Originally Posted by jack crack jones
I've never had much luck nymphing. My set up seems fine. I use either the football indicators or the old-school teardrop/toothpick ones with a one or two nymph rig. I try to watch my line closely, but I never seem to be able to detect any action. Either (a) they don't like what I'm presenting (somewhat unlikely, but not impossible), or (B) I just don't know when to catch the hook and fail to see the take (much more likely). Anyone out there have any pointers on learning to determine when to set the hook or how to detect strikes better when throwing nymph rigs? I want to improve, but I just find nymph fishing frustrating.
Hi Jack, are you on Ozarkanglers.com?
Russellb pretty much said much of what I'd say. The other thing that beginning nymphers sometimes don't do is add enough weight. I think the easiest nymphing setup to use is to rig like this:
On Ozark streams you'll seldom be nymphing really deep. Floating line, 7.5 ft. leader. If your leader has been shortened to as little as 6.5 feet it's still okay. For a two nymph rig, attach an 18 inch or so piece of tippet one size smaller than the end of your leader to the leader with a blood knot. Now tie on a beadhead nymph by using a palomar knot, so that the nymph is about six inches below the knot connecting leader to tippet, leaving the rest of the tippet section as a 12 inch length of tag end on the palomar knot. To the end of it, tie on a non-beadhead nymph. Now...if you're fishing a small creek with lots of slow water in the pools, because the flow just isn't enough to keep current in the pools, you might need to go to smaller split shot, but normally I use one or two BB size shot. Attach the shot just above the knot connecting leader to tippet. The knot acts as a stop, keeping your shot from ever slipping down to the flies. Go up anywhere from four feet to almost up to the connection between leader and fly line (depending upon the depth you're fishing), and attach a Thingamabobber. In small streams I might use the smallest Thingamabobber, but mostly I use the second smallest, which is about 3/4 inch in diameter. Why a Thingamabobber? Because I've found it is not only the most consistently floating indicator I've used, but it also telegraphs everything the flies and weight are doing. Why a beadhead above and non-beadhead below? For one thing, it's usually easier to get the line to go through the eye of a beadhead twice, as you need to do to tie a palomar knot, than it is with a non-beadhead. But I also want the fly nearest the weight to be staying down right on the bottom, while the much more weightless non-beadhead waves around in the current a little higher off the bottom.
Now follow Russellb's advice on the cast and such. Watch that Thingamabobber closely. If the weight is on the bottom the way it should be, the Thingamabobber will be "quivering" as it drifts, or even bobbing up and down just enough to be perceptible. If it isn't doing that, it means your weight isn't on the bottom, and you may need to either lengthen the distance between indicator and weight, or add more weight. In water with good smooth current about four feet deep, it'll take 5-10 feet of drift before it gets down to the bottom, but once it does, you'll know it not only because of the quivering indicator but also, as Bigfly said, your indicator will have slowed down relative to the current. You want the indicator moving just a little slower than the surface current.
Now, once you've fine tuned your presentation in that way, and you have the indicator doing what it should, and assuming you know about mending to keep your line from dragging the indicator around, you should be drifting your flies right through the strike zone. I've heard all kinds of things about how zen it is to detect strikes, and in reality we all probably miss detecting quite a few takes with nymphs. Don't worry about it. When that indicator moves differently from that little quivering and ticking it is time to lift the rod...as quickly as possible. But most of the time, the indicator will suddenly stop and drop below the surface. When it does that, it either means a fish or the weight or flies hanging up on something. Don't be slow to lift up on the rod!
You'll probably end up setting up on about five times as many "non-fish" or "maybe-missed-fish" as FISH. But you WILL start hooking fish. Don't worry too much about which nymphs you're using. In the Ozarks, the fish usually aren't too picky about nymphs. You could probably just use a size 14 or so beadhead hare's ear and a scud pattern and catch fish most of the time. Or a beadhead copper john and a pheasant tail. Or a beadhead prince and a soft hackle. You get the picture.
Of course, once you get pretty good at it, the zen comes in. You start setting the hook without really knowing why you did so. You start dividing your attention between the indicator and the spot on the bottom where your nymphs are drifting (in clear water), not actually seeing your flies, but looking for a movement, a flash, a white mouth opening and closing, and then setting the hook when you see that BEFORE the take is transmitted to the nymph. You figure out just how far above that little drop-off at the foot of the riffle to cast and immediately mend to flip the indicator above the flies, so that by the time the flies reach the drop-off with no prior "pulling" of them by the indicator, the indicator is finally in the proper downstream position and the flies are right on the bottom and dropping off that ledge right into the trout's mouth.
As Russellb said, fish your drift all the way out, until the indicator reaches the end of the line you have out and stops, beginning to swing across current. At that point, the flies down there on the bottom will finish their downstream drift and suddenly rise off the bottom and follow the indicator swinging across current. That rise of the flies is a great trigger to a trout that might be letting itself be carried downriver as it peruses the flies. And the swing will also take trout. I don't know how many trout I've caught throughout the years when my flies were just dangling in the current while I was getting ready for the next cast, or even walking downstream to a different position. Makes me think that maybe I oughta just forget that perfect drift and let them dangle.