Sunday, January 27, 2013
Of Nymphs and Nymphing Part 4
For 'general' upstream nymphing through the trout season, my set up and approach is dead simple. I like a longish rod, although I'm not a fan of the 11' liquorice sticks which have become fashion at the extreme end of the scale. Last season I enjoyed the versatility that the Greys Streamflex XT2 plus gave me - a 9' 6" 3 weight which can be extended to a somewhat slower actioned 10 footer by insertion of a 6" insert piece which fits between the bottom two sections and can be stored in the rod butt between times. I had initially dismissed it as a 'gimmick stick', but was instantly converted when I gave it a test drive. That rod and an altogether more powerful Sage XP 9' #5 cover all nymphing eventualities for me.
I usually make up a level leader of approximately 10-11' in straight through Stroft ABR (0.12-0.18mm diameter depending upon conditions, but typically 0.14mm) with a single dropper added about 24" up from the point. A pair of small nymphs completes the cast and after degreasing the leader and giving the tip of the flyline a pass of mucilin, I'm ready to go. Of course there are variations: conditions lending themselves to deeper work will see the addition of a third fly for example; or another variation I commonly use is to revert to a single fly and incorporation of a 5' tapered leader butt if the wind is particularly troublesome, or space limited. But the former set up is the one I start out with most of the during the months of the trout season.
The basic premise is simple - pitch the nymphs upstream on a short line and track them back, watching the tip of the fly line for unusual movement - jabs, twitches, slow draws, sideways ticks, anything in fact which represents an irregularity in the downstream progress of the line. Sometimes you will find yourself hung up on a subsurface boulder or snag, but lift each time as if it is a fish......because often it is! Casting and moving upstream in this manner will teach you all sorts of stuff about the topography of the river bed, and of the sorts of places trout occupy when not actively feeding on the surface. And of course, you will nodge a few fish out too whilst keeping on the lookout for signs of a hatch.
Although the process might seem a bit alien at first, with practice it becomes second nature and rhythmic - much like 'loch styling' a team of wets from a drifting boat - and huge areas of water can be covered in a short time. The method is obviously much simpler to demonstrate than describe, but maybe the points below will help to illustrate - I remember clearly the aspects which I struggled with at first.....and which I have seen other beginners struggle with too. If you bear these in mind and keep practicing, upstream nymphing will soon become the simplest and most 'automatic' method in your repertoire, and you will have at your disposal the most deadly blind searching method that there is on northern spate rivers.
1. Short line.....no, shorter!!
Line control is the thing, same as any method on running water. Don't reach for the fishy looking spots, wade to them quietly and then deliver your nymphs on a short, controlled line within a 5m radius if possible, certainly no more than 10m. It is typical to have maybe a rod length of line out of the tip ring, maybe a couple of lengths, maybe less. If a retrieve is required as the flow brings the cast back to you, then gathering the line in your free hand with a 'figure of eight' motion works fine. The cast may be short enough that you effectively end up fishing 'fixed line' and just raising the rod tip progressively as the cast is fished out.
2. Keep the rod tip high.
I alluded to it just then. If you come to river fishing from the banks of a stocked stillwater, then this will be a difficult concept to grasp; it certainly was for me and for the couple of stillwater fishing mates I have since taken out on the river. The instinct of most newcomers is to point the rod at the water as in a typical nymph or lure retrieve. The river angler very rarely does this, no matter what method is being deployed. The key is control, therefore the need to raise unwanted line away from the drag inducing flows of the water's surface, is paramount. As soon as the nymphs touch down the angler should be raising the rod tip smoothly and progressively such that tension - very slight tension - is maintained and immediate contact can be made in the event of a fish taking.
3. Keep ahead of the line.
By which I mean, the speed of retrieve (or rod lift), should always be at least as fast as the surface current speed. Failure to do this results in the line forming a 'pulley wheel' loop on the surface and extending further downstream than the natural line from rod tip to line tip. This is closely linked in with the height of the rod tip and is sometimes difficult to avoid if the tip is held too low. In other words, keep thinking about that tension in the curve of the line and don't lose contact with the speed of the current. This might mean rapid casting, hard work and a headache if fishing in brisk water - welcome to upstream nymphing!
4. Keep moving, cover water.
Another fault of recent converts from the stocked stillwaters, but also of many experienced river fishers who really ought to know better. The method is all about searching, covering water, extracting opportunistic fish. Putting more than a couple of casts over the same piece of water achieves absolutely nothing in upstream nymphing; hence the need to be almost constantly on the move, edging slowly up against the flow whilst casting, observing and concentrating all the time. Someone once said to me (can't remember who, sorry), "however quickly you think you are covering water, cover it twice as fast and you'll get somewhere near to an optimum productivity situation". That doesn't mean running about like a loon, it just means being constantly on the go, fanning casts into all the likely spots, covering all the water available whilst creeping upstream all the time. Don't be a heron, get moving!
In employing all the above aspects, it will probably feel like 'too much to think about at the same time'. It certainly did to me at first. The thing which will suffer most is your level of concentration and there can be no denying that fishing nymph up into (and wading against), the fast flow of an uneven bottomed run or pool, can be demanding physically and mentally. Trying to concentrate upon and anticipate the movement of the tip of your fly line can be difficult at the best of times, so at first it will seem almost impossible whilst trying to put all the other stuff into practice....at least until the latter is ingrained within your muscle memory and becomes second nature. Even so, some anglers miss an awful lot of offers just by not concentrating hard enough on the business end of things. I once stood next to a chap who was completely oblivious to the fact that he had missed seeing four or five takes completely whilst waiting for an unmissable upstream 'jab' of the line. Watch like a hawk and lift at absolutely any indication, no matter how subtle - and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Of course you could make life easier by fishing the 'duo', or attaching a sight indicator to the tip of your line.......but that's not the point is it! Once proficient you will be able to devote sole concentration to the tip of your line, whilst scanning the water's surface elsewhere between casts, for signs of a change in the day's activity and the resultant need to change techniques.
6. Think about how and where the takes are coming from.
Finally, it's worth mentioning that when you do start catching fish, the circumstances of their capture can tell a great deal about how to tackle the situation going forward. It's amazing how often fish will come from a certain 'micro environment' within individual pools on any given day. For example, if you fish up through your first pool and encounter fish only in the fastest stuff towards the neck, then it's a sure bet that fish will come from water of equivalent depth and flow in the next pool. Sometimes the 'taking water' is a little further back......and so on. Similarly, an indication on the line very soon after the nymphs have touched down suggests that the fish are on the fin and prepared to move to intercept food items readily. A switch to lighter patterns might be worth a try, particularly if the takes are coming to the dropper nymph. Of course the converse is true and even in summer, it might be necessary to obtain more depth and get amongst the stones if the fish are lying doggo and unprepared to move.
If you are fishing (as I often do initially), a combination of one drab nymph and one with a touch of colour or sparkle, which gets an offer first? Is there any colour in the water which might influence this? Was it the pattern's appearance, or its position on the cast which led to it being singled out? Are the predominant hatches at the time, of baetids, caddis, heptagenid species or some other and have you tailored the profile of your flies to best take advantage of this? All things to think about, all the sort of questions a river nympher should be asking.
I hope the above might be of assistance to any novice nymph fishers out there. I know it is a huge subject with many sub-divisions and specialities, but following the principles set out in the last four posts will give a decent footing in the basics and maybe give a bit of confidence to someone who is unsure if they're on the right lines or not. Of course the very best advice I can give is to do what I did and go and spend time with someone who really does know their stuff - hire a guide for the day. It will be money well spent, believe me. Amongst the links to the right hand side you will find contact details for the likes of Stuart Minnikin, Geoff Johnston, Jeremy Lucas, Stuart Crofts and so on - a day spent picking the brains of any of these fine fishermen will be of infinite value.
Another useful resource would be Oliver Edwards' fine set of 'Essentails Skills' DVDs. These are simply superb introductions to the various river fishing disciplines, with supporting entomology and expert fly tying. A must for the budding river fisher.