Nymph or Dry – A small stream decision.

Before the first cast comes the decision: which type of fly, nymph or dry? Logically, you could choose either, or both (and yes, I know there are also streamers, but it is a rare choice, so let’s not complicate things). This decision is often driven by the angler’s preference, predilection, fanaticism, or the latest magazine infomercial. I have tried to put my prejudices aside to give you an approach that will give you a choice that may improve your chance of success.

I consider the following questions:

  1. Are the trout rising?
  2. What food sources are available and abundant?
  3. Where is the trout likely to be holding?

Are the trout rising?

This is why it pays to stop and watch the water before you fish. If you can observe a trout rising, it gives away its location and a likely way to fool it.

When a fish is rising , it means the trout is looking up for a meal, and often means the trout is sitting mid water or higher. In this situation it is important that you fly be above the trout’s holding level, a dry, a lightly weighted nymph on a greased leader or a dry with a nymph on the dropper ( up to 60 cm) are all options.

A heavy nymph on a long leader is likely to drop below the level of this trout and therefore drift by unnoticed and untouched.

What food sources are available and abundant?

According to many reliable sources, most of a trout’s diet consists of sub-aquatic insects. Some say it is as high as 70%. In New Zealand rivers, this is often much higher. A nymph will generally take a trout all year round but may not be the best choice on a given day.

Certainly, the insects we imitate with dry flies are not abundant year-round, and typically early season and very late season there are very few species that are in sufficient abundance to suggest imitating them is the best option to fool a trout.

In the warmer months, November through to March, here in Victoria, terrestrial insects are abundant, as are hatches of sub aquatic insects. A single dry fly is great first choice at this time of year; however, you can also choose a lightly weighted nymph or a nymph dry dropper. Recent rain will lift the water levels, and releasing more nymphs, so as the water drops to a fishable level, the trout can be focussed on nymphs and reluctant to rise.

Very early season Sept/October and late season May/June, the cooler weather and higher flows means very terrestrial few insects about and little or no surface feeding. While catching a trout on a dry fly is not impossible it is highly improbable, and the weighted nymph will be your best choice.

Where is the trout likely to be holding?

Trout hold position , facing up stream, where the force of the current is low. This enables them to minimise their energy expenditure while watching for passing food.

Fast water

In sections of the stream where the water is flowing quickly, trout are likely to be found in the lee of a boulder or mid-stream obstruction, hard up against the bank or right on the bottom. All these positions will have protection from the main current.

Slow pools and runs

In the slower pools and runs the trout may hold position to feed or patrol a beat searching for food.

Deep Water

In deep (over 1 metre) fast flowing sections, the trout will often be on the bottom, and will be hard to tempt with a dry fly. It takes a lot of energy to swim up to the top, then back down again, so it needs to be worth it for the trout. A big hopper will sometimes pull a large trout up from the deep. However, a better option is to fish a weighted nymph under an indicator on a long dropper that drifts just above the riverbed.

where the bubble line flows hard against the bank, or a log, the trout will be holding and feeding there, and a fly drifted within a few inches of the bank will be pounced on. Trying to fish a weighted nymph, or a dry dropper hard up against the bank is supremely difficult, and usually end up either drifting too far from the bank , or snagged up. If it is a smooth rock wall it is possible to hit the wall with nymph and indicator and let it slide straight down. A successful technique I discovered by accident on a pool on the Crooked River. A better option is a single dry fly (if the time of year is right), as an accurate cast within six inches of the bank is easier to achieve.

Midstream boulders can be targeted by drifting or swinging a heavy nymph drifted close by. Another option is to land a dry fly in the dead point above or below the boulder with a slack line presentation, so it pauses a few precious seconds to entice a take.

In the deep slow pools, the trout could be anywhere: deep on the bottom, or up on the surface feeding. If the water is over a metre deep, unless the trout are visibly feeding, a nymph is most likely to be productive, however in the warmer months a dry fly drifted in the bubble line is a better first choice, and if unsuccessful, you can always try a deep nymph subsequently.

Mid Depth Water

Any water between fifty centimetres and a metre deep is good holding water that allows a trout to feed easily anywhere from the bottom to the surface, however in the quicker water, the trout will need some protection from the current. At the right time of year, the trout will rise from the bottom to take the dry. A good first choice for any time of the season, is a dry dropper combination. Early and late season the weighted nymph should be first choice, and in the warmer months a dry fly is often best.

Shallow Fast Water

Trout, especially rainbow trout, like to feed in fast shallow broken water: there is food, oxygen and cover. In warmer weather this is a good area to target with the dry, or a nymph on a short dropper under an indicator/dry fly. Within this water the trout are often able to hold in hollows and depressions, or between small boulders. the quieter pockets are worth targeting in the same manner.

Often overlooked, slow shallow water can hold some surprising fish, especially if there is nearby cover or bolt hole. Given a nymph is likely to get snagged on the bottom, your best choice here is a dry fly. An alternate option is an unweighted nymph on a greased leader.

Summary

Depending on the time of year, and water speed and depth, sometimes there is a superior choice, however often not so important, and your choice may boil down to your personal preference. I have included a table and a legend below to give you a guide. Note upper case means the choice should be a primary one, lower case , means it is a secondary option you might also consider.

MonthDeep > 1mMid (0.5 to 1m)Shallow (<0.5m)
SepNWNW,dnNU
OctNWNW,dn,d,nuNU,d
NovNW,D,DNNW,DN,D,NUNU,D
DecNW,D,dnDN,D,NUnu,D
JanNW,D,dnDN,D,NUnu,D
FebNW,D,dnDN,D,NUnu,D
MarNW,D,dnDN,D,NUnu,D
AprNW,dNW,DN,D,NUNU,D
MayNWNW,dn,d,nuNU,d
JunNWNW,dnNU
Fly Choice by Month and Water Depth

Weighted NymphNW,nw
Unweighted NymphNU,nu
Dry Nymph ComboDN,dn
DryD,d
Fly Type Legend

At one stage, I used to fish almost predominantly the nymph. In warmer months a dry with a nymph dropper, and only fish the dry, when the trout stopped taking the nymph. These days my first preference is to fish the dry, where the time of year and water allows it. Where there is good holding water and the nymph is a better choice, I will swap over. I prefer to fish a single fly for simplicity, trusting in my choice. To that end I carry two reels, one rigged with a line and leader for dry, and the other with a line and leader for nymphing. I find it easier to swap reels over than meddle with leaders, especially if I need to swap back and forth as I progress along the stream.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Autumn treat. A fishing report.

With Easter falling quite early this year, we planned a trip to the mountains for a short break. Autumn arrives in March and it can be a tricky time of year. As summer wanes the terrestrial numbers diminish, but the Autumn mayflies often are yet to appear. The water is low and clear and the trout cautious and less numerous and are not actively feeding in numbers. We were expecting typical cool Autumn days, but we were fortunate to catch a some un-seasonal almost summer-like weather.

Arriving early Friday morning our plan was to enjoy at least one day’s fishing on a small mountain stream, before the regular Easter campers arrived late that day.  As we checked in to our accommodation, we discovered, according to our host Graham, the stream had recently seen quite a lot of traffic.  Apparently it had been fishing well and good sized fish caught.

As we geared up, hoping that the angler numbers had been exaggerated, but the size of the fish had not.  The sun was already beginning to warm up as walked along the bank and there were hoppers aplenty leaping left and right to avoid being crunched by our wading boots. We hoped this augured well, as we had already tied on hopper patterns.

We took it in turns to fish a short stretch at a time.  The first few looked promising, but yielded nothing.  As I rounded the third bend, I saw a rise in a back eddy beneath a low hanging branch against the far bank.  I snuck into position staying low, measured out some line, and watched and waited.  There was another swirl.  I flicked out a back cast  and snagged the tip of a bush behind me.  Cursing I crawled back and retrieved my fly. I returned and anxiously waited, another swirl. Phew! I made my cast.  The hopper sailed beneath the branch and plopped down on the edge of the back eddy.  It drifted deliciously along the seam, right by the fading ring of the rise, untouched.  Then,  just as the fly was about to drag and I about to recast, the water shimmered unnaturally and in a shaft of light a spotted flank gleamed below the surface.  It followed, then was lost in a shadow, and the fly dragged and sank.  But before I could move there was a spotted flash again as the trout turned where the fly had disappeared, so I lifted and the line came tight. My 3wt bent deeply, and water erupted as the trout felt the pull of the hook. The brief tug of war ended a few minutes later with a “good sized” trout resting in my submerged net.

We found a few more of these stunning browns, but none made it to the net , and they did provide some excitement: like plopping my hopper heavily on a long grass lined glide and seeing a bow wave rise on the glassy surface, and accelerate towards it from 15 feet up stream.  A big head surfacing and engulfing the hopper,  waiting for the tell-tale swirl to signal the fish turning away.  Lifting and feeling the weight of a good fish put a deep bend in my rod only to have the hook pull on the first heavy head shake.

We fished on to early afternoon, and while the catching proved a little slower than hoped, it was nonetheless rewarding with a handful of healthy browns making it back to the stream after a brief rest in the net.  We returned to camp to reflect on the day and enjoy the sunset across the valley.

The next day we tried our luck on nearby streams, dodging the Easter campers. Unfortunately all places we fished bore the fresh boot marks of yesterday’s anglers, but whilst there were no greedy smash and grabs, with persistent well placed casts we still managed to coax the odd trout to reluctantly take the dry fly.  Of those few takes we  felt the weight of fewer than half, and landed perhaps half of those again, nonetheless we really enjoyed messing about on the river surrounded by the amber clad landscape that seems to glow in the Autumn light.

 

 

 

Six flies: all you need for small streams.

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

This post is aimed at answering a question posed to me by one of the attendees at a recent introductory course. They wanted to know more about fly selection.  How many flies did they need ? Which ones ? When to use them?

How many flies?

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

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Which six?

The six you need will vary depending on which water you fish and the food that is available there.  The six I selected are ideal for our small streams in Victoria Australia, and they cover the majority of common insects found in trout streams.  They are not the only possible selection, just my current favourites; I could easily swap each one for another fly, and still cover most situations.

Size and Colour

Trout in small streams trout are ambush predators, they sit in a slow current where they can watch what drifts towards them on the current.  If something takes their fancy, they will swing out and suck it in as it goes past.  Trout brains aren’t too complicated, they make a food/not food decision, which they base on the size, colour and behaviour of the passing morsel.  If the trout brain says food, it will take the fly, and we have a good chance of hooking it.

Now all we need to know now is what are the trout eating, when are they eating it, and which fly matches size and colour. (How to make the fly behave correctly is a big topic that deserves its own post.)

What do trout eat?

In small streams, trout are opportunistic feeders and mostly eat insects that live in, or fall on, the water. Some float, some sink, some swim.  The following insects form the major part of a trout’s diet in and around the streams of Victoria.

  • Mayflies – adults and larvae (Emphemeroptera),
  • Caddis flies – adults and Larvae (Trichoptera),
  • Beetles (Coleoptera)
  • Termites (Isoptera Termitoidae)
  • Grasshoppers (Orthoptera)

Mayflies and Caddis are available all year round, especially the larvae (often called nymphs) that live under rocks in the stream bed.  Some estimates suggest that these nymphs form 70-80% of a trout’s diet.  At certain times of the year, the larvae undergo a mass metamorphosis, leaving the water to become flying adults to mate and continue the cycle of life.  During this mass metamorphosis (often called a hatch), the trout become keyed into these insects and will eat them to the exclusion of all others.

Grasshoppers  live in grasslands and paddocks and in the summer months, are in abundance. It is not uncommon for the trout to sit under overhanging grassy banks  waiting for the plop of a hapless fallen hopper to signal meal time.

Termites usually appear on mass on thundery evenings, with swarms of them flying low overhead.  You will see many trout devouring these nutritious morsels, if you wait by a slow pool on a humid evening.

Beetles inhabit the forests and pastures surrounding our streams, and appear in numbers in Summer, especially in December.  Many fall accidentally in the stream, to be come a meal for a waiting trout.

When?

The table below outlines which months the various insects are on the menu for our finny friends.

Month Insects (sub-surface) Insects (surface)
September N c, m
October N b, C, M, t
November b, N b, C, M, T
December B, n B, C, h, M, T
January B, n B, C, H, M, T
February b, n b, C, H, M, t
March  N b, C, h, M
April N b, c, M
May  N c, m
June  N

Letter legend (lower case = insect available, upper case = insect abundant) 

Letter Insect Class
n, N Nymphs (caddis and mayfly)
b, B Beetles
c, C Caddis moths(adult)
h, H Hoppers (grass)
m, M Mayfly (adults)
t, T Termites

The following table lists some common flies that match these insects, some of which appear in the slideshow images:

Insect Flies (Wet) Flies (Dry)
Beetle Brown nymph, Wet beetle, Black and Peacock Humpy, Royal Wulff, Stimulator, Foam Beetle
Caddis Hare and Copper, Stick Caddis, Brown nymph Deer/Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Yellow Sally.
Hopper N/A Foam Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Knobby Hopper, Stimulator, Madame X.
Mayfly Brown nymph, Black Nymph, Olive Nymph, Copper John, Soft hackle flies (var), Wee Wet flies (var) Shaving Brush, Grey Wulff, Adams, Orange Spinner, Black Spinner, Klinkhamer, Parachute Emerger, Monkey Bum, March Brown.
Termite Brown Nymph, Black Nymph Black Ant, Termite, Parachute Spinner (black, brown, grey),

Conclusion:

Mostly you need to match size and colour. Most things trout eat are small and brown or small and black.

The six flies I recommend for our local streams are :

  • a brown nymph,
  • a bead head brown nymph,
  • a Royal Wulff,
  • a Stimulator,
  • a parachute black spinner, and
  • a small deer hair caddis.

With these flies I can be confident I’ll be able to fool any feeding trout on my favourite small streams. As for the other 999,995 flies we all need, you can work that out on your own!

Feel free to leave your six favourite flies in the comments section.

Late season fishing days.

As autumn wanes, and winter seeks to take hold,  sometimes the weather smiles on the fortunate angler, allowing just one more trip before the season closes.

A recent Saturday delivered one such day, where there was enough sun to warm the still air, giving hope of a late hatch.  I had to head up to the mountains to run a couple of errands. If I finished early I’d have the chance for a few peaceful hours on the water, so the rod went in the back of the car too.

By 12:30pm , my business was finished, so I decided to drop in to the river nearby,  at a public access point that I had always driven past but never fished.  On arrival, I was disappointed to see a truck parked up. My suspicions of another angler were confirmed by the fish ruler resting on the back seat.

With no clues as to the type of angler – spin, bait or fly  – and that I really didn’t have time to look for another spot, I shrugged my shoulders, and grumbling, I lowered my expectations.  I consoled myself with the thought that I’d be exploring new water at least, and it would be good research for the next season, if as I feared , I was following another angler upstream.

Down by the water, I strung my rod, with dry and bead head dropper and drifted it through the first run. It was a nice stretch, but undoubtedly well fished, so I wasn’t surprised that the flies remained untroubled after each pass.  It was nice to be on the water on such a glorious day – we anglers tell ourselves this, but really it is always a better day if the fish cooperate. I was hoping they would.

Just above the run was a long slow pool, I stood and watched for a few minutes, a small dimple soon gave away the position of a sipper quietly working the bubble line.  Wish granted. With a wall of tree’s behind I could only roll cast, and I was able roll a few my small Royal Wulff combo out for a few well-directed casts before …  nothing.  I decided to swap to a natural brown nymph and a parachute emerger then watched and waited.  No more rises. I had put my finny friend down. My presentations had not been the most delicate;  leaving on the small bead head had been a mistake. I moved on.

In the next stretch, the emerger was followed by a small dark shape which nosed it roughly a few times before sucking it down.  My lift was poorly timed… . I spooked that one too!  0 – 2 !  At least the trout were willing, even if the angler a little clumsy.

Time to concentrate. I continued up-stream fishing the likely spots.  Soon enough he emerger vanished as a small rainbow tugged the nymph from below. It was my first drift through in a small side branch. A cast or two later I returned a brightly spotted brown trout, its twin in size, to the same run. I spent the next hour working from pool to pool, landing a handful of emerald spotted fellows. All of whom found the small brown nymph much to their liking.

I spotted an angler approaching from upstream.  I checked my watch knowing I had made my last cast ; it was nearly time to head back to the car, so I could be home at the allotted hour (before dark). I wound in and hailed him, and we compared notes as we made our way back down stream together.  Earlier in the day, in the faster sunny stretch he had good success on a Royal Wulff and bead-head,  yet he had no luck at all fishing ahead of me with the same flies.  At this time of year in the quieter water the trout are often more selective, and I can’t say for sure, but perhaps that is why the river gave up a half-dozen sprightly fellows to my natural nymph.

As I sit here, reflecting on what I suspect was the ultimate outing for this fantastic season, my thoughts are already turning to opening day in September.  So whilst the waders and flies are being put away for the winter months, the rods and lines will not. I will be preparing for next season, working on casting skills for the coming season.

 

 

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Autumn Challenges

As I watched the third bow wave for the morning disappear at the heavy tread of a wading boot behind me, I had to remember I was fishing with a beginner. . My companion for the day was more used to heel-first striding along the footpath in the urban landscape, and blissfully unaware of the noise he was making and the impact he was having. They are common mistakes we all make at times, that cost us the opportunity to catch our prey.

Moving on, I suggested that he should wait, and I would advance to the next pool and see if I could spot a fish. After a few minutes he should sneak up and join me. I tip-toed to the next pool, keeping low and against the bush, and watched a few moments before I found a tail waving gently over the gravel. (A tell tail sign perhaps?). I had been watching quietly for a few minutes, and was about to turn, when a quiet voice beside me asked, “Can you see anything?”. Nice sneaking I thought and replied, “Yep, don’t move! There is one in the middle”. “Just there” he said, as his arm sprang to point it out. Unsurprisingly our finny friend departed in a hurry at this too-sudden movement. Another lesson learned.

At the next stretch, we stood well back, and I pointed out the likely lie, and suggested a sneaky approach that would put him into casting distance. He slipped into position, taking his time, and dropped his fly onto the quiet water. It had barely drifted a foot before it was sipped down. A strike and a shout of joy, and we soon had it in the net. The highlight of a great day on the water, with new lessons for him, and good reminders for me.

Autumn stalking:

After a great summer, where a few weeks ago, the trout that were so focused on hoovering hoppers hard against the grassy banks and you could almost wade right up to them, it is easy to forget that autumn is a testing time, even for the stealthy angler. The trout are to be found in the quiet pools, supping on errant nymphs, or sipping on the trickle of duns that occasionally hatch in the still cool air of autumn air.

In summer, trout often sit the faster water, and it is easy to get close to them; movement is masked by the rough surface of such water, sound and pressure waves are muffled by the faster moving water, but in autumn stealth is mandatory.  Low clear water give the trout the upper hand.  They are afforded an excellent view of their surrounds, and are sensitive to any vibration or pressure wave that carries easily through the super-still water.

The following advice is not new, and is there in nearly every trout fishing book I have read. But we often neglect to heed it:

  • Tread lightly,
  • Avoid wading,
  • Move slowly, and keep a low profile.

Tread Lightly. I like to tip-toe along, walking on the balls of my feet, feeling for the ground, and letting the rest of my foot slowly descend till my foot is firmly on the ground.  You can practice at home with barefoot, sneaking around from room to room, although this may get you in trouble.  At one time I was practising this so much, it became a habit, people would accuse me of sneaking up on them!

Avoid Wading. On small streams, this is good advice at all times, as fish are sensitive to noises, vibrations and pressure waves. If you have to wade, stay out of the still slow water, fish from the faster water just below the tail of the pool. The advice from another author is to wade like a heron, given the disparate thickness of my legs and those of a heron, I could never make any sense of this. Perhaps the author himself had chicken legs. I suggest moving slowly as if walking through honey, almost slow motion, if you are making a bow wave or you create pressure waves your pace is too fast. Pressure waves will always lead you up the pool, and any trout will be long gone before you or your fly arrives.

Move slowly, keep a low profile. Trout are attuned to fast moving dangers from above (think birds of prey!), so will spook easily at fast movement, especially when silhouetted against a sky. Due to the physics of light bending at water surface, trout can see you quite easily. Check out the diagram below that I found on the net.

cone-of-vision

You can see, on level ground, that an average person can get within 10m without being seen, crouch down and you can get within 5 m or closer, especially if you have bush behind you and you are wearing drab clothes.

Enjoy the Autumn.  Light feet and tight Lines !

Hopper Fishing

February and March is one of my favourite times to fish in the meadow streams.  The hoppers are about, and they are a juicy high energy meal for a trout.  The trout hang close to the grassy banks an overhangs, waiting for the wind to blow a wayward hopper on to the water.

It is a dry fly fisher’s fantasy. The fish are looking up and a hopper plopping on the water is like the ringing of the dinner bell.  The trout slips quietly out from under the dark under cut, noses up under the struggling Orthoptera.

It is a great time for beginners and experts alike to be on the water. For the beginner it offers exciting visual fishing with plenty of opportunities to try to hook a trout.  Not too much finesse is needed with the presentation, in fact it is better to plop the fly down hard. For the expert, there is a chance to bag a big one, as the larger trout, usually more circumspect by day, are willing participants in the sport when hoppers are about.  To fool a trophy, demands accurate casts within inches of the bank, or under an undercut.

However it is only the most natural drift that will fool the wily older ones, so you need to get a drag free drift.  Many missed hookups, and refusals are as a result of drag, or micro drag, where the fly slips across the surface, instead of eddying and drifting with the micro-currents.

Hoppers come in many sizes and colours, it is good to have a few different patterns in your box, so you can match size and colour. I like simple foam hoppers in tan or green, with some rubber legs.

Sadly hopper fishing is fast coming to an end as I write this post, but soon the Autumn may fly hatches will begin.