Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Fly Tying Inspiration

For those of you who've had a day or two of winter struggles like me lately, where the ice gods have not smiled upon your day of fishing, you may be looking for some ideas to spice up your winter tying. I've gotten a lot of ideas from fly company websites over the years. I highly recommend you sift through some fly images on their sites for inspiration. Combining techniques and materials of your own flies with those you find on the web may just produce the perfect conglomeration for your local trout. Below you'll find links to some of my favorite tying idea resources:

American Fly Companies
Umpqua
Montana Fly Company (Their site was down when I looked so you may have to wait a bit)
Idylwilde
Solitude
Pacific Fly Company
I'm sure I've missed some others but these are the main players I could think of off the top of my head.

Overseas Companies
Fulling Mill (they have some excellent competition inspired lake flies and nymphs)
CzechNymph
Diptera (mostly lake flies)
The Total Flyfisher (an excellent UK magazine I subscribe to)

And a couple of blogs you should check
flyfishfood
flytying123

Hopefully these sites will give you plenty of inspiration for tying on winter days that are better spent at the vise than in the slush.

Happy Tying!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Moving Waters and fly placement

        I picked up a copy of Moving Waters: A Fly Fisher's Guide to Currents after Christmas. I'd seen the book in a magazine awhile back and my friend Lance Egan was reading it in preparation for an article in Fly Fisherman magazine when I visited him at Christmas. Hopefully I'm not preempting anything he'll write. I haven't had a ton of time to read Moving Waters so far but I'm about 70 pages in. It's clear that the author Jason Randall did quite a bit of research given the bibliography. I'm lucky enough to have access to most scientific journals at school and I've been doing a lot of reading lately while waiting for my advisor to return my thesis with revisions. I downloaded just about all of the articles in the book's bibliography and I'm looking forward to reading them as I can. The one negative thing I can say about the book so far is that I wish Mr. Randall had emulated a bit more of a concise scientific writing style. There have been several pages where he has stated the same concept 3 or more times in direct redundancy. He probably could have shaved quite a few pages off the book if he'd tried. Overall though the book is thought provoking and I believe it is valuable for any fly fisherman to understand a bit more about how the river in front of them has been formed and more of what might be going on below the surface how that applies to your approach on the water.
         The book begins with some basic concepts of fluvial geomorphology and how different types of rivers form. It reminded me of many of the concepts I learned in an introduction to watershed science course I took back in 2009. The book also covers textually many of the topics that Wendell Ozofovich has illustrated in his underwater video series. I won't cover most of what I've read so far in this post but one specific concept and its application to nymphing piqued my interest this week.
          Laminar flow occurs both horizontally and vertically in rivers. Friction with substrate reduces the velocity of water near the bottom and banks of a river. A small amount of friction at the air/water interface also slightly reduces the flow velocity near the surface.  Velocity peaks in the water about 1/3 of the column below the surface. The faster the maximum velocity in the column, the greater the difference will be between the maximum and minimum velocity in the river. Furthermore, immediately adjacent to the substrate a boundary layer of water forms where the velocity is near zero. The larger the substrate is in the river, the wider the boundary layer becomes. In a gravel bottomed river, the boundary layer may only extend an inch or two above the bottom. However, in large cobble or boulder substrates, it may extend a foot or so above the substrate. The graph below illustrates these concepts of vertical laminar flow and a boundary layer in the river.
       
       

        Trout often occupy the boundary layer  as a means of energy efficiency. It is easy for them to expend little energy holding their position in the boundary layer and a simple tilt of pectoral fins is all it takes to elevate them into the column to capture a drifting food item. This is one reason why hatchery trout exhibiting fin erosion  are at a disadvantage physiologically. To avoid venturing on a biological tangent, let me turn to how this boundary layer may affect nymph rigging. 
         First, in faster rivers where the velocity of the upper column is much greater than the velocity where trout are holding near the bottom, an indicator or thick leader diameter that catches extra drag in the faster upper column will induce downstream drag that lifts your flies out of the boundary layer and away from trout. Having only thin tippet penetrating the water will minimize the downstream drag influence of the faster upper column.
         Second, on the terminal end of your leader, this hypothetical velocity profile has some implications for the number and arrangement of your nymphs. Though this post is tailored toward weighted nymph rigs, it has the same implications for unweighted nymphs and split shot. Let me cover the four basic possibilities below:
         1.A single fly rig gives you the best chance to fish your nymph in the boundary layer at the level of the trout and with the most drag free presentation. It also allows the best casting accuracy and eliminates the issue of having flies landing in different current seams horizontally as well. However, in deep water you may need a large heavily weighted fly to attain sufficient depth. Trout may want a smaller offering especially in the late sessions of competitions or in waters that receive a lot of pressure from day to day anglers. You may have to add a second or third fly to attain the weight necessary to attain depth. Being limited to 1 fly at the World Fly Fishing Championships in Slovenia a few years ago made it difficult to catch fish in large deep rivers especially toward the end of the tournament when the fish had seen plenty of flies.
         With a 2 fly rig you have the choice of 2. placing your heaviest fly on the point and a lighter/unweighted fly on the dropper tag above or 3. placing your heaviest fly on the dropper and a lighter fly on the point. Let me suggest some possible pros and cons of both.
          With rig 2 (heaviest fly on point/bottom), the heavier fly will pull the leader tight and drift below the lighter fly above. In Fips Mouche competitions there is a rule that flies must be spaced at least 20" apart hanging vertically. Assuming that your nymphing leader approaches a somewhat vertical profile and that the boundary layer is only 10-12" or less, it is impossible to fit both flies of a 2 nymph rig in the boundary layer. This is represented in the figure below. 



As a result, the dropper fly ends up above the level of the trout and succumbs to upstream drag because of the influence of the heavier fly in slower current below. However, there are reasons this configuration may still be valid. The straight and tight leader increases strike detection because it provides a more direct contact with your flies. In Dynamic Nymphing, George Daniel also suggests either a single fly rig or a 2 fly rig with a heavily weighted fly on the point and an unweighted fly above to fish in pocketwater or complicated currents. The heavy fly will fly will pull the rig into a single current seam from a horizontal perspective and minimize the occurrence of your nymphs drifting in to vastly different current seams. Your dropper fly would still be subject to the vertical drag I'm referring to however. Having weight on the end of the rig also facilitates tuck casting and vertical leader entry. Furthermore, in situations where fish are suspended feeding on emerging insects, a fly up in the column may improve success even if dropper fly is subject to drag simply because your dropper nymph will be at or a bit above the level of the trout.
          With rig 3 (heaviest fly on dropper tag), the heavier fly descends to at or below the level of the lighter fly on the point. This allows both flies to enter and stay in the boundary layer as long as they are in the same horizontal seam of current. 
Therefore it may create the best drag free drifts. However, this rig does not make tuck casting easy because the lighter fly tends to turn over horizontally beyond your heavier dropper fly. It also creates a hinge shape in the leader that must be straightened before strikes can be detected on your point fly. Furthermore, if the heavy dropper fly lands in a different current seam than the lighter point fly, the point fly will drag horizontally until it swings into the same current seam.

4. The last rigging choice is a 3 nymph rig. If it is hard to fit 2 flies into the boundary layer you can imagine how much harder it is to fit 3 flies into the boundary layer. Therefore, I only use this rig when I fish very large deep rivers where attaining depth is difficult, especially with small lightly weighted nymphs.

Hopefully from this post you can see there is a 3 dimensional challenge to attaining the correct properties of drift when nymphing. I think the crux of the matter I've taken away from reading Moving Waters thus far, and applying it to my time on the water, is that one way of rigging may not be the right way for every situation. I will continue to experiment with the effects of rigging on different water types and I challenge you to do the same.

Happy Nymphing!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wading boot preventative maintenance

Over the years I believe we've seen a great improvement in just about every piece of gear offered in the fly fishing world. However, if you feel like me, I think that one of the gear pieces that still needs some improvement is wading boots. Even the best boots I've owned over the last 5 years or so have had worn seams often within a few trips after their debut. For me the best boot I've had is the leather guide boot with pre-studded Aquastealth soles that Simms made 8-10 years ago. Alas....
The fact is that the exposed seams on most of today's wading boots come in contact with rocks that abrade them until they unravel and soaking in water only hastens the process. I've had a few junker pairs of boots where this has happened in the first 2 days. Over the last few years I've developed a strategy to cope with this deficiency. It relies upon my fly fisherman's duct tape, Aquaseal.
The strategy is pretty simple. When you buy a new pair of wading boots, buy a new tube of Aquaseal with them. Apply the Aquaseal up and down to any of the seams you think might suffer from abrasion. Then take a cheap toothbrush and work the Aquaseal into the seam threads and the boot material (see the result in the photos below). This can also work for boots that are already falling apart. This simple strategy has extended the life of most of my boots drastically, which I rely on because I fish a lot and I'm a poor student. A tube of Aquaseal is certainly cheaper than new boots. Happy fishing! I'm going to go get my boots wet tomorrow.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Cortland White Indicator Mono Source

In my review on Cortland's white indicator mono, one of my readers mentioned he was having trouble finding a source for the mono (thanks Derrick). I talked to Brooks Robinson over at Cortland. He said he couldn't dig up a dealer for me either but anyone who is interested can order direct from their factory store by calling 1-607-753-7835. You should also lobby your local fly shop to see if they'll pick it up. I think more shops would jump into the Euro nymphing/competition products market if they thought they would move enough inventory.

Happy Nymphing! I know I'll be out tomorrow!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gear Review: Cortland Competition Nymph Rod 10' 6" 3wt

The second fly rod I owned as a kid was a $40 Cortland Fairplay 5 weight which my dad bought me from the hallowed shelves of Walmart. At the time, I thought it was a great rod. By the time I was 14 I saved up enough money to buy my first higher performance rod. I quickly wondered how I had learn to fish without my new rod. I felt like I'd traded in an old clunker for  a Porsche and quickly realized my old rod had handicapped my further development. It's funny how our initial experiences with a brand shape much of the way we think about their products for years to come, whether for good or ill. My initial experience with that good old Cortland Fairplay biased my thinking toward disbelief that Cortland could design and make a quality performance fly rod. In fact, when my teammate Jeremy Sides told me he fished the Cortland Competition Nymph Rod during nationals this year I was surprised to say the least and I believe I called him "crazy". However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, a day on the Poudre with the 10' 6" 3wt Competition Nymph rod derailed my initial bias against Cortland rods. I've been fishing the 10' 6" 3 wt since the beginning of November and I've taken it to a wide range of waters from the miniscule Boulder Creek to the mightier Arkansas and in between. Here are a few fish who have flexed the rod during that time.




Before I get caught up in how I believe it performs, let me quickly discuss what I look for in a Euro nymphing rod and then I'll take you through how the Cortland performs in each of these areas. Also, please note that this review only applies to the 10' 6" 3 wt model as I have not fished the other 4 rods in Cortland's lineup.

The 3 basic qualities I look for in a Euro nymph rod are:
  1. A length of 10' or longer which is finished light enough to still balance in the hand after the reel is attached. Your hand is the fulcrum of your fly rod lever and the weight should balance in the cork where you hold the rod. Without a 10' or longer rod, casting a Euro rig is much more difficult. I've taught many students who have gotten the hang of casting a Euro rig with one of the rods I bring to a clinic only to write me later to tell me of their casting struggles with their typical 9' rods when they fish on their own. However, a light long rod that balances well is difficult for manufacturers to achieve and has really only been realistic in the past few years. A balanced rod, which reduces swing weight, is critical for reducing fatigue in the forearm from repeated casting and hook setting and also for reducing fatigue in the shoulder when the rod is elevated through the drift.
  2. The rod should have a fairly fast blank overall for casting accuracy and loop manipulation. However, it must have a soft tip to dampen head shakes and hook sets that still recovers quickly despite being soft. This soft tip protects fine tippets from breaking and keeps small fish from throwing the hook, which can make or break your results in competition. Furthermore, the soft tip loads easily to propel rigs with small tungsten nymphs which only have leader outside of the rod tip. I look for the rod to be stiff through at least 2/3 of the blank with a progressively softer tip beyond. I also look for the tip to quickly return to it's original position when flexed without prolonged undulation, which in turn undulates the casting loop leading to flies landing away from your intended target, especially with an uneven power stroke or a casting stroke which deviates from a narrow plane. Too many Euro rods I've flexed collapse near the middle ferrule feeling like the manufacturer took a fast graphite rod for the first two pieces and attached a fiberglass rod for the last two pieces. This results in poor casting loop formation and loss of accuracy as well as missed fish because the tip is so dampened that direct hook penetration, especially in deep water, is an issue.
  3. A Euro nymphing rod can't just be a one trick pony. I need it to fish a dry fly well so I don't have to pack multiple rods all over the place for a days fishing. There a lots of days and competitions where I don't expect a hatch or rising fish but I stumble upon a giddy trout that is feeling the need to poke his snout through the surface. If the rod I'm fishing is lousy at casting a dry, then my chance at catching these fish is reduced and so is my enjoyment and/or competitive success.
Does the Cortland Competition Nymph Rod possess these qualities?

  1. The Competition nymph rod is the first Euro rod longer than 10' that retains a balance in the hand. The use of single foot guides, as opposed to snake guides, reduces the number of thread wraps and the epoxy required to finish the rod by half. It may not seem like this would matter much but the longer the rod gets the more an additional fraction of an ounce in the finished rod will adversely affect the balance of the rod in your hand. Cortland also added a fighting butt to the rod (something many European manufacturers add to their nymph rods) which shows its best utility in counterbalancing the tip weight of the rod due to it's length. It can also be braced against your forearm during long drifts. In my conversation with Brooks Robinson about the rod, he explained that part of the reason Joe Goodspeed, the rod's designer, left the rod unpainted is that they received a painted batch during its development and the paint slowed the action of the rod significantly and substantially added to its weight. The decision to leave it an unpainted matte black blank may have created a rod that isn't very elegant, but I much prefer my rods to focus on function over form and I believe Cortland has achieved great function with this rod. To illustrate the balance of the rod look at the balance points in the pictures below. Notice that the Cortland balances deeper into the cork than either of my Sage ESN's, which creates a feeling of lightness in the hand even though the rod might be heavier (Cortland doesn't list the weight of the rod).
    With my old 3/4 weight Ross Canyon (which I fish with Euro rods because it is heavier than many contemporary 6/7 weight premium reels) the 10' 6" 3 wt rod balances about where I would place my index finger when gripping the rod. I would prefer it an inch or two lower in the cork but it is still better than my ESN's below. A downlocking reel seat would really improve the balance in this and just about every other Euro rod I've fished (more on that later).

    With the Ross Canyon, my 3 wt Sage ESN balances in front of where  I would place my index finger when gripping the rod and higher than the balance point on the Cortland. Note that this is also a 10' foot rod which should inherently balance easier than the 10' 6" Cortland. If Sage had added a counterbalancing fighting butt or a downlocking reel seat, the balance would be better.

    With the Ross Canyon, the Sage 4 wt balances at the end of the cork and has a heavier feel in the hand than either the Sage 3 wt ESN or the Cortland 10' 6" 3 wt Competition Nymph Rod.
    When I switch to a lighter weight Ross Evolution 5/6 weight reel (even partially offset by a heavier weight fly line), notice the slight shifts in the balance points below.
The balance point shifts forward about an inch with a lighter Ross Evolution. It's surprising how much heavier in the hand the rod feels when casting with this reel over my heavier Ross Canyon. This illustrates the importance of choosing a reel that balances whatever Euro rod you choose. The balance point is still in the cork though unlike my ESN's below.

With the Ross Evolution, the balance point on the Sage 3 wt ESN shifts in front of the cork. This is not desirable for arm fatigue.
With the Ross Evolution, the balance point on the Sage 4 wt ESN shifts in front of the hook keeper. Even less desirable than the corresponding 3 wt ESN.
Though the Cortland balances well compared to my ESN's and the other Euro rods I've fished, it (and all other long Euro rods) would benefit from a downlocking reel seat that would shift the counterbalancing effect of the reel further from your hand and better counteract the weight from the length of the rod. I believe that the effect would be drastic enough to allow the use of today's lightest 3 weight reels while still balancing the rod near your ring or middle finger on the cork. This would lighten the whole ensemble rather than needing a heavier reel to properly balance the rod in the cork. The best balanced Euro rod I've fished to date is a custom built 3 wt ESN my teammate Glade Gunther made. He used single foot REC guides with a downlocking reel seat. It balances well even with a premium lightweight reel and feels exceptionally light in the hand. He also used a full wells grip which relaxes your grip on the rod. A full wells grip is something my physical therapist (whose husband took one of my nymphing classes) recommended to me to deal with the tendonitis I've experienced in my rod arm and something I'd like to see on a lot more lower line weight rods.


2. The Cortland Competition Nymph Rod has the exact action I like in a Euro rod (see corresponding #2 above). It's a bit faster than my 4 wt ESN but still has a soft tip that has helped me achieve very high ratios of landed to hooked fish. Even very small fish resist bouncing with this rod, which I did not expect with its extra length. Being 6" longer and slightly faster than my ESN's, it took a bit of adjustment to hook setting angles and power to avoid small fish exiting the water on the set and avoiding break offs with fine tippet. However, now that I've used it enough to become comfortable, I have eliminated most of those problems. It loads easily with small flies but I'm a bit less accurate with the rod compared to my ESN's, mostly due to it's extra length. I've improved my accuracy by slowing my casting stroke and waiting for my rig to fully turn over on my backcast. The only place where I haven't liked the rod was on overgrown Boulder Creek. A 10' or 9' 6" rod is more appropriate for similar small brushy streams.

3. Perhaps the worst thing about the Competition Nymph rod is its name because it suggests the rod is only applicable to nymphing (I feel the same way about the ESN). I've been fortunate enough to fish it through several baetis and midge hatches. I even had a very solid baetis hatch on Black Friday where I spent several hours with my former teammate and captain Anthony Naranja catching rising fish with relative ease on the Arkansas. The rod delivers perfectly tight loops and I haven't felt handicapped at all fishing it with dries. Though the rod is labeled as a 3 weight, I've found it loads best with a true 4 weight fly line. I would not fish a 4.5 weight line like a Rio Grand or Scientific Anglers GPX with it as it would load it too much but a 3.5 weight line might work well. Though it might not be my first choice as a dry fly only rod, it certainly performs this function just fine and I don't feel the need to pack a dry fly rod for the day even if I expect a hatch. I typically just pack another reel with a 4 weight line and dry fly leader.

      Overall I've been thoroughly impressed with the 10' 6" Cortland Competition Nymph rod. It is now my go to Euro nymphing rod for medium to large rivers where the extra 6" provides a great benefit in reach. At $220, there is not another rod I've seen that performs anywhere near as well without jumping into the $700 and above range. If you value the aesthetics of a rod highly then this rod is probably not for you. However, if you're like me and are more interested in performance than aesthetics, I highly recommend this rod. I suppose there isn't a greater testimony I can give it beyond the fact that I will be fishing it in competitions this year right along my ESN's. I hope to get my hands on the other models in the lineup soon also to see if they are as well designed as the 10' 6" 3 wt.

Happy Angling!


Friday, January 3, 2014

Arctic char

Some of you know I've been doing my master's research on an introduced population of Arctic char in Colorado. I took a break from the fly rod to get a few of them through the ice today. Since they're such an elegant fish, I thought I'd post some pictures for you all to see. It's been a fun project to get to know these fish that you couldn't normally find without going far north.





And here's a few from last year





Monday, December 30, 2013

Cortland White Indicator Mono Review


                Occasionally wild trout are wily enough to spook to bright colored sighter material. In these situations, an alternate sighter material is needed. For several years the French company JMC has manufactured white mono for this purpose. I’ve known a couple of anglers who’ve fished it but I’ve never had the opportunity myself. On this side of the pond Cortland debuted their own opaque white sighter mono this past summer. Along with their competition nymph rod lineup and their 120 grain 1-2 weight nymph line, I’ve been testing their white mono since the beginning of November. For most of that time, I’m not sure that it provided much of an advantage in the tea and gray colored water I had been frequenting along the Front Range. However, Christmas Eve provided the perfect example of its utility.

                Whenever I come home for Christmas I make sure to work in plenty of fishing time on my old favorite waters. 
Lance Egan fishing the Provo

I spent Christmas Eve on one of these waters, a spring creek oasis in the middle of the desert.

 This creek has exceptionally clear water and the sight fishing opportunities are numerous. The fish also have a habit of holding in skinny water where a stealthy approach is needed to avoid spooking them.  Within a few hours of fishing on this trip, I’d spooked more than a few trout despite well-placed casts. On several occasions, I watched fish jet while my fluorescent sighter passed over their head. Getting into position hadn’t spooked them but apparently the bright sighter negated my careful approach. After several of these instances, I switched back to the Cortland white sighter material that I’d been fishing on a different reel. While I can’t say that the white sighter was the only reason, the rest of my day was markedly better after the sighter switch. Especially when sight fishing in shallow lies, less fish spooked and more fish came to the end of my line. Now, I definitely plan to keep the white sighter as part of my arsenal for clear water and spooky trout. I also see it as an extra tactic to avoid alerting beleaguered fish in the late sessions of competitions. It certainly can’t hurt.

                Before I started fishing the white mono, I obviously wondered how visible it would be. In most situations, it’s actually quite visible. Even my father, who has a relatively difficult time seeing other sighter material, was able to spot the white mono well. There are a few limitations to its visibility, however. It’s pretty much useless when foam or snow is behind it for obvious reasons. It is also tough to see in the glare from last light or when the sun is peeking through clouds. I find red or pink mono easier to see in glare. Lastly, it is most visible in rivers with a dark bottom which provides the best silhouette and not as visible against sandy bottoms.  

                Though white mono may have some limitations, it still is visible in most conditions and I believe its potential to avoid spooking trout makes it a valuable tool in the Euro nympher’s tool box. I highly recommend you give Cortland’s white mono a try.  In addition to its stealthy color, it is a nice stiff sighter material that helps turn over long French leaders with light flies. It has earned a place on my leader and I think you’ll like it too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Bumpywater

Here's a nice piece of advice from Jake Ricks at his new blog bumpywater.
I've known Jake for quite a few years from both guiding and competing. Unfortunately I haven't spent any time with him since I left Utah but I can attest to his fishiness and I've really enjoyed his literary and tactical posts so far. Give his blog a read!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Euro Nymphing 101: part 3

       For my last installment of Euro nymphing 101, I'm going to quickly take you through why I believe Euro nymphing is more successful than typical indicator nymphing in most water types. Today was a perfect example. I was fortunate enough to spend the day fishing a local tailwater with Antonio Rodrigues from Portugual. Antonio has represented his native country very well in the World Fly Fishing Championships many times and I've been both fortunate and unfortunate enough to fish directly against him in my group during two World Championships.
Antonio in the zone
       The local water utility czar jumped the water on today's tailwater from 15 to over 200 cfs in the last several days. Hearing that the water had been raised, quite a few other anglers joined us on the river though most of them were expecting the 80 cfs that was supposed to be flowing. I talked to several who said "I've had a few bites" but no fish to hand. I couldn't help but notice that every angler I met had a thingamabobber attached to their leader. Using Euro nymphing techniques, Antonio and I were fortunate enough to catch fish with ease and regularity throughout the day despite 39 degree water temperatures and high water for this temperature. Though we are both very experienced anglers, I firmly believe that if the anglers I met had been given a Euro nymphing rig and sufficient instruction, they would have had the fish they came to the river for. Having spent the first dozen or more years of my fly fishing life convinced that indicator nymphing was the king of river techniques for catching numbers of fish, I know from personal experience that I was mistaken now at least in most water types. The picture below explains much of the reason why I think this is the case.

       Think of this diagram as representing a very typical river situation. The blue arrows represent different currents and the size of the arrows reflects the speed of each of these currents. In this diagram and in many cases on the river, the indicator rig is cast up and across the river, the indicator lands in one current speed while the flies land in another further across the river. Line is mended and slack is managed to try and provide a dead drift for the indicator. The indicator becomes an anchor in the surface current, which affects the drift of the rig below. The bigger the indicator, the more current it catches. Again, the issue is that the flies are drifting in a different current seam and speed than the indicator. Therefore, the indicator may be dead drifting, but the flies are not. If the flies land in a slower current speed than the indicator, the flies are dragged downstream until they swing into the same seam of current as the indicator. The flies drift laterally until this occurs which further reduces the deadness of the drift. If the flies land in a faster current speed than the indicator, the indicator slows the drift and the flies swing downstream. Not only does a downstream swing not provide a dead drift, but there is no way to detect a strike because the flies have to be vertically below or upstream of the indicator to register a strike when a fish takes. Even if the flies land in the same current seam as the indicator, unless the distance between indicator and flies is perfectly adjusted, slack forms leading to reduced strike detection. On the fly line side of the indicator, mending induces slack which reduces the power  and increases the time of hook sets. If a fish eats during the process of mending, a hook set often can't be made and the fish is missed. Furthermore, mending is often imperfect at providing a dead drift throughout the drift and the indicator may be moved with mending leading to the flies jigging with each mend.

Though Euro nymphing has its own limitations, I believe it solves most of the above problems.
       Back to the same situation on the water, when the Euro rig is cast, it enters the water in one current seam. There is no indicator to act as a surface anchor and affect the drift. Only thin tippet penetrates the water and the angler can control the speed of the drift simply by the downstream movement speed of the rod. There is no mending and some amount of contact is maintained with the flies leading to a high proportion of strikes being detected. As an illustration from today, see the photo below.
          This eddy produced 3 fish for me with a Euro rig. With an indicator rig it would have been difficult to land the flies and indicator in the same current. Typically, the indicator would have landed in the fast downstream seam nearer to me while the flies landed in the upstream recirculated seam. Obviously, if the flies and indicator go in opposite directions, a dead drift is impossible. Many of the fish today came from similar pockets with complicated currents. Pools and runs which lend themselves to indicator nymphing were few and far between leading to fish being correspondingly few and far between for the indicator nymphers I met.

Besides the fundamental issues with drift, there are some other issues with indicator nymphing which Euro nymphing solves.

  • The typical indicator rig involves split shot above unweighted flies. A hinge forms at the split shot further inducing slack between flies and thee indicator. This slack must be removed before a strike is detected. Fishing weighted flies without split shot on a Euro rig eliminates hinges especially if a heavier fly is fished on the point (end of the leader) and a lighter or unweighted fly is fished on the dropper tag above.
  • The indicator creates a splash when it hits the water. Obviously this has the potential to spook fish. The only splash created by a Euro rig is the entry of the nymphs. Their small splash has much less potential to spook fish.
  • Indicator rigs don't fit in small pockets. If your indicator is 5 feet from your flies, then a pocket must be nearly that diameter to fit flies and indicator within the pocket. Even if your flies are only 3 feet from your indicator, the same rule applies. In many pocketwater sections I fish, pockets that large are few and far between. Only the space between flies limits the size of pockets a Euro rig can be cast into. If you fish a one fly rig then only your casting accuracy limits the size of pockets you can fish.
  • Lastly, in order to adjust for depth, the position of an indicator on the leader must be repeatedly adjusted and split shot must be added and subtracted with increasing or decreasing depth. Most depth adjustments on a Euro rig can be made simply by raising or lowering the elevation of the sighter or adjusting the angle of the leader either on the casting entry or during the drift. If these adjustments aren't enough, a quick change of fly weight usually suffices.
Though it may seem like it, I'm not telling you to throw your indicators away and abandon suspension nymphing altogether. There are a few situations where indicator nymphing is more effective than Euro nymphing. Below is a quick list:
  • Low velocity pools, runs, or flats with fairly uniform currents create conditions where many of the problems with suspension rigs are nullified. In these water types, approaching fish within a Euro nymphing radius may be difficult without spooking them.
  • If deep water prevents wading within proximity to an intending holding lie, suspension rigs may be your only hope of reaching the fish.
  • If wind is above around 15 mph, controlling the drift of a Euro leader becomes very difficult. In windy conditions, the anchoring nature of the indicator becomes beneficial as it prevents the wind from blowing your flies and leader around.
  • Lastly, if the fish in your river only eat flies size 22 and smaller, it will be hard to tie flies with sufficient weight to attain depth. This situation may be countered when Euro nymphing by fishing a sacrificial heavy nymph to allow other micronymphs to attain depth, However, I find that a lot of anglers and guides today assume that fish only eat small flies in their river when it certainly isn't the case. I've fished a lot of picky tailwaters the last few years where size 12-18 flies worked just fine. There are exceptions but I don't believe most rivers require only microflies most of the time even when the fish may be focusing on minutiae.
If the rivers you fish don't fit the short list above, I highly suggest you give Euro nymphing a try. As with any method, there is a learning curve and you may not have great success your first time out. However, if you commit to Euro nymphing it won't let you down.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Some More French Nymphing Info

Some more French nymphing info from Karel Krivanec here. Check it out.

Euro Nymphing 101: Part 2


 

            For this post I’ll take you through one way to rig a Euro nymph leader and some basic concepts of how to use it.

            To begin, below is a slide of a typical Euro leader. The flies are usually tungsten beaded nymphs with weight and size adjusted for depth or imitation. However you can clip off the top nymph for a single fly rig or tie a dry on the tag for a dry dropper rig. The sighter is a section of bright colored monofilament that allows visual signaling of takes instead of a typical strike indicator. Common materials are Stren Hi vis, Amnesia, or sighter specific colored mono from Cortland and Umpqua.


 

            Euro nymphing can be done upstream or across the river and in most water types. Slow flats or pools are often fished better by other techniques however.

            When fishing upstream, cast above your intended holding lie far enough to allow nymphs to sink to the depth of the fish. The sighter can either be greased and floated or held off the water to drift through small pockets. Allow the rig to drift with the speed of the current where your flies are. This is often slower than the speed of the current at the surface so water current will likely move faster than your sighter. Stop your rod high to avoid large amounts of leader on the water, which causes drag. Slack should be picked up either through stripping line or  raising the rod. You should catch a fish or tick bottom every few casts unless a hatch has fish suspended in the column necessitating a mid column presentation. I pick up the cast when the leader nears a vertical angle under the rod tip if I haven’t had a sighter take prior to this point in the drift. I usually fish upstream wherever I feel I will spook fish if I approach them from across current. This often coincides with skinny pockets or riffles but can also be smoother water in pools or flats. Any hesitation or jump in the sighter signals a take or your flies ticking bottom and a direct hook set should be quickly applied. You will find you need less distance and effort on your hook sets than you would indicator nymphing because there is very little slack in the system and a small movement of the rod will put you in touch with the fish.

            When fishing across the stream, again cast above your intended target with a high stop of the rod. Raise the rod vertically until the leader approaches a near vertical angle below the rod tip. If you stopped high enough (shoulder height or above) than you may not need to raise the rod any further at the beginning of the drift. Begin moving the rod downstream at the speed of the current the flies are in. Again, this speed will often be slower than the surface current. If you move your rod faster than the current the leader will take on a horizontal angle. A horizontal leader signals you are leading your flies faster than the current and inducing downstream drag. This occasionally can be useful to hold your flies off the bottom in a shallow piece of the drift or to induce a take from fish that don’t take a dead drift for some reason. A near vertical dead drift angle is usually my first choice however. At the end of the drift, if you are in a run or pool that provides a long enough drift, allow the flies to swing and this can induce a take, especially during hatch times. Takes are again indicated by any slight hesitation, jump, or even angle change in the sighter and they are usually much easier for novice anglers to spot when fishing across current than when Euro nymphing upstream. If you set the hook and no fish appears, make your hook set into a backcast and make your forward cast in a slightly elliptical movement coming over the top of your backcast. This will swing your flies over your rod tip on the forward stroke, which avoids a collision with your rod.

            Whether casting upstream or across, you must wait until you feel the nymphs tighten in a quick but subtle“hit” behind you before coming forward. It takes more time than when casting fly line because line speed is slower. Most anglers, even experienced ones, struggle with this and I have talked to many veterans of our sport who have given up on Euro nymphing because they can’t get the hang of the casting the rig. Most casting issues can be avoided by shortening and quickening the casting strokes, stopping the rod high on both strokes, and waiting to feel nymphs turn over behind you. If you struggle with waiting in the back, watch your flies fully turn over and drop on the forward cast. Keep track of this time mentally. If you have a backcast with the same energy and shape as the forward cast, it will require the same mentally tracked time to turn over in back.

            Adjusting for depth with a Euro rig is summarized in the slide below. When indicator nymphing split shot are added or removed and the indicator’s position on the leader is changed to adjust for depth. When Euro nymphing, depth adjustments are made by changing flies, leader length, leader angle and elevation, and managing leader angle of entry through your casting stroke. This might sound complicated but but is actually much easier and more versatile than indicator rig adjustments. The simple array of options to adjust for depth make it possible to fish depths from inches to many feet with little to no manual change to the leader.

 

For some quick video examples of Euro nymphing click here or here.  However, don't pattern your casting after these anglers. Both stop their rod too low on the forward stroke and the first angler has far too long and exaggerated a stroke for such short casts.

In the next post (part 3) I'll outline why I think Euro nymphing is much more effective in most water types than the slack line indicator/suspension rigs so prevalent in American fly fishing at present.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Euro nymphing 101: Part 1


Euro Nymphing 101
A Euro nymphed rainbow from the Arkansas River on Black Friday
I had a friend and reader of the blog ask if I would give a general article on European nymphing with its basic concepts and why an angler might want to venture to learn it. I’ve been giving a Powerpoint presentation to clubs and clinics on this topic for a couple of years now. I consider the presentation to be only a superficial attempt at educating an audience on the subject and it takes me at least 1.5-2 hours to deliver. The shear fact of the matter is that I’ve been using the suite of more contemporary Euro nymphing techniques since Lance Egan introduced me to what he referred to as French nymphing in 2007. At the time it was a radical change that I wish I’d thought of myself years earlier.  There is no way to boil the topic down into a blog post, let alone a series of posts. There are books for that and, as I’ve mentioned before, George Daniel’s book Dynamic Nymphing represents the most complete treatment of the topic at present. In the end, nothing will educate an angler on Euro nymphing more than finding someone adept at it and spending lots of time on the water. However, maybe a background and basics on Euro nymphing will inspire a few more people to take it up so I’ll at least venture an attempt over a few posts. In this first post I’ll cover the background behind how I was introduced to the method.

Part 1:
In 2007, Lance Egan returned home from the World Fly Fishing Championships in Portugal toting a book by Czech angler Karel Krivanec entitled Czech Nymph and Other Related Fly Fishing Methods
Teaching my newborn the value of good literature
The book mainly deals with a style of nymphing that was largely phased out among the top anglers of the World Championship by the time the book was published. This style is reminiscent of what Glenn Zinkus described in an article I referenced recently. Krivanec's book might be part of the reason why American anglers have a somewhat outdated view of Czech/Euro nymphing even though it's only a few years old. However, Krivanec makes mention of French Nymphing and the exceptionally long leaders used for it in just a few pages.  Lance put this quickly referenced information together with the idea of a technique former Team USA captain Jack Dennis referred to as the “French Roll.” Jack thought of the technique as being used to imitate emerging caddis. In reality, it was a simply a very effective strategy to rapidly cover shallow water. It was typified by casting one or two small tungsten nymphs upstream and allowing only a very short drift before quickly picking up and casting again.
            About a month after Lance returned he called me and said he had something that was going to “blow my mind.” He’s not the kind of all too common angler who employs hyperbole to gain the favor of others. He’s too gifted to need anything other than his own skill for that so I knew he must have had something good. A few days later we piled in my car with our friend Kurt Finlayson and headed off to a small stream in central Utah. The stream is known for a dense population of small to medium brown trout that tend to respond well to dry or dry dropper rigs. We rigged up 3 rods with a dry, a dry dropper, and a French leader rig. We fished the first two rigs in a number of runs, riffles, and pools and usually caught several fish on each.  We then fished the French rig through the same water and often caught at least several more in each piece of water after it had been fished exhaustively.
I knew that Lance had come upon something special and I spent the next month before the National Championship learning as much as I could about the technique. I compared it to the dry dropper and Czech/Polish nymphing rigs, that I had been fishing in competitions for several years prior, in my own quasi experiments. Almost invariably, the French leader out-fished the other methods and I was catching staggering numbers of fish in addition to fishing water types I’d rarely found success in before. I found that the French rig provided technical advantages that made it the most versatile nymphing strategy that exists to my knowledge.
Most anglers in the competitive circuit now refer to the leader’s use as Euro nymphing because it has come to incorporate a variety of upstream and cross current approaches inspired by multiple European countries. In the next couple of posts I’ll cover how to rig for Euro nymphing, some basic techniques when using it, and why I believe it out-fishes suspension/indicator rigs in most water types and situations.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Are you under the fish?

Yesterday my friend Connor Murphy and I hit a local stillwater. When we arrived we both had on intermediate lines. When temperatures are cold spring and fall, this is often a good line choice as stilwater fish often come shallow to feed as soon as temperatures drop back below the low 60's.  However, when we motored into a shallow cove I've had success in before, there were a few fish rising that turned into a lot of fish rising in short order. We covered a few fish but had little success and our flies found weeds unless we sped the retrieve faster than I felt comfortable with in 41 degree water. Even though we were fishing shallow sinking lines, they were still too deep. I switched to a midge tip and brass beaded or unweighted flies and quickly began catching many of the risers I covered. Connor switched to a floater and his catching followed suit. After we had caught or put down most of the fish in the cove we motored around the corner and found a bunch more risers with even better results than in the first cove. A little ways off the pair of anglers in the photo below were wade fishing the bank.

The angler in the center of the picture had a pod of over 2 dozen risers constantly working the bank in front of him. We fished within site of him for several hours and the risers never stopped. In that amount of time, Connor and I were fortunate enough to catch dozens of fish each with less dense pods of fish. I watched the angler only land 4 or 5 and Connor and I both wanted to motor over and lend some help but couldn't bring ourselves to do it for fear of how we would be received. Though he might not have been the sharpest caster, it wasn't his skill that was keeping him from catching trout. He was fishing a fly 4 or so feet below an indicator. The problem was that the fish were less than a foot below the surface. 
His lack of success led me to think about a common problem with many fly anglers' strategies. Trout (and other salmonids) are visual predators. True, they have lateral lines that sense vibration and nares that serve olfactory purposes, but by and large they find most of their prey through visual detection. (Different salmonids have different visual capabilities by the way. One of the characteristics that allow sympatric brown trout and Arctic char as well as sympatric Dolly Varden and cutthroat trout to coexist is the superior vision of the char species in low light.) 
The positioning of eyes on a trout create monocular vision on each side with binocular vision in front and in a cone shape above them. A quick search on the web will give you a run down on the technical aspects but the main thing to remember is trout generally see at or above their level. They are more adept at column feeding than they are at benthic grubbing, though they occasionally use this strategy especially in weedy waters where scuds or sowbugs are their main table fare. Trout's column feeding strategy would generally suggest that your flies should also be at or above a trout's level if your goal is for them to actually see and eat your flies. This principle applies to stillwaters and rivers. This is generally why I like to start above the level where I think the trout are and work my way down. If my first depth guess is incorrect, a deeper increment in fly line choice or fly weight usually puts me in the zone where trout see my flies and are close enough to them to be willing to intercept as long as other aspects of my presentation are suitable. If I guess too deep to begin with then I'm left with the fate of the angler I met yesterday. Let's all avoid that fate and put a few more fish in our nets by working our way down instead of staying under the trout were after.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Hackle Stacker Caddis

At the World Fly Fishing Championships in Norway this year the few fish there were to be caught showed a particular interest in dry flies. For example, the brown below rose near my teammate Lance Egan and I during a particularly tough practice session for our team. I made a cast that went a bit long and the fish moved 3-4 feet out of his lane to inhale a parachute Adams. 
 
There were as many caddis around as there were mayflies so I sat down at the vise that night and played with some patterns. One of my favorite Baetis patterns for the last several years has been the hackle stacker. I've had a lot of success with it on pressured fish that have refused other patterns. I also like the fact that it is easier to keep floating than the go to CDC patterns that are often used in similar situations. In Norway, I wanted a caddis with similar qualities that would float well but also fool fish in flat water with a low riding profile. Sticking a hackle stacker on the front of a caddis seemed to be an obvious design to try. I fished the hackle stacker caddis in my second session on the Vefsna River. Luckily I had one of the few beats that held good numbers of fish. For the first 45 minutes or so of my session I fished my new creation with good success starting with a brown on my first cast. I fished up the bank and caught 6 browns and grayling of my 16 to win the session with the new fly. 

When I returned home I was anxious to try the new fly on some Colorado fish. The Poudre River trout near my home also have a particular liking for dry flies. I tied some hackle stacker caddis in sizes 12-10 to fish as attractors that would be able to suspend a nymph. Happily, I found it could hold nymphs up to a size 14 with a 3mm bead fairly easily and in smooth pools it was able to hold up a double dropper rig with a size 14 and a 16 nymph. The hackle in the front provides floatation when the fly is tipped head downward, which happens when fishing the dry on a tag as mandated by the rules in competition. Even more happily, I found that I caught at least half of my fish on the dry instead of the nymph while using it. The fly has since found similar success on many of the other rivers in Colorado and was important during my America Cup win this year.

More recently, after reading a book I'll talk about in a future post, I decided to try the caddis in a "Purple Haze" configuration. I fished it for the first time with Jeremy Sides and Joe Schwonke back on the Poudre. The morning started out with 38 degree water, not exactly prime dry fly temps, and yet the first eat I had came on the new purple configuration. The water stayed cold enough (low 40's) the rest of the day that I normally wouldn't expect fish to come to dries, especially an attractor dry.  However, on one illustrative bank I caught 10 fish on a slow edge below a boulder. I could see most of them on light colored silt and I had the pleasure of watching 7 of the 10 rise to eat the caddis. Even this last week I had a few half hearted rises to it despite the river being 34 degrees. 

Without further ado here is the recipe and instructions. Hopefully, you'll find it as useful on your local water as I have on mine.

Purple Haze Hackle Stacker Caddis:
Hook: 8-16 dry. The hook in the instructions is the Fulling Mill grab gape.
Thread: 8/0 uni. I prefer not to use UTC for this fly because it is slick and the elk hair spins on it.
Tail: Fl. shell pink antron yarn
Dubbing: purple ice dub
Wing: Elk hair
Overwing: Pink poly yarn
Hackle stacker core: 6x monofilament
Hackle: grizzly dry fly saddle

To begin, attach the thread and tie down the antron yarn tail.

Dub the abdomen and lay a thick layer of thread on the thorax as a base for the wing which will help keep it on top of the hook and avoid spinning.

Tie on the elk hair

Add the pink yarn over the top for visibility and added floatation.

Tie in a loop of 6x facing forward

Pull it back and tie it in again. This will lock it in and keep it from slipping out when you begin wrapping the hackle. I know from experience this is a frustrating occurrence.

Tie in the hackle on the far side of the hook.

Dub the thorax

Wrap the hackle in tight touching turns upward while holding up the thread with your right index finger. Make sure the length of wrapped hackle is no longer than the thorax but long enough to cover it.

Wrap the hackle back down in about half as many turns. End with it facing away from you.

Tie down the loop in front of the thorax with just a couple of turns.

Pull the loop tight, pull it back, and tie it down with a few more tight turns. This also anchors the hackle in place without having to tie it off.

Whip finish, clip off the loop and hackle and you're done.