(My wife, Jade, thinks this sounds boring, but if you like catching fish be sure to read it!)
            If you are fishing with a nymph to fish that are holding at, or near the bottom and you are drifting your fly at the speed of the top of the stream, then you are blowing by them with what I call “vertical drag”.  Even though you are fishing properly by mending your line so that there is no visible horizontal drag on top of the water, vertical drag is still likely.  In fact, it is practically impossible not to have this happening. 

           The water that flows along the bottom of a stream is moving more slowly than the water at the top of the stream.  Did you know that?  The reason is basic physics and has to do with the friction and turbulence that is caused by the bottom of the stream.  The rougher the bottom, the more turbulence and friction will be present.  There is a progressive loss of current speed as you go deeper and the extent of that current loss is all a function of the bottom conditions. 
            One clue that you are experiencing vertical drag is that the fly line and indicator tend to orient themselves with the flow of the river so that the fly is always trailing back upstream.  That is why you have to keep mending your fly line.  And fish that are looking for food in the rocks at the bottom, or just above the bottom, will likely not even give your fast drifting fly a second glance, what’s more try to chase it down

           I live on the San Juan River in New Mexico and get a chance to see plenty of anglers and watch them fish.  The San Juan is a modestly large river with flows that vary through the seasons between 500 and 1000 cfs with fishing depths that range from a few inches to perhaps 10 or 15 feet.  There are various hatches, including mayflies that occur seasonally, though the indomitable midge hatches here 365 days every year.  If you watch the fish closely, and of course you must if you want to be successful, you will see them hold at various depths depending on the kind of hatch and the stage of the hatch.  They tend to hold near the bottom when the hatch is not occurring, and as nymphs begin to rise and emerge, the fish move progressively up through the water column until they are mere inches below the surface or feeding on the top. 
            Each one of these stages requires a different nymphing strategy if you are going to catch fish consistently.  While I see plenty of fish caught, rarely do I see anyone just “knockin’ ‘em dead” because so few understand some of the biology at work.  This quickly changing, buggy situation also calls for continual monitoring of your indicator and shot position.  You can not just put an indicator at the top of your leader butt and then fish all depths and speeds of water, and all fish positions in the water column.  It is dynamic and can change from cast to cast.  So it is vital that your rig be just as dynamic with a strike indicator that easily moves up and down the leader and a shot position that allows your fly to appear alive.  I’ll delve more into how to rig your system momentarily. 
            Novice anglers, fishing with guides in drift boats will catch a few fish because the guides know where to put the anglers so that their Thingamabobber lobs (I would scarcely call them casts) go just to the right places.  Their most productive reaches are the deeper, slowly moving holes where the rig can drift at the speed of the boat.  No casting or fishing skills are involved.  Just flop it out there.   It closely resembles what we did as kids in our jon boat with cane poles, bobbers, and worms.  Their indicators, typically bobbers, are positioned near the junction of the fly line and leader butt, and they stay there permanently since they can’t be readily repositioned.  Sometimes this is productive (less vertical drag in the slow water when you are drifting with the boat), but not the kind of fishing most of us would enjoy.  I might mention here that as the speed of the water increases, most of the drift boat guides will anchor-up and then their anglers are back to the same situation a wading angler will encounter with vertical drag.  Catching results tend to fall off. 
            I might add here that one other technique I see on the river is called “high-lining”.  It is like it sounds, that is, an angler will hold his rod tip as high as possible while drifting the fly so that the fly line has less contact with the water.  That is done to slow the drift as much as possible, thus minimizing horizontal and vertical drag.  This does work if done properly, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work much past the reach of the rod.  Make a modest cast and it is impossible to hold the fly line up off the water without creating more horizontal drag.  So this is not a productive strategy in most nymphing situations. 
            In terms of priorities, I think that one of the most important activities for a nymph fisherman is to become skilled at watching the fish.  You have to learn to read the fish, the water, and the hatch situation.  Polarized lens sunglasses are vital for this because they alone will filter out vertically reflected light and make peering into the water easier.  You have to fish right to the fish’s location whether they are on the bottom or rising to a hatch.  Try to do this by positioning the sun to your back whenever possible.  Fish do not see well looking into the sun, unless you pass your silhouette across them, so don’t.  They can generally see you very well when you are looking into the sun. 
            In addition, and this is counter intuitive, fish that are holding deeply in the water can come more nearly seeing you than can fish that are holding shallow.  That tends to work against a short-cast, high-line strategy as it leaves the angler very visible when that close to the fish.  This all has to do with the “sight window” phenomenon when looking up from inside the water.  Surface feeding (rising) fish are the most easily approached by a quiet and careful angler since they can see very little beyond their immediate view of the surface.  Fish holding deeply can see anglers a good distance from them, so if they are deep approach cautiously and stay as far back as possible.  This is typical of most nymphing situations.  Again, short-cast, high-line techniques do not work as well on longer casts. 
            With all of this considered, I want to give you my take on how to rig for a successful day of nymphing.  There is a lot to consider.  First, the strike indicator must be of a type that will allow changes in position on the leader at a moment’s notice if the fish move up or if you move to fishing more shallow water. Even a different size of strike indicator may be required.  Secondly, shot weights need to be repositioned easily and the amount of weight in any given situation may need to be changed.  And lastly, it is important to rig up so that vertical drag and horizontal drag are minimized.  Let’s approach these categories one at a time. 
            Use a strike indicator that can be moved up or down the leader as the fishing depth changes, either because the fish move up or you move to fishing shallower water.  A shot that drags the bottom because the bobber is permanently attached to the leader butt, like a Thingamabobber, is going to make it very difficult to differentiate a fish strike from a bottom bump, and you will readily gather any moss or algae that may be present.  Of course, if the fish move up in the water column due to a beginning hatch, and you need to fish more shallow even though the water is still deep, a bobber permanently affixed high up on the leader butt isn’t going to permit you to drift to the fish.  It is important to keep your indicator in a position that will allow the drift (read, shot placement) to be just at the level of the fish regardless of the water depth. 
            Thingamabobbers are not a pleasant experience if you wish to be consistently successful with your fishing.  They are cumbersome to cast because they hinge your leader, are heavy to throw, are permanently attached to a position on the leader, and will ruin the leader for any other use.  If the hatch begins and you wish to change to dry flies, be prepared to change leaders before changing flies.  They are cheap, made in China, and while they provide a place to start, they will not take your fly fishing into the realm of consistent and enjoyable success. 
            However, there are two strike indicators that will do an excellent job for you and they are produced 100% in the USA by Advanced Angling Products (www.advancedanglingproducts.com).  One is called a TOSI Strike Indicator and the other is a Jerk! Alert Strike Indicator.  Both are easily attached on the leader, can be readily repositioned, float high, and are completely reusable.  They will not harm your leader in any way and only require simple removal to go to a dry fly.  They do not hinge your leader for a more refined cast and are so light that you will never know they are there when casting.  If you are serious about your fly fishing, a selection of either one of these in your vest will be a great asset.  They can be readily purchased on-line through various sources including Wapsi Fly, Angler’s Image, Feather-Craft, Yager Flies, Angler’s Accessories, Orvis, or directly from Advanced Angling Products.
Jerk Alert Strike Indicators and Fluorescent Colors                              TOSI Strike Indicators
            A very dynamic balance exists between the shot placement, shot weight, and the kind of shot used.  There is essentially only one type of shot that readily permits the shot to be successfully moved or for the shot weight to be changed.  I’ll get to that.  Most shot is called split-shot of course, and it is damnable stuff as any angler will tell you.  It is generally soft lead that has to be squeezed onto the leader with a tool (immediate leader damage!), is not movable or removable unless you don’t want it to be, cannot be re-used ever, pollutes the waterways and kills ducks, becomes impossible to install with cold, wet, or gloved hands, should not be stored in mouth (frequently is) and certainly not swallowed (which sometimes can happen!). 
            Let me make one more important observation here.  The position of the shot on the leader can be extremely important.  This all has to do with getting the optimum contact so that a strike will be immediately seen by movement of the indicator.  If there is slack in the tippet between the fly and the weight, then a fish can strike, spit the fly, and never move the indicator at all.  I have personally witnessed this to happen on many occasions.  I don’t know any hard and fast rule here, but just be aware that a balance needs to exist that permits detecting strikes.  Being able to position the shot on your leader at different locations to improved strike detection is very important. 
            The shot you want to use is Toobies Shot, again by Advanced Angling Products.  Not enough good can be said about this product.  It is easily installed with a magnetic tool that allows the magnetic, tungsten (heavier than lead and doesn’t kill ducks) shot to be inserted into a silicone tube on the leader.  It creates a friction fit on the leader between the soft tubing and the tungsten shot weight that doesn’t slip and does not harm the leader in any way.  It is easily moved up or down the leader, and more or less shot can be added to the tub setup as needed.  There are two other very important features of this system. 
            First, some of the tubing is in colors like red, yellow, or black (as well as clear) which gives the system a very “organic” appearance with the shot in place.  I have used the weight system as an attractant on the leader to get a fish’s attention, like fishing an upper fly and dropper, except the upper fly is the weight!  I have frequently seen my success increase when I changed colors.  I have even caught fish that I know hit the Toobie instead of the fly, the Toobie sliding down to the fly and allowing a hook-up!  Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention.  You well remember when you last had your shot hang you up on the bottom, right?  Well, you can kiss that goodbye.  I can’t remember the last time I had a hang up, and not at all since I started casting the soft silicone Toobies. 
            Secondly, when the action turns from nymphing to dries on the surface, there is no need to remove the tubing.  Simply push the shot out of the tubing onto the magnetic tool for storage and slide the tubing to the fly line/leader connection and push it over the knot until you need it again.  This is the best system you will ever use, installation is simple and easy, and shot is reusable over and over again!
.           How do you rig to stop horizontal and vertical drag?  The answer here is going to really surprise you if you haven’t already heard about or tried it.  Of course, the primary problem is the fly line floating on the surface of the water and the seemingly impossible task sometimes in stopping horizontal drag, that phenomenon when the current drags the fly line and doesn’t permit the rig to float straight down the current.  And as I described earlier, that still doesn’t guarantee there will be no vertical drag due to the difference in speed of the water on the surface and the water at the fly placement.  Just mending the fly line does nothing to stop vertical drag in most situations.  However, there is an answer to this that will allow you to develop your nymph fishing success into the twilight zone.                 

            Instead of a traditional fly fishing line, try a Skip’s Spinfly Line from . . . you guessed it, Advanced Angling Products.  This is a very unique fishing line that can be used on fly as well as spin fishing equipment.  I prefer using it on spin equipment, but it is equally effective on a fly rod and reel used like a shooting head with fine running line.  What this special line does is remarkable.  It eliminates the need to mend heavy fly line.  That alone is a real plus.  Simple movement of the fine diameter casting line is effortless and doesn’t disturb the drift.  But that is not the only place it excels.  It stops nearly all vertical and horizontal drag.  It does this by orienting itself with the flow of the water, thus slowing down to drift at the speed of the water where the shot and fly are located!  So the fish that is holding down in the deep, slower water will see the fly come by at the right speed and is more likely to strike it.  You will get more strikes!  One more side effect here – since the speed of the drift is reduced, considerably in some cases, LESS SHOT IS NEEDED TO SINK THE FLY!  Now that is a real plus!  I have estimated that I use one third to one half the shot weight I have used with a traditional fly line for the same fishing situation. 
            A lot of great things can be, and have been said about this product and you need to try it to find out for yourself.  It is going to make your fly fishing success soar, regardless of how you choose to rig it.  There is a lot of information out there on it, check out the blogs at http://tocatchafish.blogspot.com and http://skipsspinflylines.blogspot.com.  Once you give it a try you will understand why this is called the future of fly fishing! 
            I hope that in some small way I have helped you improve your nymphing strategies.  Any of these strategies and products can increase your success.  Let me know what you think or send me some pictures to put on Facebook or our website. 
Good fishin'


1 comment:

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