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> > Spring flow in late summer.

Report at a Glance

General RegionColorado
Specific LocationUpper reaches of a small stream
Time of Day11-4
Fish Caughtlotsa browns
Conditions & HatchesAbnormally high flows for this little stream, due to an unusually wet summer.

Details and Discussion

PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 3:18 pm

Posts: 1776
August 20, 2010

Hit the same creek as last week –the brookie “pot” stream –but about 4 miles further downstream. Here the stream is larger, and all pocket water and pools –a typical mountain stream. With this extraordinarily wet year it looked like it was in spring flows. I looked at that flow, with some color to it, and would have loved to nymph fish it. I’d brought a short rod and wished I’d brought a longer one. I dabbled with a dropper nymph off the dry for a short bit, but I find the rig not the best of both worlds. A dry needs to drift a t surface current speed, a nymph at subsurface speed. Where the two roughly coincide, it works fine. But that really limited where in this turbulent stream I could fish the nymph, or dry at times, really effectively. So I cut it off and fished the dry solo.

Little Baetis were coming off again, but because of the amount turbulent pocket water ahead of me I stuck with the #14 RF Caddis, a maintenance free (squeeze dry) pattern. In calmer spots it was scrutinized and often rejected. One rejection per fly was the rule of the day. I never saw a fish large enough to warrant a fly change –I just moved on to a new fish. And they were everywhere, every lane (that wasn’t almost dry lol) was occupied.

The trout were very drag shy as this stretch is fished some; Not a lot, but there are boot tracks here and there. Again, one refusal per fish was the rule, and it’s easy to blow it on turbulent water. I suffered a short period of frustration when I first started today, having only recently got back into fly-fishing after 5 years of conventional bass fishing. Fly-casting is almost like riding a bike, you don’t forget exactly, but the nuances required to be really effective on a turbulent trout stream took some fiddling around to get my mind and body back in the groove. I’d also hiked down further than I’d previously gone and had a lot of glorious water ahead of me. I think I bit off more than I could chew, maybe hoping to make up for that 5 year gap in one afternoon, and found myself rushed. That doesn’t often work in fly-fishing, especially when you’re a bit rusty. I finally overcame it, relaxed, and fished what I had in front of me, and began to extract fish from their lanes.

Because of the streamside cover, turbulence, and tinge to the water I was able to approach pretty close. I bow-n-arrowed, rolled, and aerial casted, and caught a bunch of fish. They were almost all browns, lotsa 8inchers or so, a good number of 10s, and up to 11˝”. If one had seen the flow, who didn’t know the stream or only fished in the spring, they would be disappointed in the fish size. It looks well large enough to hold nicer fish, but normal summer and winter flows are much lower and give a better picture of the habitat limitations that exist. The better fish today were also the thinnest –snakes!

It was fun to see the stream after several years away and notice the changes, how water depth and trout holds redistribute. One of my favorite pools created by a log jam was all but gone. But another even more impressive jam had created a long flat pool probably 50 yards long! Below it I found spider webs filled with Trico’s. Mornings could be interesting in this stretch. The enormous dead Ponderosa pine that towered over another favorite pool had been felled by the Forest Service and I counted the rings, averaging 17/inch over a 19inch radius gave an estimated 320 years.

By the time I had to leave I’d covered a comfortable stretch of new water, caught quite a few trout, and re-connected even further into the greatest game on Earth.

The stream.

The dry fly dropper rig does not offer the best of both worlds.

The larger individuals were quite thin.

Shawnny3August 23rd, 2010, 5:00 pm
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Another great report, Paul. Thanks for sharing.

A dry needs to drift at surface current speed, a nymph at subsurface speed.

This is a very good point and often overlooked. I've heard people say, when nymphing, that your indicator should move at the same speed as the bubbles in the foam. That's only true if the current is tumbling nicely along and you're fishing at high to medium depth, but if you're trying to bounce it along the bottom or the surface water is moving significantly faster than the that at the bottom, then this rule doesn't at all hold true. I remember in college when we were studying fluid dynamics inside of pipes that a typical rough approximation was that the fluid was moving twice as fast in the middle of the pipe as at the edges. I actually prefer, if possible, for my nymph to move at slightly less than the current speed, if for no other reason than that my attempts to slow it down may actually get it to go the same speed as the current - it's much easier to err on the side of too fast than too slow. Also often overlooked is that weight can be important not only to get the fly down but to slow it down as well. But you can't use much weight when fishing a dropper off a dry.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
GONZOAugust 23rd, 2010, 7:50 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Shawn and Paul,

Just a few thoughts about the "dead-drift" nymph thing:

I agree with what both of you are saying, but I also think that we carry the notion (illusion?) of dead drift below the surface a bit too far at times.

There are many complicated interactions between various current speeds, bottom configurations, line/leader/indicator influences, and weighting combinations that can create all sorts of changes in the drift of a subsurface fly. "Czech" nymphing seems to show that conventional dead drift is not the only way to go. Even when dead drift is our goal, our nymphs achieve it only in a very small portion of the overall drift in many situations. Because this is usually hidden from view, it is easy to relate to the very limited picture of drift that dries or indicators present on the surface. (That's the illusion part.)

In dry-fly fishing, we invite the fish to meet us at an interface where things are mostly two-dimensional and visible. The challenge of nymphing is that it asks us to think in three dimensions and to imagine what we can't see. As helpful as it can be, any indicator becomes a liability when it prevents us from thinking beyond it. If we can only relate to the tiny bit of information it provides, we are fishing a nymph as though it were a dry fly whether the indicator is moving faster, slower, or at the same speed as the current.

Drifting in the slower cushion created by friction along the bottom or in the faster layers above it, the hesitation or movement created by various amounts of weight interacting with the bottom and "leading" or even deliberately twitching/moving a nymph during a drift all have a place in nymphing tactics. Beyond dead drift, aren't we are trying to get our nymph to appear like a living thing? Perhaps one way that experienced trout select items from the drift is by recognizing that they don't always drift inertly.
PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 7:56 pm

Posts: 1776
Exactly, Shawn. Speed is the critical control in nymphing. If you aren't catching fish, it's most probably speed. Weight, tippet diameter, indicator style (if using one), and a greased leader to defeat surface tension are key. I add another to the list -puffy picked-out dubbing that "adheres" to the boundary layer currents. I even put an article together on it for FR&R a while back, but they dinged it. I assume they didn't believe me. But a puffy fly acts like a parachute, and I believe they are easiest to fish slow -once you get them down there.
PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 8:25 pm

Posts: 1776
Hey GONZO, our replies we crossed in cyberspace. Good stuff.

I hear you. But I still think speed is the critical control, whether you lead or use an indicator (an indicator is more a speed indicator for me than a strike indicator). Fly movement, such as twitches are fine, unless you start to get inappropriate "drag". This means making the fly look not like a discrete object, but a much larger object fish detect visually and possibly by sound and feel. The whole idea of "slack line" nymphing I believe centers around this distinction, whether that's understood or not. It's the same actually in all angling. Going to light line in bass fishing is done to free up lure action -not because bass will see our line. They can anyway in clear water, but don't know what it means. The trouble occurs when it impedes lure action.

I've come to this gradually over time but had it really sunk home years ago fishing the Hammersley. I was fishing live golden stonefly nymphs to brookies on 2lb line and a #14 dry fly hook. Talk about a realistic "lure"! They don't get any better. But if an errant current created drag, the brookies let the wriggling, leg kicking nymph pass, as if it weren't "food". It appeared to me that the line was suddenly a part of the package, making the whole deal look larger -too large to eat, and potentially large enough to frighten them.

To get a fly to move like a real insect (and untethered to boot) requires the right rig, and esp in current and esp with fly tackle, is no small feat. It's easiest to do with spinning tackle I believe -spiderweb lines and jigs heavy enough to minimize water density (esp in current) effects. Take a light weight, tether it to a thick line (leader butt, etc...) and things get challenging. Dead drift does the trick, as does "the Lift" (Leisenring). Twitches work when you can do it without the lure looking large (tethered). The wet fly swing and skating try do do the same sort of thing -it's about speed control -avoiding the hyperbolic curve that forms when you pitch an untended line across a current tongue.

Am I making sense? Am I missing something? I don't do Czech nymphing exactly, but may lead a nymph through water slower than my rig was set up for. And I've done plenty of downstreaming with wet flies, where speed control is, in my mind, the game.
DryflyAugust 23rd, 2010, 8:28 pm
rochester mn

Posts: 133
How does fluffy dubbing help?
PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 8:34 pm

Posts: 1776
Hey DryFly,

My idea was (is -although I'm open to correction) that fluffy picked out dubbing acts like a parachute that, once down in slow bottom layer currents, helps slow the rig speed. The ultimate for this is the yarn fly -like the Glo-Bug, which appears to adhere to slow bottom currents, putting the brakes on the leader/indicator above.

Make sense? Watch a Glo-Bug kissing the substrate sometime. It'll (help) slow things down.
DryflyAugust 23rd, 2010, 8:47 pm
rochester mn

Posts: 133
Plausible but I would think split shot would keep it down near the bottom. Keeping some slack in the drift would allow the nymph to sink. Avoid a dragging fly line that pulls the nymph along.
PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 9:00 pm

Posts: 1776
Oh yes...shot is requisite -and the primary depth and speed controller. But, I think, that the fly can impact this too.

Slack does allow it to sink, but offers no detection, and can allow currents to pull you out of line. A taut line has to come into play. It can be OK to drag a nymph, as GONZO points out, and you would need to if your weight was too much to "dead drift". I believe it's the basis of Czech nymphing.

What I look for in my indicator (it's a drift speed indicator before it can become a strike indicator) is for it to be moving at the current speed where the fish is feeding. Under a current tongue (where I often fish a nymph) my indicator needs to be moving SLOWER than the surface currents. Even in Czech nymphing, this is the case I would bet. The line where it cuts the surface is moving downstream slower than the surface currents. It matches the fly speed of course -this is strike detection.
GONZOAugust 23rd, 2010, 9:21 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Am I making sense?

Yes, very good sense.

Am I missing something?

Perhaps, Paul, but that's OK. Don't mind me, I'm mostly postponing the work I should be doing on my computer by looking at your pretty pictures and musing. :)

Per the "parachute" effect of a fluffy nymph: To the extent that it slows things down, that would be the result of drag. Not knocking the idea--just thinking out loud. I get that it would resist being pulled out of the "zone" more than a sleeker nymph. But it would also resist being pulled/falling into that zone more than a streamlined nymph. It would seem to depend on the relative advantages in a given situation. Do you feel that the benefit of one outweighs the other?
PaulRobertsAugust 23rd, 2010, 9:31 pm

Posts: 1776
Glad to help you procrastinate lol.

I have wondered about that too -esp when the Copper John came out. I dunno. Either way your tippet and indicator are really what's moving things along. I guess I have noticed/felt that a really puffy fly drifts really smoothly, and hangs less. But I could just be being anal, and over thinking. Trout can do that to me lol. Fishing is technical, and fly-fishing takes that to another level.

As to it being "drag" -that's AOK -there's drag (as in dragging a fly say a la Czech, Leisenring, swing, skating) and then there's inappropriate drag -blown speed control and/or a suddenly tethered and therefore much larger object than a food item.
GONZOAugust 23rd, 2010, 10:09 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Well, now you've gone and muddied the waters by mentioning the CJ, Paul. As much as I'm enjoying this chat, I refuse to go there. :)

BTW, I also find that a dry and a dropper is not always the best of both worlds on small streams. My primary objection is that it frequently makes it impossible to be truly accurate with either fly, especially in tiny pockets with extremely short drifts. And it gives me twice as many hooks to hang in the underbrush.
OldredbarnAugust 24th, 2010, 7:22 am
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Fella's I don't want to mess with your "late-night" rambles, but tell me something about that last photo there of that skinny Brown? That has to be one of the oddest Browns I've ever seen...I have seen emaciated fish after long spawnning runs that have that bizarre look, but this is one odd fellow!

I see from the times on your posts that you all are probably sleeping in a bit this morning, so when ever you can get around to it. ;)

Re: Nymph Fishing: I'm not the guy to really jump in here on this discussion, but I think technique would be predicated on what you may or may not know in terms of available bugs below the surface (Mr. Match-the-Hatch again)...During "drift" periods or times where nymphs not known as good swimmers get knocked free from substrate dead-drift makes sense. When I'm out and about chasing Smallies (for example) during Iso time...A swimming nymph with some up-and-down action makes sense.

Sawyer/Leisenring techniques make sense when you are sight fishing and can actually see the fish you are targeting or when you know they are hitting an emerging nymph before it mays it to the surface.

Hell! Maybe we are over thinking this...I'm doing this after a good nights sleep...You guys can at least blame the late hour on your ramblings! :)


I forgot Paul that you are out west somewhere and it wasn't as late your way...Now Gonzo may be sleeping in this morning!
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
PaulRobertsAugust 24th, 2010, 8:55 am

Posts: 1776
GONZO, not sure of your thoughts...

I guess I am talking “dead drift” (with the current) and you are saying there are other options. No argument there.

I suppose a lot of people assume “dead drifting” a nymph is akin to a drag-free dry fly drift. It is not. What’s required of the tippet is quite different. The only similarity is that both take advantage of a trout’s habit of drift feeding.

There are many complicated interactions between various current speeds, bottom configurations, line/leader/indicator influences, and weighting combinations that can create all sorts of changes in the drift of a subsurface fly. …

True! But the job is to buck those -cut through them like a hot knife. A nearly taut line from fly to indicator, leader butt, line tip, or rod tip is pretty much required for detection. Would be nice to have the nymph swirling freely, would you detect takes?

Even when dead drift is our goal, our nymphs achieve it only in a very small portion of the overall drift in many situations.

Absolutely, most of the time. But our job is to identify the drift lane and make sure we have proper speed and detection right then. I think one problem lots of people have when nymphing is trying to fish too much water –fish an entire cast effectively. Great if you have a long run of laminar flow of relatively even depth –the “soft spots”. This expectation smacks of “chuck-n-wind” bass fishing –straining water hoping a fish will come to you, rather than getting the lure to the fish, and having it act right when it gets there.

Three parts to it (in my mind): slack to get down, maintaining proper drift speed/attitude with current, and tension for detection. Adjusting weight, sometimes tippet diameter, for the given depth, current speed, and water density. I can add a fourth, I think what you are referring to, and that is triggering movements. This can be done with or without an indicator, and from various positions with respect to the current. To add triggering movements to the fly we can lift, swing, drag (with, against, or across current can work). But lots of things don’t work, and I think most basically these have a lot to do with overall speed, and the fly not allowed to look like a discrete object a food item would be.

Am I getting warmer?

Love the conversation btw.


Mess away -it's just conversation. :)

Anglers from all walks seem to recognize two basic presentation types based on fish activity: feeding responses and "reaction" responses. I've gotten into long and interesting discussions on this in trying to explain the so-called "reaction strike". Suffice it to say that when we have fish feeding (say at a drift station) there are certain things we tend to try to mimic. True imitation is difficult where fish have an opportunity to scrutinize. Add educated (conditioned) fish and this can hit a whole different level. When fish are not on a feeding station, you have to go in and root em out. Fly action can trigger strikes, and there are certain things that work better than others, and certain things that don't. The book is not entirely written either.

As to that brown, YES! I had actually started a ramble on that fish, but finally said "Oh shut up! No one wants to hear your unasked for mind trails." But, since you asked,... If we changed the coloration of that fish I'd be hard pressed not to see an Atlantic salmon smolt in that fish. Body shape and those large eyes set so far forward. Getting to know fish by looks was what made me scoff at the idea that steelhead were Salmo, and I applauded the change to Onchorynchus when it came to pass. Brown trout and Atlantics are Salmo. Our brown trout are a mix of strains (at least two are recorded) and my guess is, just as in "domestic rainbows" that migratory if not fully anadromous atrains were mixed in at times. When looking at an individual fish this amounts to wild speculation as to it's form, but I think it's an interesting fish and looks for all the world like an Atlantic smolt. Probably just a freak. But there are historical constraints to be considered and considering the lineage, I'm a lot less surprised at it looking Salmo-ish than having a pink stripe down it's side lol.
GONZOAugust 24th, 2010, 9:30 am
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
Yaawwwn....Oh, hi Spence and Paul. Good morning.

Yeah, Spence, you're right that it has something to do with the kind of nymph we are imitating and its mobility (or lack of it). The point I was trying to make (I think--it was late--and I'm not really sure) is that we often tend to assume that we finally got the "dead drift" right when a trout takes the nymph.

But many minute and variable interactions occur throughout the course of many drifts, and these are usually unseen. When a drifting nymph rises, falls, hesitates, bounces, or moves from one subtle layer of current speed to another, these can also be reasons that a trout takes the fly. Sight nymphing makes these things (and the fish's reaction to them) more apparent, but that is usually done in less complicated conditions. (Why is it that Sawyer's "induced take" is a time-honored sight-nymphing technique, but unsighted nymphing success is almost always attributed to dead drift? Do the fish respond differently when we can't see them?)

The further point was that excessive reliance on the simplified picture that an indicator presents (whether as a drift indicator or a strike indicator) often reduces our perception to two dimensions rather than three, and that can be misleading. When I watch many fly fishers fish a nymph, I often see them abandon a particular drift and move on without ever having made an appropriate presentation. I think they rely too much on the little bobber and not enough on trying to read water that does not conform to magazine article depictions of dead-drift nymph presentations.

But, hey, the more I think about it, the more that's OK with me. Let's just forget about those late-night ramblings. :)

Edit for Paul:

Would be nice to have the nymph swirling freely, would you detect takes?

The first thing is to recognize that takes will come at such times. This is another instance when too much reliance on an indicator can be a handicap. Sometimes it is a matter of looking for indications beyond the indicator--a subtle movement of a part of the leader between the bobber and the fly, or a tiny flash, wink of white, or movement of a fish that was previously unseen. The other option is just to be able to recognize when the nymph is probably doing what it ought to be doing in the place that it ought to be doing it, and that if a fish is going to take, the time is now. This tactic is seldom used by most indicator fishers, but it can be surprisingly effective.

Am I getting warmer?

Yes, probably too warm, so I'll stop now. Back to work!

GutcutterAugust 24th, 2010, 10:33 am

Posts: 470
can a dry fly guy chime in?
my $.02 worth
if i'm reading you guys correctly, upstream nymphing then seems to have advantage over indicator and/or long line techniques in certain situations?
now i am no great nymph fisherman, but i seem to do best with a long leader, light tippet and little if any weight. i cast upstream (not quarting) into a likely location and drift the fly back to me while stripping in line and raising my rod to keep the nymph as much in the natural drift as possible. similar to dry fly fishing from a downstream approach only the fly is now down into that 3rd dimension that gonzo mentions. i set when i see a flash or more often feel a take. i hit each location 3 times with no take before moving either left, right or upstream
however, i've come to this technique because - i never could figure out how to use indicators well and i usually have a dryfly leader on the end of my fly line and i'm too lazy to change it...
this is quite effective for me and it seems more "fun" than watching an indicator. and if my buddies see me fishing this way from any distance, they won't make fun of me for abandoning my surface flies and joining them in the depths! the best (for me at least) is when i see the flash where i think my fly is and set without feeling anything and winding up with a trout impaled in the mouth at the end of my line...
the discussion from both paul and gonzo lead me to believe that i'm not as bad of a nympher (not nympho for those of you having your first cuppa coffe this late in the day) as i thought i was. thanks for cheering me up!
All men who fish may in turn be divided into two parts: those who fish for trout and those who don't. Trout fishermen are a race apart: they are a dedicated crew- indolent, improvident, and quietly mad.

-Robert Traver, Trout Madness
OldredbarnAugust 24th, 2010, 11:59 am
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
My problem with nymphing has always been a visual one...It sounds like it is for Tony as well (it's our dry fly hangup). I like the idea of matching the hatch even if it's below the surface, but I get no thrill from not being able to see the take...Don't get me wrong, I love catching and fighting fish, but...I have tried bio-strike etc and just can't get my head around the "bobber" thing. I think I understand what Gonzo is getting at when he hints, I think, that folks are somewhat fixated on the damn thing and not paying attention to the real terminal end. I have watched some of these guys and they fish like a machine...robot, if you will...

That 20"er I posted on that tribute to my friend Craig Perry was a great deal of fun...I was happy primarily because it was fun to have caught such a nice fish while being guided by a good friend, but I saw absolutely nothing...It was all by feel. I was happy because he was happy.

An aside on the Salmo/Oncorhynchus mention...There is a great guide that has floated the Au Sable for what seems like forever called Charlie Weaver. He's a big guy, and a really nice fellow...He sometimes guides birding trips to New Zeeland etc, but he use to have a personalized license plate on his truck that was the real plate and it read..."O mykiss"...What a nice double entendre, eh?! You can "get" it and then again you can really "get" it...:)


Great discussion folks whether its in the am or late at night...Gonzo have another cup of joe! You will be just fine.
"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
GONZOAugust 24th, 2010, 1:27 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
OK, work is done--for now--and I'm on my second pot of coffee. What time is it anyway? Oh, yeah....

I think I understand what Gonzo is getting at when he hints, I think, that folks are somewhat fixated on the damn thing and not paying attention to the real terminal end.

Geez, Spence, I didn't think I was hinting, I thought I was saying it outright. Was my presentation too subtle?

the discussion from both paul and gonzo lead me to believe that i'm not as bad of a nympher (not nympho for those of you having your first cuppa coffe this late in the day) as i thought i was. thanks for cheering me up!

You're welcome, Tony. The type of nymphing that you describe helps to minimize some of the complications that occur from having nymph, indicator, and line reacting to different influences, but it also means that you have learned to respond to some things that "bobber fixation" causes many fly fishers to miss or ignore.

I have a good fishing partner who is just the opposite. He can do very well on mostly lateral drifts with an indicator, but misses much when the nymph (or the fish) is above him. That's partly because he only has one arm and has difficulty gathering/managing line as it comes toward him, but it's also because he has learned to read certain signs/situations much better than others.

OldredbarnAugust 24th, 2010, 1:47 pm
Novi, MI

Posts: 2608
Geez, Spence, I didn't think I was hinting, I thought I was saying it outright. Was my presentation too subtle?

Gonzo, I've told you this before...You must of been an editor in a past life! My first wife, who use to be the editor of her high school paper and edited the shit out of my university papers, would of called this "obfuscation" on my part...My thoughts weren't clear at the time I wrote them and I was somehow hedging...It's bad form...:)

Forgive me mister G you were as clear as a bell as you have been known to be from time-to-time...:) Especially after midnight...:)

I have been over doing these damn smiley things of late...I guess that's a hedge as well, right buddy?

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
GONZOAugust 24th, 2010, 2:08 pm
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
I have been over doing these damn smiley things of late...I guess that's a hedge as well, right buddy?

Yeah, but it's a useful one, pal. The smiley face emoticon is insipid and annoying, but sometimes it keeps people from getting miffed when we're just having a little fun. Our friend Shawnny won't deign to use them, and when he responded to my "booger" post by saying that it was "supremely unhelpful and adolescent," I wondered if I had pissed him off. "Naaww," I thought, "he knows me too well to be offended." But then....(Sometimes I think he just likes to keep me guessing.)

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