David with a lovely rainbow taken from the Molenaars section of the Smalblaar.
Photo by Garth Nieuwenhuis.
A man walks into a bar and orders a 7 ft 6 dry fly rod. The bartender looks at him and asks: “Do you want a Czech nymph with that?”
My terrible sense of humour aside, stream season is coming up in the Cape, and my mind starts wandering to flies, rigs, approaches, beats, weather, flow, warmth and of course, fish. What I call, “impromptu nymphing” has been a vital arrow in my quiver for some time now, and can often double my catch rate with little added effort. While catching more fish isn’t necessarily always the goal, being more effective for the same effort is not something most people would turn down.
I find that there are two paths to keep your net increasingly damp. The first approach is the most common: get better at what you already do; cast more accurately, drift more deadly, tie and select better flies, be comfortable with finer tippet and so on. Essentially, raise your game in every facet. This is a noble pursuit, and one that will take a lifetime. The second approach is to add more tools to your toolbox. Small, effortless adventures into something new can be very disproportionately rewarding. So here, I motivate for inserting into your day, a little bit of “impromptu nymphing”.
The Cape streams are unique within South Africa, in that they are predominantly filled by winter rainfall. Consequently, the first couple months of the season are often marked by an interesting combination of high water and hungry unpressured fish. One can have a pleasant day targeting actively feeding fish in obvious lies, but more than half of the fish are still taking refuge below the flow, in deep water, beyond the reasonable reach of your favourite dropper rig. Euro-nymphing, with its 10-11 ft rods, long dainty leaders, and full contact to deep flies, is what is called for. Personally, I don’t feel that Euro-nymphing is an aesthetically pleasing way to fish. There is a compromise to be had, one that doesn’t require special rods, gear or flies, and doesn’t sacrifice my desire to spend most of my time dancing about like an Olympic ribbon dancer.
I approach a deepish run, and fish it through with my dry dropper rig. I wade up only as far as I need to in order to fish the head of the run. Once I am satisfied that my cup overfloweth with loops and dead drifts, it’s time to stare into the abyss. I colour up my leader, roughly 6 ft above my point fly, cut off my dry fly and leave the tag hanging loose. With only my leader out of my rod tip, I flick my nymph upstream of me, keeping the leader off the water as much as possible. I allow the nymph to sink while adjusting the rod height and angle to keep 5% slack in the bow of the line. The very slight slack allows the nymph to sink, but too much might cause you to miss a take. Counterintuitively, slack is also the enemy of sink rate, as folds in the line catch the current and lift the fly away from the fish. The goal is to have the nymph drift just slower than the water, giving it a chance to sink right down. Watch the coloured leader, and feel for the eat - in early season it’s seldom subtle. Once done, I re-attached my dry fly, rub off the colour on my leader and move on my way. The whole foray usually accounting for 10% of my time fishing the run, but 50% or more of the fish. Rinse and repeat in any water that is more than thigh deep. See diagram below.
A few technical notes. I am very comfortable doing this with a 7ft 6, 2 wt dry-fly rod. Because the fish are deep in fast-flowing tannin-stained water, fishing within a leader length of the fish is not a problem, and so rod length is less of an issue. Sure, a longer rod would be better for nymphing, but that defeats the goal here. The colouring of the leader I speak of, I achieve with fairly cheap, purpose designed neon pink or orange wax. It’s available in most online shops these days, and applies a bit like lipstick. There are several other approaches for a similar sighter effect. You could insert a piece of coloured line into your leader setup permanently for the day, however, this doesn’t allow for adjustment in depth. You could use florescent “UV knot sense” on a knot in your leader roughly 6 ft above your point fly. Finally, you could use an adjustable indicator, just be sure to set it up so that it is not floating on the water.
Trying something new when the fishing seems good, rather that when it’s difficult, is a barrier many never pass. Fly fishing need not be a box that constrains us, but rather a platform on which to build. Be brave, be playful and have fun. There is no right or wrong way to fish, except bait fishing. Yuk.
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