The prime consideration when upstream fishing runs is to avoid spooking the fish. The surface water in runs is calmer than in riffles, and deeper. These two factors conspire to make it easier for the fish to spot the angler. The deeper a fish is, the wider its cone of vision (more later).
In addition, the often calmer water surface means that fly fishermen must be more conscious of not allowing too much splash-down when the fly-line or lure hits the water. Great care must be taken when wading - fish can detect pressure waves created by wading.
As in all forms of upstream nymphing, the critical factor is achieving a drag-free drift no matter at what depth the nymph is drifting.
If you are using an [indicator] when fly-fishing or a bubble-float when spin-fishing, watching the water close to the indicator will indicate drag. If there is a 'V' wake coming off the indicator or float, the nymph is being dragged. If the wake is coming off upstream of the indicator you are retrieving too fast and pulling the nymph faster than the current. If the wake is coming off downstream the nymph (usually because it is too heavy) is dragging the indicator.
If the wake is coming off across the river, then in most cases the line is dragging the nymph. This mostly happens if there is some belly in the line. In some cases you can have a situation where the nymph is in a stronger current than the line or indicator and this will also produce drag.
If you are not using an indicator you need to watch the end of the fly-line - but this does take some experience to become effective. If you are [new to fly fishing, it is best to use an indicator] till you gain enough experience to tell what is going on without an indicator.
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Quick Tip Dry Fly Indicator
Sometimes using a large bulky dry fly as an indicator is a better bet than using a traditional indicator. The often bright colours of indicators can put off fish feeding on or just under the surface. Especially when you are using the indicator to control depth as well as indicate, and the indicator is only a short way above the nymph. Foam flies are made for this job.
In most circumstances, when trout are feeding on nymphs, they will move very little in any direction to collect food. If they are feeding close to the bottom, they are unlikely to move any distance upwards to take a nymph, and if they are feeding close to the surface they are unlikely to dive down.
So how do we tell at what depth the fish are feeding? Observation is the key.
If you can see the fish, determining the depth to fish is not a problem, but if you cannot, observation will still provide valuable clues.
If you can see surface activity, or just sub-surface activity, then you can be sure trout are feeding near the surface. Trout betray their feeding depth just below the surface in two ways:
If there is no surface activity or you are fishing during spawning runs, then fishing the nymph on or near the bottom is required.
There is a technique pioneered by a Pennsylvanian angler, Leisenring, which can be useful in run water. This technique breaks some of the nymphing 'rules', which is perhaps why it can be very effective.
The ‘Leisenring Lift’ is best used fishing to a visible fish, or a very probable lie. Cast sufficiently ahead of the fish or lie to ensure that the nymph is close to the bottom as it nears the fish. Just as the fly approaches the fish or lie, slowly raise the rod tip to lift the fly up towards the surface, just in front and over the fish. The idea is to imitate the behaviour of a nymph trying to swim to the surface.
This technique seems to works best with so called ‘Flymphs’ - that is nymphs tied with wings. The Leisenring Lift also works well with ‘wee wets’, that is small unweighted wet flies, tied with soft hackles to represent emerging insect wings.
If fish are feeding on the surface on emerging nymphs, spent insects (insects died after mating and egg laying) or wind-blown terrestrial bugs, dry fly-fishing is the best option. In many ways dry-fly-fishing runs is the picture many have of fly-fishing.
Dry fly-fishing is similar to nymphing in that the fly is mostly cast upstream, and allowed to drift back toward the fish or lie, without drag. It can be done by fly-fishing or spin-fishing.
As a general guide when dry-fly-fishing the need for long drifts is not as important as when nymphing. When nymphing it is critical to land the nymph far enough ahead of the fish so as not to spook it, and more critically give the nymph time to sink and drift into the trout's sight.
When using a dry fly the ‘splash-down’ of the fly is usually not a problem, (it can be quite the reverse if you are fishing big terrestrial imitations), so the main aim is to get it into the trout's vision.
Shorter drifts have the added advantage of requiring less, and sometimes no mending which means less chance of spooking the fish. There is another advantage of shorter drifts, and that is, because the fly spends less time on the water it has less time to get saturated with water and sink. The act of casting dries the fly to some extent, so you are not required to stop fishing to re-apply floatant to the fly. Of course this is not a problem with foam flies.
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If fly-fishing use the longest leader that you can handle, from 4 to 5m. For about a metre above the dry fly soak the leader in a leader-sink solution. This is so the leader will sink below the surface film and be less visible to the fish, and avoid leader flash. Leader flash occurs when the wet leader catches the sun and 'flashes'.
As many trout predators come from above in the form of birds, any flash is a signal trouble is close and the trout will dart for cover. This is the reason that when fishing the crystal clear waters of the South Island and Central North Island of New Zealand experienced anglers choose dull coloured fly-lines.
Despite the use of dull lines outlined above, if you are new to the sport, it is probably better to use a bright coloured fly line, so it is easier to see where the line is and control it.
If spin-fishing use a bubble as when nymph fishing, but use as little water in the bubble as is necessary to achieve the required length of cast. The idea is to reduce the bubble's splashdown as much as possible. Use a minimum of a metre of leader to the fly, and apply leader-sink to this leader.
The impulse to strike or set the hook when a dry fly disappears in a swirl of water is strong.
Fight the impulse.
A trout must be given time to pull the fly into its mouth.
The old advice in NZ used to be, say aloud, “God Save the Queen”;, and then set the hook. Good, and I suppose loyal advice in it's day, but I prefer a much more NuZild version; “Bloody Hell - a fish”, then set the hook.
For many fly-fishermen dry-fly-fishing is the epitome of the angler's art - and is a simply marvelous way to fish for trout. The angler watches the fly drift toward the fish or its lie and if everything is right, sees the fly taken in a swirl of water. Exciting stuff - but what most dry-fly fishermen will not tell you is that dry fly-fishing is the easiest form of fly-fishing.
Why is it easier? Well the angler only has to work in one dimension.
The fly is cast up ahead of the fish, and then the angler controls the line to ensure the fly drifts over the fish, with no drag. All this happens on one plane, the surface of the water. When nymph fishing or wet fly-fishing the angler has not only to control the line on the surface plane, but deal with the unseen underwater dimension as well.
Dry-fly fishing is a marvelous way of introducing kids to fly-fishing. It is the easiest form of fly-fishing and usually there is visible evidence of fish feeding, (why else would you be using a dry fly?), which gives you a rough chance of retaining a kid's attention span for longer than the usual couple of heartbeats.
Actually, where legal - and it should be everywhere for kids ten and under - dispense with the dry flies and have the kid lob out a live bug on a hook. Crickets, cicadas, big blowflies, moths and more - all can be tried. Catches fish, and the kid - for life. Worked on me.
Sometimes it can be difficult to work out if the fish are feeding on dries or nymphs, or in some cases both. Present them with a mixed grill. First tie on a dry fly, and then off the bend of that hook tie on a small nymph. Or tie on a dry fly and off a dropper above the dry fly tie on a nymph. This technique is particularly useful when fish are feeding on or just below the surface.
Fly-Rod 'Actions' -
What Do They Mean?
I guess one of the more confusing elements of fly-fishing is the hotchpotch of terms used to describe the “actions” of fly-rods.
Hopefully I can dispel some of this confusion and help making a decision on what fly-rod to buy easier.
Do Big Bright Trout Flies and Nymphs Catch Brown Trout?
To a South Island of New Zealand trained brown-trout fisherman, the answer to the question, what fly should I use to tempt a brown trout, was easy – a small brown nymph. If that did not work, toss out a smaller, browner nymph.
Use a big bright glistening fly? "No never – scare the fish off", would have been the answer, and to many it still is the answer. But for me that answer took a tumble on a fishing trip to Ireland.
I was visiting my fishing-mad youngest son Eddie in London, where he now lives. Eddie decided it was a good idea for Dad and Lad to visit Ireland for a few days fishing. Neither of us had fished there. Off we went.