Three Nymphing Questions to Solve Any Problem

by | Jun 27, 2023 | 11 comments

If you fish often enough and care about improving, you will learn all you need to know to catch trout, no matter how tough the circumstances.

I grew up with a handful of fishing resources. Some magazine articles, a couple books and some VHS tapes were the lifeblood to get me started. But there are no shortcuts to good trout fishing. I’m thankful for that. Consistency and success is earned, and wild trout don’t hand out freebies. These days, the explosion of information can help anglers down a path and shorten the learning curve, but there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there too. And I’ve seen too much information become paralyzing for anglers.

Nymphing is the most complex technique in fly fishing for trout. Getting true dead drifts is the primary goal, and there are perhaps a dozen legitimate methods to accomplish it. So, sifting through resources, understanding the nuances and even finding a middle ground between various nymphing tactics can be tricky.

Early in this spring guide season, my friend Mark and I were talking about these complexities. As he made the casts and we watched his drifts together, something simple came to me. I shared it with Mark and I’ve shared it with many other anglers this year. It seems to connect.

There are three questions that lead you to solving all your nymphing problems. If you’re struggling, if you’re wondering if the empty net is your fault, ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly.

  1. Is everything in one seam?
  2. Do I have to be this far away?
  3. Is my fly deep enough for long enough?

Assuming that a dead drift is the goal for your nymph, answering these three questions leads you to correcting your own mistakes.

Is Everything In One Seam?

The first hour of daylight is key for me. It’s when I test tactics and get a gauge for fish activity. Dawn is the most predictably forgiving time for trout fishing, year round. So on a recent late spring outing, I was perplexed when I had zero activity in the first run I’d chosen for the early morning.

The water was heavy, my nymphs were reasonable, the weight was getting me down quickly, and I had been achieving strike zone rides regularly.

Now with the sun over the horizon, I paused for the first time since daylight and looked back downstream, scanning the water I’d just fished — a favorite run that I knew well. I looked at the heavy lane that I’d mostly targeted, and I looked at my wading path. The problem was immediately obvious. I’d been well outside of my rod range for most of the morning. And on a tight line, the nymphs always track toward the rod tip, regardless of the leader build.

So I changed nothing. Instead, I returned downstream, to the spot where I’d started at dawn, and I waded deeper into the current, being careful to keep everything in one lane. My nymph and tippet were in the same seam, my sighter was in the air, hovering over the same seam and my rod tip was above the the same seam. No more accidental cross leads. I hooked a trout within the first ten casts, and hooked another six or eight in the next hour, as I worked back upstream to my first stopping point.

Regardless of the nymphing rig and technique, the fly must travel in one seam to look natural. That’s the baseline. When fishing with an indicator, the nymph should be positioned upstream of the indy and in the same lane.

Is everything really in one seam? If you can answer this question in the affirmative, you can move on with confidence.

Photo by Bill Dell

Do I Have to be This Far Away?

My friend, Austin, recently fished alongside Joe Humphreys again. In the course of their day, Austin picked Humphrey’s brain, as any of us would. And he asked Joe what’s the biggest mistake he thinks nymphing anglers make.

Without pause, Humphreys answered assuredly. “People fish too far away.”

That tracks with what I see too. A few years ago I wrote an article titled, The Fundamental Mistake of Tight Line and Euro Nymphing Anglers, where I made this same point. Anglers are enamored with distance. The problem persists, and it will never go away. Because, regardless of the sport, human nature prizes the long shot.

But extra distance introduces problems for nymphing. And nothing cleans up both the cast and the drift by dialing back the range. Get the best angle and approach. Wade into better positions. Stay behind the trout and within a fairly tight range, and better success usually follows.

Instead of thinking about how far away you can cast, flip the question. Do I have to be this far away? That’s the better query.

READ: Troutbitten | #1: Angle and Approach — Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

Is My Fly Deep Enough for Long Enough?

If you find a river where wild trout eat mid-column all day, send me an invitation. Perhaps the biggest mistake I see nymphing anglers make is to walk away from a great piece of water without ever taking the nymph to the trout.

Just putting the fly in the water is not enough. The best action on nymphs happens most consistently with flies in the strike zone. And that will never change.

Sure, trout look up. Sure, trout eat emerging insects sometimes. And sure, it’s a lot easier to drift nymphs above the strike zone, because they rarely hang up. Sadly, the current trend to fish lighter and longer, often has anglers fishing way above where the fish are feeding.

Fishing lighter often introduces the compromise of a longer drop time. So if it’s not working, if trout aren’t eating on an extended drop, then add weight and get flies to the bottom quickly. Learn to guide nymphs through the strike zone and feed the fish what they’re most often looking for — an easy meal that comes to them and drifts where most of the real bugs spend their lives — close to the bottom.

Are you deep enough for long enough? Getting deep is the default. So wasting half the drift on a long drop is counterproductive most days.


All of these questions amount to taking a nymph to the trout in the way they are used to seeing it. Dead drifts happen in one seam, most bugs drift low, and our presentations are greatly improved at close range.

Most good nymphing advice is based around these principles. And asking yourself these three questions leads you to answers for your own river questions.

  1. Is everything in one seam?
  2. Do I have to be this far away?
  3. Is my fly deep enough for long enough?

Fish hard, friends.


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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. Great advice.

    On bigger water especially, such as Penns, these rules apply.

    I’m often tempted to cast too long to get to where the softer water lay right beyond a heavy riffle. Because I know fish are there. Just beyond where one can safely wade – where even a micro leader starts to sag and drag. I occasionally will get a nice fish reaching too far. But more often, to your point, not. And I’m wasting time.

    The places and ways I get the best fish are found by letting these three rules dictate. Most are within 20 feet.

    Because I am an avid Troutbitten student, the one rule I consistently catch myself and course correct is the one seam rule. I recall your articles with the graphics.

    Yes, you live rent free in my head when I’m on the water. Actually, I’ve donated money to Troutbitten as I get much value from these articles. So, I occasionally do pay rent.

    Depth is something that is the easiest to align with as the feedback from the river is constant. That’s why I have my beads laid out in my box by weight. Your weights and measures articles taught me that basic.

    Good to have these rules top of mind.
    Appreciate how you are able to express the finer points. Helps the rest of us remember the basics when you are on the water and in the flow.

  2. I got a great example of ‘do I have to be this far away’ one day on a river in Rangeley. I was nymphing for a stretch when I looked down and just off my right boot was a good-sized brook trout. Just hanging out, nibbling on things my boots kicked up. Not a care in the world, I watched it to the point of torture.

  3. As always, good concise advice

  4. Dominik; great advice as usually, but this time this one really addressed most of my nymphing problems. After giving it some thought I realized that most of the bad things I do nymphing are derived from my dry fly fishing background. Question 1: is everything in one seem? That often doesn’t matter when casting dry flies, which usually happens across the current. Question 2: do I have to be this far away? Of course if I want to show that I’m a good caster! Question 3: Is my fly deep enough for long enough. A nonsense question when dry fly fishing.
    There are two key sentences in your article, and they are connected one to the other. Joe Humphreys’ “People fish too far away” and yours “The nymphs always track to the rod tip”. Most of the time I fish nymphs too far away, expecting that after the upstream cast the nymphs will drift along the seem current. That happens when you cast upstream a dry fly, but not when you cast a nymph. Nymphs are heavier and always track to the rod tip in a diagonal line which is not a natural drift. You must be close enough to get the perfect straight drift along the seem current.
    This season I began to deeply understand some of these problems and tried to correct them. The result: I have fished more trouts than ever.
    Also, you highlight another big problem. When you start tight line nymphing you are absolutely convinced that it is much easier than dry fly angling. But it isn’t. Actually I find it much more complicated.

  5. Yes !

  6. As always, thanks for sharing you knowledge. I have a question concerning a statement in your article:

    “When fishing with an indicator, the nymph should be positioned upstream of the indy and in the same lane.”

    I always thought the nymph trailed the indy because of its weight.


    • Hi there.

      Yes, the nymph is trailing behind the indy when it is positioned upstream of the indy in the same lane. I think we’re saying the same thing, right?


  7. One of your best Dom ! My new mantra .

  8. As the great Colorado fishing guide, John Bocchino (Riffle & Rise) teaches; if you aren’t catching fish (with nymphs) add weight. Great column.

  9. As the great Colorado fishing guide John Bocchino (Riffle & Rise) teaches; if you aren’t catching fish (with nymphs) add weight. Great column.


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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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