x and tie on my first nymph. The second nymph is tied to 4 or 5x and my third nymph which is often small is usually on 5x. The size of the tippet depends on the size of the nymphs, water conditions and how pressured the fish are. Use split shot to sink the flies and attach the weight above the knot right by the first nymph. I tie tippet off of the hook bend. To avoid giant clusters when casting throw a fairly open loop with a slow but accelerating forward stroke. A shorter leader and stepping the leader down to the last nymph also help decrease tangles.

3. I like to set my indicator 1-1 1/2 times the water depth but there are many variables such as weight of the split shot and nymphs, variable water depth and speed, length of drift etc. so where you set your indicator is not an exact science.

4. The basic technique is to fish the indicator and nymphs with a dead drift, but it can be very effect to mix in some twitches during the drift. Another good way to induce a reluctant fish to take the fly is to let the nymphs rise up in the water column at the end of the drift by holding the line tight – especially if the last fly is an emerger or pupa.

5. If there is a twitch or any different look to the indicator when it is drifting, set the hook!


This is basically a dry-dropper technique with a little embellishment. I use a BC Hopper which is very buoyant and visible for the dry, and drop a Copper John off the bend of the hopper and a third fly, usually a pupa or emerger off the bend of the copper. This technique isn’t geared towards fishing the nymphs near the bottom but rather towards getting the fish to look up at the hopper and giving them a choice of the hopper, the copper or the dropper. The copper sinks rapidly, attracts and gets takes but it can also bait and switch trout to an emerger or pupa representing an insect that has been hatching.

I use a 9 foot 4 or 5 wt. rod, floating line and 7 1/2 foot 2x leader. I tie the hopper to the 2x and use Fluoroflex Plus to the copper and dropper. My standard set up is 2-3 feet of 4x or 5x to the copper and 1 foot of 5x to the dropper. This can vary but that is a good baseline.

1. It is a great technique to use during the summer and fall when trout may be keeping an eye on the surface for hoppers or other large floating insects. The hopper serves as an indicator if a trout takes one of the nymphs, and you can also hook trout on the hopper.

2. I find that my focus is better when watching the hopper for a possible take than when staring at an indicator.

3. There are several advantages to the HCD technique over the indicator besides improved focus and hooking trout that are watching the surface for food. It is much more pleasant to cast than an indicator rig. It can almost be cast like a single dry fly, with a little wider loop and the same smooth acceleration on the back and fore stroke as a dry fly. It can be fished in shallow riffles, along banks and in smaller pockets where indicator fishing is impractical