Casting and Nymph Fishing Unencumbered by an Indicator

Rim often says, “The purpose of the upstream cast is to allow the nymph time to sink before reaching where the fish are intended to be.  Because of this, you must position your cast to be well upstream of the fish.  How far upstream depends upon the depth of the water, the current speed and the amount of lead on your line.  Therefore, you must position yourself approximately across the stream from the trout.  With this method, you can fish to trout from below, across, or above their in-stream positions.  However, I mostly find myself standing just slightly below the trout’s anticipated in-stream position.”

“To cast, I allow my nymph rigging to extend out straight downstream, by first making a downstream roll cast.  Then with a good pull off the water, I make a smooth and accurate cast to shoot the line to the target point, well upstream of the fish.  The cast itself is commonly become known as the “water haul” and eliminates needless false casting of the weighted line, which false casting generally serves only to tangle most nymph fishing rigs.”

Once the fly is cast into position, “[t]he significant point is that you remain absolutely passive, apart from methodically gathering in any slack line, until you detect the trout’s voluntary acceptance of your artificial and strike on this signal.”  While this may seem like something Mr. Chung would have said, it actually came from one of Frank Sawyer’s pupils, Oliver Kite.  In some hope that Mr. Chung might better explain his method, I continued, “But, I still seem to be missing some strikes while upstream nymphing.”

Rim replied, “This is why it is important to fish the fly upstream from the line.  A straight upstream cast, or one upstream and across if properly managed, will allow the fly to travel in the same plane as the given current.  You must position that cast to be in the same plane of current as the fish.  The whole part of the line and leader, in or on the water, must be in the same plane of current.  Otherwise, a faster plane of current will cause the line to drag across a slower plane of current.  To counter this natural tendency for drag, you must mend to place the line and leader on line with the current plane the fly lands in.  This will create the desired line of drift and then you must manage the line to ensure that the fly travels naturally within that current plane.

“But, you are not making upstream mends, as traditionally practiced in strike indicator methods.  With the indicator, these upstream mends, serve to take the pressure off of the fly as it drifts.  This pressure is created by the downstream pull on the indicator, which serves to prevent the fly from generally reaching the bottom or intended horizontal level of drift.  Without the indicator and with a fine line and leader, such as I use, these upstream mends are generally unnecessary.”

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“Strikes are more readily detected if the fly is upstream from the line.  This is because the fly stops moving when a fish strikes it, therefore if your line which is downstream will immediately stop moving as well.  If you fish with the fly downstream from the line, as many suggest, you will never see the subtle takes by concentrating on your fly line.  By the time the line catches up with the fly, your opportunity will be missed.

“With regard to detecting a strike, try to ‘be with your fly.’  Focus your consciousness and concentration on the drift.  You must give your line your constant attention while your fishing is in progress.  It is akin to the martial artist who must know his enemy.  You must focus your concentration on the totality of the situation.  You must attempt to become one with the fly, the line, the drift, the current, the fish, the weather, the rod and it all.  Only then, will the angler become an expert in nymphing.  It is not as difficult as it appears, if one focuses on it.  However, if you lose your focus you will likely miss it all.  You must maintain the proper relationship between fly, line, current, fish, and angler.  Excessive slack must be removed so as to allow the strikes to be detected and so as to not impart drag to the fly.”

In essence, nymph fishing requires intensive concentration.  Skues (Nymph Fishing for Chalk Stream Trout) put it this way, “For in nymph fishing one has to watch not for the rise, thought that is occasionally quite obvious, but for one or more of series of other hints to which a lightning response must be made if your trout is to be hooked. . . .Indeed I believe the persistent study and practice of nymph fishing will tend to develop in one a sort of sixth sense which has no name, but which gives at times astonishing results.”  This is one reason why it is so difficult to the dry-fly man.  When the fish strikes the dry, it is readily apparent.  When the fish strikes the nymph, it may impart only the smallest “tick” or “bump” to the fly line.  In some cases it may not cause the line to move at all before the fish spits the fly back out.  Trout are excellent at sampling your fly and then rejecting it without the angler’s knowledge.  It is my belief that most nymph fisherman only detect a very small percentage of actual strikes.  This is one reason why Mr. Chung is so effective.  He has an uncanny, intuitive ability, from thirty years of practice, to sense the take upon only the slightest indication.  My guess is that presentation and detection are the primary explanations of why most of nymph fishing masters were so effective with a variety of patterns.  Kite called it a state of “informed anticipation.”

I’m often asked what do you use as the indicator then, is it detecting the strike by feel? No. It’s by sight, use the tip of the line (or leader if high sticking) where it enters the water, in place of an indicator.  And free your flies from unnecessary drag and spooking of the fish below.

3 Replies to “Casting and Nymph Fishing Unencumbered by an Indicator”

  1. I find your reasoning compelling and I’m going to give this approach an honest trial.

    To make sure that I understand, you don’t fetishize keeping the end of the fly line afoat, but let it drift under the surface of the water if the flies/weight/leader pull it under a bit. And, at other times, you fish with just the leader in the water. Am I right?

    I’ve seen a video of Rim fishing (it’s no longer available on the web) and he appears to keep a fairly tight line by letting it arc from the tip of the fly rod to the water. That’s the way I fish too, except with an indicator. So, now I will try losing the indicator.

    Thanks for the inspiration to try something new.

  2. “Kite called it a state of ‘informed anticipation.'”

    I prefer to regard nymphing more as a matter of ‘focused attention’. To me, nymphing is more sensual than intellectual.

    My attention is focused, first, on obtaining a beautiful natural drift and, second, on detecting the strike. Provided a nymph fisherman can get beautiful natural drifts, he will get endless numbers of strikes. Trout will take his nymph on pass after pass. In fact, the very same fish will take the same fly again and again because a beautiful natural drift makes the artificial nymph look so real and tasty.

    The more difficult obstacle, therefore, to actually catching trout with nymphs is to identify all those recurring strikes. The vast majority of strikes go unnoticed because, drift after drift, they are far too subtle to impress nymphers of their presence. Yet every strike sends a signal. The real issue is to recognize how many signals are there.

    I like to compare the difference between a trout’s ordinary strike (streamer or Mepps spinner), in which a trout slams the fly or lure, and the ever so diminutive, delicate sucking action as the trout tastes the nymph to verify that it’s edible.

    The would-be nymph fisherman must radically adjust his expectation of what the signal of a nymph strike will be like.

    My best analogy is to imagine that you hold out your hands. To simulate the relative jolting impact of a streamer strike, I drop a 16-lb bowling ball into one hand. To illustrate the drastically reduced impact caused by a nymph strike, I drop a single goose-down feather into your other hand.

    It is possible to feel the feather, but not when you bring bowling-ball conditioning to nymphing.

    The would-be nymph fisherman must decrease his expectations by multiple orders of magnitude. With a sufficiently reduced expectation, the signal a trout imparts to the nymph and leader and possible strike indicator will become dramatically evident! The error is to look for the wrong kind of signal, gross in its evidence. Don’t expect the kind of strike signal you are used to in other forms of fly fishing. A nymph strike is NOT just a modest streamer strike! It’s qualitatively different. It’s entirely different! It’s every so tiny by comparison.

    If you are trying to detect bowling balls to catch trout on a nymph when the trout are sending you down feathers, you’ll miss their delightful game of tag. But attune yourself to expect and detect down feathers and you will recognize dozens and dozens of strikes everyone else misses.

    1. Great comment, which is dead right; however, we don’t often expect any feel the take (however slight it can be, which we certainly are in tune with as well) with this method of light line nymphing, especially with small flies. However slight the feel of the line may be, the visual aspect of the take is what can be detected first, often only subsurface. Obviously there is also the visual side of strike detection, which is equally as subtle as what you describe here for the visual aspects. Thank you for the post.

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