Stay Fly: If the river is not fishing the way you would like it to, then change with the river
“What dry flies are working?” A question that I am asked multiple times on a daily basis. I always point people to the dry flies that I know can work this time of year, however, I quickly inform them that if they are not working to try nymphing. There are days or periods throughout the day that dry fly fishing is the way to go.
When the water is boiling with fish rising, throwing a dry fly is a no-brainer. If I’m fishing a medium or large river, I have a dry fly tied to the end of 9 -foot 5x leader. In smaller streams or creeks where I typically will use my 7-foot 3 weight rod, I will tie my fly on to a 7.5-foot 6x leader. However, there are other times when you find yourself fishing in between hatches and need to make some adjustments to your rig.
A trout’s diet is primarily nymphs and larva with the occasional dry (adult) fly or sculpin mixed in there. If you find yourself not catching fish or struggling using a dry fly, it might be time to cut that fly off and start putting together a nymph rig.
Tying knots and rigging a rod can be the bane of many anglers, however the more you do it, the better and faster you get at it. Being able to quickly and effectively change your fly or flies can be the difference between catching fish and not catching fish that day.
The nymph rig
Setting up a standard nymph rig can be a new thing to many anglers. I had never heard of this type of fly-fishing when I first started. I never thought that fly-fishing would include a bobber, split shot and weighted flies.
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The nymph rig starts by adding a 12- to 18-inch length of tippet (usually 4x or 5x) to the end of your leader using a double surgeon’s or blood knot. Place your split shot above this knot to assure it from not sliding down to your flies. The first fly, which is typically the larger of the two, is tied the end of the tippet using a clinch knot. Tie a 14- to 18-inch piece of tippet (5x-6x) to the bend of the hook using another clinch knot. The second fly is tied to the end of this section of tippet. The strike indicator is placed above the split shot at the depth that you are intending to fish.
A rule of thumb: If you don’t know how deep the fish are holding, set the indicator at one and a half times the depth of the river. Changing the depth of where your flies are can be one of the most important elements while nymphing.
“The difference between a good day and a bad day can be one split shot.” This is a great saying in fly-fishing that I have had to remember when things aren’t going my way. Before changing your flies or giving up for the day, try adding or removing a split shot (weight). Split shot in a nymphing rig serves a dual purpose.
The first purpose is the obvious one, to get your flies down into the zone that you think the fish are feeding. The second purpose of split shot is to slow down the drift of your nymphs. In a good drift, the indicator is going at the same speed or slightly slower than the natural foam on the water. Adding or subtracting split shot is much easier than changing your flies and usually is all you need to get in the zone.
Change your cast
So, after taking the time to tie the four to six knots, putting on the split shot and strike indicator (aka bobber), you proceed to tangle the whole rig in a bird’s nest that can only be cut off. This is another extremely frustrating element to nymph fishing. With all of the gear and weight that is now on your line, you are more likely to find yourself with a nasty tangle that may require you to start from scratch with a new leader.
There are types of cast that an angler can make to avoid the the likelihood of tangles or lost flies. A stream tension cast uses the water to load the tip of the rod. Instead of back casting, the tension of the line on the water loads the rod to propel your flies to the intended target. A roll cast uses the same idea of water loading the rod to get the flies out to the river. Using a back cast with a nymph rig is a recipe for disaster, try a stream tension or a roll cast to prevent the frustration.
If the river is not fishing the way you would like it to, then change with the river. Take the time to set up a nymph rig and make the changes to the rig as you fish. Make an adjustment to the depth of your flies, add some split shot, and change the flies to up your chances of catching. Don’t get stuck fishing one way on the river, be open and willing to try different techniques and watch how they pay off.
Ray Kyle is the shop supervisor and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.