Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - February 28, 2011

The angler that wishes to fish the spring creeks with a reasonable margin of success must consider the use of nymphs. Now hold on, I know that there are those of you who just won't use nymphs for any reason. That's OK!! To each his own. But after comparing guide notes for several seasons, I have found that many of you don't use nymphs because you are unsure of the methods used in fishing them and that you have had little success when you have used them, mainly because you were unable to detect the strikes in time enough to hook the fish. I hope to help you overcome these problems.

I have found that once folks understand what's happening with nymphs and once they find that detecting the strikes is fairly easy, many anglers embrace the nymphing method wholeheartedly. The biggest single factor in taking the fear out of nymphing is the use of a strike indicator. What was that, a groan I heard?  Now, now. Look around and you will see that most of the "Pros" promote the use of strike indicators. Indicators allow you to see the strike faster so you can react to it. Some call it cheating, or fly fishing with a bobber, but I put it like this.

We are out fly-fishing for trout, and Lord knows we miss plenty, break them off, or otherwise fail to make the connection, so why limit ourselves? I heard that a famous angling writer and fly tyer was once giving a talk to a group and he was explaining about the use of strike indicators when a gentleman rose from the back of the group and asked "What's the difference between using a strike indicator and a bobber?"  Never missing a beat, this speaker replied, "The indicator goes through the guide a lot easier than a bobber and is a whole lot simpler to cast with a fly rod."

Now let us talk a little bit about the trout and the nymph. First, when referring to nymphing, I am talking about any aquatic life except minnows and leeches. As for fly patterns, I am referring to everything fished wet except classic wet flies and streamer/leech types. This means nymphs and emergers. While dealing with the spring creeks, the nymphing list would include mayflies, caddisflies, midges, shrimp, sowbugs, stoneflies and damsel nymphs, to name a few.

A major portion of the trout's diet comes in nymphal form. After studying stomach samples for over 20 years, I have found that 90% of everything a trout eats is in nymphal form. Therefore, if the angler wishes to take more trout and otherwise improve his/her effectiveness, a little time must be devoted to the study of nymphs and how the trout react to them. No, you don't have to take up the study of Latin to accomplish this.

All it takes is a little bit of rock rolling and poking around with an insect net and, lastly, watching the trout feed. To watch the trout you will need a good pair of polarized sunglasses.

The spring creeks offer the angler the greatest trout-fishing classroom found anywhere, because of the clear water, you can see the trout and watch them feed. From this you can learn the various rise forms and observe the depth at which the trout are feeding. With the clear water you can collect insects easily. You can also release the insects and see how they swim. The spring creek anglers can see their own mistakes and profit from them.

Learn to identify the basic nymphal food forms. Once you have a fair idea of the food forms, how they act and how the trout react to them, you are ready to gear-up and start fishing.

The equipment will vary according to personal choice. A long 8' to 9' rod for 3, 4 or 5 weight lines offers the beginner better line control and casting accuracy, but a bamboo from 6' to 8-1/2' in the 2 to 5 weight line class is a joy to fish on the spring creeks. I know it's a little off the subject, but a note of interest about bamboo rods. The angler using a bamboo rod can put more pressure on the fish and subdue it quicker than the person using a similar graphite stick. This is because the bamboo "gives", and absorbs the shock of the surges, where a surge against a graphite rod means you must allow the fish to take line or break off. The only graphite rod that I know does as well is the Orvis One Weight.

Now, back to equipment. The reel must have a smooth drag system, preferably one that is adjustable, and must be capable of holding at least 50 yards of backing. The leaders will go from 10' to 14'. We prefer knotless leaders with an additional tippet. Hand tied, knotted leaders will work, but the knots can cause drag and at certain times of the year weeds and other flotsam can catch on the leader causing problems. I use the loop-to-loop tippet method favored by Lefty Kreh. This is where you take the end of the leader, tie in a double surgeon's loop and take the end of the tippet and do the same. Then, holding the leader loop in one hand, slide the tippet loop up the leader. Take the end of the tippet and draw it through the leader loop. This will form a figure 8 and will not hinge. This method offers a knot of greater strength. Our findings have shown that on 78% of the trout broken off on the strike, the break occurs at the tippet knot. The tippet will range from 36" to 54" and the rule of thumb is to go with as strong a tippet as you can get away with. This generally means that during early June and July you can use 5X and 6X. Into late July, 6X becomes the choice and by September you're down to 7X. Rarely is 8X needed, but there are times. When you are forced to go to 8X, pray a lot.

Now we move on to the selection of a strike indicator and its placement. There are two types of indicators that are easy and practical to use.

The first is the pinch-on style, possibly the most popular. These come in a packet of a dozen and are equipped with an adhesive surface. They are place at the desired location on the leader by simply folding the indicator in half. These will work, but even trimmed down, they are bulky, cause drag and are a real son-of-a-gun to move or remove.

The style of indicator we prefer is made from fluorescent yarn. This style is easy to see, cast, and floats like a cork when treated with floatant. It's also easy to move and remove. The fluorescent yarn comes in bright green, pink and orange, which lends itself to varied light conditions. There is also strike putty, but I believe it isn't delicate enough for spring creek angling situations.

The method of applying the indicator is simple. First, you cut a strip of yarn about an inch long. Then you place an over-hand knot in the leader in the desired place, but don't tighten down the knot. You place the strip of yarn in the knot and then tighten. The mono tightens on the yarn, not on itself. Therefore there is no chance of breakage as you suffer with a wind knot. With your scissors, you shape the sections of yarn into a small pair of wings, grease them up with your favorite floatant and you're ready to go.

If you wish to remove the indicator, all you have to do is take the point of the hook and loosen the knot and roll the indicator up or down the leader as desired or remove it altogether.

The placement of the indicator will depend on the depth of water that you are fishing. You want the indicator far enough up the leader so it doesn't interfere with the drift of the artificial. Generally, I start my indicator up about 40". As the trout start to feed on nymphs drifting up the middle water, just move your indicator closer to the fly. Once I ran out of the emerger that the trout were taking so I moved the indicator within 2" of the fly and, using a weighted nymph, I was still able to take fish. Also, if you have trouble seeing small dries and surface emergers, try using a small indicator about 36" above the fly for a point of reference when looking for your fly. Remember, if the little winged indicator is floating along naturally without drag, then your fly is doing the same. When you see the indicator stop, or move in an unnatural manner, set the hook gently.

Another method of nymphing, which has become popular, is the use of two flies, one dry and one nymph. The dry should be something you can see. Additional tippet is tied right to the bend of the hook of the dry fly. The tippet length depends on the depth you want to fish the nymph. On the spring creeks of Paradise Valley, I often start the nymph three to four feet behind the dry. But when fishing emerging nymphs, I have placed the emerger only eight inches behind the dry. Oh, by the way, sometimes the trout even take the dry.


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