As summer waters warm, and overcast and rainy days summon the beautiful clear skies of July, that we all enjoy, fishing for our native species becomes slightly more…..specialized. When I began to study local hatches of the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, I began to realize that the age old mantra: “fish only feed during the low light of dawn and dusk” as an ‘age old’ approach to taking the easy way out! Although we see more rising fish in low light conditions, it is commonly understood among enlightened anglers that most salmon and trout feed throughout the day and night! But what are they eating? Why can’t I catch a trout at high noon?
Nymph fishing, and moreover, nymph insect life cycles, demonstrate a model to the observant angler that presents a difficult and fun way of approaching tough fishing/catching conditions: It is understood that most adult fish spend the majority of their time feeding on sub-aquatic insect life: insects that are traveling from their nesting spot on the bottom of the river to the surface to become winged-adults. Think: caterpillar to butterfly; two life stages. The trout and salmon key in on these non-winged nymphs, and readily eat them as they drift through the water column to the surface to breed and lay eggs later in the day.
There are three major families of insects in our waters that produce this effect: May flies, Caddis flies, and Stone flies. If you become familiar with our native waters, and the native insect species that hatch, along with their ‘hatch’ cycles, you become lethal at catching local-native fish! On our waters, there are all sorts of species of these insect families represented throughout the summer. To avoid becoming too scientific or over-stated, I leave it to you to learn what hatches are occurring, and when. If you see an adult (winged insect) bobbing around the surface of the water, take the opportunity to observe its’ size, shape and color. If you fish with non-winged, weighted nymph versions of these adults during otherwise slow conditions, you will find that behold……they work… really, really well! Scour the grille of the shuttle vehicle and buses, and notice what you find. If there are a lot of one type of insect: presto, you are dialed in!
How do I fish a nymph? Well, there are a lot of approaches, but one particular approach seems to be most effective: Do you remember fishing with a worm and bobber, dangling the worm out below the bobber, anxiously awaiting the “doink-doink-doink” of the bobber, indicating that something is happening below the surface? I would like to believe that nymph fishing is more technical and stylistic than this, but inherently, it isn’t! Go to your local fly shop and buy some strike indicators (Brightly colored foam, or yarn, or silly-putty in nuclear green, etc.) and get ready to learn. If you place the strike indicator on the “butt” of your leader (I like to put the indicator 12”-20” from the union of the fly line), attach a weighted nymph and maybe another below it (by tying some tippet from the gape of the first hook to the eye of the second), you will offer a fish a micro “salad bar” to choose from. Generally, a nymph is fished best if it is allowed to “drift” with the current, at the same speed; so cast your ‘rig’ upstream from your perch, and try to hold the majority of your floating line out of the water. Watch the strike indicator to see if the flies hook-up on a submersed rock/log, or a 5# salmon!!!
As you practice this technique, you will begin to observe the kinds of current/eddy/light conditions which make nymph fishing a favorite approach for many anglers. Generally, nymph fishing is done in very close quarters, and many ‘new’ anglers are surprised that nice fish hold at their feet! If you are a visual learner, you will advance quickly, and be rewarded generously! (Note to self: It is inherently dangerous and extremely frustrating to attempt to cast a nymph ‘rig’ overhead with many false casts; too many flies and indicators= too many knots while casting; this has to do with physics and wind resistance, and several other things that are otherwise, not interesting!) You are well served to ‘flip’ the rig up, once, over the rod tip and wait for the drift to progress in-front of you. Again, most fish are caught in the “zone” (within ten feet of where you are standing). If you can throw the flies upstream of the indicator, you are gold…just lift line and watch for movement of the indicator, upstream. Think that fish always face the current, so if your nymphs are eaten by a fish, the indicator will stop “drifting” down.
If I notice that fish are starting to rise on the surface, I remove my strike indicator, cut off my nymph ‘rig’, and tie on an appropriate dry pattern. This is more visual, easier, and more productive than dragging nymphs through fishy waters! Have fun nymph fishing, and play with the length of your leader to accommodate deeper waters. The general rule with nymph fishing is: the leader should be twice as long as the depth of water in which you are trying to fish! If you find nymph fishing productive, pass along your techniques to a friend, if you don’t find it rewarding, re-think the way that sub-aquatic insects may drift through the water column, and emulate that ‘look’, any way you can!
Email nick [at] noumbrella [dot] com with your questions, comments and concerns.
Design and Content © 2002 to 2006 No Umbrella