One Great Nymphing Trick

by | Jun 8, 2016 | 17 comments

Whether tight lining, nymphing with an indicator or fishing dry-dropper, the most critical element for getting a good dead drift is to lead the nymph through one single current seam.

Remember, the nymph is always being pulled along by a fishing line. Even on the best dead drifts, the attached tippet, leader, rod tip (or indicator, if used) is guiding the nymph downstream. And the most natural drifts happen when a nymph is kept in one single lane of flowing water.

If it wasn’t attached to a tippet, the nymph would sink to the stream bottom and stay there. Go ahead, throw any of your favorite nymphs into the current and test this out. They’ll all end up on the bottom of the river, just a short distance from where they entered the water. Even an unweighted nymph finds the bottom quickly when it’s not tethered to monofilament. We usually try to minimize the pull of tippet and leader on the nymph, and good nymph fishermen are experts at finding the fine line between pulling a nymph downstream and letting it drop to the bottom. Once you understand that the attached line is pulling the nymph, then it’s time to learn how to keep the direction of that pull in-line with one current seam.

Burke hooked this Whiskey a few days ago. After multiple presentations and adjusting his cast each time, he finally got a drift where everything lined up in one current seam. Fish on.


Burke in the drift

Trying to lead nymphs through just one lane of current highlights a major difference between tight line nymphing and fishing with indicators …

Indy and Dry Dropper

Fishing indicators can actually make it easier to facilitate a good drift through one seam. Given an average, straight current and a relatively short distance between indicator and nymph (three to four feet, for example), it’s easy to understand how the the indy drifts downstream, floating in the path of one current seam and just one lane. If the current flows left around a small rock, the indy will drift left around the rock, and finally the nymph too will drift left around the rock. The indy is carried by the current, and the nymph (on its leash) will drift along the same path.

Tight Line

When tight lining, the nymph essentially follows the rod tip — this is why it can be more challenging to keep the nymph in one lane. It’s important to remember that the nymph follows the leader, and the leader follows the tip of the rod. It takes a good measure of concentration and experience to guide nymphs through pocket water on a tight line and keep them in just one current seam. But with practice, the tight line approach will outperform an indicator in certain water types. The rod tip must be used to guide the nymphs down the current seam without pulling it across currents.

Make it happen … 

Casting Angle

Casting directly upstream is the easiest way to keep everything in line and in one lane. During the upstream drift, the nymph and the rod tip (or indy) are in the same plane and not pulling cross-current. But casting directly upstream can be limiting; the drifts are short because the only place to move the rod tip and recover line is straight up — the angler quickly runs out of room. So it can be more effective to cast upstream and slightly across.

If a fisherman’s fly rod is ten feet long, and the reach of his arm adds another two feet, then he can make a cast that lands twelve feet left or right of center (with center being directly upstream), then reach the rod out to the side and lead the nymphs directly back down one single current seam. This usually amounts to casting to about an 11:00 or 1:00 position (with directly upstream being 12:00). The reach of the rod tip and arm allows for a twelve foot range on either side of the angler where he can lead nymphs through a drift without creating any cross-current angles. And that approach catches a lot of fish.

By staying within this small range and fishing as close as possible to wary trout, the angler has maximum control over the route of the nymphs. Fishing as close as the fish permit is a good practice no matter what kind of fishing you’re doing.




The Right Cast

After choosing a good angle for the presentation, it’s time to master the positioning of all the elements in a rig: the nymphs, the indy (if used) the sighter, leader and rod tip. Learn to cast so that both nymphs land in the same seam. And if you are using an indicator, learn to make casts that land the indy downstream and in the same seam as the flies. All of this is set up with the cast, and when done properly, the rig hits the water with everything aligned in the same seam

Even in heavy water, the small splashes of the nymphs entering the water are usually detectable. Watch for those splashes. It sometimes takes very subtle adjustments in the cast, but it’s worth the effort of experimentation to land both nymphs in the same seam. At the end of the cast, it’s just as important to position the rod tip high and in the same plane as the nymphs, then start leading the rig down through one single current seam.

When using an indicator, the cast should be made so the nymphs and then the indy land in the same lane. The indy should be directly downstream of the nymphs, with very little slack. Again, it takes subtle and minor adjustments to make this happen, but with some experimentation, it comes naturally.



For indicator fishing, I like the Mono Rig. I can stay in direct contact with the indicator, tight lining the indy as it does the work of guiding the flies through one seam. I prefer the Mono Rig even on longer casts. I may end up with some leader on the water for the first part of the drift,  but that’s easier to manage than long lengths of fly line on the water’s surface. The Mono Rig approach also gives me more control over where the indicator lands in relation to the nymphs.

During the cast (in the air) it’s easier to boss a Thingamabobber around into position than it is a yarn indy. While I prefer yarn indy styles or a dry dropper for most of my suspension (indicator) fishing, I find that the weight of the Thingamabobber sometimes gives me the control needed during the cast to line up the nymphs and indy at greater distances.

But …

There are a lot of complications and variables to all of this. That’s fishing. The bottom current may be swirling in a different direction than the top current; two nymphs may get out of alignment in the slow stall behind a midstream boulder; a dead drift may not be the best look during a period of actively hatching, strong swimming nymphs, etc. Everywhere, exceptions and variations are found, and it’s our job to adjust for them.

Yes, you can catch a lot of fish without a perfect drift. Sometimes a nymph will eventually line up with its parent indicator or naturally settle into one seam while tight lining, even when the cast is poor and the setup is wrong. But while everything is aligning, the nymphs are tracking unnaturally across the current. So if you can get everything lined up in one current seam during the cast and before the nymphs hit the water, why wouldn’t you?

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky

Philip after the release


All the good things at once: grilled meat, beer, the boat, the river and a friend.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Excellent article, Domenick. It gave me some insight into line control of which I’ve never thought.

  2. Great write up, Dom! Nice illustrations by Dick, too!

  3. Thank you for a great explanation of what I’ve intuitively learned over the years, particularly using a side-arm cast to align an indicator and nymph under low-hanging branches.

  4. Geez, this is one of the best explanations I’ve ever seen. Proper nymphing is probably one of the hardest techniques to learn.

    • Ha. I agree. Nymphing techniques are so hard to explain because everyone does it so differently and they come to an article from different angles and various preconceptions. It’s also hard to decide what to leave out. There could easily be another 5000 words here on the same subject. Lol. Thanks for the kind words, man.

      • Hi Domenick,

        Please try not to leave anything out. 😀

        It’s my first time commenting here, even though I’ve been a follower of Troutbitten for quite a while now. The information in here is pure gold.
        Thank you very much for sharing such valuable knowledge!

        Best regards from Portugal.

  5. Great information concerning nymphing, anytime I can learn more about nymphing I’m in!!! thanks for sharing

  6. Nice article. I am newsletter editor for Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot in western Montana and wonder if I might have permission to use this article in our newsletter.

  7. Excellent info here especially for a newbie. One thing I’ve noticed though, I find that many times I cannot cast directly upstream in a seam due to wind, I am continually trying to hone casting upstream into wind but not much luck there, so I’ve positioned upstream from a seam and basically drop my rig in the seam, say upstream from a rock then let it drift down. I have had success with this. Anyone else do this? Then a few minutes later the wind shifts 180˚! Lot’s of wading around:)

    • Cool. That might work, but to me it’s not much fun. And it would be very difficult to maintain strike detection, I think.



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