Source: Trout Fisherman NOV 25 – DEC 22, 2010 pp. 19-21
By Paul Procter Pictures: Rod Calbrade
AS winter takes hold, the state of our rivers will drastically change. Be it raging floods, freezing temperatures or a combination of both, these extremes send grayling to more comfortable parts of a river, usually close to the streambed in deeper runs and pools. Given this, to stay in touch with them, nymph tactics will be at the forefront.
On occasions a flurry of olives or midges will bring fish to the surface, even on the coldest of days. But, generally, bugs and nymphs like caseless caddis, cased caddis, shrimps and stonefty nymphs provide grayling with winter sustenance.
Naturally, when feeding on the streambed, grayling don't betray their whereabouts, so fish-holding areas aren't always obvious, especially to newcomers. Grayling also have nomadic tendencies and will readily move to different parts of the river, all of which can make finding them difficult.
Faced with barren looking water, we need to thoroughly search the streambed. You may well be familiar with phrases like 'Czech Nymphing' or the 'Polish Nymph' and while there are subtle differences these are now recognised terms referring to the use of weighted bugs or nymphs fished at close range. Though, in fairness, a much more accurate description of the technique would be 'short line nymphing'. Either way, the method pretty much involves a nine-foot leader with only a couple of feet of fly line outside the rod tip. While this may sound alarmingly short to a first timer, it offers precise control over the business end, allowing for a more natural presentation.
ALTHOUGH a nine-footer is a good all-rounder, slightly longer rods facilitate superior line control and one of 9ft 6in or even better lo-foot should be considered when nymphing. Where subsurface snags are found, leaders of at least sib give some hope of claimingyour flies back. Whatever style of nymphing you chose, a straight through slim diameter leader will suffice as the sheer weight of the flies aid leader turnover. Possessing a greater surface area, tapered leaders will impede the fly's descent, especially at the thicker butt section of a leader. Much thinner for its entire length a level leader slices through water, sinking more readily. Whether you opt for fluorocarbon or copolymer is up to you, though being limp and supple my preference is copolymer, mainly because I know its limitations.
With a leader roughly spanning the rod length (9-10 foot) three weighted flies are positioned 20 inches apart (Diagram i). Generally the heaviest bug occupies the middle dropper and therefore swims deepest, thus allowing the point fly some freedom with the top dropper also being dragged that bit deeper. This way, all three flies are presented close to the riverbed. However, if you aim to explore more of the water column then consider attaching the heaviest fly to the point (Diagram 2). While this set-up is widely recognised you're not bound by rules here, so if you're more comfortable with just two flies, or sometimes even one, then revert to them. Though do remember that there's more ballast in a team of three flies helping to access deep or fast moving water. If fishing a team of two nymphs, the same weighting arrangements can be used with either the heaviest fly on the point or dropper.
In essence the short line nymphing method involves pitching a team of flies, leader and a short section of fly line upstream. Strong flows make casting and negotiating the flies downstream hectic, which is why it's better to fish a shorter, more controlled line. Positioned close together the team of heavy flies sink surprisingly quickly. Now, it's a case of holding the rod tip (and fly line) well clear of the water. Remember to guide the rod at a slightly slower pace than that of the surface current when tracking leader and flies downstream as, down on the streambed, friction between water and substrate reduces flow rates. Look for a pool of between knee and waist depth with a steady to fast push. That said, don't ignore other types of water, I've seen grayling taken from water of only a foot deep and conversely from some extreme depths.
You must fish all the water, including unproductive looking shallows. Start in ankle depth water by extending about two feet of the fly line and pitching your flies broadside to you. This subjects them and the entire leader to the flow, making them fish higher in the water. Progressing to knee depth water, short lobs are now made more upstream at roughly 45 degrees and, once at waist depth, angling casts more directly upstream reduces the currents tell on the leader, allowing the flies to plunge deeper. After each cast, allow your flies to pass downstream of you. River currents will eventually create tension on your line, sweeping the flies up through the water. This can be a crucial moment often emphasised by raising the rod tip, almost like a blind induced take.
If no takes are forthcoming, simply lower your rod, allowing the bugs to drop back and literally 'dig in' once more. Now this resistance generates sufficient flex in the rod to lob the whole lot upstream, just like a water haul.
Generally speaking, let river conditions and flow rates dictate as to whether you progress upstream or downstream. Faced with low, clear water, it makes sense to advance upstream, approaching your quarry from behind. But, attempting to wade upstream during flood conditions or those of heavy water is asking for trouble. Now, working in a downstream direction is best. Don't worry about grayling detecting you, as strong flows and turbid water help mask our presence. Newcomers are often surprised at how close they can get to grayling. Of course, careless wading is going to alarm fish, so remember to progress quietly, creating as little disturbance as possible. Despite the effectiveness of short line nymphing, we are limited by wading. So, where the topography of a river prevents us from reaching desired pools, longer casts of perhaps three to four rod lengths are required. If the current is quite strong an upstream mend introduces enough slack, giving the flies time to sink. Though, casts aimed directly upstream of you often need little or no mending. In an effort to keep as much fly line as possibly clear of the water the rod tip is projected upwards, sometimes with an outstretched arm, thus preventing swirling currents from grabbing our fly line and spoiling a natural drift. Watch the bowing fly line off the rod tip for takes. Any slight lift or hesitation should be met with a confident lift.
Deep, faster water can be fished with such a rig, by simply casting more directly upstream, perhaps with a marginally longer line. This way, there's less influence from the current, allowing the flies to plunge deep. Skinny water may see nervous grayling, calling for a more subtle approach with lighter flies and finer tippets. Two nymphs placed three feet apart, on a 9-12 foot leader will be my standard rig though a third fly can be added. In shallow water, or away from the turbulent flows, slightly longer casts give us a definite edge. Likened to fishing spiders up-and-across this method of upstream nymphing ideally suits such circumstances.
However, do remember that the longer the cast the less control you have, so find some middle ground. Occasionally, complex currents and eddies wreak havoc with presentation. Equally, there maybe a tempting seam or braid of water that looks certain to hold fish. The only problem being, a section of fast water separates you from it. Fishing these demanding areas usually results in nasty currents causing unwanted tension on your fly line, possibly registering as a take. To avoid such phantom takes, newcomers might consider some form of indicator. Although some anglers have a dim view of them, they certainly have worth in confidence building for those wishing to progress using river nymphing techniques. Addressing awkward riffles and currents, plenty of slack line can easily be introduced to help with natural drifts, with knowledge that the subtlest of takes can still be detected.