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Five Quick Ways to Improve Your Nymph Fishing

Distilled advice from a world champion fly angler.

Five Quick Ways to Improve Your Nymph Fishing

Distilled advice of a world champion fly angler. (Matt Harris photo)

Thin to win. It’s an often-used phrase, but using thinner flies, tippets, and leaders will reduce interference, improve your presentation, and boost your success.

Master the single fly. Sometimes fishing with two or three flies is the way to go, but in other cases this is a lot like shooting at a flock instead of picking out a single bird. More and more in pressured situations, I rely on the single-fly approach—it reduces interference, improves the drift, improves take detection, and drives you to cover your water more effectively and accurately.

Distill your confidence flies. Boil down your fly boxes to include only your top-producing flies, and carry them in more weights and more sizes. If a Perdigon Nymph is your favorite fly, that’s fine. You should have four different sizes, and within each size, six different weights. A simple fly of the correct weight fished properly often outperforms a flawless imitation of an inappropriate weight or size. If you’re scared to lose it, it shouldn’t be in your box.

Fish where others don’t. Push the boundaries of where you are willing to throw a fly, from tiny pockets in a raging torrent to the skinniest edge riffle, or under the deepest cover. If you carry lots of your confidence flies and master the skill of choosing the right weight for the water depth, you’ll have the nerve to push the limits on where you can fish—and you’ll catch fish that other people passed by. As an extra bonus, these are often the same spots where big fish hide in pressured waters.


Become a neurotic striker. Even with the most refined setups and the best line control, you will see or feel only a small percentage of the strikes you generate. The old adage, “Find an excuse to strike!” is as relevant with modern Euro-nymphing tactics as it ever has been in fly fishing. I know one former world champion who, in a difficult final session, successfully “blind struck” a large percentage of his fish by setting the hook where he expected a take to come, rather than waiting for the sighter to register a strike. Too often, by the time the sighter registers a hittable strike, it’s too late. Strike whenever you think a trout might have that fly in its mouth—even if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary.


One last piece of advice I’d like to offer is that—although there is absolutely no doubt that some of the modern Euro-nymphing techniques are truly deadly—they are like all other methods. Each method has a time and a place—fly fishing demands more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

 I coach and mentor many fly fishers who are looking to improve their fishing for pleasure or competition. It’s surprising how many of them rely too heavily on Euro nymphing in one form or another. Dry-fly, dry/dropper, classic upstream nymphing, and even true soft-hackle (aka North Country spider) fishing can all upstage even the best Euro nympher on the right day. The best fly fisher is ultimately a well-rounded angler who has mastered the fundamentals of many techniques, and knows when and where to implement them.

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