Guide Tip: Summer Light Nymphing

With the popularity of bobber-style strike indicators, most angler’s nymphing experience is a dull one.  Staring at a bobber as it rolls along the current, waiting for it to dive can sometimes find results, but often it seems like nothing happens for hours. More than likely, fish are taking the nymphs and the micro-movements of the bobber goes undetected by the angler. Western fly fishing guides know this all too well, and if you’ve ever sat in a drift boat with one you’ve hear them yell, “SET! SET! SET!” enough times to think they’re all suffering from tourettes syndrome. A reliance on the bobber has made most anglers miss the feel of a strike, and the result is less fish in hand. Here’s a couple of tips that can up your nymphing game in summer.

By lifting a pair of caddis emergers through the drift in a promising run on the Blackfoot river, Jayme Erickson was able to trigger a response from this fine cutthroat that might have otherwise refused a dead drifted nymph.

Target the Right Water

The best water for nymphing in high summer is easily identifiable: deep runs, riffles and mid-current drops. These pockets of deep water hold fish when the temperatures go up, and work perfectly for a light nymph rig. Try running your nymphs higher in the water column through these runs – a pair of nymphs dropped four feet below the indicator is a good place to start. Skip the skinny stuff and look for pocket water, deep runs and anything mean and green.
Three pair of nymphs ready to run though the good stuff. Size 16 and smaller is a great place to start for indicator-free nymphing. Caddis and mayflies to match those in your rivers are the name of the game.
Go Small, Get Big
When nymphing in the summer, don’t be afraid to tie on the small stuff. A size 16 caddis emerger paired with a similar, weighted nymph can run though two depths of the water column at once, and imitate the kinds of bugs that fish see regularly in the summer. Light nymph rigs work well in summer conditions when waters run clear and pockets are the name of the game. These conditions send lots of caddis rocketing to the surface, and a light rig helps to send these flies upward in the drift when fished correctly. Small nymphs and big fish go hand in hand throughout the season.

Lift and Set

One of the most effective and least used techniques when nymphing is known as the “Leisenring Lift”, which requires the angler to swing a wet fly through a hole and lift the rod tip at the end of the swing, before making the next cast. This technique imitates the emergence of an aquatic insect as it raises the fly at the end of the drift. Oftentimes, this triggers the strike. I try to get my anglers to “imagine there is a fish” on every drift. By this I mean after the cast has reached it’s target and the line is mended into a quality drag-free drift, it’s time to lift the rod tip throughout the length of the drift and give a pronounced set at the end of each cast. Anglers that are new to this technique are often pleasantly surprised when this is met with success, as it feels almost completely the opposite of most nymphing advice. What we’re imitating is that caddis or mayfly as it heads to the surface- and oftentimes we’ll find fish waiting for just that behavior. Cast, mend, lift and set.

Caddis are in the system all summer long, and their emergence throughout the day makes them excellent fish food. When fish get picky, a light nymph rig fished in the pockets can mean trout in the net.

Ditch the Indicator
Most subtle takes in a nymph run go completely unnoticed if the only thing an angler does is wait for those big “trapped-air technology” bobbers to dive. As a guide, I often tie on a larger indicator so my clients and I can see the drift, but in reality I’m rarely using it to actually indicate a strike. I’m going off of instinct when I holler for my clients to set the hook, and if the water looks fishy and the drift is right, I want my boys to lift those rods. When fishing without a guide, it is important to hone those instincts in yourself. Toss the plastic ball back in the pack and give it a few swings blind though the holes. Set it often and without regret- if the drift looks good, give it a lift. A wiggler on the end of the line is a good enough indicator of a fish for me.
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