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Nymph Techniques for Small BC Streams

by Mike Gass

I still remember my first few seasons of fly fishing rivers for trout. My first ever experience was on the Skagit River in late July when I was 14 years old. There was no hatches going on of any kind, due to cold water temperatures. Naturally I figured my best bet would be to try and fish nymphs along the bottom. I figured this would best be achieved with a sink tip line and short leader. I fished this way for a few seasons, with poor results. I tried everything, various Mayfly nymphs, Caddisfly nymph and pupa patterns, and Stonefly nymphs. In fact, I recall during one trip, getting out fished by a guy "fly fishing" with a spinning rod. He had a weighted float so he could cast out his fly.

I soon realized that one of my problems was that with my sink tip line, I never really had full control over my fly and fly line. And that I was probably having a lot of hits that I didn't even know about due to bad line control. After that I started experimenting with floating line techniques and immediately started getting results. I now use a floating line, 99% of the time when nymph fishing smaller rivers for trout. I'm not saying that sink tip lines don't have a place when it comes to fishing rivers for trout. But that a floating line can be used more effectively in most situations.

During this type of fishing, I can't stress enough the importance of the use of a strike indicator. When fishing fast runs, it can be virtually impossible to detect strikes without an indicator. It is important to select an indicator big enough so that it won't get swept under by the pressure exerted by the current, but small enough that it will detect the smallest of strikes. Types of indicators are just a matter of preference, mini dink floats, yarn, or corkies all serve as good strike indicators for this type of fishing. However, ideally you will want one that can be adjusted easily. This is because, your indicator has to be constantly adjusted depending on the depth of the water that you are fishing. The distance between your indicator and fly should be approximately 1.5 times the depth of water that you are fishing. For deep runs or exceptionally fast runs, you may need to add a micro-split shot to your leader and use weighted flies to get down to the fish.

For the most part, when fishing stonefly nymphs, caddisfly nymphs, or mayfly nymphs along the bottom, you want to keep your drift as drag free as possible. To achieve this, cast slightly upstream, followed by 1 or 2 quick mends. From there, let your fly drift freely down river. You can achieve a longer drift by feeding out extra fly line as your fly continues to flow down stream. While doing this, watch your strike indicator carefully, if you notice even the slightest hesitation, lift your rod tip. When you reach the end of your drift, and your line becomes tight, it is time to re-cast.

At times, trout won't be taking the nymphs right off the bottom, instead they will be feeding on emerging insects making their way to the surface. During these situations, I have found the swing method to be very effective. Let your fly free drift till it is about 45 degrees down stream from you, then grasp your line tight, and let your fly pick up speed and swing in towards shore. This will cause your fly to rise off of the bottom, much like the naturals making their way to the surface to hatch into adults. Make sure your tippet is strong enough and hold on tight! Trout tend to hit your fly hard when on the swing.

Reading water is a very important element to successful nymph fishing. There is a common misconception between new, river trout fisherman. And that is, that trout will only be holding in the deep holes and runs. But in actual fact, just as many, if not more trout, can be found holding in the shallow runs of three feet or less. Trout will sit in these shallow riffles to pick off nymphs that get swept off the river bottom. Look for fish holding in runs with over lying brush or some other form of cover. And always begin casting close to shore and work your way out into deeper water, this way you won't spook the fish with your first cast. Often trout will surprise you, and will be sitting right at your feet.

Nymph fishing can provide fast action, when no real insect hatches are occurring due to warm temperatures or unsettled weather, or when the fish just are not keying in on dries. Nymphing can be an exciting and rewarding method of fishing, when the correct approach is taken.

You can e-mail your comments to Vic @

Tight lines and hope to see on the water
Vic Carrao
STS Guiding Service

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