Nymphing, like every other fly fishing technique, works best in a particular set of circumstances. I've mentioned earlier that it makes a great general purpose searching method when fish don't appear to be rising; but where to deploy it? What kind of water lends itself to nymphing? Well that depends to a certain degree on what type of nymphing we are discussing. The driving force behind this set of posts is what I would call 'classic north country upstream' nymphing.....but perhaps now would be an appropriate time to delve a little deeper into the various sub-divisions of the genre.
Over the last 15 years or so, developments on the competition scene and the dissemination by our international team members of knowledge gleaned from other European nymph anglers, have led to considerable changes in the way a spate river angler approaches his/her sport. We've all heard of 'Czech nymphing' right? Maybe Polish nymphing too, braid nymphing, bugging, French, Spanish, South Latvian etc etc etc? It can all be a bit confusing to the novice.....and sure, these are all specialisms which require their own adaptations in terminal tackle and are each suited to a specific set of circumstances.
I tend to prefer to look at them as different points on the same nymph fishing continuum, where one end of the scale concerns delivery of lightweight patterns into skinny water for small - but in competition terms, measurable - fish; and the other end involves the tossing about of very heavily weighted bugs in the deep, powerful flows of a big river. In all cases, the general principal is more or less the same - to present nymphs at the correct depth and largely dead-drift with some 'induced take' movement introduced at certain times. It stands to reason that if one wishes to target deep lying winter grayling on the current crease of a powerful run, then a short upstream lob with heavy flies is going to be required in order to present the patterns at the correct speed and depth to fish which are unlikely to want to move too far off station to intercept.
Conversely a scenario of low, clear water in high summer, with skittish fish feeding in knee depth water, might demand altogether more subtle tactics and we might be looking more to the long leaders and tiny nymphs of the now hugely popular 'French nymph' method. And of course, there are all points of the compass in between.
Contrary to what the angling press and tackle manufacturers might have you believe, most of the above 'distinct' tactics are basically reinventions of the same wheel and you only have to talk to experienced old timers to realise that they have been presenting various densities of sinking flies, upstream on short lines, for donkey's years. Common sense and reading of the river will lead the thinking angler to the correct presentation in the end. The photos below show some different types of nymphing water:
1. Czech/Polish/Braid and other short line methods
The middle River Eden in winter can be a fairly big, strongly flowing proposition. The pool above is long, has a cobbly bottom, fairly even in depth and flow, and involving some chest deep wading in these sort of conditions. It also holds good numbers of sometimes large grayling. This sort of scenario is going to need heavily weighted bugs and shrimp patterns to get down and a thorough searching of the pool to locate the fish..
2. 'Classic' upstream nymphing - the eye of the pool
I'm not sure where it was that I first heard the term 'eye of the pool' but it struck a chord and I've remembered it ever since. In the context of a regulation 'riffle-body-tail' pool, this is the sort of thing I look for; the slow flowing body of a pool tends to be unsuited to nymphing and the very head of the riffle entering the pool will likely be too shallow to hold more than immature fish. The often short section of decelerating 'transition' water in between the two is however, of great interest to the nympher - stuff of 2-4 feet depth with a good flow and lots of foam lines, seams and partially broken water. You just know when you've got to the eye of a pool - the sweet spot - and offers usually follow. In the above shot of the middle River Ure, the foam line forming where the two flows from adjacent sides of the island meet, is the eye of this particular pool - 15yds of pure anticipation! Looking to the photo at the top of this post, Phil Price is actually standing in the eye of the pool, having fished up from below and is squeezing the last few casts from the rapidly shelving water at the neck.
3. 'Classic' upstream nymphing - pocket water
Long races of shallow, broken water such as above, just scream out to be nymphed (although keep a lookout for the subtle surface disturbance of big rising fish too). There is no single 'eye' in this situation, more a spider-like cluster of them - a confusion of boulders with deeper scoops in the river bed, swirling flows and unexpected ambush points, home to surprisingly large fish. A brace of nymphs on a short line, pitched into all the likely spots, can yield huge numbers of fish from a relatively short stretch of river. The aim should be to put the flies into every nook and cranny. Leader to hand methods can also work well in such scenarios.
4. French and lighter nymphing methods - weedy/gravelly runs.
What to avoid.
As with angling in general, there really are no hard and fast rules, but it's fair to say that certain types of water don't really lend themselves to nymphing techniques. Pool tails tend not to be suitable owing to the accelerating nature of the flow. Notoriously tricky as it is to present a dry fly in such places, at least the angler then has the option to throw slack line into the leader to afford a drag free drift, albeit a brief one. Attempts to present a nymph in a similar manner almost inevitably result in unwanted drag; and besides, fish lying in such spots often tend to be flightly and the 'plop' of even a lightly weighted pattern touching down can send them scatty, bombing upstream in a big bow wave.
The sluggish middle section of pools are not really suited either. If the water is too slow or deep, the method won't fish correctly and the flies will not stand the scrutiny of any casually quartering fish which might happen to be present. Save such water for dry fly.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, there comes a point where the water at a pool head is so thin and fast flowing that the only fish present are likely to be parr and immature specimens. Sometimes in midsummer low water conditions, trout will nose up into this faster well oxygenated stuff, but not often I've found.....especially when more forgiving feeding lies are close to hand.
Final part to follow - some basic pointers on fishing the classic upstream nymph.