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MartinlfApril 12th, 2009, 1:39 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
I'm first addressing this question to Jeff and JAD because I know they use some of the methods I'm going to ask about, but I welcome comments from John W, Gonzo, Jason, Shawn, Flatstick, Falsifly, Pat--from anyone with a good feel for nymph fishing. If you would rather PM me your thoughts--for whatever reason, I'm happy to get them that way too.

Last year I started nymph fishing with weighted flies, without any split shot, having some generous online tutoring from Loren Williams, who has been a member of the US Flyfishing Team. He seems to fish this way very often, and I don't doubt that he makes it work even under difficult conditions. Last year he PM'd me a message about fishing a low, clear spring creek and succeeding--though he had to use weighted micro nymphs.

Last season I had lots of success in all kinds of waters, especially with the dreaded hairy honeybug, and the honeybug inchworm, both heavily weighted and often sporting tungsten beads--though I fished various sizes to fit the depth and speed of the waters I was fishing. Jeff, I only failed to use a Vladi worm because I didn't get around to tying them.

I used a number of different rigs, sometimes fishing two weighted nymphs tandem, or dropping an unweighted nymph below or above the weighted nymphs. Or I just used one weighted fly.

This year my success has been much more mixed with these kind of rigs and flies. The water has been lower and clearer, in general, and I've almost been skunked a time or two. On my last outing in low, clear water, I went back to an unweighted fly and used tungsten putty in the typical split shot location, about 8-10 inches up from the fly and did well. Yesterday on a bigger river with the water up a bit I thought I'd score, but had a tough day, even when I dropped a small nymph off the back of the weighted fly--essentially using the weighted fly as split shot.

Here are my questions. Of course, I realize that my mixed success may be due to many variables that I haven't even considered and will fail to mention below. Including inept casting and line handling. But here goes. First off, Jeff, have you been fishing without shot much this season on your home waters? If so can you describe your most successful rigs either here or in a PM? JAD has given me some input on this topic, and I always welcome his ideas, so I'll hope he chimes in again if he wishes too.

One thing I may be doing is fishing flies that are too heavy and are bouncing along the bottom too slowly, or feel too heavy when fish mouth them. By not striking or striking too late, I may have missed some hits yesterday that I thought were bottom.

Or I may have just been fishing the wrong flies. I had such success with the "worm" flies last season, I'm a bit superstitious about their effectiveness (By the way, an unweighted fly that I feel the same way about is Gonzo's scud). Perhaps weighted mayfly nymphs of the right size and weight would have worked. As it swung up at the end of a drift, I did have a fish in an eddy take a swipe at an unweighted mayfly nymph I had dropped off an anchor fly, and there were some spotty Hendricksons and olives on the water--along with a few early stones.

Or perhaps having an unweighted fly moving around a bit more on a tippet with the split shot 8-12" above it may look more natural. I understand that depending on weight and water an unweighted nymph on a traditional rig fished upstream may even be downstream of the split shot when the fish takes it. One advantage of fishing weighted flies is that this doesn't happen.

On recent unsuccessful outings (most of which have been on the big water stream that Jeff and John will recognize immediately) the water was colder than last season when fish were taking the anchor flies more readily, so that may have been a factor. Once fish are activated by warmer water and hatches they may start hitting almost anything more readily. Still, something the right size that behaves like common food will almost certainly get more strikes.

Really good nymph fishing continues to be a mystery to me. I have my good days and my not so good days. When fish are feeding on the surface I know what I'm doing--or doing wrong--but the nymph game is often a mystery to me. So I'm always interested in others' views.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Shawnny3April 12th, 2009, 5:35 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Excellent questions, Louis. This has the potential to be a gold mine of a thread. I don't have time right now to get into my methods a ton, and I am certainly not one who's figured everything out, but I'll chime in a little once others have gotten the chance. In other words, I'll let wisdom speak before I do. If wisdom is so inclined, that is. Nymphing IS mysterious business, and those who have spent many years unraveling it might be understandably reluctant to share their hard-earned nuggets. But even if the thread itself doesn't ascend to historic Troutnut levels, hopefully you'll at least get a few guardedly helpful PMs... which you forward to me.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
HellgramiteApril 12th, 2009, 7:24 pm
Southern calif.

Posts: 45
Hey Martinlf:I have been fishing in Southern Calif.many years now and find we do not have the hatches you get in the northeast unless I head north to the Lower Owens or Hot creek area.So I fish nymphs 90% of the time.A guide up north showed me what I think is the best nymph rig.He took a leader and cut it leaving about 3ft of length.Then he cut a piece of white yarn about an inch long and tied it to the end of the leader at the midway point of the yarn.Then he took a length of tippit around the depth of the water being fished tied it to the leader and slid it down to the yarn(the yarn became the strike indicator)this is rubbed with floatent.I use a Mayfly or Caddisfly nymph non weighted with a split shot around 6-8in.above the fly.Depending on the depth and speed of the water tells me how much weight to use.He told me you want the fly bouncing off the bottom.This has worked for me for the past 20 years.I have tried many diff.rigs and find that when I have a problem I just get back to the basics.I read a book called (Sierra Trout)by Cutter the sun of the family that sells the bug spray.He said that a Trout will not expend more energy to feed on something than it will get out of the food.In other words you need to run the nymph right in front of his mouth. I have run my nymph by a Trout 10 times until I put it in his mouth and chewed it for him.I like bead heads and fish them the same way but I feel weighted nymphs can sometimes be to heavy unless the water is running fast.The great thing about this rig is you don't have to tie a blood knot and you use the same leader all year.So there ya go this is how I do nymphs and I only get skunked about 5% of the time.
LittleJApril 12th, 2009, 8:13 pm
Hollidaysburg Pa

Posts: 251
ok here's my stab at this. Let me first qualify myself as in no way an expert, so I won't take offense to any one who disagrees w/ me.

louis- "I used a number of different rigs, sometimes fishing two weighted nymphs tandem, or dropping an unweighted nymph below or above the weighted nymphs. Or I just used one weighted fly."

Rigs: I fish two basic rigs while nymphing, a czech rig and a high stick rig.

Czech rig- leader should be about 3/4 the length of your rod. (I really don't see how this technique could be possible w/ a rod shorter than 9') Starting from the bottom (or lead fly) i tie between 12- 20" of tippet (depends on where I want to be in the water column) to a tippet ring. I tie another piece of tippet(usually 4x flouro) about 16" to another tippet ring. From there I attach the remaining length of leader to a hi-vis butt section. I usually use 3x or 4x flouro, no taper. I then attach droppers (around 7") to each tippet ring. This is a three fly rig with the anchor always being the middle fly.

High Stick rig- I use a standard 10' george harvey leader tapered to 4x flouro. I add 10" hi-vis mono sections in the butt, and usually around the .011 (10 lb) mark. I fish two flies with this rig, an anchor, and another (unweighted) tied off the hook eye.

louis- "One thing I may be doing is fishing flies that are too heavy and are bouncing along the bottom too slowly, or feel too heavy when fish mouth them. By not striking or striking too late, I may have missed some hits yesterday that I thought were bottom."

This is a good place to discuss short line technique. I would guess that you prob. are fishing w/ too much line. (I really view fishing weighted flys as short line technique) If you fish a long line/ leader, weight can become tricky because you have to match it to your conditions so closely. Usually making fishing w/ shot more efficient. The result of improper weighting put simply is a loss of contact with your flies, snagging bottom, missed strikes,etc. If you fish a short line in either technique you are leading your flies through the strike zone, with almost zero slack between your rod tip and anchor. Which done properly makes it tuff to miss strikes. I also always use a scud hook for my anchor so that my fly rides hook point up, and bounces across the bottom.(with the exception of a vladi worm, different hook same concept.

louis-"On recent unsuccessful outings (most of which have been on the big water stream that Jeff and John will recognize immediately) the water was colder than last season when fish were taking the anchor flies more readily, so that may have been a factor. Once fish are activated by warmer water and hatches they may start hitting almost anything more readily. Still, something the right size that behaves like common food will almost certainly get more strikes."

I think it is also important to discuss the use of "anchor" flies. I generally carry a handful in different weights. I allow them to get me to the bottom and use unweighted flies to match the "hatch". I've had better success leaving my "hatch matching" bugs unweighted or lightly weighted. Creativity will get more strikes on you anchors but they really need to be thought of as split shot w/a hook. Here are a few of my anchors: Vladi worm, condom larva (same as a vladi only on a sz 6-8 2457), various colors of thread wrapped over lots of lead with a pink head also on 6-10 scud hooks,and crazy heavy tung stones on size 6 scud hooks. The beauty is they all have caught a pile of fish. Which in short is why I fish weighted flies because i'm yet to cath any fish on split shot.

I'd like to get into the technique more but i'm getting tired of typing so we'll get into that later. Great thread, w/o question my favorite topic.

Hopefully this helps w/o insulting anyones intelligence.

Flatstick96April 13th, 2009, 12:13 pm
Posts: 127
I bet I’m gonna ramble here -it’s what I get for being pent-up here in Texas; you’ve been forewarned…

First, I'm flattered to have been included in the group named in the initial post - even without knowing several of the others mentioned I'm certain I'm not in their league. Also, while I don't know Loren personally, I've gotten to "know" him in a sense over the years on various fly-fishing web forums, and he strikes me as a very good guy who REALLY knows his stuff - definitely learn whatever you can from him.

As I noted in another post, I'm not much of a technical fisherman - hell, you could argue that, while fishing, I'm actually a complete simpleton. I'm not kidding when I say that accomplished fishermen who watch me for five minutes walk away thinking that it's my first time out. I can't count how many times other fishermen have stopped to watch me, and felt badly enough that they then attempted to educate me, streamside, on how I ought to be doing things. That said I do tend to catch a lot of fish, and some pretty old and wily ones at that, so presumably there is something about what I do that the fish seem to be OK with.

Given my remedial approach to fishing in general, what I'm about to write will likely differ considerably from what many of the others will talk about; in fact, I'm sure there are going to be accomplished fishermen who will read this thread and completely disagree with what I'm writing here, and that's fine - what I'm relating is what works for me, it doesn't have to work for anyone else (although I suspect it does, and will). We’ll call it the “Harvey Penick approach to fly-fishing” (for all you golfers out there).

When fishing, I often think about an anecdote Shawn shared with me from a trip he once took to Montana; he and our other brother were telling some old salt about the trouble they were having catching fish, and the guy replied with something along these lines: "Remember, they're just trout."

With that in mind, I really have three very simple goals when I'm fishing (and when I'm fishing, I'm usually nymphing, so these definitely apply to the topic at hand) – my whole approach is basically: “what do I have to do to make these three things happen?”

1. Avoid alerting the fish to my presence.
2. Get the fly in front of the fish.
3. Try to get it there in way where it looks like something the fish wants to eat.

Growing up, I knew two kinds of trout fishing: first worm fishing, and then dry fly fishing. My current approach to catching trout in general (and nymphing especially) is the illegitimate (and often unmentioned) child of those two approaches. As a kid I spent MANY hours astream with my grandfather, an avid worm fisherman – from those sessions I got pretty good at being able to read a stream and figure out where the subsurface-feeding fish were likely to be – again, this isn’t technical knowledge, nor is it something I can really describe, it’s just a “feeling” of looking over the water and knowing how to interpret it, and for me it just came from many, many hours of just being out there. The other thing I learned from gramps is that there are MANY lies along the stream that hold trout (often trout that are actively feeding subsurface) that are skipped by MANY anglers as they move from one “likely looking” spot to the next. (It was astounding some of the places from which he’d patiently pull fish while I was charging pell-mell to the next “hole”.) Also, I think these “secondary” lies are easier to fish effectively because they’re often smaller and/or shallower, and it’s easier to pinpoint exactly where they fish are likely to be holding.

I got introduced to fly-fishing as a teenager, but all we ever did was fish dries. We fished a lot of low, clear water, and about the only way I could get a good drift to these fish was to approach them from downstream and catch them at a distance, so that’s the technique I learned.

So, here’s how I USUALLY nymph…

When I nymph, I tend to do it at distances greater than what I see employed by most other fishermen – it’s not uncommon for me to have 30-40+ feet of line out when I’m nymphing – fishing bigger water (like The J) I’ll get even more line out at times; I also tend to nymph nearly straight upstream (sometimes completely straight upstream) quite a lot – basically just as if I were fishing dries. I almost NEVER “high-stick”; I don’t have a problem with it, but it’s just not how I usually fish. Many will argue (and I’ve heard a lot of it streamside) that my approach causes me to lose physical “contact” with my flies, and I don’t disagree…but I catch fish. Who knows, given how clumsy I am with a fly rod in my hands, maybe my flies look better to the fish when I have less physical contact with them?

As for weight, drift, etc. – I tend to pay more attention to speed than depth; fishing the way I do, it’s often difficult to know exactly what depth my flies are at throughout their drift – it’s easy though, for me to observe the speed at which I’m drifting. If you came up to me on the stream and asked me at what depth I was catching fish, I probably couldn’t tell you. Often I’ve got the speed right pretty much off the bat – I guess that’s just experience – but there are certainly times where I’ll be doing all sorts of experimenting when I first get to the stream to get a feel for exactly where the fish are, what fly they want, and at what speed/depth they want my offering presented on that day. Of those three variables(where, what, and how), I think "where" (finding the fish) is the most important, "how" (presentation) is next, and "what" (fly selection) is least important.

Another thing I tend to do is something my uncle Robert mentioned to Shawn and I once – he said that when nymphing, he almost never makes the exact same cast twice in a row. Once I’m comfortable I’ve got the speed right, I’m constantly making very slight variations in presentation as I’m fishing; landing a cast a couple of inches from where the last one landed, moving half a step to a slightly different position, casting from a slightly different arm angle, mending line more or less aggressively, sometimes even just shifting my weight from one leg to the other – very little things that alter the drift slightly from the unsuccessful drift that just ended, to something just a little different. To the casual observer it probably looks like the same drift four or five times in a row, but it isn’t.

Indicators: I always use two. One is what I’ve only ever seen referred to as “FFP style” – I guess because it is the favorite of Steve over at FFP in State College. It’s just a short (maybe ¾”) piece of fluorescent orange plastic tubing that I slip onto one of the middle sections of the leader when I build the leader; then I slip it down over the nearest blood knot to keep it held snugly in place; this indicator usually ends up being about 4-5 feet from the “anchor” fly. The second is a much more visible removable indicator that I place about 12-18” down the leader from where the leader attaches to the fly line – this one is probably a good 8-10’ from the anchor fly most of the time. The second one I just mentioned is usually the one I’m watching for strikes (because the way I fish it’s the much easier one for me to see – I don’t have very good eyesight). Where I find the first (almost always submerged) indicator particularly useful isn’t so much for detecting strikes – rather, I use it to show me the subsurface drift speed of my leader relative to the surface drift speed of my 2nd indicator – when both indicators are drifting at the same speed, it tends to be a pretty good indication that my fly is drifting “cleanly” as well.

Getting back to the “contact” issue for a moment: earlier I snuck the word “physical” in there, and that was intentional. While it’s true that there is often a lack of contact between myself and the surface indicator (as observed by anyone who watches me for two seconds), I usually have my drifts going such that the surface indicator does have contact to the fly, and I maintain VISUAL contact with the indicator; when I observe anything abnormal in its drift, I reestablish physical contact with the fly and do my thing; that split-second that it takes me to reestablish contact probably costs me some fish, but again - as a whole, this is what works for me. Which brings up another thing – I try to treat any abnormality in my drift as a strike.

As for fly selection, I hit the stream with fewer flies than just about anyone you’ll ever fish with (not proud of that, necessarily, but it’s the truth). I guess this goes back to the “They’re just trout” mentality. Back in my days of keeping fish for my own consumption I cut open the bellies of many a trout and I’ve found all sorts of stuff that ain’t food. Not saying I fish with something that imitates a small twig, just saying that they’re often not as selective as they’re made out to be – if it reasonably approximates food, you’ve got a good chance. I mean, how many freaking fish have I caught over the years on a simple BH Walt’s Worm? Or a simple wet black ant? Or a muskrat nymph? Most of the time we as fly-fishermen are guilty of over-complicating things, not over-simplifying…

As for configuration of the fly rig, when fishing subsurface I almost always fish two flies; I usually have a 7.5-9’ leader (formula for which is at home, so I don’t have it handy), to which I’ll affix about 2’ of tippet material (usually 4X, sometimes 5 – on very rare occasions 6, but I hardly ever find the need). First fly (the anchor I guess) is tied to that, and then the second fly is dropped off the eye of the first – distance between the two flies varies, but I try hard to keep them at distances that minimize fouling. The “anchor” in this set-up is usually weighted, but not terribly heavily; for me this is a "fly with a little weight" as opposed to a "weight that happens to look like a fly". Second fly is almost never weighted. When I do need to add supplemental split shot (which I don’t particularly like using, truth be told), the location of it in relation to the flies varies quite a bit – I’d say though that in general, I tend to place my weight further away from the flies than what most other people do. When I do use split shot, it’s not uncommon for me to have it several feet away from the flies.

With all of that said, it still comes down to the three goals noted WAAAAAY above in this rambling tome, and while I am pursuing those goals I OFTEN vary the things I’ve just described – I’ve tried some VERY outlandish things in my attempt to achieve those goals and catch fish; and I’m sure a lot of my weird attempts are things I try because I just don’t know the right way to do it.

Case in point: One time while fishing dries I saw a rising fish, but I just couldn’t figure out how to get the fly to him; where he was hanging out, there was a limb tip about 18” above the water surface, and I knew I didn’t have the casting skills to sneak that dry in there at a weird angle without slapping the water with the leader and spooking him; what I finally did was cast over the limb so my fly was hanging in the air above him, then I shook the line out a few inches to get the fly to the surface of the water, where I just let it bounce, hanging from the tip of the limb; as he took it, I “rolled” out a loop of line to get it off the limb, and I ended up landing the fish. A good “technical” dry fly fisherman I’m sure could have caught the fish in a more conventional way, but I’m not that good – so instead I did whatever I had to do to accomplish my three simple goals.

To anyone who took the time to read all of that, I apologize for likely wasting five minutes of your day. :-)
JADApril 13th, 2009, 1:56 pm
Alexandria Pa

Posts: 362
(I'm first addressing this question to Jeff and JAD because I know they use some of the methods I'm going to ask about, but I welcome comments from John W, Gonzo, Jason, Shawn, Flatstick, Falsifly, Pat--from anyone with a good feel for nymph fishing.)

Thanks for the outrages complements. Who for one, don't think I deserve. I think you just want to catch 10 to 1 for every fish I happen to dupe into catching..

I high stick my Czech System with a High vis sighter of 12 inches(Hi Vis Gold Stren-8 # ). from their 5X fluro the remainder of leader. after July - 6X.,( In Erie it's 5x for 5 to 10 LBS fish.)

I honestly think their is more to approach and presentation than to set up, I think you have to get your fly to the bottom where the fish are and when it stops set the hook.( Ok over simplified) :)
Sometimes I see a fish and I will put the lure past him time after time (20) before he will take? The only solid thing I have ,and I already told you, for the anchor ----I like it to be bright ---Neon ---for its always the trailer that gets them, the sneaky little guy that is small and dull.
When you come In for the night and your arm hurts and your eyes won't stay open your doing it correct. Or you set the hook and don't know why and your hooked up ----------your doing it correct.

What I really think is the fish were not on---I have seen you fish.

Love ya man

Your buddy john --The other John

They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax.
Radcliffe's Fishing from the Earliest Times,
Shawnny3April 13th, 2009, 2:17 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
I was hoping Duane (Flatstick) would mention his upstream nymphing technique. I use it often as well, but I never catch as many fish using it as he does. The point about line control being most important between indicator and fly rather than between fisherman and indicator is significant, in my eyes. Often you have to let the line lose some tension to get a drag-free drift. No one would fish a dry with constant tension, so fishing a nymph that way makes little sense unless the fly is heavy enough that it can resist the tension and still drift drag-free. I am also one who long-lines almost exclusively and almost never short-sticks. That's not just aesthetic preference, although I do like it more because it feels more like dry-fly fishing and less like bait-fishing - I also catch more fish that way.

There's one thing Duane does that he did not mention, and that is constantly mend his line. He's always throwing little loops and pulling in slack to keep his indicator moving at just the right speed at long distances in rough water. His floating indicator often pulses on the water as a result, just a few inches at a time. My hypothesis is that his flies twitch every few feet in an otherwise perfectly dead drift - they don't drag, just twitch - and that this subtle movement draws strikes. This is a very intense form of fishing and requires constant attention and activity. It's not for the guy who just wants to do the fly-fishing equivalent of plunking worms.

I think the high-floating foam indicator Duane uses is important in serving as a buffer between him and his fly, deadening his mends so they don't jerk the fly too hard. I don't use the same indicators he does, which may be one of a host of reasons this nymphing technique doesn't work as well for me. I use hand-made natural indicators, and they simply don't perform as well on a number of levels. This buffering effect of the indicator is also an important difference between fishing with and without an indicator (it's not just about being able to see the strike). It has me wondering if I should just go the foam route - but I'm pretty stubborn.

Duane is being more than modest about his skills, even "self-effacing" would be understating it. Flat-out lying is closer to the truth. His presentation is unconventional, but he can cast a really nice loop when he wants to, and he knows exactly what he's doing at all times. With his having spent only a few seasons in Central PA, I'd pit him against anyone who's been fishing the same streams for 30 years. Some days when he's caught 15 fish and you've caught 5, you think you're having a bad day until you meet a few guys in the parking area and they've been skunked using the exact same flies.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Shawnny3April 13th, 2009, 2:20 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Or you set the hook and don't know why and your hooked up ----------your doing it correct.

I love that, John. Well put.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Flatstick96April 13th, 2009, 3:29 pm
Posts: 127
Thanks for the compliments Shawnny; only 9 weeks until we're stream side - don't forget to tie us up some green weenies. ;-)

Kidding, of course - that's actually one of the three flies I can tie for myself...
MartinlfApril 13th, 2009, 5:57 pm
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3233
Thanks to all. This is very helpful, and interesting. I've used many, if not all, of the methods described so far, and know they can work. Hellgramite, I like the idea of the vertical leader, and plan to use it some, especially midge fishing. Jeff, thanks a lot. It's so helpful and encouraging to read your methods. I was trying a microballoon indicator one day and that may have led to some problems. I usually tightline Czech style when fishing weighted flies. Duane, I use long lines at times, often in lower water. Steve from Flyfisher's showed me how to do this years ago, and it's often productive for me. Shawn, thanks for the additional comments and insight. John D, you're always generous. I think the fish may have not been on one day as others said it was slow, but the first day--and I think I told you about this in a PM, I had started upstream, but with fish not responding and rises below me I want back to the pool I had walked past and turned to dry flies--but guys upstream of me had a good day nymphing. Perhaps I hadn't gotten up into the productive nymphing water yet, but I felt like something wasn't right. Me. As you said then, perhaps I just wasn't in the zone. Dry flies worked out pretty well that day so I wasn't unhappy; I just couldn't figure out why the nymphing had been so slow for me. Anyway, it's great to hear what works for others, and to learn from their ideas.

Here's a longish piece I copied off the web a while back: It's a good read from a guy who swam with the fishes. I'd totally forgotten about it until I started saving your ideas in my nymphing folder:

From Field and Stream article,13355,1575804_8,00.html

But as soon as photographer Tim Romano moved the boom-operated underwater camera overhead, even ever so subtly, the fish scattered in panic. At one point, a shadow passed above and I saw fish slink away toward the rocks. When I surfaced to ask what had happened, they told me a blue heron had flown over the run.

More significantly, I watched from below as my friend Bruce Mardick made several false casts over the fish. As he whipped the line back and forth, the fish went ballistic and hid against the bank. After allowing them to recover, he started limiting false casts, even using roll casts, and the trout seemed undisturbed. The point: You get one, maybe two, false casts before the fish are onto you. Try to direct these at an angle behind the fish; only your final cast should target the run.

Jeremy Hyatt, one of the top guides in Colorado, fished a nymph rig. I observed the fish inhaling the fly and spitting it back out like a sunflower seed. Hyatt never saw his indicator move and certainly never felt the fish. The perfect "dead drift," in which flies float with virtually no influence from the tippet and line, elicited more strikes, but the slack line caused more misses. Even the best anglers miss at least 50 percent of takes.

Just for grins, I suggested to my friend Anthony Bartkowski that he cast, mend the line and, once the drift was set up, count slowly to three, then set the hook. Sure enough, he got into a few trout that way. Next we tried a variation on the European style of nymphing. The angler uses heavily weighted flies, casts more directly upstream into the run, and essentially rakes the flies through the fish zone. I saw the fish eat the flies less often, but the percentage of hookups on takes improved.

I guess you have to pick your poison. A good compromise solution is to use that dead-drift technique but get in the habit of "mini-setting" the hook at the end of every drift. You’ll be surprised how often you’re buttoned on when you don’t expect it.

n one situation, Mardick was casting at a group of several fish, but only one of them was visibly suspended in the feeding lane. Instead of dredging the run for the fish on the bottom, he lightened his weight so the flies would drift midway up the water column. Sure enough, that fish ate it on the first drift. This happened just a few feet in front of my face.

Too many anglers make the mistake of chasing the biggest fish they see. If that big fish is hunkered down, you’re wasting an opportunity. Catch the fish that’s eating, then add another split shot and frustrate yourself by chasing difficult-to-catch bottom dwellers.

I watched fish react the same way to a full range of tippets and flies, and dropping down in size on the tippet made no difference at all. Zip. I could see when the angler used 6X as readily as I saw 3X. Granted, I’m not a fish (just a writer pretending to be a fish), but I don’t think it mattered that much to the trout. At least that appeared to be the case when the water was moving at a rate of, say, 1 linear river foot per second or faster. You might as well have the advantage of stronger line.

At the top of the run, the water moved quickly through a riffle and side channel. At the bottom, the water pooled and moved slowly.

In the fast water, we watched via the remote camera as Hyatt hooked several fish on a rig with a No. 12 San Juan worm and a No. 14 Prince nymph. The fish could see these flies well but had less time to scrutinize them as they pulsed through the swifter water; the trout therefore made impulse reactions and ate the flies. At the bottom of the same run, however, in the slow water, the big flies weren’t catching any fish. We had to use a No. 20 RS2 to get just one strike

Faster currents allow you to get away with more, and sometimes those itty-bitty bugs get lost in the flow.

I always fish two flies on a nymph rig. The first, suspended about a foot below my weight, is a larger attractor fly, like a pink San Juan worm or a Copper John. Then I tie another 12 to 18 inches of tippet to its hook shank and attach a smaller fly, a "morsel," on the bottom. This is my standard rig in fast water and often in slow water as well. In really slow, clear water, I use two small flies.

In theory, the first fly grabs the fish’s attention, and when it investigates, it sees the second one and eats it. Sounds like a stretch, but I witnessed this playing out. I positioned myself on the bottom about 4 feet downstream and slightly to the side of a big rainbow trout. Mardick cast, and I watched the fish notice the flies, turn around and swim right past me, as if to say, I’ll be right back, I have to check this out. He followed them (a yellow stonefly and a small red Copper John), apparently decided against eating them, then went to the exact spot where he’d been holding before. On the next cast, the flies swung by me, the fish turned and trailed them out of sight, then came swimming up the run right to his original spot. After the third cast, the rainbow cruised by again, following the flies, only this time, he didn’t come back. I surfaced to see Mardick and Bartkowski netting the fish. He had eaten the bottom fly, falling victim to curiosity.

From my in-water perspective, it seemed that strike indicators made of yarn did not freak the fish out as much as the solid-foam bobber kind. The fish would scatter away from the latter after it hit the water. I don’t know why; maybe the noise from the piece of foam slapping the surface was an issue. Certainly the solid indicators were more obvious and foreign looking as they floated overhead. Yarn indicators solved both problems. They were silent when they hit the water, and from my perspective looking from the bottom up, the yarn seemed to blend in more naturally with the dispersed bubble patterns on the surface. It looked organic, not man-made. We switched colors of the yarn indicators, and none seemed to spook fish or stop them from taking the flies.

In another instance, we use the remote video to monitor a group of massive (20-plus-inch) brown trout feeding in a pool below a waterfall. Because the fish were feeding on the upwelling current, they were literally suspended in the water at a 45-degree angle, noses down. We over-weighed the tippet to "smart bomb" the flies straight to the bottom, then lifted them gently toward the surface. One of those big browns hammered a Barr emerger as it fluttered upward.

Here's the point: You should change your weight three times before you change your fly pattern.

Places where you find changes in structure, changes in depth, and changes in currents are where you'll find most of the fish. We found trout to be less spooky in the more pronounced feeding lanes, for example, where a rock made a hard current seam and there was protective cover close by. I was able to approach fish in these situations much more easily than I could those that were exposed in open riffles and pools. You'll do yourself a favor by zeroing in on spots in the river where you see pronounced changes in current and the bottom.

If you flies are dragging, the trout will not only refuse them but will often swim away,. We watched over and over via the video camera as we floated a large nymph through a series of pools and riffles. On purpose, we alternated and drifts (in which the fly looked like a dog pulling on its leash) with good drifts (in which the fly floated naturally). We could not have choreographed a more graphic response: The trout shunned and swam away from the dragging fly and, conversely, slid over to check out the smooth presentations. Your cast is about one-tenth as important as your drift. Learn to mend your line and control your drift, and half the battle is won.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Flatstick96April 14th, 2009, 7:03 am
Posts: 127
Louis, that was a very interesting article - thanks for sharing it.
HellgramiteApril 14th, 2009, 9:34 am
Southern calif.

Posts: 45
Not to get off topic but I was told many years ago that Size and Color are what is important.Size first,then Color.This came clear to me one day on the Lower Owens river which is an area 3-4 hrs North Of L.A.This is a C+R area Barbless artificial only.This place get's hammered and the Trout become so picky That if you are one size off the Trout will not hit.I was to fish with (Gary Hooper)the best guide in the area on a Wed.I got there on Tues.after noon and there was a hatch of Mayflies going on and I tied on a pale blue dry in size 18 it was the smallest fly I had.There were around 30-40 Browns lined up across the river slurping bugs off the water,what a site.I must have drifted my fly 20-30 times and each time they would only look at it and take the bug right next to my fly.The next morning I met Gary at the same spot on the river and as soon as we started getting ready a hatch started up and Gary tied on the same fly I used the day before and on the first cast I was on a nice Brown.I asked him what the deal was and he told me my fly was to large.At this time I was ignorant and said what do you mean to large?He explained to me that the Mayflies were a size 22 which was the size he tied on my tippet.He told me that if you fish an area that gets fished by everybody and there brother the fish see so many flies they become very selective.After that week I tested his info. and went to an area were I had to hike into were most people didn't go and I was able to catch fish with the kitchen sink.As I read these posts most of you fish the North East and here you talk about the crowds of people fishing.Do you find the fish become more selective in summer when there are more people on the water then in winter when there are less people?The reason I bring this up is because The same is true for nymphs if the nymphs in the water are a size 20-18 and you are fishing a size 16-14 I do not feel you will be as successful.
LittleJApril 14th, 2009, 10:56 am
Hollidaysburg Pa

Posts: 251
It's hard to say if the fish are tougher in summer than they are in winter. They def. see more pressure in the summer and that coupled w/ low clear water make for some tough days, but winter brings on it's own set of challenges. Water in the 30's, less food, make for tough days as well. You are correct on the sizes, whether it be winter, spring, summer, or fall you have to know what's on the menu if you are going to fish bugs.
McjamesApril 14th, 2009, 11:37 am
Cortland Manor, NY

Posts: 139
I spent some time in X Yugoslavia several years ago and fished the Neretva river a few times. The section I fished is very deep and very fast. The locals there use the following technique for trout: a large spinning outfit, with up to 6 nymphs tied 6-8 inches apart. At the bottom they use a "weight" that is basically a plastic tube filled with water.
I am haunted by waters
JADApril 15th, 2009, 4:45 pm
Alexandria Pa

Posts: 362
One of the best catching fisherman I ever met, or will meet . His favorite phase was junk on a hook, If I ask him about his nymphs color, he would answer gray brown or tan . That's how I was trained.
Now when you see a old guy with a 10 foot rod with a old automatic reel nymph fishing --that would be me, stop and set awhile and we will talk fishing. :)


They fasten red (crimson red) wool around a hook, and fix onto the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in colour are like wax.
Radcliffe's Fishing from the Earliest Times,

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