Fly Fishing - Using Nymphs

It wasn’t too long ago, nor in a land very far away, that fly fishing predominately meant casting a dry fly to a rising trout.  And that was pretty much it.  But thankfully there has been a plethora of innovation since this concept was dominant.  One thing we know is trout do most of their feeding sub-surface, and for whatever reason tend to either be feeding sub-surface or on the surface, not both at the same time.  So if there are no rising trout; nymhping is almost certainly going to be your best method to go about catching trout at that particular moment.  Not that trout can’t be coaxed into hitting a dry fly when they are not actively feeding on the surface, they most definitely can and when it happens it is quite a thrill not to mention a pretty fair statement on your fly fishing ability.  But nevertheless, non-rising trout means nymphing will almost always lead to more fish and bigger fish.

Nymphing is a diverse method of fly fishing with many techniques and set-ups to cover a gamut of situations that might be present.  Water depth, speed, clarity, even light conditions can all lead to one making adjustments in their rigging, casting or positioning.  So can whether or not you actually see the fish, and whether or not they are actively feeding, and whether or not it can be determined what they are feeding on.  Most experienced fly fisherman take all this into account before actually casting, and keep a running internal dialogue of changes in these conditions as the day goes on, and when they change the location they are casting too.
Some basics can generally be applied or at least it is a good starting point to assume, that fish will be near the bottom, they will position themselves where they can actively feed, and feel covered.  Behind big rocks, seams of slower water edging faster water that might be carrying free drifting nymphs, riffles, all make natural areas of concentration for actively feeding trout.
Sinking Your Fly

There are many methods to getting your fly to the bottom.  The further upstream you cast the longer your fly will have to sink.  Adding Xink or other wetting agent helps, a fly cut through the water column.   A sinking tip line also can help, although they are more commonly used when swinging flies, and not often associated with nymphing.  Adding weight, either to your leader usually with split shot above the fly or using weighted flies.  Furthermore flies can be heavy either by adding wire on the hook shank before tying or more commonly using a weighted beadhead.  You may also use a tandem in-line fly set up with a weighted fly tied on the end of your leader and then another fly added behind that with a piece of tippet; often called a dropper set up.
All these methods have advantages either perceived or real, and their proponents.  There really is no argument about casting upstream that is just physics.  Xink and other like products really have no disadvantages either except they must be applied to a fly that is still dry and their sinking abilities are limited.  The discussion comes in with weighting leader or flies; some claim split shotscause an unnatural drift or the split shot itself will spook the fish.  While others claim weighted flies also cause an unnatural drift, and because they are unnaturally heavy they will drift faster than the natural.

Other quick ideas, keep your fly line off the water.  Euro-Nymphing is all about long leaders, so there is no fly line drag.  You can also fish closer to your drift lane while that does add to the likelihood of spooking your fish.  And lastly use a sink tip line, although normally reserved for swing streamers or wet flies, you can drift a sink tip line; just tighten up on the slack once the fly drifts into prime fishing water.  If you think of straight in front you being twelve o’clock, the prime areas are when your line is between 10 and 2; (just like safe driving.)  Sink tip lines are commonly used when fishing large heavy nymphs like a Stonefly.
After you solve sinking your fly, the money is really in the drift.  The fly must drift as naturally as possible, the clearer and the slower the water, or the more finicky the fish the more crucial this becomes.  Water at the surface is going to be faster than water at the bottom.  Trout do must of their feeding about a foot or so off the bottom eating aquatic insects that have either lost footing, are swimming or emerging.  Trout will expend as little energy as possible to feed so getting your nymph as close to possible to the trout without alerting it that you’re offering it an imitation is the name of the game.  A nymph that is being pulled downstream unnaturally by your fast drifting fly line, or indicator will rarely get as much action as a free drifting nymph banging its way downstream near the bottom.

There are several techniques employed to keep your drift near as real as possible.  One is to keep your line off the water, at least through the prime areas.   When casting upstream especially if the water is slow, you can use floating line on the water to your advantage as it will allow your nymph time to sink and get into the current as your line lies harmless in the slack water.   As your fly enters the current simply raising your rod, often referred to as high sticking, will allow your now sunk nymph to drift unimpeded through the target area.  This technique is especially valuable for across casting when you are standing in shallower water usually more towards a bank or on a gravel bar, while casting to a faster moving slot or riffle.  The faster the riffle and more oxygenation will result in a trout’s inability to detect drag so that would be to your advantage.  However less visibility means you will need more casts and more accuracy to make sure you cover all the water adequately.
Strike Indicators have become nymphing fishermen’s best friend, helping detect strikes that often went undetected.  Trout can slurp in and reject a nymph with extreme finesse and many times can go undetected to the angler.  A slight hesitation or dip from an indicator will let you know to ‘set the hook.’  Done by a quick upwards jerk of the wrist much like you are lifting the line off to initiate a new cast, but quicker.  You can be too quick or too forceful for sure, and adjustments may have to be made often if you are getting a lot of strikes, and not hooking up, but in general a quick foot long upward jerk of your wrist will set the hook in a trout’s mouth secure enough to land them but not so deep as to be trouble to release them.

Many times a strike indicator’s hesitation is current related, and you can learn if you are on the bottom which means adjustments will need to be made in your indicators depth, or the weight on your set up is too heavy.  An indicator can also give you feedback on how your drift is doing, it should not be pulled, but drift unimpeded.  An unnaturally drifting indicator alerts you to needs mend line or adjust its depth.

Selecting indicators is often times subjective the hard plastic or cork variety float all day and are easy to see.  They do however land with a splat and for small creeks a yarn indicator is preferable so as not to spook the fish.  In general the smallest size you can see is best, but if the weight of your rigging drags it underwater go up one size or switch to a different kind.

The placement of an indicator should allow your fly to touch bottom once in a awhile without getting snagged and may have to be adjusted when moving to new locations, depth and current speed affect its proper placement.

Czech Nymphing
Czech Nymphing involved very close in fishing; where the fly line rarely touches the water, and you stand very close to where you are fishing.  Usually one or two or even three heavy nymphs are tied in line and the leader is short, stout and kept taut through the run.  Casting upstream, you lead the flies through the current.  And a strike is detected by constantly watching the leader, and the line and by feeling the fish itself, since there is no impediment between you and the flies.  Often times a fluorescent butt section of leader is tied in on the fly line to aid with detection.  In Czech Nymphing, heavier than normal tippet is used, because of the weight of the flies, and to aid in strike detection as a light leader will belly from the current easily.

Most nymphing is done with fly rods in the 3 weight to 6 weight range, anywhere from 7 ½ feet to 9 feet range.  With exception of Czech Nymphing which can go up to a 10 foot rod although for most uses 9 foot works fine.  A matching reel and floating fly linecomplete the basic set up.  Then add an assortment of leaders and tippets usually in the 3x down to 6x  for light fishing.  Fluorocarbon leader and tippet is sightless under water and sinks, so it is a favorite among experienced nymphers.  Split shots in the BB range, strike indicators and an assortment of nymphs or beadheads. 



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The Blog of Big Y Fly Co: Fly Fishing - Using Nymphs
Fly Fishing - Using Nymphs
The Blog of Big Y Fly Co
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