Upstream Nymphing

Learn how to improve your technique for upstream nymphing which will in turn improve your understanding of watercraft, your presentation, stealth and approach.

Up to 90% of a trouts diet is subsurface so it’s no surprise why fishing with nymphs is such a successful method. And often the bigger trout will mostly be feeding on nymphs.

Most modern anglers often only fish nymphs when the conditions are not suited for dry fly fishing. And some even dismiss it as a chuck it and chance way of fishing with very little skill which really couldn’t be further from the truth. To be consistently good at catching trout on nymphs takes a lot of skill.

Nymphing is getting very popular in recent years which has really given the tackle industry the kick up the arse it needed to produce more suitable tackle for upstream nymphing such as dedicated nymphing rods and proper suitable nymphing leaders. I’m not going to get in-depth into the rods and tackle needed for upstream nymphing other than to say that you are going to want a good long 10 or 11 foot rod in the 2 or 3wt class and a lightweight reel to accompany it. Essentially you are looking for something that is long and sensitive enough to give you more control of your drift and keep you in touch with your flies at all times and it has to be light enough to not cramp your arms from holding it up all day. Soft rods are essential for the sensitivity needed for upstream nymphing.

Why Upstream? – There’s quiet a few reasons why we fish upstream. Fishing upstream will always give us an advantage and at times we can even selectively target the better fish by singling out and presenting our nymphs to the better fish which with close attention to detail can be observed feeding on nymphs.

Stealth – A stealthy approach is necessary for all types of fly fishing but even more so for nymphing. By choosing to fish upstream we already have an advantage when it comes to stealth, trout have a 30 degrees blindspot to the rear so as long as we are careful and stealthy in our approach we can get very close to a trout without them being able to see us.

While wading if we are wading upstream the gravel, mud and debris is washed downstream well away from the fish we are trying to catch. Take good care to wade slowly and quietly and in shallow clear water crouch down and even kneel in the water if necessary.

Watercraft – Without a doubt watercraft is the single most important thing to learn to become successful at catching trout and it’s something we probably never stop learning no matter how long we’ve been fishing. As important as watercraft is for all fly fishing methods it is even more important for fishing subsurface as we can’t always see where the fish are feeding so we are going to need to learn how to read the water and to identify fish holding areas because simply put if they are not there we can’t catch them. And we can easily scare away the fish by wading through prime fish holding spots to cast to areas that will not hold any fish. While this is an ongoing learning curve for all anglers the upstream nymphing angler will develop a good understanding watercraft much quicker than any other fly fishing method simply because they have to! With no rising fish to give their location away it is more difficult at first glance but over time you will build up a better picture of what to look for to identify fish holding areas.

Presentation – Underwater presentation is a much different affair than fishing above the surface. There’s a lot more involved and a lot more to consider such as water depths, desired depth, sink rates, river bed contours, structure, speed of flow, water clarity etc.

The key to success is to cast your nymphs to the most likely looking spots but it’s not as simple as that. You will also need to make sure your nymph is at the required depth when it passes the likely looking holding spot. Another factor to take into consideration is the weight of your nymph and how quickly it will sink. You want it to get down to the trout. Touching bottom now and then is ideal whereas dredging the bottom is no good because you will just keep getting snagged on the bottom. I’m the summer or months or just before a good hatch an unweighted nymph fished higher in the water is also very successful.

Light tippets will allow your nymphs to sink quicker whereas thicker diameter tippets will offer resistance to the water tension and make your nymphs sink slower. But if you go too fine you will risk losing a lot of your flies in snags and possibly some fish if they take aggressively which sometimes can be the case .

When the rivers are high or flooded or when you are fishing deeper runs extra weight can be necessary to get your get your nymphs down to the fish. This can be done by adding splitshot to your leader but it is not necessary because by selecting a heavy weight nymph such as Perdigones or any nymphs that are heavily weighted with lead wire on the underbody you should be able to get your nymphs down to where you want them.

Opportunistic Feeders – While it is true that trout are opportunistic feeders that does not mean that they will swim around all day looking for food and take anything put in front of them. What it really means is that they will take up station in a lie that will naturally present great opportunities for drifting food morsels and afford them sanctuary from predators. They always lie facing into the current and often the best lies will be in between weed beds, behind rocks or boulders , in deep depressions or holes in otherwise shallow water, around bridges, and other natural or man made structure. It’s no coincidence that the biggest trout will always inhabit the best spots.

These features will offer the trout a few advantages. Safety from predators, respite from strong currents and most important of all it provides them a comfortable place to hold up in and to wait for the current to deliver their food like a conveyer belt without having to waste energy battling the current or without having to keep fleeing due to being visible to predators. Their only concern is survival. And to survive it needs to conserve energy as much as possible. A nymph drifting downstream towards the fish with the current is an easy meal that will require very little energy for the fish to catch.

Sight Fishing – When the river or stream is clear or low we can often clearly see the trout feeding in between the weed beds or in other trout holding areas. It can be a great method during the summer months when the trout are reluctant to rise to the surface on warm sunny days but they will often take a small suggestive nymph delicately cast to upstream of their lie and allowed to drift down to them . Small size 18 or 20 pheasant tail nymphs are ideal for this kind of situation.

Polarised sunglasses should be worn for any kind of fly fishing really but they really are essential for upstream nymphing. They cut out the surface glare and allow you to see into the water much clearer than what the naked eye can see.

Sometimes you will be able to see the whole drift and the take depending on water clarity but often you will just see the white of its mouth opening to take the fly.

This type of upstream nymphing is every bit as satisfying as dry fly fishing and every bit as skillful too.

The Drift – As with any other method of fly fishing the drift is of utmost importance as it is how the fly drifts that determines wether a fish will eat it or refuse it and in the case of fishing with nymphs even be able to see our nymphs .

We need to track our nymphs downstream with our rod tip and make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we always maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Indicators – Throw them in the bin!!! Seriously, indicators will only prevent you from becoming a better nympher. They will cause your nymphs to drift at the speed of the surface which is faster than the current on the river bed thereby hindering your presentation. Also they won’t help you in the long run when it comes to being able to detect takes and they can also slow down your ability to learn watercraft and become a better nympher.

By indicators I am taking about those bobber style indicators and not the indicator line used for euro nymphing, French Nymphing, Czech nymphing etc. Those indicator lines are a different story as they don’t hinder your presentation and you don’t become reliant on them to be able to detect takes.

The Take – Unlike fishing with dry flies we can’t always see the take with nymphs so we need to be in tune with our other senses. By touch we can feel the take and this is the essence of upstream nymphing. To be able to do that we need to keep in contact with our flies at all times. This is another reason why we make sure our rod tip is always downstream of our nymphs as they drift downstream and that we maintain a taut line to our nymphs throughout the drift.

Sometimes takes can be very aggressive, sometimes they can be explosive splashed on the surface as the fish takes the nymphs but more often than not they are very subtle and usually you will just feel a slight pluck and other times you will only see a slight hesitation on the leader or fly line on the surface. When upstream nymphing always strike at anything out of the ordinary no matter how subtle. A good upstream nympher will have what can only be described as a sixth sense. Someone watching might be wondering what they are striking at and how they knew there was a take but somehow they just knew . It’s impossible to explain but in time most successful nymphers develop this skill.

Matching The Hatch – When we talk about matching the hatch most anglers only think about dry fly fishing or to some extent wet fly fishing but it can be equally as important with nymph fishing. There’s certainly times when trout are selectively feeding on a specific species of nymphs.

Size Matters – The size of your fly is always of the utmost importance and it’s no different with fishing nymphs. For early and late season the majority of nymphs will be on the large side , size 14 and 16. Mid season and high summer the majority of nymphs will be very small , size 18 and 20 and sometimes even smaller! Naturally there’s going to be a few exceptions such as caddis nymphs and especially the cased caddis which is generally around a size 8 or 10 . And the Mayfly (ephemera danica) nymph which again is usually around a size 8 or 10 .

Fly Selection – Nymphs generally fall into 3 categories: realistic, suggestive or attractors. Realistic nymphs are to exactly imitate a particular nymph species. Suggestive nymphs are ones that are suggestive of a wide range of natural nymphs such as the well known classic Pheasant Tail nymph or Hare’s Ear Nymph. They will have characteristics of a few different types of nymphs but without exactly matching any one in particular. Attractor nymphs are usually bright flashy nymphs such as Perdigones and are often more designed to sink quicker rather than to imitate any kind of natural nymphs although sometimes they can loosely do so.

In recent years due to water pollution, pesticides from farms, siltation of the rivers and other factors, the fly hatches aren’t what they once were and often dry fly fishing and the evening rise can be very hit and miss. This is a big part of why upstream nymphing is becoming more popular. And at the rate the fly hatches seem to be deteriorating it is highly likely that the future of fly fishing in our rivers and streams will be more nymph fishing than anything else. The competition scene is already dominated by nymphing these days and the reason for that is simple, upstream nymphing gets the results.

Some suggestions for nymphs:

Cased caddis:

Mayfly (ephemera danica):


Hare’s Ear:


Beadhead PTN:

Copper John’s:

Red Spinner (Variant )

Step By Step instructions to tie a variant of the Red Spinner.

The Red Spinner is the spinner of the Large Dark Olive (Baetis Rhodani). This wet fly imitates the spent spinners being carried downstream under the water surface. It is most useful early season in the early afternoon or anytime you see the large dark olive spinners on the water. It is best fished on the top dropper. It is the largest of the olive species and a size 12 or 14 hook is the right size.

I prefer to use teal flank or mallard flank than the traditional wing slips because they are much more durable and unlike the wing slips they will last for more than just a couple of fish.


  • Hook: size 12 or 14 kamasan b175 or similar
  • Thread: Black 8/0
  • Tail: Greenwells or furnace hen fibres
  • Body: red 1 ply uni floss
  • Rib: fine silver wire
  • Hackle: Greenwells or furnace hen
  • Wing: teal flank or mallard flank
  • Head: black varnish

Tie in the tail . The tail should be roughly the same size as the body.

Tie in the red floss and fine silver wire then run your thread up to where the body ends just before the point where you will tie in your hackle. Making sure you leave enough room for the hackle, wing and head.

Wind the red floss body towards you up to where the body ends.

Wind on the rib in even open turns away from you in the opposite direction that the floss body was wound on.

Pull the fibres of the hackle out 90 degrees from the stem and tie in by the tip.

Cut off the tip, bring your thread to the point where you want the hackle to end , leaving enough room for the wing and the head. Wind on three turns of the hackle stroking the fibres back as you wind. Tie off the stem and cut the stem. Tidy up with a couple of thread turns.

Remove the flue from the teal flank feather and pull the fibres out to 90 degrees on one side of the feather

With your thumb and finger hold the feather tips tightly and tear away from the stem. Stroke the fibres to get them to lock together again.

Keep a firm grip of the teal fibres and fold in half widthways.

Keep a firm hold and fold again.

Strike the fibres to encourage them to take on the desired shape. Then place them on top of the hook shank at the desired length and tie in with the pinch and loop method.

Cut off the excess and bring your thread back up to the base of the wing tidying up the head area as you go

Whip finish and apply a coat of black varnish with a dubbing needle.

Interview with Peter Driver

In this months interview series we have Peter Driver who is an excellent well known Irish fly angler, fly tier, guide, fly tying materials supplier and fly fishing tackle supplier who is based in Kilkenny.

Hi Peter, could you start off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about yourself?

Hi all, my name is Peter Driver and for as long as I remember I have been a fly fishing fanatic. I originally come from Rathdrum in Co Wicklow but I am living in Kilkenny now and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. I wouldn’t say I strive for perfection in my fishing ability but I crave knowledge and to be learning more about this intriguing and ever developing sport. Also there is nothing more I enjoy than sharing some newly discovered knowledge to any one that will listen to me ramble on.

What are your earliest memories of fly fishing Irish rivers for trout?

Fly fishing is in my family, my dad and uncles are all passionate anglers. So I was introduced to fly fishing very early. I can vaguely remember being stood on the bridge of the Avonmore River in Rathdrum to watch the evening rise of fish while being explained to about what I was looking at. The club in Rathdrum always had and still does have a proactive approach to fly fishing and developing youths, so at a young age I was introduced through the clubs Saturdays mornings youth sessions with the senior members of the club.

What’s your favourite Irish river to fish and why?

While there are some amazing rivers around Kilkenny that I really enjoy fishing. The Avonmore River in Wicklow will always hold a special place in my heart, for several reasons. It is undoubtedly the most stunning river I have ever fished in Ireland. It is by no means an easy river to fish, slippy rocks and hard caught fish make it very challenging, but that is the kind of river I like anyway. I spent most of my youth on this river and still today when I return to it I get a sense that I am back in the days of a young lad adventuring through the woods discovering a new pool or big trout, I enjoy reminding myself of those days now and agin.

Do you think there’s a difference between how prolific fly hatches are now on Irish rivers compared to when you first got into fly fishing and is there a difference in the numbers, quality and average size of trout on the rivers you fish?

Yes I definitely think that the affects of pollution, farming, forestation, cormorants and other prey and invasive fish species among others has had a profound effect on the rivers quality and its inhabitants.  I also think that a nostalgic memory is common for all anglers throughout the generations. My dad regularly tells stories to me of all the great trout in the rivers in his day and now I tell similar stories to the younger generations that the rivers are now nothing compared to what they used to be.  However, poor water quality and poor river management on a national level is having huge effects on rivers in Ireland. I fear if a proper national strategy is not developed we will see the decline of our fresh waters even more.

You are getting a great reputation as “the man to go to if you want hooks and beads” through your online store Piscari-Fly . But you also sell quite a good range of top quality fly tying materials, can you tell us a bit about the products available and how you got involved with Piscari-Fly? 

As a passionate fly fisher and dresser having the right gear and materials the way I wanted it was always something that I searched for, right beads for the right hooks and so on. It was something that I spent a lot of time working out and I guess when I began to bring in my own stuff I wanted to share it with others that I fish with and it just took off from there really. I am a bit of a fanatic when it comes to hooks and beads and I tried and tested a lot of beads and hooks before I got them right and was finally happy with them. Also as a fly tier I like to tie on the best hooks and use the best beads I can for my customers.

So since the start I was always looking to develop my business and offer more products mostly to do with nymph fishing to anglers of Ireland at a good price. Everything that I have to date in the business is stuff I use myself and I think that is important when recommending the products to my customers. It is something that I hope will continue to grow and develop with the great support of anglers in Ireland.

You are also involved with Syndicate which now have a great reputation for being excellent quality rods, particularly the light nymphing rods. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about?

As everything else I am doing and selling it begins with me always looking for something to improve my fishing first, then if my discoveries are good I share through my business. I was researching 2 weight rods and came across Syndicate and some great reviews in various forums about their ability, weight and of course cost for a great rod. I couldn’t justify the price of other 2 weights on the market and I was not mad about some of them I had tried. So everything about this Syndicate rod and the ethos of the company justified the very competitive price and so I bought one.

The moment I put the rod together I knew it was exactly what I was looking for and after fishing it for a few days I was compelled to email the company to say how nice the rod was. Following a series of emails it was decided by the guys from Syndicate they wanted to meet and got on a plane to Ireland, after that week Syndicate Ireland began.

Syndicate is not just a rod company; it is a family, one that I am very proud to be part of. It is not just another rod company that want your money and offers little else. Apart from the great warranty they offer and top class rods, they have great plans for the future for Irish anglers and really want to invest in the youths of our sport. So there is some exciting stuff to come from the guys.

You offer a range of tuition and services including guiding, casting instruction and coaching. Can you tell us a bit more about that and also do you see many world class anglers coming up in the Irish youth team? 

As I have said since the first question there is nothing more I like to do than share the knowledge I have gathered over the years from travelling and competing. I really enjoy meeting a young angler that is mad to learn and will put in the time to develop their skills as I did many years ago and still do today. But like a lot of other sports youth involvement is on the decline in fly fishing too. We do have some great and exciting young angler coming through the ranks in clubs, however, keeping them in the sport is difficult and the majority of them move on to other sports or interests. In some ways there is little encouragement for them to stay in the sport only for the love of it.

You’ve also competed yourself in World and European Fly Fishing Championships as well as many other competitions over the years. What would you think are the biggest changes to the competition scene now compared to when you first got involved with the competition scene?

Oh there have been unreal developments in competition fishing over the years since I began in the World Championships Sweden in 2000. This year I am the captain of the Irish team heading to the World Championships in Italy in September and what I see now is anglers from around the World who are athletes and spend a lot of time and focus on their body and training for this level of fishing. Competition fishing at this level has a lot involved in it, psychically and psychologically for a competitor; so most of the guys at the top address these and really put a lot of work into a lot more than just their fishing techniques.

Then you have the developments in fishing gear and fly-tying materials when I went to Sweden we didn’t use 2 weight rods or have any great understanding of modern nymphing that exists nowadays. I guess now with social media platforms emergence a lot has changed as information is readily accessible for anyone who wants to learn.

Have you any advice you could offer for someone who might be thinking about getting involved in competition fly fishing?

I love competition fly fishing, I find it pushes me to develop and learn to be better. But it also has a great social side to it; I have met some great people over the years through competitions home and abroad. It also gives an angler the opportunity to travel to destinations around the world that you might not have been to if you were just a pleasure angler. I would advise anybody wishing to get involved in competitions to begin by linking up with some other anglers that are involved in the scene. The best place to start is to look to your local clubs and see what competitions they might have, these will give you a taste of what competitions are like; they are for some and other anglers find that they don’t like them. If you do enjoy them then I would recommend keeping things simple and focusing on the small details of your fishing and the results will come.

I will say that it is a great experience representing your country in World and European competitions, and one that I would encourage other anglers to try and have a go at some stage of their fishing life.

As a full time fly tyer you obviously know a thing or two about flies. Do you still tie for pleasure and can you share with us a couple of your favourite flies for Irish river trout?

Over the years I have tried to simplify my patterns and approaches to catching fish as much as I can and I am catching just as much now or more even with simple flies and less flies in my boxes.  I love fly-tying and I could sit at the desk for 12 hours straight no problem several days a week. I often say that I could give up fly fishing if I had to but I could never give up fly tying.

I do a lot of commercial tying but I also make time for my own tying and experimenting with old patterns trying to make them more productive or trying out new materials I have found somewhere. I often get together with a few friends and we have fly-tying sessions sharing and developing our skills, they are a bit of fun and great for sharing and learning.

Here are a few well proven patterns that always gets fish for me….I like a bit of a soft hackle on my nymphs

You are probably better known as a nymphing man. Is the majority of your fishing with nymphs or do you also enjoy other methods too?

I have spent a lot of time nymphing and it would be my go to method, but as a competition angler you must be able to fish all methods and fish them well. I like to fish all other methods just as much as nymph fishing, and there is something special witnessing a nice fish coming up to your dry fly. I was born and bred wet fly fishing and still enjoy trying to outsmart trout with a couple of spiders swinging them down and across the river. I think it is important for a angler to fish all methods as some days one will out fish the other and it can get boring going onto the water fishing the same way all the time, you are not developing or learning that way.

You have fished in many different parts of the world. Which countries outside of Ireland did you enjoy fishing the most and is there any country in particular that you keep returning to for pleasure fishing?

I have been to countless destinations over the years and a few always draw me back time and time again. Poland and the River San is a common destination for me, as too the River Dee in Wales. However fishing in Slovenia is something special, and I try and get there at least one time a year. This place not only has good sized fish, with several species but the scenery here is amazing and the people are so welcoming, I would recommend it to everyone to get there at some time of there lives.

We often here about things not being as good as they used to be for trout fishing in Ireland with pollution, poaching and declining fly hatches in particular. But can you see any positive changes in recent years?

I do see that catch and release is much more widely practiced across the country. Social media campaigns have assisted its popularity and it is a good thing. There still is some who wish to take a couple of fish for the table and that is not too bad,  but there is others that  will kill a lot more than they need and it does have an impact. The exposure of pollution and other negatives on social media do raise good awareness to the problems but I think the action to remedy the problems is just not there.

Besides fishing related things do you have any other hobbies?

Very little, I live, eat and breathe fly fishing. I do some training in the gym and some running but that is related to fishing too for competitions and to try and stay somewhat fit. I do like a bit of game shooting and I keep Springer’s so I get out with them as much as possible. I used to play a good bit of golf but due to the increase demands of my fishing that went by the way side as few years ago, but I get out now and again sometimes. It is hard to have any other hobbies really when you put in as much time as I do into fly fishing and have a family too. I married the most understanding wife on the planet thank god.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions. The last word is yours. If there’s anything you would like to add please feel free. And tight lines for 2018!!

Thanks for the opportunity to give you some insight into my fishing life, I hope you get something from it and if you would like any more information in relation to any aspect please feel free to get in touch. To end, never stop learning, and sharing is learning for us all. Encourage youths to give it a try and do your bit to protect what we have left, or for the next generation it will be a lot less. Safe and tight lines for 2018 to all.

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