By Philip Rowley
As summer reaches its apex many lower elevation lakes slip into the summer doldrums, leaving anglers looking for other fly fishing challenges. One of the most readily available opportunities are the numerous rivers As summer reaches its apex many lower elevation lakes slip into the summer doldrums, leaving anglers looking for other fly fishing challenges. One of the most readily available opportunities are the numerous rivers and streams that weave their way across the province. While perhaps not as famous as other regions of North America, British Columbia still offers some world-class river and stream fishing.
Many anglers I know seek out rivers and streams as a remedy for their dry fly cravings. Indeed moving water is the dry fly fisher’s paradise. But more often our visits to rivers sees little or no hatch and consequently the dry fly action is tough at best. Early on in the summer season rivers still tend to be swollen from spring run off, especially this year. As it is inefficient to rise up through deep swift water trout prefer the security and calm of back eddies, sunken debris and boulders trout waiting to ambush their dinner as the current drifts it by. The solution is simple, if the trout won’t come up to eat, go down and get them by bouncing nymphs on or near the bottom.
My set up for fishing nymphs is simple and adaptable so if the hatch magically appears I can be working the surface in a matter of minutes, usually its just a matter of changing flies. I prefer fly rods in the 3 to 5 weight range, the smaller the stream and its residents the lighter the rod. For just about my entire nymph fishing a floating line in conjunction with a 12-foot leader fits the bill. Beginning with a standard 9-foot leader tapered to 3x I knot on a three-foot tippet section of equal or smaller diameter. This method allows for a long thin tippet that cuts through the water, speeding up the sink rate of the fly while putting it in the feeding zone quicker and longer. The double surgeons knot serves as a quick reminder for a tippet change while maintaining a consistent leader length.
Other aids to the nymph fishers tackle bag include split shot and strike indicators. For the fly fisher who do not tie flies split shot becomes important to drag the pattern down to the depths in the absence of a weighted fly. Even if the fly is weighted some water conditions such as pocket water or swift riffles dictate a heavy setup. While controversial to some strike indicators can be essential at times, especially for the novice nymph fisher. Trout reject non-food items including flies in the blink of an eye. Strike indicators give the angler a visible clue signaling a take. If the indicator pulls under, slows or moves upstream set the hook. It might be a rock or a sunken log but it’s surprising the number of times it’s a trout. This approach might seem costly on the fly budget but that’s the price for successful nymph fishing. Indicators help control depth too making sure the fly ticks naturally along the bottom. A good rule of thumb is to set the indicator at about twice the water’s depth. This means constant indicator adjustment throughout the day, often from run to run. Some of my favorite indicator materials included corkies, yarn, and Bio Strike putty. Be sure to check local regulations for each river or stream to make sure weight on the leader and indicators are permitted.
Flies for nymph fishing need not be complicated and that’s a good thing as by days end the nymph section of the fly box often suffers from a high casualty rate. Impressionistic buggy designs are prominent residents in my fly box. Famed American angler the late Charlie Brooks was a firm believer in tying nymph patterns in the round, meaning the pattern had no discernable top, bottom or side, no matter how the fly tumbled in the water the fish always saw the same profile. The Brook’s Montana Stone is a deadly example of this tying theory. The majority of my nymph patterns are weighted with either an underbody of non-toxic lead wire substitute, metal beads or a combination of both. A tungsten bead coupled with a weighted underbody is a great method to allow a fly to sink quick and deep. The added flash of metal beads can be a deciding trigger for trout as well. Don’t make long distance casts with these weighted concoctions or a concussion or new earring might be the result. Short accurate casts work best. Some of my favorite nymph patterns included Gold Bead Hare’s Ear Nymphs, traditional Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs and Montana Stones. Remember, use scruffy unkempt patterns, exact replicas are not as effective. For added animation try using patterns incorporating rubber hackle. Flies with rubber legs bounce and tumble seductively along the bottom as though they are struggling to regain a foothold on the bottom. Try to keep the pattern selection basic but numerous in quantity as going down after these trout results in some hazardous drifts and lots of snags.
When approaching a promising piece of water look it over carefully prior to casting. Look for places where slow moving water meets fast water forming a distinct seam. Shady areas and the hydrodynamic cushions formed in front of and behind rocks and boulders are other prime trout locations. Think lazy. Look for trout in places were they feel secure. Seek out protected areas with adequate oxygen flow that allow the trout to hold efficiently in the current as their food is channeled to them by the current. Some sections of the river may only offer a couple of these requirements while others are home to all four. Locations housing all four criteria, oxygen, protection, food and cover are considered prime lies and should be worked thoroughly, it is rare not to hook a fish in these locations. Other areas to consider include boulder strewn pocket water. Pocket water is well worth working during the high heat of summer. Most anglers tend to pass by pocket water due to the adventurous wading. I can recall spending all day by myself in a short stretch of pocket water and having some of my most memorable nymph fishing. Riffles are another excellent and productive nymph fishing locale and are the shoals of rivers and streams offering the most aquatic vegetation growth through photosynthesis. The largest populations of mayfly nymphs, stonefly nymphs and caddis larvae are usually found in riffles. When nymphing a riffle break it down into manageable sections. Work each section methodically, due to the broken water and current trout can’t see as well to move to the fly. Riffles allow the angler to use short accurate casts as the risk of spooking a fish is reduced by the bubbles and refraction caused by the turbulent water.
Seasoned nymph fishers tend to catch more trout than devoted dry fly fisherman. This is not a slight on the abilities of the dry fly angler or using dry flies. The nymph fisher is simply putting their offering at the trout’s level on or near the bottom where the trout spends the majority of its time feeding. While exhausting on the fly box, the rewards of nymph fishing are well worth it. For those rivers and streams with mixed residents a three-weight rod can be awoken from its slumber by the aggressive strike of a large Dolly Varden or summer run steelhead, not a bad by catch at all.
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