Salomone: Finesse nymphing

When the water is low and the bite slows down, this is the skill you need

Michael Salomone
Darron Musser finesse nymphing in red canyon.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

When anglers gather together, talk of how many fish were caught while nymphing on a recent outing inevitably rises. Deep dredging with heavy double-beaded 20 inches or inverted hooks with tungsten weights measured in millimeters rather than weight all present a plop-and-drop approach that is neither subtle nor delicate. Unfortunately, presenting nymphs lends itself too clunky in order to obtain depth.

There is, however, another way.

An angler adept at presenting subsurface flies in the middle of the water column or just under the surface has an extra arrow in their quiver I call finesse nymphing.

Finesse nymphing is a presentation where subsurface flies, nymphs, are rigged for shallow water and for subtle presentations. There are no heavy weights when finesse nymphing. Even the strike indicator lends itself towards lightweights and soft.

When the water levels are low and the bite slows down, finesse nymphing is a handy skill for an angler hoping to catch the most fish.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

Heavy weights and large strike indicators land upon the water with a definitive plop. This disturbance alone can put fish down or turn off feeding activity for a few minutes. The use of heavy, clunky equipment is a matter of function. Heavy nymph rigs get down deep in a rapid fashion and stay anchored to the bottom of the river throughout the drift or presentation. It is no misunderstanding that fish are often located in close proximity to the river bottom. However when a hatch comes into full force, trout begin to feed accordingly.

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When insects begin to emerge, trout activity begins to move towards the surface as well. The fish follow the food. Nymphs that are actively emerging are easy pickings for swift-swimming trout. The massive amount of insects releasing at once causes an increase in feeding activity bordering on frenzy. 

A brown trout caught using the finesse nymphing presentation.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

But, the focus is growing ever so quietly towards the surface. When the insects begin to emerge, trout activity follows the food, going first into the middle of the water column where soft hackle nymphs rule the water. Swinging wet flies like soft hackle pheasant tails or soft hackle hare’s ear nymphs capitalizes on the emergence with flies that appear actively swimming. Giving your flies a little extra time to rise at the very end of your drift when pulled taunt in the current can provoke quick-grabbing strikes from feeding fish.

The subsurface is the water in close proximity to the surface of the river. The subsurface section of the river varies in depth depending on the speed of the river. This water could be as skinny as a few inches in broad, shallow riffles or a couple of feet deep under foam lines or along deep banks.

Midges will be emerging in slower water and skating on the surface. Foam-back nymphs work wonders in this section of the river. Top secrets and any other small nymph pattern in sizes 14-18 with a foam component to give the nymph lift will draw strikes regularly. Olive, black or white are popular color choices for the Eagle River.

Fly anglers need to present their finesse nymph rigs with a little bit of subtlety. Unlike nymphing with heavy sinkers and large, buoyant strike indicators, finesse nymphing employs micro shot and soft, possibly sub-surface strike indicators. By soft, I mean the indicator is made of material that will not transmit a significant degree of report when it lands upon the water.

Yarn or pinch-on foam strike indicators are key to proper finesse nymphing. Even with a high degree of attention the smallest Airlock lands with a resounding thud. Euro-nymph anglers can benefit from a colored strike indicator tippet or leader; actually any angler can. Old-school Palsa pinch-on foam strike indicators are a favorite for finesse nymphing.

The main reason is the versatility the Palsa-style indicators have for staying afloat, or remaining highly visible. When pulled under the surface from deep water or heavy current, the drowned, subsurface indicators are still extremely effective in detecting strikes. The key is to use two of them a few inches apart. A strike may occur and spin the indicator, which is very difficult to detect at moderate distances. But with two placed a few inches apart, they spin in relationship to each other, giving immediate and definitive indication of a bite.

When the water gets low and bite slows down, a shallow-water nymph rig is the key to successful finesse nymphing. Small flies used to imitate emerging insects trigger feeding trout to eat. Those who target the middle of the water column or the subsurface of the river with flies that mimic swimming, emerging insects are on the way to developing their own finesse nymphing skills.

The author finesse nymphing on the Eagle River.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy photo

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