#6. Locating the Strike Zone: Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

by | Aug 15, 2021 | 6 comments

** NOTE ** This is the sixth featured skill in the Troutbitten series, Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing. You can find the overview, along with dedicated articles for each chapter and skill as they publish HERE.

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Trout will eat nymphs in any part of the water column. They may focus their feeding just inches under the surface, or they may go low, picking cress bugs off the limestone bedrock. Trout do what they want, no matter what the books and experts say they should.

However . . .

The default location for finding hungry trout is near the bottom but not on it — anywhere from a few inches to a foot off the riverbed, depending on water type. That’s the strike zone. It’s the depth where trout station and hold most of the time, so that’s where they feed on nymphs. Wise trout don’t chase nymphs much, because they refuse to expend more energy than they gain. And if trout aren’t in a rising rhythm to eat dries, expect to find them with their bellies on the riverbed. That means a trout’s mouth is a few inches up. And remember, trout feed above them more than underneath. So by getting the nymphs about a half-foot off the bottom and in the strike zone, you’ll meet them on their own terms most often.

READ: Troutbitten | The Water Column and the All-Important Strike Zone
READ: Troutbitten | Forget the Bottom — Glide Nymphs Through the Strike Zone

The beauty of contact nymphing (tight line or euro nymphing) is how the guesswork for the angler is gone. Instead of guessing how the nymph is fishing, all the information about the drift is available through contact and sight. With time and skill, we learn to read the water, make the cast and find contact. Then, with that contact, we read the sighter and trust what it’s telling us.

That’s where we are in this series of nine skills. We’ve found contact by seeing the sighter tighten and change. Now trust it. Believe what it’s telling you. The end of the sighter points directly to your flies, and if you are recovering slack — just staying in touch — then the sighter is traveling the same speed as the heaviest thing on your line.

Think about that a little harder. The tippet beyond the sighter slices past the surface currents, down through the mid currents and telegraphs the speed of the attached fly or split shot. You can trust it. And when that sighter slows down, your nymph has reached the strike zone and likely the level of the fish.

Photo by Bill Dell

How do we know this?

At the (mostly) upstream angles we’re fishing , there’s only one thing that can slow down the sighter. The water in the strike zone is going slower than any other part of the flow. Unbeknownst to many anglers, the water near the bottom is often considerably slower than the water above it. The bottom flow is bumping into rocks and tree parts. It’s slowed down by friction of all kinds, and the difference in speed is often dramatic.

Of course we can’t see the speed of the water below. We can only see and judge the speed of the surface current. But wait! When the nymph falls into the strike zone and the sighter slows, we now know the speed of the strike zone. We also know how deep the rig is. By recognizing the angle of the sighter and how much tippet is in the water, we know exactly what it takes to get the nymph down to the trout’s level.

This. Is. Everything.

To find the strike zone, look for the sighter to downshift. Recognize the moment the sighter slows down. Sometimes the change in speed is undeniable. And sometimes it’s subtle. Either way, trust that you’ve found the strike zone.

This is big knowledge, because once you locate the strike zone for a given lie, locking it in over and over is repeatable.

Even if a group of fish are targeting emergers and feeding higher in the column, it’s a big advantage to find the strike zone first. Those inches off the riverbed are our baseline, and everything else branches off from there.

Joey and River

What Can You Do from the Strike Zone?

Find it, and you can drift through, efficiently presenting nymphs to trout as they most commonly see them. The real nymphs are gliding along with a neutral buoyancy and trying to find the next piece of bottom structure to grab hold of. Real nymphs do not swim and dart around through various parts of the water column very often. They live all their lives near the bottom, until it’s time to emerge. So find that strike zone, recognize its speed and maintain it. Then your nymphs will look as natural as their real counterparts.

However, riding the strike zone at the perfect speed is tough. We’ll dig deeper into how to guide the flies in the next part of this series, but in the meantime, understand that once you find the strike zone, you may choose to match that speed or bring the fly through a little faster while still keeping it in the zone. You may also allow the fly to drop and tick the riverbed for a moment, then lift it into the strike zone again.

We can rig a second, lighter nymph above the point fly too, using the lower offering to find the strike zone and allowing the tag fly (upper) to tease those hungry trout that have their eyes and attention upward.

Do It

Use the cushion of water near the bottom as a reference for everything else. Find the strike zone. Even knowing that the downshift hasn’t happened yet tells us about the fly’s position. We know the nymph isn’t riding low yet but it’s somewhere in the middle.

Locate the strike zone, and unlock the mysteries of what’s happening underneath. Know where your nymph is, and stop guessing

Fish hard,

** Next up is the seventh skill for tight line and euro nymphing — Guiding the Flies. **

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Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


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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. The ‘downshift’. Man, I kind of knew this, but not really.

    The beauty of Trout bitten comes through again. You state it explicitly. And you suggest knowing this is everything.

    I’ve been reading your stuff for three years now. Always learn something. Always enjoy your writing skills.

    But, this one really lit my light bulb. I never thought it all the way through. Bingo!

    Great insight Dom.

    • I agree with Paul Dom. The lightbulb went off for me when I read your “Watch for the sighter to “downshift”.

      That’s a keeper. As memorable and important as “10 and 2” of “if you can see too cut bait, you’re too late”.

      Fishing gold.

      Thanks for the work you put into teaching. You’ve been a game changer for me as I have followed your writing over the years.

    • Thanks, Paul. Glad you connect with the concepts.


  2. Dom, Aren’t you making a solid case for the Kelly Gallup method ? That is placing a wt. i.e. split shot 6 or 8″ below the nymph, thus keeping the nymph in the face of the trout When the sighter indicates the split shot is slowed or is ticking the bottom, your nymph on a short dropper is just right relative to the majority of trout just off the bottom. This method is almost universaly used in the South Holston/ Wautauga fisheries in Eastern Tn. I have seen first hand that it works there.

    • Hi Bill.

      Thanks for the comment.

      I don’t know that I’d call it the Kelly Galloup method. It’s the drop shot method, and I agree that it works just about everywhere (sometimes). There are a couple articles here on Troubitten regarding drop shotting:


      But yes, Galloup does have some good resources for drop shot, which I’ve also linked to.

      So regarding the article above, and locating the strike zone. For sure, it can be done with drop shot. As I wrote, when the sighter slows, then the heaviest thing on your line is in the strike zone. Now, the question is do you want the split shot in the strike zone or do you want your flies in the strike zone? I think that’s important to consider. With drop shot rigging, both flies could very easily be ABOVE the strike zone if the shot is IN the strike zone. Will trout eat the nymphs? Sure.

      But I use drop shot rigging the way I believe most anglers do — I rig drop shot when I want to touch the bottom for reference. In that case, my lower nymph will be right in the trout’s face, as you mention. However, the point 0f this article is that you DO NOT need
      to touch the bottom with anything to know where that your flies are in the strike zone.

      The next article deals with how we want to lead the flies and at what depth. That article will lean heavily on what I call the Leading vs Tracking concept:


      Hope that makes sense.



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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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