Caddis Larva ontop of Caddis LarvaRecently I’ve been working over my approach to this method of fly fishing for trout, when I started almost a year ago I used a few indicators mostly larger flies but quickly started blind nymphing almost out of ignorance. I should state have no problems with indicators, I’m sure I’ll use them yet this season. My reasons for continuing to blind nymph rather than using an indicator are the following; 1st it is easier for me to cast a weighted two fly rig if it doesn’t have an indicator in the mix. 2nd, I don’t like changing position of the indicator constantly to match the needed depth. I guess I’d rather add weight or take some off than spend time adjusting an indicator, and finally the third and main reason is that I enjoy the challenge that is inherent when fishing without an indicator. I should also say that I do carry indicators, I have used them but I rarely choose to.

Mayfly Nymph (Ephemerella?)

With that I’ve been working on the best method for deciding how to prepare my rig to present to the trout. I first watch; the water, the fish and then I pick bugs, if possible I choose a riffle that is upstream from the location I want t0 fish. I try not to disturb the fish or the water to pick a few bugs, this can sometimes take me a while. I do this to eliminate guess work, typically I pick two different size imitations if the rocks show me that the stream holds a larger and smaller sized food source. If not, I match to the size but typically I rig a larger fly trailed by a smaller fly, this is nothing new and has been described and written about at length by others, I’m just describing how I prepare when I am nymphing.

Greenery!Recently I had the opportunity to rig up and hit some sweet, sweet trout water for an afternoon under the sun. Conditions were right for nymphing, it was early afternoon and there were no signs of rising trout. In an effort to better understand the mechanics behind blind nymphing and to practice this method I set out to find a good spot for some trial and error. I picked a few bugs leading me to choose a larger caddis larva pattern and due to lower water temps (~55) combined with my observation that the trout were holding low in the water I chose a weighted pattern. With my lead fly picked out, I decided on a smaller PT nymph based on several mayfly nymphs, mostly Ephemerella (interesting, I thought this hatch was over in S.E. MN) sitting side by side the caddis larva.

Starting with both flies and no other weight my typical approach involves watching and timing how long the flies take to sink to the bottom, usually I will go downstream and try to simulate the depth and current of the water I am going to fish and watch how my flies react, based on this observation I add weight accordingly. Sometimes it can be difficult to stop, relax, and take the time needed to get this right but as I found on this day, it is well worth the extra effort.

1st Fly PT Nymph sized to Match Naturals2nd Fly, Caddis LarvaWeight

After I got set and tied my flies on leaving about 8-12inches of line between the lead and trailing fly I got to work. With the rain from the last few days everything is beautiful, I’ve never loved the color green so much. Along with the greenery around me the water was ever so slightly tinted in the deeper pools making my approach slightly easier. Water levels are still low around the area but the steady amount of rain has been good and I can see it is going to be a good summer season.

The Test SubjectI decided to try a run that I knew held smaller fish downstream of the run I really wanted to concentrate on just to see what the initial reaction was. As my second cast was drifting towards me I noticed a quick flash and a tug on my line, I was late but I knew I had chosen well. After practicing my cast a few times and making plenty of crappy presentations I moved onto the real test. I was cautious not to spook the trout while getting in position. It was evident immediately I needed more weight for this second run. I added one splitshot a few inches above my lead fly and made a few more casts. I know how much weight I can toss without it getting stupid, I combine the weight with mending and hopefully the fly gets to the trout. I got a strike, two strikes and I even landed a few trout. I observed that it took several passes before I got a strike, never once did I get snagged so I decided to try adding abit more weight.

Trout Beauty

That was it baby, once the rig was set for the hole I was in the butter zone. Almost every pass had a strike, I watched the tip of my fly line for any change and tried to set the hook at the slightest sign of a different drift. I lost at least 60 percent of the takes because I failed to notice the take or I set the hook too late but I took several trout and despite alot of poor casts with the bulky weighted rig the trout weren’t put down once. I walked each trout downstream as I played them, this gave the others time to relax and me time to enjoy the spoils of blind nymphing.

Brown TroutPT in the KisserBrown Trout

Things to remember for next time. Let the fly drift all the way through the hole. I found I lost alot of fish as I was beginning to pull my rig up and out for another cast, had I waited longer I might have been able to set the hook properly. Just set the hook. Quite a few times I would slightly put pressure on the line, feel the trout and then it shook once and was free. Had I just trusted my gut I would have probably set the hook on half of those I lost.  Wait, choose the cast. I need to limit how many times I just toss the rig in the water. I would cast into wind and it wouldn’t end up the way I wanted, had I just waited a few minutes I might not have made so many poor casts.

Garage Sale PlateLater I worked on a few PT nymphs to help match what I saw in the stream. Liz and I went to a few garage sales this last weekend and I found a set of plates featuring a few fly fishing flies, they caught my eye and I swiped them up to decorate an already cluttered fly bench. I worked on bead head versions of my swimming nymph PT pattern. To match the darker brown and black nymphs I found at the stream, I tied these with darker pheasant tail fibers, I’m looking forward to testing them soon.

Silver DoctorRoyal CoachmanParma Belle

PT's in the Dish


  1. great post. I blind nymph, no indicator. I mix it up between dead drifting and tightlining. When dead drifting I’ll use the tip of my fly line as an indicator. This tactic gets a little more difficult with a sinking tip, but with time you can use your fly line and drift to the same effect.

    you’re right on leaving the fly in the hol ejust a pinch longer. I can’t tell you how many fish I’ve picked up on the rise when my fly was just about drifting out of the hole.

  2. Minnesota has two Empherella species, Subvaria the Dark Hendrickson which has already hatched this year, April 1-20 generally, and Invaria the Light Hendrickson or Sulfer which will begin hatching around the 20th.A sulfer hatch can be very fun so keep your eyes peeled for them. Shane

    avatar Shane callanan
  3. Counter Point: After 20+ years of guiding and teaching fishermen how to nymph fish I’ve become even more convinced for the need for a strike indicator.

    The indicator signals the take far sooner than end of your fly line and the takes are often so soft that you would never feel the take.

    My favorite technique is “micro-nymphing” where I use the smallest nymphs possible (looking at whats on the rocks is the best clue!) and the smallest possible strike indicator. For example, after putting on a Palsa indicator I cut it in half…or sometimes even in a fourth. I also like to use VERY small ball floats with a toothpick or rubber band adjustment. What many find unusual is that I most commonly use 6x tippet! 5x is the heaviest I ever go!

    It’s amazing how often the fish hit the fly IMMEDIATELY after it hits the water, especially during a hatch or slightly before. If you fishing the nymph “on the drift” or as an emerger then the strike indicator might only be a foot or so from the fly (or grease you leader and watch that).

    It’s also amazing how many takes the average angler doesn’t see. I was “spotting” for one of the best nymph fishermen I know the other day, and due to my vantage point on top of the bank and angle I could see the fish very clearly. I was stunned by how often the fish would take the fly (I could see the mouth open …or the fly would suddenly disappear) and yet this expert nymph fisherman saw nothing on the indicator. I can’t imaging how many more strikes you would miss if you waited until the strike was transmitted up to the fly line (especially because we use 9′ 6x leaders to make sure the fly sinks easily) or waiting until you hook up and then feel a fish. I absolutely guarantee that you can never feel the strike on a small nymph!

    All that being said, one of the fun things about fly fishing is using different techniques and being flexible about learning something new. There are some very good nymph fisherman that never use a strike indicator other than watching their leader.- Andy

    avatar Andy
  4. Enjoyed reading the article and the comments.
    I live in Alpine region of northern Italy and have fly fished our mountain streams and lakes for many years. Likewise, I use nymphs between in the warmest part of the day, immediately before and afternoon.

    I use both blind nymphing and strike indicator techniques. I have good results with blind nymphing in fast flowing mountain streams (dead drifting) while I use strike indicators successfully in Alpine lakes and slower streams.



    avatar Alex

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