Remembering What I Forgot: Using a Haul for Nymphing Success

It seems when you’re in your teens you can recall just about anything. You haven’t lived long enough to fill your memory bank. You can remember what movie you watched with your girlfriend last weekend or what your mom made for dinner three nights ago. Then your mental hard drive begins filling up by you 30’s and soon your forget your wedding anniversary, can’t remember if you fed the dog, and then you forget the year your son was born when filing out doctor’s form. You get the point. Your memory bank can hold only so many moments/lessons and soon some of your earlier (often more important) memories are no longer in the storage drive between your ears. I’m now seeing this with my limited fishing knowledge.

Zach St. Amand controls his drift after a perfect nymph cast utilizing a haul.

Zach St. Amand controls his drift after a perfect nymph cast utilizing a haul.

I was recently reminded of this important nymphing tip I let slip away while fishing with a friend, Zach St. Amand on the Farmington River a week ago. The original lesson occurred over 20 years ago while fishing with my mentor, Joe Humphreys. Joe was showing me the importance of punching the nymphs into a pocket by using a short but powerful casting stroke and haul.  I can remember watching Joe perform his famous short casting stroke as he shot his nymphs into a run. The nymphs entered the water as if he was shooting them out of a high powered air rifle. This resulted in his nymphs quickly gaining bottom and a tight connection from the start of presentation. 

 

One of the biggest issues I’ve encounter nymphing fast water is getting the flies to anchor quickly. Obviously adding weight is one course of action to achieve quicker depth with immediate control. However, Joe always reminded me another option was to equal the force of the cast relative to the force of the water you fish. In other words, use less force in slow water but hammer home the nymphs when dealing with faster water.  This is where the haul comes into play.

 

A Farmington River rainbow taking by Joe-one of Zach’s students I met while fishing the river. Joe was also using the nymphing haul as a result of spending time wit Zach.

A Farmington River rainbow taking by Joe-one of Zach’s students I met while fishing the river. Joe was also using the nymphing haul as a result of spending time wit Zach.

A short but powerful haul in combination with a standard nymph cast can help you achieve depth and control with less weight. The advantage of a light rig is once the nymphs achieve depth, the rig is light enough to drift the flies naturally. Too often we rely on using more weight to counter faster water, which I feel results in having to drag your patterns during the presentation to avoid hanging up. The lesson of increasing the force of the cast was a lesson I used for years, but sometime with the last 5 years I had gotten away from using the haul. Then Zach St. Amand invited me to show me around and help me better understand the Farmington River before doing a video shoot with Orvis Fly Fishing. He not only only provided me with the info to help make for a good video shoot, but he also reminded me of the importance of using the haul to sink your nymphs. 

 Zach and another good friend of mine, Antoine Bissieux are the two busiest guides on the River, and they are both excellent nymph fishers.  Watching Zach use a violent but smooth haul on his cast to gain immediate depth of the Farmington’s pools reminded me of my lessons with Joe in my earlier days. I observed Zach pick up several good fish with his impressive nymphing cast, and left me yearning to begin using the haul again.  Thanks Joe for the original lesson and thanks to Zach for the reminder!

Don't Be a Jane Kangaroo Nymph Fisher

Torrey Collins will exhaust all nymphing possibility before moving to another location. His patience on the water and willingness to change his tactical approach is one reason he’s so successful.

Torrey Collins will exhaust all nymphing possibility before moving to another location. His patience on the water and willingness to change his tactical approach is one reason he’s so successful.

While watching Horton Hears a Who with my kid, I was reminded of the difference in tactical approach between a nympher blindly fishing a run versus a dry fly angler targeting a rising fish.  The latter situation the angler can see a target but the former is simply anticipating a fish is there. I feel this difference of actually seeing a trout rising versus hoping a fish is near may determine how much effort an angler puts in their presentation. 

 There’s a great quote from the movie that mirrors my attitude when blindly nymphing a run. The quote is from Jane Kangaroo exchanging words with Horton, who thinks he hears a who but Jane can’t see or hear what Horton is speaking of. The quote goes something like “If you can't see, hear or feel something, it doesn't exist.”  This made me think about the difference in tempo in which some anglers blindly nymph a run versus targeting a rising fish with dry fly. 

 There’s some sort of focus button that turns on when an angler sees a rising trout, especially one that consistently rises. When an angler fails to fool a consistent riser, they’ll switch patterns or tactics due to constant refusals. They know the fish is there but understand they need to change tactics as the result of the trout refusing their offering. I know I’ve spent over an hour targeting a specific rising trout but will move within five minutes if I fail to nymph up a fish in a good run.

 But there are few nymph anglers who exhaust the same effort (i.e. staying in one play exhausting all presentation possibilities) when nymphing a run. So often I hear myself or clients saying while unsuccessfully catching a fish in a good looking run, “HUH, I can’t believe there’s not a fish there.” Meaning, we assume we’re doing everything correct so we need to move to another location to find a fish. We need to change the wording we tell ourselves.

 This is why I’ve been changing my nymphing psychology over the years. I can’t assume I’m doing everything correct when failing to catch a fish in a spot I know holds fish. Instead, I need to assume there’s a fish feeding on the bottom (just as the same fish would be fishing on the surface) and need to make a change. I can add weight, decrease weight, change the angle I cast my nymph, change patterns, or maybe change my position. Approach high probability areas the same as you would if you see a steady surface feeder-assume you’re getting a subsurface refusal and begin to change tactics as you would to a rising fish. Again, this applies to spots you know hold fish all day and year round. 

 And maybe one’s nymphing success would increase if the sub surface angler developed the same patience of a typical dry fly angler targeting a riser? Just remember not to loose confidence in a high probability area when blindly fishing a spot. You know there’s a feeding fish there, so assume something is wrong with your current approach and make the change. In short, don’t be a Jane Kangaroo. 

 

Good Fishing!

 

Changing casting angles pays off for Torrey Collins.

Changing casting angles pays off for Torrey Collins.

Tight Line Tips: When in Doubt Drag Them

In fast-water stretches, it pays to err on the side of too much tension on your nymphs.

Nymphing without an indicator can be a challenge, especially when you’re fishing turbulent water where micro currents are moving in different directions. Some currents may be moving straight downstream, while some are pulling to the side, some are pushing downward towards the stream bottom, and so on. Instead of having an indicator to suspend and control the drift of your nymphing presentation, you have to decide both the direction and speed the rod tip needs to travel to stay in touch with your nymphs. It can be difficult to determine how fast or how slow to lead the flies in this kind of water are because it’s constantly changing.

To “staying in touch” with your flies, you need the rod tip to be in a position that maintains some degree of tension between angler and fly. This tension allows the angler to detect a take (by feel or by sight) when a trout strikes. Often, the ideal amount of tension is enough allow the angler to see a strike the moment a fish takes, but not so much that the angler is dragging the nymph. Usually you don’t want to drag the nymphing rig too fast, since that may cause a trout to refuse the presentation for the same reason that it would refuse a dragging a dry fly on the surface. Of course, it’s easier to see drag in a dry-fly presentation. When your nymphs are out of sight below the surface, sometimes all you can do is guess. So what do you do when you’re not sure about the correct speed to lead the flies in fast water?

Pocket water often contains conflicting micro currents that make indicator fishing difficult.

Asked about the best course of action when faced with such dynamic currents, a top Czech competitive angler told me, “I would rather have too much drag than too much slack when nymphing fishing.” You can’t detect a strike if there’s too much slack in the line. Slack may help you achieve a natural drift, but but if you can’t detect the strike then what’s the use? Although the drift may not be as natural when you’ve got too much tension in the line, at least you’ll be able to feel the strike.

This makes perfect sense in fast, turbulent water—such as pocket water and heavy riffles—where a dragging presentation can be masked by the strong currents and where trout don’t have as much time to think about whether or not to eat. Finally, adding weight to the rig, in the form a heavier fly or shot can create an anchor and better keep the nymphing rig deeper the water column, while the angler leads the presentation under tension. This approach may not work in slower and clearer stretches where trout can really examine your offering. However, when in doubt, drag your nymphs in fast-moving water. You may not fool as many fish, but at least you’ll see the strike.

Marshall Bissett Working Pocket Water in Northern CA. This is one water type where I feel drag is an option when you’re not sure if you’re in touch with your nymphs.

Marshall Bissett Working Pocket Water in Northern CA. This is one water type where I feel drag is an option when you’re not sure if you’re in touch with your nymphs.

Using A Hi-Vis Squirmy Wormy in High Water

As Seen in the Orvis News

The heavy rainfall on my home waters this summer has left me two options: head north to fish the mountain streams, or deal with the high water. I’m happy to do either one. Normally, I would be fishing for smallmouths right now, but the current flooding conditions have forced me to refocus on trout. However, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite bass tactics—using brightly colored flies—works for trout, as well.

I always thought detecting strikes would be easy while bass fishing because the fish would pummel the fly during the retrieve, hitting the fly so hard that it would be impossible for the angler not to feel the strike. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Years ago, I was fishing in slow water with a local smallmouth expert, Andy Wagner, and the smallmouths were taking our streamers so softly that is was difficult to detect a strike. Andy told me to tie on a white streamer, so we could see the fly in the water. When we saw the white fly disappear, we’d know that a fish had eaten the fly. Ever since, I’ve been surprise how often I don’t feel a smallmouth eat my fly, but know to strike when I see the fly disappear. This is a great tip for the smallmouth angler, but it’s also a good one for trout anglers fishing high and off-color water.

It’s no secret that the soft water along the edges or behind any obstruction that slows the flow are the best spots to target trout during high water. Oftentimes, the soft pockets of along the edge are shallow. Your first impulse might be to use heavily weighted flies to get down and fast, but the opposite is actually true. If the nymph is too heavy, it hits stream bottom too fast and doesn’t give the trout time to find it in the water column. It’s also important to use a pattern that is highly visible. Since trout cannot see as far as they can in clear water, you basically need to drop the fly in front of its nose. And when you present a fly in such a manner, the takes are usually soft, as the trout simply inhales the pattern.

This is where a brightly colored fly comes in handy. Our bass rivers have been blown out for the last three weeks, so my kids and I have been casting for trout in high water. But my 7- and 9-year-old kids had difficulty detecting strikes, resulting in two frustrating days on the water. So we went to the local fly shop and bought some of the brightest Squirmy Wormy material we could get our hands on. The kids are now tying all their own worm patterns, so they went to work at the vise that night, and then went back out to the same waters we had had difficulty on the day before. Both kids attached a fluorescent red or orange Squirmy to their tight-line rig and were told to set the hook whenever they no longer saw the fly. Within a few minutes, they were both into a fish–not because the trout weren’t eating the patterns from the previous two days, but because they could see the fly disappear in the trout’s mouth.

I would consider myself decent at seeing strikes when tight-lining, but I was amazed how many times I saw the fly disappear with little hesitation on the line. This proves how often trout strikes go undetected. So the next time you’re fishing shallow and soft water along the banks during a high-water event, don’t forget to try a bright colored pattern. When the pattern disappears, set the hook. It may save the day.



Evangeline Daniel Shows off a bright orange squirmy she tied the night before. She followed a simple rule to catch fish in high water-set the hook when the bright orange fly DISAPPEARS.

Evangeline Daniel Shows off a bright orange squirmy she tied the night before. She followed a simple rule to catch fish in high water-set the hook when the bright orange fly DISAPPEARS.