100-0047_imgThere are few things more enjoyable than catching fish while you are fly fishing. Science has confirmed that over 70% of a fishes diet comes from feeding on aquatic insects below the surface of the water. Nymphing in its simplest form, is the term used to describe this process of  fishing with imitations of these aquatic insects (flies) under water. The tactics employed in presenting these imitations to the fish vary widely among anglers and the waters they fish. There is, however, a basic pool of knowledge that once understood by the angler will allow for a more desirable presentation to the fish in a given situation and thus more strikes. The following tips are some of the most important basic points to help you build that pool of knowledge and add to your enjoyment of fly fishing while fishing the nymph.   

1. Water: You Must experiment to understand!

Water  in a stream is a highly dynamic 3 dimensional flowing liquid. Its dynamics are based on its gradients, obstructions, constrictions and volumes; it is constantly changing. It is up to you to experiment to see how it moves presented flies through its body. Experiment with a white or bright colored fly that you can see to understand how the fly moves through the current. After fishing through a particular spot, physically walk through that spot if it is not too dangerous and see where the fish scatter from. Stand behind the rocks and feel how the flow comes in and around this kind of obstruction. Watch how the vegetation moves in the area you fish. You must use all of your senses to better understand how water moves.  Wear polarized glasses, you can not see into the water without them!

2. Learn as much as you can about the technique of “dead-drift” presentation.

This topic has been written about and documented in a variety of mediums. Take the time to read books and watch video on this subject prior to experimentation on the water. The basic premise relies on an understanding of how aquatic foods behave in their natural environment. The challenge to the fly angler is to replicate this behavior with an imitation of the food (a fly), while it is attached to a line and leader. Mechanically, the manipulations of rod, line and leader are not difficult for the novice to reasonably master in a short period of time. It is the understanding of current speed, water depth, water dynamic, food sources and the nuance associated with these factors that will enable the fly angler to increase his/her success rate in a variety of water types and angling situations.

3. Strike indicators do help fly anglers catch more fish.



Many experts have proclaimed that fly anglers miss up to 70% of takes without strike indicators. I believe there is truth in this statement. Be aware though that all strike indicators are not created equal. Due to the different characteristics of indicators, some may be better than others in particular situations. Thousands of days on the water have taught me that there is no single indicator that works best in all situations. A colorful buoyant indicator may be the best all around choice for many situations, but on flat crystal clear water the splash of these indicators will spook fish every time. A small weightless yarn indicator or indicator fly will work better under these conditions, but fail to adjust easily when covering a lot of water. There is no doubt that indicators help in detecting strikes. The message here is to be mindful in your choice of them and learn what the best choice is for each situation.

4. Adjust! Adjust! Adjust!

Adjustments are a necessary part of successful nymph fishing. If the desired achievement is to dead drift the fly to the depth of the fish, a series of adjustments may have to be made for each section of water you are targeting. Let us assume that the fish are on or very near the bottom. This is generally a good bet. First, set your strike indicator to approximately 1 foot deeper than the water you wish to target. Realize this is how I go about the adjustment process. There are many cooks in the kitchen on this issue and there are too many variables to discuss with the written word to accurately explain all these variables. Second, assess the current speed of the water you are targeting. Current speed is the determining factor for the addition or subtraction of weight to your particular rigging. Third, make your cast (subject of tip#4), then make your necessary mends (subject of tip#5). As your indicator floats through the target zone, the fly below it should slightly tick the bottom. If this scenario is not happening you need to make subtle adjustments. Adjust your indicator depth first, cast again. Adjust your weight next. Your judgements will get better each time you fish. When you make the right adjustments you will most likely be rewarded. The key is to make these adjustment until you can put the fly exactly where you want it, in any given situation.

5. Learn To Roll Cast.

Learning to roll cast will make your nymphing experience more enjoyable and efficient. The roll cast gives you the ability to deliver the fly only using the forward cast. Because this cast is made in one direction (forward), your fly spends more time in the water as opposed to the forward and back motion of the conventional dry fly cast. False casting a two fly rig with a strike indicator and a split shot can be a recipe for tangle disaster. Not only is false casting inefficient while nymphing, in tight cover it is impractical. The roll cast is also a highly accurate method of delivering the fly. This cast can be made in situations where there is no room for a back cast, allowing anglers to deliver the fly into more fishable water without the hassle of tangling in trees and grasses that lurk behind your field of vision. By learning to roll cast, anglers can eliminate half of the casts and some of the tangles that can make fly angling frustrating. Having your fly spending more time in the water can lead to more looks and more tugs on the end of you line. The proof is in the cast……..

6. Mending doesn’t only fix holes in socks!

Mending is the process by which the fly angler manipulates line and leader to eliminate the persistent problem of drag. Drag is the force that moving water exerts upon the line and leader to eliminate our attempts at achieving “dead-drift”. Drag has to be outsmarted by the angler in order to dead-drift the fly to the fish.

All too often, when I am fishing or guiding I see anglers mending ineffectively and inefficiently.  In many cases, to achieve successful dead-drift the line and the leader must be moved up-stream of the strike indicator. Many anglers fail to realize that if the portion of leader above the strike indicator is not manipulated upstream of the indicator, the current will exert drag on the mono filament that is left in the downstream position. This causes both the indicator and the fly to drag. The indicator will show you this subtle clue if you LOOK for it. I refer to this type of mend as ineffective because the angler is making the effort to mend, but not eliminating all of the drag factors. The inefficient mend relates to the angler’s understanding the attributes of the length of their fly rod when fishing sub-surface. Many times anglers try to mend without the tip of their rod ever getting above the waist or shoulder. I watch them work so hard to get the line upstream but they are thwarted by the inability to break the the line away from the surface tension of the water to properly position their line. When I mend, many times, the tip of my rod is well above my head and I place the line where I want it instead of flinging it. Think of it as the motion that your Phys Ed teacher taught you when he wanted giant arm circles, with your arms straight in front of you. Play with that idea and tell me how it works for you. By positioning all of your line and leader upstream of your indicator as well as using the length of your fly rod to your advantage, you can become more effective and efficient at mending your line.

A final note: The key to it all is being observant. WATCH THE STRIKE INDICATOR AND THE LINE WITH THE INTENSITY OF A BIRD DOG! It will give you all the clues you need to mend properly. Mending can and will change as you re-position yourself  in relation to your target. It is the variation in current speed across the span of the stream that you must learn to recognize in order to mend your line and achieve your desired drift. Mending is not always necessary. These situations occur when you are casting directly upstream and are retrieving the fly at the same speed as the current is delivering it back to you.

7. Set the Hook

Too many anglers set the hook too slowly, without any power or in the wrong direction. I was always told, “find a reason to set the hook”. Consequently, I set the hook on any movement of the indicator that is outside of the natural drift. I set the hook if I see a flash in the water. I set the hook even if I think I am hooked on a snag. There is an old adage, it could be a rock, it could be a stick, it could be a fish, but unless you set the hook you will never know. Follow it, you’ll be surprised how often it is a fish.

Set the hook with decisive power, many times my fly will come out of the water when I set.

Fish in a river are generally pointed with their nose up stream. Set the hook straight up or downstream. When you try to set upstream, you are pulling the hook right out of the fish’s mouth. Setting the hook straight up or downstream buries the hook against the lips or the jaw, right were you want it.

8. Broken water

In clear spring creeks and under low water conditions concentrate your nymphing efforts on broken water. Not only does this camouflage you from the fish it places you in the most productive food factories the stream has to offer. These are areas of gradient change which many times provide shelter, feeding lies, holding areas and food. Believe it or not there ar fish in every different type of water that exists in the stream and with the right techniques you can find them and catch them. In general, the broken water  just tends to provide the best opportunity for nymphing success.

9. Learn to identify your targets

Targets can be as small as a one foot square or as large as one hundred feet long. The key is to be able to identify them. Anglers many times tend to fish the big picture instead of identifying the specific pieces. Any rock, wood, pocket, drop, scoop or undercut will hold fish. Trust me, I have caught many a nice fish in small nondescript areas that numerous anglers never even make a cast at. Take a moment to recognize all the features identified above before you even make a cast to an area. Then systematically pick them apart one by one as you work your way through. More fish will come out of any given area if you just take your time and OBSERVE.

10. Be nice!

The stream is a place I go to avoid conflict. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Be ethical and allow other anglers their space. Every angler on the stream is passionate about fishing and should be treated as a brother/sister rather than an adversary. There are few anglers that I have run into that will not accept a kind word while they are fishing and generally will return one if they are treated with respect. Share your knowledge with others if they are receptive. There have been numerous times over the years where I have been given a successful pattern or a piece of information from another angler that helped turn a dismal outing into a great day on the water. Go out of your way to help the youth, we will lose the future protectors of the waters of our dreams if we do not.

Another final note: A friend from Tennessee introduced me to guide, author and fly angler Ian Rutter. Ian has written numerous articles in the major fly fishing publications and is the keeper of R and R fly fishing. The link provided here will take you to a post he made on his site pertaining to the Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Small Stream Success  The information is top notch. Check out Ian’s site, buy his new books, use him as a source of good information and enjoy his writing.