Thanks again to everyone who posted on our Facebook wall this week in our "Let's Hear It" column. We had the best participation we've seen with this and can only hope the trend continues. Many fantastic topics were brought up and I will be choosing several of them to discuss over the next week or so. Today's topic though is an especially important, relevant, and seasonally appropriate one. The topic was "Fishing with weight- putty vs. split shot? Sinking tips? Changing weight vs. changing the fly? Casting techniques to minimize tangles?"
While I know there are some diehards out there who refuse to nymph fish, the vast majority of us don't fall under that heading. We simply want to enjoy our time on the river and catch a few fish....and if that means watching a bobber all day, then by-golly let's get to it!
With that being said, if you fall into the category of "Dry Fly Or Die" or are a self professed "Streamer Junkie" then this article is probably not for you. For the rest of us though...by-golly let's get to it.
Whether you like/tolerate/enjoy/despise nymph fishing, there's no denying it is without a doubt the most consistent way to get a bend in your fly rod. Even in the thickest of hatches, when every fish in the river appears to be rising and you'd be foolish not to fish a dry fly, you can probably still get a few fish to eat your nymph rig. The same can't always be said with Dry Flies or Streamers. While both of these types of fishing can be very productive at times, and arguably more fun than fishing nymphs, having a solid nymphing foundation will help you put more fish in the net on a consistent basis. This will be especially true over the next 6 months. While you'll never see a Simms or Sage advertisement of a giant Brown Trout getting ready to sip a beadhead Prince nymph, the fact is that 90% of a trout's diet is subsurface. I'd be willing to say throughout these next several months it's closer to 99%.
If you want to be efficient at playing the subsurface game, having your weight properly set up is, in my opinion, more important than having the exact "right" flies tied on. I'd much rather fish flies of questionable choice, but be properly weighted/drifted, versus fishing the exact fly the fish are feeding on, but have my weighting (which effects a proper drift) be off. Think about it, how many times have you been at the office, full from lunch, and had someone bring in candy/cookies/birthday cake? While desert may have not even been a thought in your mind, the fact that it was presented so that you had to expend essentially zero effort to get it, might make you dig right in.
To break apart the above mentioned topics related to weight, we'll start with putty vs. split shot. In my personal opinion, especially if you're fishing in Colorado, carry both. For the split shot, I recommend carrying a round, multi-sized pack of split shot, such as the ones made by Super Doux. Additionally, you'll want to pick up a pack or two of the cheap and basic Water Gremlins. I prefer using the Super-Doux on technical fisheries such as the South Platte and Frying Pan. I believe the Water-Gremlins are perfectly fine for bigger, more "meat and potatoes" rivers like the Colorado. For the putty, JP's Nymphing Mud is great to have. This pliable tungsten putty is perfect for technical nymph fishing as you can add or subtract even the tiniest amounts to really dial in your weight. The biggest key to remember when using the nymphing mud is to put it on top of a piece of shot. If you simply roll this stuff onto your leader, it will slide up and down and give you problems.
When fishing the Super-Doux and Nymphing Mud combination. Select a Super-Doux large enough to work by itself in the shallowest water you think you'll be fishing. I.e., at Deckers you'll often find fish up shallow in less than a foot of water. Selecting a size of shot that is suited for this depth is where you should start. By doing this, you'll be covered for any shallow water fishing you encounter. As you approach deeper water to fish throughout the day, all you'll have to do is pinch off a little putty, roll it onto the split shot and get back to fishing. The biggest benefit to all of this, aside from the fact that it's a time saver, is you won't constantly be pinching split shot on and off thoughout the day which can weaken your leader/tippet. Additionally, I much prefer to have one single, round, dark (the tungsten putty is dark brown) piece of weight- that for practical purposes looks like a rock tumbling downstream- versus a shiny string of split shot that resembles a bead chain. I can't help but think pressured fish don't prefer this as well.
One last item of note with the Nymphing Mud- make sure you roll the putty into a completely round ball. Any shape resembling a football will result in repeated twists/tangles throughout the day.
Moving on to the Water Gremlin shot, which resembles the classic, silver colored pinch on split shot with little "wings" on one side to aide in removal. You probably used this as a kid fishing with worms and bobber for bluegill. This works great for bigger, less technical rivers because you will typically need to make less weight adjustments throughout the day. Depending on the flies you're fishing, pinching on one or two B or BB sized pieces will get you by in most sitatuations. I've never found myself needing to get half as technical with my weight set ups on bigger freestone rivers, as compared to more technical tailwaters.
Now that we’ve discussed applications for the various types of split shot you’ll see hanging on the wall at your local fly shop, it doesn’t matter what kind you choose to fish if you don’t pay attention to three other important factors: Indicator depth, speed of your drift, and spacing. Thankfully, these three factors are very easy to diagnose. For indicator depth, the general rule is 1.5x the depth of the water you’re fishing. i.e. 3 feet deep water will need 4.5 feet of distance between your indicator and first fly. Again, this is just a general rule. Faster water will typically require a little more distance. If you’re ever unsure on indicator depth, erring on the side of too deep is better than too shallow. When nymphing, you’re typically targeting fish holding tight to the bottom so allowing a little extra distance to ensure you’re flies are getting down is always good practice. Secondly, speed of your drift is perhaps the most important. I’ve mentioned this in other posts, and I’ll mention it again here. Your goal should be to have your indicator floating SLOWER than the bubbles on the surface. If you’re indicator is floating the same speed as the bubbles, and you’re confident on your indicator depth, add more weight. The reason this is so important is that the water on the surface is flowing faster than the water on the bottom of the streambed. Since you’re targeting fish on the bottom, you can bet that an indicator drifting at surface speed will have you’re flies whizzing by the fishes face at an unnatural rate of speed.
If you’re indicator is set to 1.5X-2X the depth, along with floating noticeably slower than the bubbles on the surface, you can fish confidently knowing you’re getting a proper drift. I spend a lot of time on the river and encounter a lot of fisherman. Based off the nymph rigs I see many folks carrying around, I firmly believe this is the number one key to people not catching as many fish as they’d like.
You’re spacing between weight and flies is the final consideration. On most tailwaters, my rule for spacing is 10”-12”. This distance is used between my split shot and first fly, and then again from first fly to second fly. For larger freestone rivers, I’ll still keep the weight 12” or so from my first fly, however will typically stretch out the distance to the second bug to around 15”-18”.
As far as the other items mentioned in the post regarding weight we’re sinking lines. Sinking lines can be very useful tools, however really only apply to streamer fishing. Next week I’ll be posting Part 2 of a 3 part series on Streamer fishing whereI will go in to a little more depth on when and why you would incorporate a sinking line into your streamer fishing.
As far as the actual weight of your flies goes, I don’t really take this into consideration on tailwaters where you’re typically fishing very small flies, which essentially weigh nothing. For bigger nymphs such as weighted stoneflies, use your best judgment to determine how much less weight you need to add, which will be made up for by the weight of the fly. The biggest key is to not over think it. If you’re never getting hung up on the bottom, add more weight (and probably more depth). If you’re getting hung up every drift, back off some weight. You ideally want to be ticking the bottom a few times at least every few drifts.
Lastly, we’ll take a look at the cast. Having a couple flies, perhaps a split shot or two, and an indicator, which will sometimes be spread out at a distance of 8 or 9 feet (if you’re fishing 6 foot of water for instance) can definitely give you a work out. There’s no room for the classic dry fly cast when nymphing. I try at all costs to avoid overhead casts when nymph fishing. Roll casts and water haul casts (where your flies are below you down stream and you use the tension from the current to load the rod before tossing your flies back upstream) will always be the safest bet. If you do have to overhead cast, you’ll want to have a wide, or oval shaped loop on your cast. Typically, bringing your backcast back at a lower angle, and then making your forward cast at a higher angle, will keep your flies separated enough on their path through the air to avoid tangles. Think of it like making a big oval with your arm.
Hopefully this has provided some clarification when it comes to properly weighting your nymph rigs. If you have any further questions, or would like anything explained in further detail, don’t hesitate to let us know. Our goal is to make your time on the water as productive as possible…and having your nymph rig properly weighted is a good way to keep the productivity high!