Who doesn’t love to watch an aggressive brown manifest from the hidden depths below to smash a caddis floating amidst the sea of foamy bubbles as it drifts along the seam of a freestone run? The picturesque scene of a fly fisherman artfully unrolling a perfect, ever straightening loop ending with a dry fly delicately placed upon the surface of a slow moving stream. For most, and especially non-anglers, this is the scenario that comes to mind when thinking of fly fishing in general. Although it may be the ultimate allure of the sport, and there definitely is a time and place for dry flies, in reality it is far from the most productive technique.
Let’s take a look at the 90/10 rule, which basically states that 90% of a trout’s diet is sub-surface while only 10% is eaten from the surface of the stream. Cut and dry, to consistently put fish in the net, you need to be fishing where they feed the majority of the time.
I almost always fish a double nymph rig, with the larger or heavier of the two flies on top and the dropper fly tied via a length of tippet, directly into the bend of the upper fly’s hook. The length of tippet between these two flies will vary depending on the average depth of water I will be encountering. For most larger rivers like the AuSable in upstate New york I tend to tie the dropper on with about 18-20″ of fluorocarbon tippet. For small “single lane” streams I decrease that length to somewhere around 10 inches to a foot or so. As for flies, my go to combo is a large black K stone, say size 8 or 10 on top with a 14 or 16 beadhead flashback pheasant tail dropper. This is one combination of flies that have consistently taken trout year after year for me. Both of these flies are a very generic pattern and will work most of the time. Obviously the combinations of flies are endless and will vary from region to region. A good rule of thumb is to always run the heavier fly on top whether it be a big stone or a tungsten beadhead nymph, etc. The size of your dropper will vary as well depending on what the fish are keying in on. It’s also a wise choice to carry an assortment of different sizes of the same fly and to also carry different configurations too, beadhead, non-beadhead, flashback…. etc. However, for certain times of the year there may be better choices. Early spring I like dropping a Hendrickson nymph and as the summer begins to wind down an Isonychia or slate drake nymph is killer. The combinations are endless it’s really just trial and error. Let the trout tell you what they want.
Presentation. It is everything. It. Is. Everything. Repeat this until you turn blue in the face. You could have the hottest flies tied on… present them in a way that doesn’t appear natural, and I promise you will catch nothing. While fishing this style with these types of flies, you want them moving exactly at the speed of the current with zero drag. Drag on a dry fly is very apparent, however drag on something under the surface which you cannot see is more difficult to decipher. Forget about long casts. If at all possible, try and keep your whole flyline off the water at all times. You will achieve much better drifts, be able to tell much better when you get a take and also spook less fish. Even the most proficient casters will not benefit from making long casts using this style of nymphing. Get in the water and sneak, yes sneak, out to the run or pocket you expect to be holding a hungry trout. Even if you can easily reach it with a mildly long cast, don’t. Don’t be lazy! Carefully wade to within 2 rod lengths or so of the suspected lie. Wading this close will enable you to be in direct contact with your flies with no flyline touching the water, which will enable you to fish it with a drag free presentation. Think it over. Look at the current coming into and going through the run and how it acts and where it goes. Think about how and where you should make your cast to get your flies to be coming through the trout’s strikezone drag free and to have them at the proper depth when they are going through that particular spot. This may mean casting well above the pocket and letting your offering flow into your target zone on natural current downstream a decent ways. 9 out of 10 times you will get a take on the very first drift, so don’t waste that drift through a run by getting over anxious and casting too soon before you have properly set yourself up to make an accurate drag free cast.
Although most nymphing utilizes some form of an indicator for strike detection, I have greatly increased my catch ratio by not using the traditional method. I would almost call it a modified Czech Nymphing technique. The largest advantage I feel of not using an indicator is that you, as the fisherman are not limited to what depth you set your indicator at first off in the morning. Sure there are adjustable indicators, but let’s face it, most are not going to adjust the indicator for every single pocket or hole they come to as they work a stream.
Most any fly fisherman can pick up this technique in no time at all, basically you are using the direct connection to your flies to feel strikes and intently watching the leader to water junction or the very end of your flyline in deeper situations to do anything out of the normal flow of current. If you feel or see ANYTHING odd or different just set the hook. There is nothing to lose… except the trout that inhaled your fly and spit it out and you never set the hook because you were unsure if that was a take or not. My point is, just set the hook on any twitch, any tap, any hesitation of the line.
No long tapered leaders are necessary here because the casts are very short and to the point. If you set yourself up properly and close enough to the run where the trout are lying false casts are almost completely unnecessary as well. I personally tie about 6 feet of 5x fluorocarbon tippet directly to the end loop in the flyline. Tie on your stone or whatever large fly to the end of this section. Tie another length of the same tippet material using a clinch knot directly to the bend of the upper fly’s hook. Tie on your dropper and the rig is now complete. I almost always use tiny loop knots to attach the flies as I feel this results in an even lesser amount of drag. For very deep pools or runs with a an extra swift current feel free to add a B or BB Size shot to get it down to where the fish are holding. Is this style pretty? Nope. Does it catch loads of fish? Absolutely.