Upstream Nymphing

Stealth Master Camo-Guy in upstream nymphing actionI suppose what I'm creating here is a useful section whereby I can just write about whatever I fancy and drop it in. No one said that the Internet has to be linear, which is just as well really. This piece is making a stab at upstream nymphing. It's not the obvious starting point of course but it's quite relevant in a round about sort of way since it's that time of year when I start to think about New Zealand and my first thoughts go out to deep nymphing.

The first thing you should know about upstream nymphing is that it's not easy. Upstream dry fly for example is much easier since it's a two dimensional event. Nymphing has at least four dimensions to it.

This is spot-your-fish upstream nymphing, which naturally makes the assumption that you have already spotted your fish (being careful to remember to not look straight at him).

The ability to read water is extremely important especially on rivers supporting spooky fish. I've been lucky enough to fish some amazing waters, waters often only allowing one cast and sometimes not even that. Covering a fish with the same fly twice can spook it and never more so that when dealing with subsurface flies.

Garry Castles delivers an upstream nymph on River XCareful study of the fish is important. An actively feeding fish “on the fin” is the best circumstance of course. It's quite easy to tell when this is happening since he'll be moving around from side to side opening his mouth from time to time. Often a fish will be lying just to the side of the main current moving into it to grab whatever tasty grub it fancies.

Your job is to put your fly into this stream of food. Sticking the fly to the wrong side of the fish is just downright confusing and a wary fish will find this unexpected twist a deliberate tactic to upset him and he'll bugger off.

The other important consideration is depth. You don't get to think about this with dry flies, at least not if you've remembered your floatant. Depth is complicated equation made considerably more confusing by refraction. Remember fish are both closer and deeper than they appear to be (something you'll know if you've ever had a bath either with one or someone).

The depth that your fly will acquire is a combination of how great the flow, how much lead you've incorporated into the dressing (cue Ben), how far upstream you drop it, how long your leader and how much slack you incorporate into the cast.

The last point is pretty damn significant if you ask me but I'm a casting instructor and have a vested interest in saying this. Caster Master he say, “Drag isn't simply dry fly phenomenon; also keeps fly from getting down.”

River xxx - beautiful and a great place for upstream nymphingThere are two very important presentation casts I use when nymphing. The most important is the Puddle Cast. Utilising a low back cast and a high forward delivery you can create interesting “puddles” of slack line, which are especially useful near the leader. You can enhance this effect by dropping the rod tip on the forward shoot and effectively killing the cast. This forces the fly to drop near the end of the flyline.

The other important cast is some sort of Reach Mend. By combing these two casts you can create some curious effects.

Because we're using puddle casts we're dropping the fly closer to the end of the line than in a normal straight-line situation. This means that we're going to have to think about our cast a little bit so that we don't line the fish (lining fish is always a bad move, unless of course you've decided to whip them into submission) and we're going to need longish leaders (I reckon on a little bit more than twice the rod length, which means that a) you'll need a tapered leader, which you do anyway and b) casting with a heavy fly can be a real bitch involving fancy Dirty Harry extended drifting techniques; the fifth dimension)

Paul nymphing and some backcounty actionWhen working out where to cast the fly so that it's swept freely downstream to a place where the fish might like to eat it, I like to position the fly so it will drift down slightly above and to the side of the fish. This makes spotting the take a considerably easier experience since the fish has to move its fins and in fast water that's an easier indication that the white of his mouth.

Finally I should mention that lighter flies are easier to cast and more likely to be held in the trout's mouth for longer. Using extremely heavy flies can be a problem since trout, apart from under very rare circumstances, do not want to see them land and find this quite unusual. A deep lying trout can involve a cast far upstream of its position. Sometimes 20 feet or more and that's when life gets tricky. The solution is to delivering an upstream puddle cast using a long leader whilst curving the flyline away from the fish (of course :-))

To be continued...


Return to whence you came