Casting Angles for Nymphs and Streamers

Chase Howard with downstream presentation-parallel to the current. With cold snaps, it often pays to keep the streamer “in the zone” for an extended time period.

Chase Howard with downstream presentation-parallel to the current. With cold snaps, it often pays to keep the streamer “in the zone” for an extended time period.

Stay Within The Lines: Casting Angles for Nymphs and Streamer

 

Winter is upon us, which means I’m fully engaged in streamer tactics. It’s not because streamer tactics are the best approach this time of year -- if you want to catch fish, nymphing will likely yield better results -- it’s more because I love to work streamers, hungry for that elusive tug, even if it means going all day without a strike. I welcome that challenge! In late February/early March, when the first olive hatch occurs, I enter into a different mode, but the tug is hard-wired; I go back to it at every opportunity.

  One cold April morning, trout still positioned deep in the water column and stubborn to any offering, my friend and Master nymph fisherman, John Stoyanoff said:  “You can’t dictate to the trout; you take what they give you.” John noticed that I was casting my nymphs more over and across than up. The result was that drag was setting in early and my nymphs were lifting off the streambed. My presentation was too fast for the lazy trout. John’s upstream casts were more in line with the current, and his nymphs reached (and stayed) deeper in the water column. Eventually, grannom pupa began to emerge, and the trout, now active, would consider my over and across, tension cast.

 The correct angle of cast made the difference. A big difference. Casting in line with the current slows down and deepens the drift. The over and across cast creates almost immediate drag and speeds up the offering. This makes for a long day of presentations to finicky trout. Tensioned casts have their uses, but they are useless to trout holding in cold, deep water. They aren’t looking up until an emergence, some activity, occurs.  

 These rules apply, especially in cold, winter months, to streamer tactics too. Yes, trout will run down a streamer during a polar vortex, but cold water temps often result in less active trout.  So when water temps decrease, so does the speed I work streamers. This means casting more “in-line” with the current. The goal is to reduce drag and keep your patterns in likely “lanes,” where trout will position. The choice of a correctly weighted streamer, or the right sink rate for fly line are important choices, but the angle of the cast greatly influences how slow and how long a pattern remains in a trout’s ambush zone. Remember, let the trout tell you how how active you can fish your streamers. As a general rule for winter streamer tactics, slow your presentation.  I tell my 8 year-old, in his frenzied, crayon sessions, to “STAY WITHIN THE LINES.” Like most parents, though,  I am an infrequent listener to my own advice!

Kris Bretz showing off a health brown, he caught by “staying within the lines.”

Kris Bretz showing off a health brown, he caught by “staying within the lines.”

Streamer Tip: Avoid "Target Fixation" For The Bank

Angler Fred Moy caught this fish  mid stream  on a large tailwater. Remember to scan the water before making the cast. No need to rush your cast.

Angler Fred Moy caught this fish mid stream on a large tailwater. Remember to scan the water before making the cast. No need to rush your cast.

Streamer season has been upon for some time, and I was recently reminded of a favorite streamer tip. I heard  this tip over 8 years ago-during my time as Captain for Fly Fishing Team USA. I’ve had the privilege to work/fish with excellent anglers, and Scott Hunter is another impressive angler I was fortunate enough to spend time with. Scott is a former member of Fly Fishing Team USA and the NC FF Team. Scott is a predator, both as a hunter and fisher, and is likely one of the most well rounder outdoorsman I know. He’s damn good. 

 

Scott is also a former bass competitor, and competed with legendary angler, Kevin VanDam. One of Scott’s most memorable tips he gleaned from Kevin was, “90% of angler’s fish the bank, which only hold 10% of the fish.” While the original discussion may have been centered on lakes for bass, this is also true for river streamer tactics, especially on float trips.  While banks will provide excellent targets to the streamer angler, don’t develop “target fixation” on only the banks. In other words, scan the water, look for better options before casting to the bank.  You have options-use them!

 

Just to be clear, there’s situations where’s banks are the only option. When fishing extreme high water, you may need to focus on the bank. Banks may provide the only resting spot for fish, so focus your fly placement where you’re likely to find more trout. On the flip side, when normal flows exist, greater success may occur when fly placement is focused on prime lies (i.e. areas that offer trout food, protection, and shelter). This often means to make a cast anywhere but to the bank. While some bank locations may offer prime lies, many are only feeding lies. Feeding lies are excellent targets for the streamer angler during off color water, low light, or if you’re the first angler/boat to fish these areas. However, after several anglers have fished a feeding lie-those fish feel the pressure and they often run back to areas that offer protection. 

 

The best streamer anglers I know don’t rush the cast. They survey the field and locate the best target. They wait until to make the cast until they wade into the best position, or the boat moves into the right position. They make less casts, but their streamers spend more time in productive waters. As my friend, Lance Wilt will tell his clients, “cast with a purpose.” Meaning, find a reason to make the cast. It’s not always about fishing harder- it’s about fishing smarter. Pick your target, and attack!   

 

Fishing The Front Side: The Secret Pocket

X marks the spot. Even submerged boulders will have a soft upstream pocket.

X marks the spot. Even submerged boulders will have a soft upstream pocket.

Rocks and boulders create hydraulic cushions within the stream. They are essentially resting/feeding spots for the trout. Think of rocks and boulders as a trout’s streamside Lazy Boy recliner. The most obvious location to target fish is immediately below (downstream) of a boulder, where it’s easy to see a soft water “pocket” form below the obstruction. These downstream pockets are easy for the angler to locate and target for their presentations. However, what if I were to tell you that there’s a better and more productive pocket? And it holds some of the best trout! 

 

The pocket is, of course, on the front side of the boulder. The experienced angler knows this “secret pocket,” but many beginners fail to notice it. The front side “cushion” creates a primary feeding line, a place that offers protection, rest, and feeding opportunities. Think about it: the fish on the front side will have first dibs on available food, and the larger, more dominant fish know that (probably why they are bigger!) Smaller fish generally hold on the downstream side, feeding on whatever the big ones (the ones we want) pass up. 

 

I’m not recommending that anglers disregard the downstream pocket – it can and sometimes does hold larger fish -- but the front side is worth at least a few passes. It is a primary feeding lie. It should be explored. Sometimes “the grass is greener” in spots we don’t think to fish. Fish it!

 

Choose wisely. Amidea Daniel’s decision to fish the front side resulted in the fish of the day. Often (not always) the best fish will hold on the front side of a boulder.

Choose wisely. Amidea Daniel’s decision to fish the front side resulted in the fish of the day. Often (not always) the best fish will hold on the front side of a boulder.

Circus Peanut: A Favorite Color Scheme

Peanut:Peanut Envy.jpg

The Yellow and Gold Circus Peanut/Peanut Envy: A Proven Color Scheme For Higher Water

 

Although I spent part of my earlier angling days with a streamer attached to the line, it was more of a backup plan, when all other tactics, dry fly, nymph, wet fly, failed. I would clip off the smaller dry fly or nymph, cut back into the leader’s thicker section, attach an “old school” Mickey Finn streamer, start stripping like hell, and hope for the best.  Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. And why should such a last ditch effort work? After all, it was, like many of my earlier streamer fishing ventures, a half ass plan.

 

Then, in 2003, I travelled to fish with Russ Madden on his Michigan home waters, and he changed my attitude towards streamers. He showed me a game plan that would work as a primary (not last ditch) approach. I’ll be writing about those lessons in future blog posts. Until then, I wanted to share a color variation of his Circus Peanut, a highly effective streamer for the high, dirty water that defined this 2018 Pennsylvania trout season.  Actually, now when I look at it- the pattern is a mix of Russ’ Circus Peanut and Kelly Galloup’s Peanut Envy. Either way, I wanted to share this color scheme. It has been great (personally and with customers) during the last five months.  Happy Stripping!

 

 

Rear Hook:

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Tail: Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

Connector:

20LB Maxima with Single Glass Bead

 

Front Hook

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Cone: Medium Copper Tungsten Cone with 6-8 wraps of .025 lead wire (snugged inside cone to prevent cone from sliding and to add additional weight).

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Overwing (i.e tail section hanging over the articulated section): Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

 

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!

Staying Streamer Neutral

The concept of neutral buoyancy is something we all learned in high school. However, it wasn’t until I began streamer fishing in my late teens that I found a practical use for this concept. In short, neutral buoyancy means that an object in water will neither float to the surface or sink to the bottom; instead, it will suspend. So why would this be important to the streamer angler? For me, the idea of neutral buoyancy has allowed me to develop a better streamer approach for the waters I fish in central Pennsylvania–home of limestone rivers and spring creeks.

My approach to streamer fishing has changed over the years, from a fast-moving “strip like hell” approach to a drift-and-twitch presentation that I feel does a better job imitating a wounded baitfish. When observing a wounded minnow in the water, you may notice the fish drifting with the current along with the occasionally twitching or kicking. The injured minnow will also drop toward stream bottom in a slow, downward gliding motion and not like a rock. While heavily weighted streamers have their place–and I fish these patterns frequently in pocket water–I rely heavily on neutral streamers when I’m fishing upstream.

One of my first lessons in this approach came from watching my father-in-law fish a live minnow without any weight on the leader in slower moving pools. I observed how the minnow would slowly sink without falling completely to stream bottom. It would kick and swim, staying somewhere in the middle of the water column. Of course, the minnows he was fishing had an air bladder, which allows the fish to increase or decrease its buoyancy. When the minnow died and was no longer able to maintain air in the bladder, it would sink to bottom, and this is the moment a new minnow was placed back on the leader. My father in law felt he had more success while the minnow was drifting a foot or so off stream bottom, giving an occasional kick or twitch.

I ashamed to say that, while I remembered the conversation, it wasn’t until a number of years later that I applied that lesson to the fly rod. Some fly fishers get struck in a rut of fishing only one pattern type, and I suspect that’s what happened to me with heavily weighted streamers. I caught fish, but there were situations (e.g. cold snaps or off color water) where I wasn’t as successful as my fishing partners. Although there were several reasons for my lack of success, after numerous tests, I came reached the conclusion I was fishing streamers that were too heavy. The streams I fish are not deep, and the only way I could keep my dumbbell- and tungsten-weighted streamers off bottom was to maintain constant tension by using a quicker retrieve. As it turned out, this made me fish my flies too fast, whereas some of my fly-fishing friends and father-in-law were often fishing with half the retrieval speed. Of course, a faster retrieve will in some conditions, but when the water is cold or when visibility is low, a slower retrieve works better. When I slowed things down, my success rate immediate went up.

What I’m looking for in a streamer is a pattern that isn’t 100% neutral. Meaning, the pattern has just enough weight where it will slowly sink. I cast the streamer upstream, and then pull it downward into the water column where it will drift at that approximate level during the presentation. I’ll strip in the excess line as the drift comes towards me, with an occasional downward twitch of the rod tip to create a slight kicking action within the fly. My goal is to maintain a slow drift, just slightly little faster than the current.

Good Fishing

This trout was fooled with a neutrally buoyont Drunken Disorderly.

This trout was fooled with a neutrally buoyont Drunken Disorderly.

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.

Downstream Dry Dropper Presentation

Trout streams are like humans: every one has a different personality. Some are overly friendly, and some would like to kick you in the head. Idaho’s Silver Creek is often the latter. The key is to understand how to deal with such difficult folks, so you get what you want out of the relationship. Recently I spent time with several of Silver Creek’s seasoned fly-fishing guides, and they helped explain how to deal with (not conquer) with this fickle spring creek.

Silver Creek fish are leader-shy, and all the guides I fished with agree with on one tactic: “Fish the fly first.” In other words, make sure that the trout sees your fly first, rather than your leader. It’s likely you wont score even a juvenile trout if you make a traditional upstream presentation, casting from a position that puts the leader over the fish. Instead, you must position yourself upstream of the fish and cast at a downstream angle, so the fish sees the fly first. This practice is not uncommon on challenging rivers such as the Henrys Fork, Delaware, and South Holston, but it’s a change for me because I rarely nymph downstream.

A popular approach on Silver Creek is nymphing with a dry-dropper rig, which allows the angler to fish both a dry and a nymph. The challenging part (at least for me) is that almost all nymphing is done with a downstream presentation, which means that the nymph is downstream of the dry fly and it’s easy for slack to occur between dry and nymph. If slack between the dry fly and nymph is created during the presentation–if, for example, an overpowered cast creates a curve or slack in the line–it’s possible that slack will remain during the presentation. Such slack isn’t an issue on faster-moving waters where trout strikes are aggressive, and it’s no problem detecting such aggressive strikes even with slack between dry and nymph. It’s a different story on slow-moving streams, such as Silver Creek, where the trout lazily drift drift over to inhale food items, where such slack may cause the strike to go unregistered. Enter “pull back the tip.”

Pulling back the tip is a nymphing tactic that Silver Creek guides use to reduce slack when presenting nymphing rigs downstream. Although it works with dry-fly fishing, as well, I found it particularly to reduce slack as a nymphing rig drifts downstream toward the fish. Here’s the basic method:

  • Position yourself upstream of a feeding trout or a likely feeding lane.

  • Cast directly downstream toward your target, but stop the rod tip high so the rig falls far enough upstream of your target.

  • Keep the rod tip high, and then pull the tip back (upstream). This movement creates tension, removing all slack between dry fly and nymph, and holds the flies stationary on the water.

  • Lower the rod tip at the speed of the water to feed the tightly connected dry-dropper rig directly to the fish. To extend the drift, kick some slack out of the rod tip.

While this approach has been used for many years on waters such as the Henrys Fork and Silver Creek, I needed this reminder from my new friends after my upstream presentations failed to produce a single fish. Hopefully, this approach will help you hook up when you need to make a downstream nymphing presentation.



Silver Creek Outfitter’s Guide Taite Pearson Pulls back the tip to tighten the rig before lowering the rod tip to drift to a rising fish.

Silver Creek Outfitter’s Guide Taite Pearson Pulls back the tip to tighten the rig before lowering the rod tip to drift to a rising fish.

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.