It seems that every time I pick up a fly-fishing magazine there is an article about a new or different version of nymph fishing. While every type of nymph fishing has its pluses, there are minuses, too. To be blunt, I feel that on the right day and under the right conditions, all the methods would yield plenty of trout and leave about any angler satisfied. (There are those anglers who would whine that they only caught 50 trout and wanted to catch more, but that's another story.)
Most of the nymph fishing I have done is what I call the “standard method.” It consists of fishing one or two nymphs on a tapered leader usually 9 feet long, with weight above the nymphs above the tippet knot. A strike indicator is situated somewhere on the leader, usually near the fly-line leader junction.
This method of nymph fishing has enabled anglers to be quite successful. If an angler can keep in mind to get a good, drag-free float and fish with nymphs that are imitating what the trout are eating, it can be very productive.
There are provisos, however, with this method. First off is getting the drag-free float. I find that most anglers ignore slight drag and don't mend enough to take care of it. Good mends at the proper time can really enhance standard nymph fishing. Many times anglers will make an automatic mend after they cast and before there is any possibility of drag, which is OK I guess, but not necessary. Another problem is that when the angler does make a mend, he or she doesn't make a complete mend and leaves bow in the line, rather than eliminating it. When you mend, do it forcefully enough to eliminate the bow and enable the nymphs to float for 10 feet or more before making another.
One of the problems anglers will encounter in mending is moving the strike indicator. If you put a “hop” in the indicator when you mend, so be it; it's better than dragging the flies around and the nymphs will settle back down quickly. I have seen times that the “hop” elicited a strike, so be aware.
In order to mend well, anglers need to have a floating fly line. If the line is sinking, the mend will be a heck of a lot harder to make. So treat your fly line with Mucilin or some other line cleaner/floatant.
Nearly as important as selecting the right flies is having the right amount of weight on your nymph rig. It is imperative to have enough weight on the leader to get the nymphs down fairly quickly without hanging up on the bottom every cast. The easiest way to determine the correct amount of weight is to put on what you think is too much, say four BBs. If you hit bottom almost immediately you have too much, so remove a BB and cast again. If that hangs up after a short float, remove another shot. If two BB shot get the flies down and don't hang bottom until the end of a 30-foot float, then you're OK.
One other word of advice for nymph fishing: Believe your strike indicator! Don't assume anything; make your analysis after you set the hook, not before. If your strike indicator moves and you set the hook and you retrieve weed, it was weed. If you set the hook and you come up with a trout; it was a trout. You will only be able to say for certain what caused the strike indicator to move by setting the hook.
So much for the standard nymph technique. There are also a variety of other methods that primarily switch the order of nymphs and shot around. Euro or Czech-style nymph fishing doesn't use a strike indicator and goes with weighted nymphs and rather short casts with a color-coded leader.
Instead of watching the strike indicator, the angler watches the leader. The casts are short and the nymphs are tight lined down through the drift. The amount of water that an angler can cover with a cast is probably no more than 15 feet or so. (I imagine there will be some who dispute this estimate, but in my observations of this method it seems like it is a pretty short piece of water.)
This method is good for fishing a deep run that is fairly narrow, but isn't very useful in big water.
A variation of nymph fishing that has caught on lately can be labeled Teton rig or drop shot. This method puts the shot at the bottom of the rig and has the nymphs as droppers 15 and 30 inches up the leader. Usually the droppers are tied off from a 6-inch long tag end of a surgeon's knot, though a tippet ring can be tied in and a 6-inch dropper tied off from it.
Unlike the Euro method, a Teton rig uses a strike indicator. It usually is located near the fly line and leader junction. The shot is placed on the tippet about 15 inches below the bottom fly. An overhand knot at the bottom of the tippet keeps the shot from sliding off.
The Teton rig has advantages over the standard method in that the shot are on the bottom of the stream while the nymphs are usually above it a few inches or more. There is less hang up and loss of flies with this method and the flies are usually presented in a more life-like manner. My only reservation with this method is that it is a bugger to cast.
I noticed a variation of the Teton rig in a recent magazine article. The author contended that the standard nymph setup was subject to drag from the upper current of the water column so that the nymphs down near the bottom were going faster than what the current speed was at the bottom of the stream. The author proposed using leaders that were hand made with lots of 4X to eliminate the drag on the thick, standard tapered leader. His rationale was basic, but I am wondering if the method is that much better. I guess I'll have to do some research.
Regardless, of the nymph method you use, rest assured that it is usually much more productive than other types of fly fishing, so stick with your method and maybe give it a few tweaks or study the new methods and give them a try. Most importantly, go fishing!