Fourteen years have passed since I have first seen the technique of active nymph fishing with a range of floating or sinking lines.
Fourteen years have passed since the time when some of our colleagues at the fly fishing World Championships in Norway first showed us the technique of active nymph fishing with a range of floating or sinking lines. The English, Italian and some of the Scandinavians in the event demonstrated that ”nymphing” doesn’t necessarily mean just the short-line Czech nymph technique of variable leaders and three heavy nymphs.
The large and swollen Lagen River offered a host of grayling and brown trout hidden in the blue-grey current, but how to get to them in the unfamiliar and non-wadable depths? An effective alternative proved to be the casting long and variable speed retrieving of shiny heavy nymphs – imitating mayfly larvae. Tantalized by these nymphs, even sluggish fish could be occasionally stirred to strike, and our thus-far empty scoring cards started to be filled with catches and measurements.
After returning home, I gradually began to practice this active nymph fishing method, and now after some years, I feel able to give my account of the lessons learned. This technique, where different types of weighted nymphs are quickly stripped back, can be very effective when fish are languid because of colder or cloudy water, or where a popular spot is overfished. In general, I active nymph for trout, grayling and perch during the colder periods of the year, and for white fish (chub, dace) in summer, when the river is warmest. I mostly fish while wading the stream, trying to accurately cast far to the banks, or sideways along cascades and obstacles in the stream. I always attempt to vary the speed of retrieval to specific conditions - if the fish fail to rise to the lures, I generally strip the flies back quicker.
Flies that have proven suitable for active nymphing cover a broad range of the Gold Head types, attached to either straight or bent jig hooks, and with different colored beads (silver, copper, and black). Also extremely useful are what are termed micronymphs - lures equipped with lead drops of different colors pre-cast onto the hook's shank. I prefer gold colored drops and the Jungle Cock variant. Size is important - I start with smaller flies tied to #18 - #14 sized hooks. These are not only easier to handle and cast with greater accuracy, but fewer fish get off the hook. Larger fly and midge patterns will result in at least as many strikes, but the larger hooks mean that as many as half the fish will shake the hook while being played. This fact is likely due to the speed of the take, since a smaller hook will be taken more easily and be better embedded.
I use typically two or three flies tied to the leader, and prefer thinner fluorocarbon leaders with diameters from 0.10 to 0.15 millimeters. The takes are usually vigorous and occasionally very fast - which is why I don’t try to save money on lines and buy only top quality products, like the Fluorocarbon Fluo Stealth by Tiemco, Japan. Even smaller diameter lines of this make are very strong and resist forceful takes. In large rivers and swollen streams I use larger diameter leaders - up to 0.21 mm. The overall length of the leader plus droppers as well as the type of fly line will once again depend on the size of the river, the thickness of bank vegetation and water level. For autumn fishing in smaller and narrower streams, I tie a leader set-up as long as 6 m to a floating type of translucent Monic line. In higher or cloudy waters, where the fish are not easily spooked, I use a shorter set-up of about 3 meters long, connected to common floating or intermediate fly line. I usually space the flies from 60 to 120 cm apart, with shorter distances in higher water. Please, never forget to flatten the barbs - we fish in the 21st century.
And my final piece of advice? To avoid breaking off flies during takes, you will have to and fully concentrate on fishing and develop a knack for the technique. And lastly, you must be reconciled to the fact that even active nymphing does not guarantee a catch – that’s the way it is with fly fishing, and always will be...
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