Advanced nymphing: deep-water strategies

The bottom is probably the most overlooked and underfished part of a river. John Roberts explains four effective methods of reaching trout lying on the bottom.

The river bed is a fishing zone that needs to be explored – especially when you consider the amount of time trout spend there and the vast store of food it contains. In sea and coarse fishing the bottom is the major target area – only in river fly fishing has it been overlooked.

During a hatch of flies or when other food is available at the surface, trout adopt positions in the upper layers of the river. In a weedy stream shrimps and nymphs often dislodge from the weeds and drift in mid-water. But nearly all the trout’s subsurface food comes from the stream bed. For much of the trout season you can find trout lying on the river bed.

When there is a minimum of fly activity -as in early spring – trout stay deep. In the low water and bright sunlight of summer and early autumn, deep, cool water along with calm pockets close to the river bed in the well-oxygenated riffles are attractive lies for trout.

Depth is relative: in the riffles it may mean only 30cm (12in), but in the pools it’s possible to fish in water 1.8m (6ft) deep or deeper, depending on the speed of the current. The main point is that no matter how deep the water, the trout are usually on the bottom — so you must present your fly there. One of the most influential fly fishers of all time, American Lee Wulff, said, ‘Since that’s where the trout are most of the time, deep-drifting nymphs are probably the single most effective way of taking trout.’

It is essential to use weight in the dressing of a nymph. The amount of lead depends on the depth to be fished, how much time the fly has to sink and the speed of flow of the river. Carry the same patterns in several different weights to experiment with. Additional weight – a split shot on the Une above the nymph or a sinking braided leader – also gets your fly to the bottom and keeps it there. A floating fine is standard for 95% of nymph fishing. But one technique the five nymph – requires the use of a sinking (or fast-sinking) line.

The following are some of the best methods to tempt hard-to-reach river trout or grayling in deep water (up to 3.6m/12ft) with drag-free presentations. pull down the end of the fly line. Buoyant strike indicators are invaluable for detecting takes. With its fluorescent tip section, Cortland Nymph Line can also help you spot takes in fast water.

Brooks’ method

American Charles Brooks devised an excellent deep-nymph technique for high and very fast water using lead-core fly line. The method has been amended slightly with the introduction of fast-sinking braided leaders, which are just as effective and make it easier to modify your floating line.

Brooks opened up fast-water fishing areas which many anglers previously believed to be unfishable (because the nymph wouldn’t fish along the bottom).

Though not many anglers fish in fast water, trout are there, hugging the bottom in calm pockets etched on the river bed. Since the fish have poor visibility and impaired hearing in fast, turbulent water, you can come near your quarry and use short casts to control the line much easier than in long-range fishing.

To begin, attach a fast-sinking braided leader (Roman Moser or Airflo) to a floating line. At the end of the braided section connect a 60-90cm (2-3ft) length of level nylon of about 5lb (2.3kg) b.s. Tie on a heavily weighted nymph.

Cast upstream and across. The heavy nymph and leader sink rapidly as they drift towards the effective fishing zone – the area opposite and just below you. Hold your rod high to keep as much hne off the water as possible.

As the line drifts downstream, track your body around and lower the rod. Watch the end of the line for any sudden movements, indicating a take. At the end of the drift the current causes the leader and nymph to lift; this rising away from the stream bed often prompts a take from a fish. After fishing through an area a few times, move up or downstream or extend the cast across the current. Trout have to hit drifting food hard, so takes are usually very positive.

Note that some of the heaviest leaders

Downstream dead-drift

With this method the nymph fishes close to the bottom and drifts in a natural manner downstream of you. You can use the downstream dead-drift in fast-flowing stretches of water, pools, deep runs and other features, but keep the weight of the flies relative to the feature you are fishing. A fly which is too heavy catches on the bottom again and again.

As in all methods, a long rod allows better line control. With a weighted leader, if necessary, cast the nymph up and across. Follow the line downstream. To prevent drag from forming, mend where needed. When the fly is opposite you it’s fishing along the bottom and continues to do so, as in Brooks’ method.

But instead of allowing the fine to swing around and lift the nymph up at the end of the drift, pay out fine from the reel and shake it through the rod to create slack. This effectively increases the area downstream that the nymph fishes naturally along the bottom. If you pay out too much slack, you may lose control and miss takes. Paying out not enough may cause the line to tighten, lifting the nymph from the bottom. Again, watch the strike indicator or fly fine for any sudden movement.

The rolling or dragged nymph

Neil Patterson, fishing for fastidious River Kennet trout, invented the name of this technique, though it has been around a while. The rolling or dragged nymph is effective only on visible fish because it requires the angler to manipulate the fly delicately before it drifts past the fish.

From a position across and below the trout, cast upstream of the fish so that by the time the nymph sinks to the trout’s depth, it is about 30cm (12in) upstream of the fish. As the fly drifts closer to the trout, draw it to one side. A dragged or rolled nymph moving away diagonally often induces reluctant trout to feed. Watch the fish carefully because it may be impossible to see the nymph. If the trout moves, strike.

Pinch a split shot 45cm (18in) above the nymph to make it sink faster if necessary.

The live nymph technique

This method uses either a fast-sinking line and a short leader or a floating line with a fast-sinking braided leader. Choose a heavily weighted nymph. For fast water attach a 5ft (1.5m) leader, but lengthen it to 12ft (3.6m) for slower water. The five nymph technique imitates crawling nymphs and caddis edging their way across or upstream. Cast across and downstream. By the time the line and leader have swung around and are directly downstream of you, they should be on the bottom. Retrieve the nymph upstream. Vary the retrieve speed and rhythm until you are successful. As a general rule, a fast current requires slow pulls and a slow current fast pulls.