Although more of a primer, this post is a serious look at fishing nymphs in the winter. If you want a satirical, pessimistic look at the technique, head over here.
If dry fly fishing is like a pitcher that can gracefully curve or spin the ball, and fishing streamers is akin to someone who can regularly hurl upwards of 100 miles an hour, then nymphing is comparable to a starter who has excellent control. These pitchers might not have as much glitz and glamour about them as the guys who can throw heat or breaking balls, but they routinely get the job done with great consistency.
Nymphing is the Greg Maddux of fly fishing. And that is a good thing.
It is no secret that fishing nymphs can be intimidating, but every fly fisherman also knows that most trout caught are on subsurface patterns. Not being able to see or feel what is happening in the same way as a floating dry or a stripped streamer can make some uneasy, but avoiding the strategy completely really limits the angler.
The winter months, and the typical conditions a fly fisher must contend with during that time, can provide the circumstances necessary to nudge the reluctant nymph fisher into honing their skills. The most significant factor is the temperature change. The metabolism of a fish will slow down concurrently with reduced insect activity. While not a hard and fast rule, that means there will be fewer bugs hatching (dries) and less desire to chase them (streamers). Water levels, vegetation, and other environmental variables are, of course, at play as well.
Here are three benefits to exploring, or re-exploring, using nymphs this winter:
Fly Selection And just as is the case with streamers or dries, fly selection with nymphs is very important. In fact, matching the hatch underwater is just as integral as finding the right pattern during a period of heavy insect activity above the water. However, opportunistic fish in the wintertime that are not seeing as many bugs may very well hop on something with a little bit of flash. Bright red Copper Johns, buggy stoneflies with hot orange beads, and other odd-looking faux insects can do the trick. Where such patterns really excel is as part of a tandem rig. Pair the flashy fly with a hare’s ear or pheasant tail, and you are effectively fishing with an underwater attractor. And, assuming that the water is low, you might be able to see the brighter fly and use it as an underwater indicator.
Heavier Leader Depending on where you live, the runoff from melting snow and ice can create flows or murkiness that will allow you to get away with larger leader diameters. There are plenty of benefits to being able to use heaver tippet, but one that is particularly helpful for nymphing neophytes is the courage that a lower chance of breaking off will bring. If you aren’t bouncing off the bottom, hanging up now and again; you’re not going to catch a lot of fish. Whether it is right or wrong, the prospect of losing flies is enough to keep people away from certain types of fishing. Although it won’t eliminate breaking off completely, and you’ll still need to check knots and hook points often, having the confidence to fish in the right place goes a long way.
Learning Conversely, there are some opportunities available when the water isn’t high or off-color. Reduced vegetation allows you to do some things, including observation, that you can’t in the other three seasons. If your home waters do get weedy – as is the case in spring creeks or creeks with spring influences – there will be fewer things for your fly to get hung up on in the winter. You can see bottom contours that impact currents, and potentially even other underwater features that are otherwise obscured by vegetation. Not only do these revelations provide “new” opportunities in the winter, but they can change your approach year round.
Ultimately, there are people who love fishing nymphs and those that do it reluctantly. The conditions presented in the wintertime really force everyone to engage in this productive technique. It can be a great chance for those who are not as fond of fishing nymphs to become better at it, and appreciate all of the benefits of being a well-rounded fly fisherman.