The next time the trout ignore your nymphs, try another adjustment before switching patterns. Go deeper. The trout may not be ignoring the Zebra Midge or Hare’s Ear. Rather, the nymph may be ignoring the trout. It might be drifting several inches above them.
Trout will dart upwards to track down an emerger. They will make a trip to the surface for a big attractor pattern or a hopper. But they normally will not expend energy to snatch a tiny meal with a small amount of calories unless it is in their zone. If your fly is not deep enough to drift by their noses, the trout may ignore it.
So how do you get your fly deeper? Here are five strategies.
1. Add a split shot.
This is the most obvious solution.
Yet it’s easy to be too lazy to reach into the pocket of your fly vest to put on another split shot. So don’t be lazy!
I usually start with one split shot. Then, if I’m not bumping the bottom, I’ll add a second one. I carry both size “B” and the slightly larger “BB” split shot.
Also, I prefer removable split shot which have the little “ears” you can squeeze to remove it quickly if you’re getting snagged too often on the bottom or if you decide to switch to a dry fly. I also use something environmentally friendly (non-lead). Water Gremlin’s tin sinkers work well for both purposes.
2. Use beadhead patterns.
Ninety percent of the nymphs I buy and tie are beadheads.
I use non-beadhead patterns only when I want my fly to stay in the film just beneath the surface. The beadhead patterns do not make split shot expendable, but they do add a bit of weight.
They also give the nymph some action as it drifts or tumbles through the current.
3. Start your drift earlier.
Dave, my podcast partner, and I have talked about this before on our podcast. Casting a few yards further upstream will give your nymph(s) a few more yards to sink as they drift down the stream or river. This worked well last fall on the Gardner River in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park. Starting the drift about ten feet earlier enabled the nymphs to drop low enough to where the trout were located in the “hot zone.”
Conversely, if you are fly fishing from a drift boat, you may not need as much weight. You might go with two “B” size split shot or only one “BB” size since a long drift gives your nymphs a lot of time to sink.
4. Move your strike indicator.
This is not an issue if you put your strike indicator at the top of your leader. But often, on small creeks, I place it only five feet or so above my fly. This is ideal for runs where the depth is only a foot or two.
However, I’ve had to remind myself to move my strike indicator closer to the top of my leader when I come to deeper runs. Remember that the placement of your strike indicator determines the length of leader that will actually sink. A couple of split shot will not come close to pulling your strike indicator under the water to take your nymph(s) deeper. So you might need a longer length of leader to get to the bottom of some runs.
5. Switch to a sink-tip line.
I rarely use a sink-tip line when nymph fishing.
However, there are some stretches on Montana’s Missouri River where this might be advisable. Usually, adding more split shot will do. I typically use sink-tip line for stripping streamers. But some fly fishers like them for nymph fishing larger rivers.
So the next time your nymphs do not produce strikes, figure out a way to get your nymphs down to the level of the trout. Try that before you switch patterns.
I don’t always fish with nymphs. But when I do, I go deeper.