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Dries For Show, Nymphs For A Pro: PART 1

by Steven Neely

"DRIES FOR SHOW, NYMPHS FOR A PRO!" THIS IS EVEN MORE RELEVANT IN THE WARMER SUMMER MONTHS; IF YOU WANT TO CATCH, THEN NYMPHS ARE THE WAY TO GO!

For those who fish rivers, it’s no exaggeration to say that we all love to target our prey with a dry fly! However, when it comes to daytime fishing in high summer, you will struggle! A dry fly is rarely an option; nymphs, on the other hand, will score BIG! An old saying in competitive river fishing rings true the world over: “dries for show, nymphs for a pro!” This is even more relevant in the warmer summer months; if you want to catch, then nymphs are the way to go! The problem is that come high summer, dreaded low flows will see the trout vacate their regular feeding haunts and spread out to look for very ‘particular’ parts of the river. This is where watercraft comes into play, and if you target the wrong water, you will fail.

Location

With low flows and extreme heat making things uncomfortable, water temperature-wise, there will be a real lack of oxygen. Trout, like other game fish, need this to function properly; a drop in oxygen affects their metabolism. Less oxygen means a slower metabolism, and they are less inclined to want to eat! Come the summer, we anglers need to look at fast water and forget the long, slow, and sluggish pools; these are devoid of ‘taking fish’ until the light starts to fade. We need the areas of the river that are moving at a rate of knots. Fast flowing water rich in oxygen will always have fish in it, no matter how hot the daytime temperatures get. 

Water Selection

  1. Riffles & Runs (ankle to 2ft deep) these areas often have little indents on the riverbed, where the trout can rest comfortably.
  2. Heavy, white water (at the head of long runs or where the water is squeezed through a narrower section of the river).
  3. Pocket water (lots of boulders to break up the flow

In this first post, we will look at Riffles & Runs.

Riffles & Runs

This is the kind of water we see where the river has sharpish drops in elevation or where the river narrows, increasing the flow. Long, shallow water, pushing over a stoney bottom, often with plenty of weed, flowing at a decent pace. 

Please don’t get too hung up about how shallow these river sections can be either, as fish sometimes sit in water, barely covering their backs. I see decent anglers walk past water that they assume far too shallow; it doesn’t get a second glance as they head off to ‘better-looking water’… Big mistake! Most fish species will frequent runs only a foot deep or so deep, sometimes less. I have walked up many rivers, runs of 100 yards or so, barely covering the top of my wading boots and caught all the way through. 

Tackle

For most of my fishing, I like the ‘all-around ability of a 10-foot rod for nymphing. However, in the high summer and this type of water, I switch to my longer rod, an 11-ft 3-wt Nymphmaniac. It offers me everything that I need for my summer nymph fishing. This rod allows me to get my flies where I need them. Due to its additional reach, I can target water without getting too close to my intended quarry. The longer rod offers more lead time, too, allowing me to cover a greater distance with my flies, fishing the water more effectively without having to wade ‘into view’.

I like that I can use a thinner diameter leader and feel I’m still in control; its flex gives me confidence when playing fish. I usually use a 0.30mm leader, straight through to the tippet section. But the lengthier rod allows me to get away with a leader of 0.20 mm. Far more delicate and allows my flies to track back with no sag from the rod tip to where it enters the water; this massively increases take detection. In addition, the reel should balance the outfit; I can’t see past the XLV nymph reel; its large arbor prevents line memory, line retrieval is quick and efficient, and the reel balances the longer rod perfectly. 

Line choice is down to you; most ‘Euro Nymphing’ is carried out with straight mono; I use it and love it. I also like Rio’s new Euro Nymph Line for close-quarters fishing; it lets me pitch my flies with a little more accuracy; great for putting my nymphs into those fish-holding areas or sight fishing to individual trout. Tippet for low summer flows, I look at diameters from 0.12 mm if a decent (2lb plus fish ) is expected, but will go down to 0.08mm if I think that I can get away with it. Of course, a thinner diameter always ups the catch rate on nymphs, but it’s a trade-off, especially in fast water!

The Approach

With reasonably shallow water – up to two feet in depth – the trout will usually take advantage of any little micro-currents that ‘conveyor belt’ food close to their position. To expend less energy, they will try and do this from the riverbed, anywhere they can be sheltered from the main flow. This can be a slight indent, a pocket of slacker water behind weed; these are all fish-holding areas.

On any water, you must keep low to the skyline, but in this water, it’s imperative to get on your knees if you must. You cannot afford to give your presence away; skinny water means fish are super-wary. 

I also tend to fish at the decent range to get away with the longer 11ft rod. I’ll cast up to 5-meters away, keeping my rod high, creating a ‘magic triangle’ between the rod tip and the point where the line enters the water. This ensures more direct contact between my flies and me. I tend to cast upstream and to the right of my position in the river – looking up the river at 12 o’clock, I’ll cast to 1 or 2 o’clock, depending on the speed of the water.

Track the flies, only two of them, spaced at 50cm intervals, back at the same speed as the current, and on the odd occasion, give the line a little flick; this lifts the fly, often inducing a take. As the flies travel through that first 3 meters, I strike/ lift off into the back cast to load my rod, ready to pitch them into another area of water. The little strike/lift can often pick up bonus fish! I’m right-handed, so any takes are met with a strike, pulling the rod tip up and out to my right. It would be vice-versa for a left-hander. This also quickly manoeuvres any hooked fish away from their lie and pulls them into a downstream position by striking. Getting them downstream quickly catches the trout off guard, but they can’t spook the others further upstream.

The great thing about nymphing in this type of water is that the trout barely get a second to look at your fly. In that split second, they need to decide whether it’s food. A trout can only do that by taking in their mouths, so expect lots of takes!

Pattern Choice

For this style of fishing, flies are simple, usually size 16’s with 2.5 to 3mm beads. Bog standard stuff like PTN’s and Hare’s Ears are solid performers. The one thing I would highlight for this type of fishing is to use CDC in the dressing, either as a collar or in the tail. These little bubble-trapping feathers seem to add something to the flies that ups their effectiveness in this type of water. 

Fish Welfare

Fish are hardy creatures, but a little more caution is required when practising catch & release in the summer heat. It’s up to us to do everything we can to ensure that they are returned safe and sound.

  • Barbless hooks, please.
  • Ensure you play the fish to the net as quickly as possible to avoid a lactic acid build-up. Your tackle should be up to it! Don’t target a 3lb fish with a skinny tippet in fast water.
  • Use a knotless, preferably rubber mesh net.
  • Before you go near the fish, wet and cool your hands in the river.
  • Unhook the fish while in the net; this should be simple with barbless hooks, but just in case, have a C&R tool or forceps.
  • Keep fish handling to a minimum, or even better, don’t touch them.
  • If it’s a photo fish, get prepared. The fish should be kept in the net, facing upstream in fast-flowing water until well recovered. Set up the camera or phone on a timer. Lift the fish; never squeeze it or hold it near the gills; use soft hands, and the fish will be calmer. When it’s out of the net, keep it above water, ready for the shot, and then get it straight back in the net.
  • When releasing, again in water with plenty of oxygen, not slack shallow water, ensure that you’re happy the fish is okay. Support it under the belly while it’s facing into the flow and dip the net’s rim, so there’s no obstruction. The fish will swim away when it’s ready

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