High-stick nymphing is quite possibly the most effective way to catch trout on a fly rod. Being that the vast majority of a trout’s diet consists of aquatic nymphs and larvae, slinging your nymphs through the many pools, pockets, and runs of a stream is a very thorough and efficient strategy. High-stick nymphing can be productive in all types of water, and is a natural and elegant way to present your flies to the fish. However, without understanding the importance of your fly’s depth, you may find yourself empty handed and frustrated at the end of your outing.
When it comes to high-stick nymphing, depth is the most critical aspect of your rig. Drifting flies too high or low in the water column can hinder your chances of hooking into a hungry trout. The first step in learning to determine your depths is to understand the behavioral patterns of the fish. Spending time on the stream and observing the fish, weather, and conditions can only help your situation. Fish will typically lie deeper in the cold of winter and will be found at many depths in the peak season of late spring. Knowing where the fish are holding will help you decide how deep you want your flies to float. For example, if you find yourself fishing on a snowy February afternoon, you will want to use more weight than you would in say the spring or summer. Once you can decide on where you want your flies to float in the water column, the next step is putting on enough weight to get them there. This is the hard part, as the depths of the pools and runs that make up a typical trout stream can change every few feet. This means that changing the size and quantity of your sinkers will occur often. Don’t get lazy, as refusing to alter your rig can come at the cost of not catching fish. Remember that high-stick nymphing is a game of constant adaptation and change, and depth is a key component of being able to fish up to your full potential. The more time you spend on the water, the more you will observe the effects caused by different amounts of weight.
The last step in learning to control your depth is to acknowledge the fact that there is no “perfect depth,” and then realizing that trial and error will unlock many interesting secrets of the river. Learning the various methods of fly fishing is a large piece of the art itself, and appreciating the challenges that come with growing as an angler is a very gratifying reward for most. So next time you plan on hitting the water, try to remember these tips, all while having fun in the process.