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
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.'"