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Fly Fishing with Nymphs

The best alternative when the trout aren't rising

I had the pleasure of meeting and fishing with fly fishing legend, Joe Humphreys, shortly after I began fly fishing and the time I spent with him took my fly fishing to a new level.

It was a beautiful Spring day in April. We had been invited to fish the pristine waters of Spruce Creek. After the introductions, we sat down to a very entertaining lunch where we heard fishing story after fishing story from Joe, George Harvey and good friend Doc Hartnett, our host. Then we headed down to the stream.

There were varying reports of Mayfly hatches that day so I began testing some theories I had overheard at the local fly shop before arriving at Doc's. For nearly 30 minutes, I tied on dry fly after dry fly in a hopeless attempt to fool my adversary. I had a few lookers but no takers. Meanwhile, downstream I witnessed Joe pulling out trout after trout by fishing what looked to be under the surface of the water.

I finally swallowed my pride and walked downstream to where Joe was fishing. I waited until he landed what seemed to be his twentieth trout and I asked him the question, "So what do you do when the trout aren't rising?" He looked up at me with a huge grin and said, "I wondered how long it was going to take you to ask that." He knew that I was fairly new to fly fishing from some earlier conversations. His answer was quite simple, "Go to where the trout are".

You see, up until that day, I fished dry flies almost exclusively. It just seemed like the thing to do. Everyone I had ever talked to told of the thrill of watching a trout rise to a dry fly and how easy it was to set the hook since you could visually see the trout taking your fly. But it was on this day that I learned that I could catch trout whether they were rising or not.

Joe went on to explain this technique called nymphing of which I would learn later that he was the master. He spoke very fondly of his mentor, George Harvey, and how George spent hours on the stream with him and taught him how to nymph fish. I considered this a great honor to acquire this new knowledge from such fly fishing greats.

He spent the next 30 minutes going over the basics of nymphing. He told me that the four most important parts of nymphing are line control, matching the natural nymphs as closely as possible, getting the nymph to the bottom and the drift of the nymph. Two of the best ways to get the nymph to the bottom quickly were the tuck cast and adding weight to the line.

I was very excited when he told me he was about to teach me a new cast. This new casting method, the tuck cast, is a cast that is crucial to nymphing and allows your nymph to get to the bottom as quickly as possible.

Here is the tuck cast in a nutshell the way I understood it and learned it. Position your thumb on the top of the rod. When executing the forward cast, you're thumb and knuckles must end up pointing toward your target. Keep your wrist straight in line with the thumb and bring the cast directly overhead. On the back cast, allow the line to straighten out and then begin your forward cast. The forward cast is a very short but very quick and powerful stroke that stops abruptly at the 10:30 position. This abrupt stop causes the weighted fly to bend under the line and make a powerful, vertical entry into the water. If you do it right, your fly will hit the water first and drive deep before the line lands on the water and creates drag.

Once your fly lands, you must then control the line to keep all slack at bay. Slack is the enemy of nymphing. Since you usually cannot see the nymph, the trout can pick up your fly and spit it back out again before you even realize what happened. The goal is to keep as much of the fly line off of the water as possible. To do this, you must keep the rod tip high and use a steady retrieve in conjunction with a slow elevation of the rod up to the 12:00 position. You want to keep the line as taught as possible while still allowing the nymph to drift naturally. Keeping the line taught allows you to stay in touch with the fly throughout the drift.

In positioning yourself for your cast, you want to stand downstream of the pool or pocket water you're targeting and cast to the head of the pool and allow your fly to drift back to you. This allows you to work the entire pool rather than targeting just the tail of the pool.

Joe then reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of varying sizes of split shot and hand selected two small ones for me. Next, he asked to see my fly box and selected a salmon colored #12 Glo Bug. He explained that there were some decent sized rainbows in a pool just up from us and he wanted me to try my luck. I soon learned that is wasn't luck as he had set me up with exactly what I needed. My first few attempts at this new tuck cast were somewhat embarrasing. I looked back to catch Joe's reaction, expecting to see him rolling on the ground behind me in laughter but he was still staring intently into the water and coaching my next attempt. It paid off. I finally hit the target and was rewarded by hooking and eventually landing a 23" rainbow. Within the next hour I had landed 8 trout, including my largest trout ever (not including steelhead), a beautiful 27" rainbow.

What a day this had turned out to be. I learned a new method of fly fishing that would significantly increase my chances of catching trout even when they weren't feeding on the surface. I learned a new cast. I caught the largest trout of my life and I met two of the biggest names in fly fishing in the Eastern United States. And if that wasn't enough, I did all of this on arguably the most beautiful stretch of stream in the world. Yes, this was certainly a good day.

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