by Neil Grose
There are probably more trout caught nymphing than with any other method during the trout season. But what exactly is meant by nymphing? What are the patterns associated with this method, and what are the best ways to fish them?
In truth nymphing has as many different variations as do dry fly fishing, loch style, or just about any other style of fly fishing you would care to mention. If we were to closely examine how each individual angler goes about "nymphing", we would find many different variations on the theme. The following is a basic insight into what that theme involves.
There are two basic aspects to nymphing, the technique of nymphing, and the fly patterns that are used. Some components of tackle such as fly lines etc are important to the techniques, so these are discussed as well in some depth.
If there is one single feature of fishing with nymphs it is that everything moves slowly. Brown nymphs and the like in their natural state do not move with any degree of alacrity. They move quite slowly, with only occasional bursts of speed. This means that the angler chasing trout chasing nymphs needs to slow down their rate of retrieve. Whether you are fishing at depth, or in the surface film, everything needs to be slow.
When fishing flies like nymphs slowly it is very important to have a system of detecting takes. Usually trout taking nymphs and the like do so very softly, the unobservant angler will miss 5 out of every 8 takes. This statement sounds unbelievable, but after guiding numerous inexperienced clients I can tell you it is very much so. Often the sign of a take is visual rather than the familiar tug on the line. If when retrieving the fly you leave the rod tip 6 inches above the water, you will see the fly line straighten and then fall back each time you retrieve some line. In effect the loop moves away from you as you put tension on the line, and then falls back when you stop. If the loop doesn't fall back, STRIKE, as either a trout has the fly, or its in the weed. If it's in the weed it's OK, because that's the zone you want the fly in, if it's in a trout, well I suppose that's OK as well! If you are having difficulty grasping the concept, then study the attached diagrams carefully. This technique was one of the revelations that came from John Horseys" visit, this simple method has won the English team many a gold medal in international competition, its relevance here equally important.
Watching the loop is primarily a floating or intermediate line technique, with faster sinking lines we need to use feel. The usual way that most anglers retrieve is to loop the line under the index finger, and then pull the line away from that hand at an angle with the other. This will detect takes from aggressive trout, but will often fail to convert takes from more timid fish. The trick here is to keep as straight a line as possible between hand and fly. This means retrieving the line right at the stripping or butt ring on the rod. The usual retrieve in this instance is the figure eight, or hand twist. Hold the rod back towards your hip with your casting hand, and retrieve the line directly with the other.
When the trout sucks in the fly you will feel everything, and strike without delay. With this method you can feel the fly bumping of the weed stems, and slipping over trees and rocks on the bottom. Often takes come as the fly pulls out of a weed, so be ready. The takes can be just a slow, heavy weight on the line, if it gets heavier, then give a sharp pull with the hand retrieving the line. With today's chemically sharpened hooks that should be all that is needed to set the hook.
The fly line that you use is important in maximising your opportunities with nymphing. It is important to have a line that falls straight on the water, and not in loops or coils. Lines that do coil like this are ineffective in maintaining close contact with the fly, thus negating all your good efforts in improving retrieves and the like. So for this type of work the cheaper lines often fail to make the grade. Line brands well worth considering are Cortland and Scientific Angler with floaters, and add Airflo to considerations with sinking lines. There are plenty of lines on the market at the moment, and it's not always possible to try lines before you buy, some of the really cheap lines have memory coils so bad that they retrieve the fly themselves, like a spring, so bear this in mind. Anyway, a $20 line will last an average year if you are lucky, a $100 line will last an average 5 with care, and do a better job as well. Do your sums, but I will go with the good line, every time.
Line stretch can be a factor in take detection with sinking lines. The new DI range from Airflo have very low stretch rates, making them a good option when considering what to buy. Scientific Anglers have some excellent lines,
Cortland have recently released some low stretch fast sinking lines as well, which do their job effectively. The less a line stretches, the more sensitive it becomes in transmitting takes to the angler. To the uninitiated there can be much unrequited excitement as each bit of weed feels like a take, however as you begin to be more discerning the catching of "spooks" subsides.
So, in summary, keep the flies moving slowly in the depth range required, keep in contact with the fly at all times, and make sure you have a straight line to the fly.
There is only one exception to the straight line, and that is what the English call fishing the swing. Basically this is a shore technique, used only where there is a breeze blowing from the left to right along a gently sloping shore. The cast is made at right angles to the wind, or even slightly up wind. The wind is then allowed to blow the line around in an arc, the angler does not retrieve the flies, simply letting the wind do the work. The nymphs slowly swing around, the only indication of a take is the draw of the leader. I have fished this technique often from the road shore at Little Pine Lagoon in a gentle southerly over the dam, and while getting plenty of takes, it is hard to convert any more that 3 in 5 due to the amount of slack line. This is a good way to fish the Pine when the midges are up in October and November. Use three small buzzers on a level 4 pound 15 foot leader and see what you turn up!
What are the nymph patterns we should be choosing from? Entomologically speaking, nymphs are the pre emergent stages of insects such as mayflies, damsel flies and dragonflies. If we wished to draw a longer bow we would include stick caddis, midge pupa, and shrimps and scud. Common patterns used to represent these trout foods are the ubiquitous brown nymph, green nymph, damsel nymph patterns in a staggering variety, and the humble mudeye pattern to represent the dragonfly nymph. The others are represented with stick caddis patterns, the nymbeet, shrimp and scud ties, and small buzzers to mimic the midge. Obviously each of these nymphs will be prominent at different times of the year, and will need to be fished at different depths. The following are brief descriptions of the flies, the method, depth, location and time of year appropriate to each nymph.
The most common of ties for this insect is the brown seals fur nymph is sizes 14, 12, and 10. The tail should be tied short, and it should have a prominent black wing case. The best of these patterns are quite shaggy, or have a soft hackle wound at the front. Trout begin to chase these during November in the highland lakes, and a month earlier in the lowlands. Once trout get a taste for the nymph it can be fished with confidence all season. The brown nymph can be fished at any depth, from 10 feet upwards, and during summer trout will bulge the surface as the nymphs attempt to hatch into duns. When trout are bulging the surface they are best fished inert, as the depth increases figure eight retrieves and short pulls are the best. These patterns are often taken as they sink as well, so be on the ball! Prime locations are over the weed in Arthurs Lake and Little Pine Lagoon. Bronte and its" near neighbours are well worth a look as well.
Damsel fly nymphs and Mudeyes.
These two are closely related, although the nymphs are very different in makeup and action. The damsel is often imitated by a simple green nymph on a size 10 or 12 with a long marabou tail. A green bead head nymph with a long tail of marabou is an excellent fly, the wriggling action of the tail mimics very closely the movement of the natural. Fly patterns to imitate the mudeye range from the humble green and brown woolly worm to more exact copies, all tied on size 10's and 8's. December through till March are the times for these two, especially in the evening and night time. The best depths are often in the shallows around prominent weed beds, although deep fished damsel nymphs do well in Arthurs at times. The type of retrieve with these two varies, the mudeye moves in short jerks of about 3 to 4 inches, while the damsel will have a continuous wriggle. The figure eight works well with the damsel flies. Penstock is a great damsel and mudeye water, as are Four Springs and Brushy Lagoon, not to mention the greats of Pedder and Burbury. Any Lake with trees in it will have mudeyes, so be observant at your favourite fishery.
I could count one hand the number of trout in a season which don't have stick caddis in them, yet very few people fish with an imitation of this little fellow. Most effective are patterns with a prominent yellow head,
Peter Hayes has the best tie I have seen, the original from Dick Wigram is also the down fall of many trout. Best sizes will vary, 14's for the shallows, larger as you go down. Any time during the open season is the best time to fish a stick caddis. in the early months it pays to give them some depth, up to 10 feet, but as the water warms in September the trout will be active in the shallow water looking for them. Just about all shore lines sport a population of these beasties, from the luxuriant weed of Little Pine Lagoon to the seemingly barren shores of Lake Echo and Great Lake. When fishing them at depth figure eights and slow draws are the order of the day, in the shallow water you can often be more active. They are also a good pattern to fish to tailing trout as well, either under a dry fly, or on their own.
Shrimp and scud.
Not strictly a nymph, although the same techniques are the down fall of trout feeding on these morsels. Best patterns incorporate a thorax of orange, and a curved dark green body, usually size 12 and 14. A green nymph with an orange hot spot is as good as any. These are best early and late in the season, the trout seem to change preference once the season gets past November. These guys are down deep, 8 to 15 feet not at all uncommon. There is really only one type of retrieve for fishing with shrimp and scud patterns, and that is the figure eight. The takes here are usually very soft, so direct contact with the fly is crucial. The best of this type of fishing is in Arthurs Lake, out over the weed beds in Jonah Bay, Hydro Bay, Creely Bay, and some sections of the Morass.
Chironomids or midges.
Not many anglers recognise the significance of the midge to the Tasmanian trout, but trout in all lakes will feed voraciously on these intriguing insects given the right conditions. The most common of patterns are the small curved buzzers that the English use to such great effect. Always tied small, size 14, 16, and 18 will see you through. The midge pupa start to emerge almost as soon as the season opens, so it always pays to have imitations at the ready. They will be on the menu from the bottom to the top, as a dropper fly with a stick caddis and a scud they are invaluable.
The retrieve can be varied between a figure eight and slow short draws.
When fish porpoise the surface they are usually taking the midge just below the surface, so accurate, inert presentations are essential. Don't get too worked up if you cant catch these fish, I am sure the main barrier is that they just don't see your fly, persistence will often pay off. All major impoundment have good hatches of midges, every lake I have ever fished has them, early on calm mornings the best time to find them, or the worst time, if you can't catch them.
If you wish to know more on the fly patterns, or to learn to tie flies from scratch, then Peter Hayes and myself, in conjunction with Linda Lammin will be conducting intensive one day courses in the near future based around tying the flies that we use both in the guiding operation, and in competition fishing. If you are at all interested in improving both your catch rates and your tying skills then these days are for you.
In summary, choose the nymph appropriate to the season and the location you are in, and if in doubt, fish it slow. The beauty of nymphing is that your flies are in the best element for the trout, over 80% of their food comes from below, so you are directly imitating what they are foraging for.
Nymphing provides the best general purpose fishing method when there is no hope of surface activity, and you just know that they are down there having a feast. Get with the strength, and get with nymphing.