July 2006

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I headed over to visit family in Glasgow this last weekend. Got there around half eight Friday evening and bolted straight out the door again, brother in tow, to get some fishing done. Still plenty light around at this time of year, though some dark clouds threatened us.

Actually it was the sort of evening I love. Moody with changing light, all very atmospheric. A nice rainbow (the kind we like on this river..!) promised us the fishing would be good.

Started down at a stretch I rather like after having something of a red-letter trip there last season. As ever the river provided us with some rising fish. On with the wee deer hair sedges and not long before the brother landed a pretty trutta.

Fish were in a strange mood this evening. Sometimes they splashed aggressively at the odd sedge, sometimes they barely broke the surface sipping something I couldn’t see. Needless to say I opted for the sedgey approach. Again I felt out of practice with wayward casts and general frustration. I also did my best to fall in for about the 5th time this season but somehow avoided doing so.

Fished late on and of course the fish were still moving a bit. At this time of year on this stretch you can get really close to the fish because the banks are high, provided it’s quite dark. Makes for exciting fishing with fish barely a rod tip away.

Had a couple fish to hand and a few more lost, so an enjoyable evening all round. Weather wasn’t really kind in fishing terms with the cool breeze. Given a balmy evening this stretch can be amazing with the fish nailing anything that looks like a sedge. I reckon I’ll try the old cork-fly later on this season.

Saterday was rather an off day weather wise, so we headed out on Sunday afternoon. Our fave wee tributary burns were out of action along with the main river so we went towards the source. Things didn’t look too promising when we got there with the river rather slow, brown and generally canal like. Hardly a lovely tumbling stream like some other stretches we know. After a good bit of laughter at our chances of catching we actually found a few fish starting to feed on a sparse hatch of small olives coming off around 4pm.

How expert does this fellow look?!

Brother fished a wee dirty duster (of my tying as usual) whilst I opted for a size 18 sedge-related offering. Very interesting actually watching the differences in the takes between these two flies. I’m pretty sure the fish were mostly taking the ascending olive nymphs just before emergence, and the dirty duster got takes almost the same as the normal rises. My sedge however received what I can only describe as ‘trout abuse’. I wonder if there’s such a thing as trout therepy because the aggression they showed was out of order.

Found this huge patch of nettles next to the river, just asking for an angler to take a stumble into them. This has happened to me a couple times before and caused mild stress…

On the way back I asked the some local cows if there were any hot flies for this stretch but they just grunted and kept on chewing. I’ve yet to meet a really good fly fishing cow, but you’d have thought that even the average ones had a favourite fly.

Now for part two of a few noodles on nymph fishing. I spent some more time reading Ollie Kite’s book and reckon I’m closer to crystalizing my thoughts a bit. The last post on this basically consisted of reasons why indicator fishing is dodgy. There are some genuine reasons that are pointed out in that web article I linked to, chief of which is that you actually miss quite a lot of takes because you’re so focused on only one bit of the line. To be a good nymph fisher I reckon one of the most important things is to be able to look everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The sign of the take could be so many things it seems a shame to limit yourself to robotic oogling of a float.
So, what makes proper nymph fishing different, and how is it done really well?

It’s a nymph party and you’re all invited..!

The absolute key to this is what Ollie describes as “informed anticipation”. If you cannot see the fish you are fishing to, as is almost always the case where I fish in the riffles of spate rivers, you must do the next best thing and that is to imagine the fish. Again this may sound pretentious/stupid or whatever, but having done this a bit I can honestly say it is absolutely central to becoming good at this. He puts it much better than I could:

“Try to anticipate the movement for striking by picturing in your mind not only what is going on beneath the water, whether you can see it or not, but by what you intend to cause to happen beneath the water.”

A really simple way of putting this into practice is suggested in that article where the author describes how he teaches people nymphing:

‘When I’m teaching short-line nymphing, I often tell the students, “Find a reason to set the hook sometime during this drift.” This helps them to intensify their concentration and to expect a strike instead of being surprised by a strike.’

Angry stonefly nymphs face each other off!

What I like so much about this way of fishing is that you are truly hunting the fish. Generally you don’t get away with the kind of lucky hookups that can come with swinging/winging wet flies, or even prospecting with dry flies. These are obviously great methods in their own right, but there’s just no way they require the same levels of skill and anticipation that come with good nymph fishing.

When you are really fishing a nymph properly I’ve never found anything else that so completely absorbs your concentration and tunes your senses. If you then actually catch a fish it’s a thrilling mix of “strewth I actually hooked one” and “how the hell did that happen” and “hmm I think I’m becomming a bit Buddhist”. A good couple of hours of fishing like this and I need a drink..!
I should point out that I realise it’s probably not kosher for a Buddhist to fish (afterlives etc etc), but hopefully it makes my point. Actually I bet a Tibetan monk could make a flipping brilliant nymph fisherman.

Even crappy nymphs like these work well. The Kitester would have been proud of that one on the top right 😉

So what all of this is trying to say is that good nymphing comes from serious concentration, anticipation and quick reactions. Shedloads of practice helps as well.

“Maybe I should have fished a nymph…”

Since this is really a kind of personal fishing diary I intend to ocasionally use it to voice any fishy thoughts I happen to be mulling over. That’s what this post is going to be like, so sorry if this is boring.

I had a really good chat with a pal of mine a few weeks ago. We talked nymphing. Of the dead drifted upstream shabang. Truth be told I quite often talk about this with the guy because he’s kind of a guru I reckon and I need to learn. I’ve been spending a bit of time this year practising this dark art and I feel I’ve just about done enough of it to have some ‘proper’ thoughts. This doesn’t mean I’m any good, actually it means I know I’m not. It’s just a case of trying to learn by listening closely to oneself’s own bullshit.

There are nymphs in there!

It’s a funny old business nymphing upstream you know. Unquestionably the most difficult of all river fly fishing skills, you basically just fish a dry fly with your eyes closed. Ok so that’s slightly exagerating the point, but not by much. What makes it truly testing and what is at the heart of the matter is that stuff also happens in 3D.

This guy is 3D, and he lives in 3D

Why is this important? Because to my mind almost everyone who fishes a nymph tries to find ways to avoid this fact, and to make life 2D. If you fish a great big indicator, it is a hell of a lot easier to start catching a few fish on the nymph. However, there is no way that you are becomming a really good nymph fisher this way. There’s essentially not much difference between this and fishing a dry: in fact that’s what it is, a way for dry fly people to fish a nymph without learn how to properly.

Look, no indicators!!

Does this matter? Not at all. Fish as one wills, the fish dinnae care. But to me, there just seems something a little cheap and half arsed about skipping out on properly learning this obviously fascinating branch of fly fishing. And by properly I mean to *know* the take without a globug on your leader. This is the great bit, the bit that makes me excited and mad in one go. Ollie Kite was aparently amazing at this, and reading his book has been really good fun and just a bit inspiring. How is it possible? Well another good place to start is here, followed by a good while on a river. Why am I obsessed by this stuff? I reckon it’s because to be good at this kind of fishing takes a serious pinch of zen. I’m not really there yet, but I’ve tasted the jam and it’s good. Rasberry…mmm.. There’s just something amazing about fishing up through a nice riffle and suddenly there’s a nice trout on your line and you don’t know quite how it got attactched. But you do really. You’ve reached the zen plain.

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