Our Man In Canada
June 29th, 1998
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The Downstream Swing
This Often Neglected Nymphing Techniques Catches Trout
Adapted from "The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing" by the author


A pod of well-educated rainbow trout always feeds on the surface of a hard-fished hole on one of my favorite trout streams. These are glorping, slurping rainbows that usually have no intention of taking any combination of fur and string we delicately present to them. They've seen it all, they are educated and they are fussy.

I've been down to this hole dozens of times. The hole is approached from a high trail and there's a good view of the upstream riffle and the smooth, trout-infested pool. In the smooth pool, rainbows are usually feasting on a surface hatch of miniature bugs, or milling around in the film, inhaling heaven-knows-what species of emergers or tiny midges.

"What's the problem?" you ask. "Feeding rainbows. Isn't that what we are always praying to find? Just match the hatch and catch." Well, these rainbows are hard to fool with artificials, at least standard ones. If they've seen one counterfeit insect on a hook, they've seen a thousand.

What can we do when we have used all the textbook fly-fishing techniques? We've matched the hatch, presented dry bogus bugs in fine form, mended line, and drifted drag-free. We've slid emergers through the film and tumbled stonefly patterns freely along the nether reaches of deep, fish-holding pools where trout surely lie. We've frisked the water head to tail,but nothing. This is how it often goes in this pool.

Early one morning (more Septembers ago than I care to think about) I tried a different casting and retrieve method that worked then and has produced many times for me since. My brother Gary and I arrived at the pool shortly after sunrise, and the rainbows were glorping away at invisible bug dust.

Downstream, we carefully crossed the river and literally crawled upstream to the edge of the gravel bar mere feet away from the surface trout. Sitting on the gravel I accurately false cast my (elsewhere successful) October caddis imitation over the rising fish. At the right measure I gently let it fall well upstream of the foraging rainbows. Delicate. Light rings. No drag. One cast. Two casts. A dozen. Nothing.

I decided to match the hatch, or at least put on something really tiny since I was not certain what microscopic critters the trout were after. I tied on something like a #20 midge pattern, Adams, or Blue-winged Olive. I can't remember. There were a couple of refusals and after several more casts, there was nothing. By now I had lost interest in being stealthy. I openly stood on the bank. I made the occasional sloppy cast, and the rainbows kept feeding on or near the surface around my line.

Now what I'm going to tell you isn't new. It was new to me then, and it worked for me that morning. Since that day many years ago it has caught fish for me countless times with many nymph patterns, especially bead head flies. Last year I started using it with small midge pupa patterns. Minnowlike streamers fished the same way catch trout. The method? Across-stream or downstream casting and swinging.

Back to that fateful morning. . . I had now been standing at the edge of this pool for nearly an hour and had yet to hook a fish. Frustrated, I tied on a #14 Prince Nymph. And like Gary had instructed earlier, I cast it across the pool and let it swing down and arc across to my side. Bump.

The second cast connected me to a decent rainbow. Cast, mend, swing, bump,hookup. In this stingiest of trout holes, I landed eight rainbows in the next hour. This was exceptional for this spot and since then I've never landed as many fish there in one go. A good morning, especially after the slow start. But more importantly, I learned something different.

The swinging nymph method doesn't always work,as no method does. But it's always worth a try when other flies and methods aren't producing.

Casting across and swinging a fly downstream is not new. Over fifty years ago Roderick Haig-Brown wrote about this technique for steelhead in his treasure of a book, A River Never Sleeps the following:

"I started down the pool happily, rolling the fly out into the tumbled water, mending the line upstream to give it a chance to sink well down . . . The fly came over the loaded place, and I held it there in quiet water at full stretch of the line...knowing how it hung, how it looked, how the water plucked at it and gave it life. I moved my left hand up to recover line, and the pull came . . ."

This week's closing thought is attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832):
All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times;
but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly,
till they take root in our personal experience.

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada
Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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