Exploring Around the Next Bend

This section is meant to encourage those who are searching for better methods to fool their favorite prey. It may be on flies, presentation, obtaining impossible drifts, casting methods, or rigging lines and leaders for special uses. As we come across articles and stories of special interest we will present them here. If you have a 'special' method which works for you, please feel free to send it to the publisher@flyanglersonline.com

October 30th, 2006

Czech Nymph Fishing
By Philip Bailey, UK

In 1990 the Polish and Czech fly fishers cleaned up at the World Fly Fishing Championship when the competition was held in Wales. They won both Gold and Silver in the team events and all were highly rated in the individual places.

When the event was run in the Czech Republic in 1996, these two teams were again highly placed. So what was it they were doing differently?

I first started reading about Czech nymphing when Oliver Edwards commenced a series of articles in the British Fly Tying and Fly Fishing magazine. Oliver is one of the best known fly tiers in the UK and represented England in the 1996 championships. I have kept up with his writings on this subject and have enthusiastically delved into his publications and DVD's. A lot of articles are now being published by other fishing writers who put themselves at the forefront of this technique. Not so, Oliver is without doubt the leader of this new tactic in the United Kingdom with a vast knowledge of the subject having fished with the Polish and Czech experts.

As I am now residing in the United Kingdom I wanted to get an even better understanding and embellish my trout fishing techniques as, like a lot of Australians, I spend a good deal of time fishing still waters in New South Wales and Tasmania.

I am fortunate to be living close to the Wharfe River in Yorkshire in England and have an annual license to fish five miles of the river at Bolton Abbey.

Bolton Abbey was destroyed by Henry viii in his attempt to impose the newly formed Church of England on all the Abbeys across England and extract the vast wealth that they had accumulated over centuries. The river is a typical freestone river not too dissimilar to the Goulburn River in Victoria. At one spot the river enters a short gorge and in this area it is very reminiscent of the upper Kiewa River in that same state.

What about the patterns? Given that most of what trout eat (and grayling in the northern hemisphere) are subsurface, then it goes without saying that I needed to make sure that I had the correct patterns. Oliver Edwards would advocate that you undertake a small insect survey to find out what food type was in the area that you were about to fish. I have to agree.

The methods used for this type of fishing means that the fish will get a very close look at what you are offering to them. No general patterns here. You will catch fish but not as many if you are fussier with your designs. Try it. If you take a small seine net and kick up gravel into it you will get a good idea of what is on the diet of trout in that area. I actually use a piece of mosquito netting sewn into a 'bag' which I simply slide over my net. Easy to use and it doesn't take up too much room in my vest.

When I did it, I got lots of samples of Caddis grubs, mayfly nymphs, damsel nymphs and small crustaceans, the caddis grub being the most prominent followed closely by mayflies.

I have long believed that Caddis is the staple diet of trout in our Australian streams.

When I was instructing people on fly fishing a few years ago I classed trout food into five classes so that the students could quickly understand the food chain and group them into fly patterns. They are: 'the shredders' - those that chew up things that are either growing in or fall into the water; 'the catchers' - those that catch the by-product of the 'shredders'; the 'scrapers' - those that keep the water clean by feeding on algae's; 'the terrestrials' - those that fall into the water and 'the predators' - those that prey on everything else including their own species.

I found 'shredders', 'scrapers' and 'catchers' everywhere. This made it easy for me to begin the development of patterns.

Rivers and streams are funny places. Some times you get to the bank and you would swear that the water was barren of fish and food. Other times the opposite. My observation is this, if you count all the items of food that you found during your survey, then multiply it by the stream bed area in front of you and then extend that to the whole stream you soon get a good idea of just how much food is available to the fish without even coming to the top to feed. I surmise you only get to see 15-20% of the fish even on the best of days.

Given that current speed is much slower at the bottom of streams and that river fish won't over exercise themselves too much to feed, then it is logical that the majority of fish will hold where the current is less. So where do you need to fish? On the bottom!

I am sure we have all read that nymphs and larva are dislodged or loose their adherence to the rocks, stones, gravel and debris that lies on the bottom of rivers and streams. It is this knowledge that the Polish and Czech fly fishers have capitalised upon. The first part of the equation is what flies to use?

Czech nymphing as it is known (the Polish seem to have converged into this term) requires flies that are heavy and a fairly accurate match to the type of insect that is being imitated. Even Frank Sawyer knew this as his flies matched the need to get down to the fish and represent the insects in his beloved Avon River. So it is not new.

Lead is added to the flies as an under body and a good deal of it, ('tho it is not legal everywhere). I fish with two patterns here in the UK and I am certain the same patterns would work just as well at home and even in the rivers on the south island of New Zealand. I have flies, in various sizes and colour that match the various caddis and mayflies species. The 'shredders, 'scrapers' and 'predators' of these two species. The caddis 'grub' is tied on 'Czech' nymph hooks (which I get direct from the supplier, chemically sharpened and hand made) but a 'grub' hook can work just as well. The mayflies are tied on either a 2x or 3x long shank hook. All in sizes 10 to 16. Notice how closely they can match the natural.

Mayfly - Species 'Hydropsyche' (a 'scraper')

Czech nymph (Caddis) - Species Tricoptera (a 'catcher')

By the way, in the UK there is a huge push for barbless hooks. In the Wharfe there is a 100 (A$250) fine for any hook that has a barb and the largest hook size is restricted to a 12. I have to say that this has not affected my catch rate nor have I lost any fish because of it. I believe all fly fishermen should become a vocal advocate of barbless hooks as it is very easy to release fish. Normal barbed hooks can be made barbless by simply squeezing down the barb using pliers. A small 'pimple' remains, which might just appease those disbelievers in barbless hooks and encourage them to make the change.

While fishing is more expensive in the UK the management is far superior to anything we have in Australia and the fishing is equal to anything that we might have. Each part of a river is managed by a river keeper (read ranger) and rules are managed strictly to the book. Some food for thought!

The patterns for these flies can appear difficult but with a little practice they become easier.

Mayfly nymph

The pattern I use is a 'hybrid' of the pattern developed by Oliver Edwards.

    Hook: Size 16 - 10 x2 long shank. (This could be made smaller by using a standard long shank hook).

    Thread: Light olive or yellow 8/0 very strong.

    Under-body: Flat lead. I use a sheet lead with an adhesive back. This can be purchased from a golf shop. Commence from the rear of the hook and take it forward in close wraps, double back and trim off before the place where you commenced. Then add a third layer at the thorax area. Take a pair of pliers and compress it flat. You should have a thin wedge shaped under body.

    Back (Head): This is two parts. The first is to tie in a piece of dark brown raffia at the front of the hook. I generally split the raffia into two and use one portion which I wet with saliva before tying it in. Now take a piece of monofilament (15kg) and tie a short piece at across the shank, in front of the lead, at right angle to the shank. Cut the length to about 2 millimetres each side of the shank. Pull both the raffia and tying thread out of the way and heat the ends with a lighter to produce a ball at each end. A bit like an eye.

    Tail: 3 moose main hairs died olive. Take the tying silk over the lead down to the tail position and tie in the moose mane hairs. Splay them by wrapping through them so that they are fixed with one in the centre and another each side. I use super glue to keep them there as an added precaution. This is a critical trigger in this fly so take care to get it right.

    Back (tail): Clear nymph latex materials. You can use surgical gloves for this but it needs to be a strip about 2 millimetres wide. Tie it in at the base just above the tails.

    Rib: Clear monofilament. I use 1.5kg tippet material.

    Body: Yellow/olive mix dubbing material. I use a mix that has Antron in it and is more yellow than olive. Dub this tightly onto the hook up to the thorax area. This colour is another critical trigger as the bottom of most nymphs in streams is much lighter than the top. Your stream survey should inform on what colours you need to achieve. Now pull the latex forward and loop the tying thread loosely over it a couple of times. This will allow the latex to move forward as you rib it. Bring the monofilament forward in turns and pull them hard into the latex to create segments. Tie off the latex and monofilament and clip the excess.

    Thorax: Yellow/olive dubbing material. This is the same as the body and is dubbed on to the thorax making sure that it covers both the area in front of the 'eyes' and the 'eye' materials. I try and cover all of the monofilament including the ends. Try and end with the tying thread at the point where the body ends.

    Legs: Olive partridge breast feather. This can be tricky. I pull the fibres backwards leaving a small tip which I tie in on top of the thorax. Take some head cement and dab it along the top of the thorax and then bring the feather forward to a point immediately behind the eyes. Take the tying thread along the thorax and tie of the feather. Clip off the excess. You should have fibres sticking out at right angle from the hook. Take the thread back to the point between the thorax and body, bring the raffia back and tie off. Trim off the excess raffia and trim the legs to about half the fibre length. These legs are another critical trigger.

    Colour: Permanent brown/olive marker (Pantone marker pen). This finishes off the fly. Colour the back all the way down to the tail making sure that the ribbing is highlighted.

Don't forget to make it barbless.

Czech nymph (Caddis)

    Hook: Size 16 to 10 grub hook I don't expect anyone to have the Czech hooks although Partridge and Mustad do produce them.

    Thread: Yellow 8/0 (very strong).

    Underbody: Flat lead. I use the same method as for a mayfly only I place the thorax in the middle and increase the turns. Don't flatten it as you want it round.

    Back: Clear latex nymph materials. Use the same material and size as for the mayfly. Take the tying thread all the way along the hook and a good way around the bend. Tie in the latex.

    Rib: Clear monofilament the same as used for the mayfly. Tie it in at the same point as the latex.

    Body: Pale yellow dubbing materials. Again, your stream survey should indicate the right colours. I use a variety from olive through to yellow. Dub the materials right up to thorax area.

    Thorax: Hares ear (natural).Dub the material onto the thorax making sure that lots of guard hairs are sticking out, this is a critical trigger in this fly. Bring the latex forward to the eye and tie off loosely to allow the latex to flex. Rib the body and thorax right up to the eye making sure that each loop is tight to accentuate the segments. Tie off and remove the excess materials.

    Colour Permanent marker: (Pantone marking pen) I use a colour that matches the insect colour. This can range from olive through to dark brown. I use dark brown on the head irrespective of the colour used.

Don't forget to make it barbless.

Now that I had a good idea of the patterns required I really needed to study the techniques, or more importantly how the flies were rigged. Yes, 'flies'. In Czech nymphing three flies are normally used. Sometimes this is reduced to two but always multiple flies are used. This is because the 'rig' is so important to getting the flies to the correct depth. The two patterns given here are not the only ones I use but they definitely are the most important patterns.

For this technique you need to use a leader with two droppers about 50 centimetres apart (or 18 inches for us old guys). Each dropper should be less than 12 centimetres or 6 inches. I use a simple 4 turn water knot for these as it allows each hook to be pulled against the monofilament immediately above the knot. You don't have to worry about casting problems with this technique as I will explain later. Three flies are attached to the droppers with the heaviest fly on the middle dropper.

This rig allows the flies to sink very rapidly with the middle dropper below the other two flies. It also allows for the lighter flies to be slightly higher that the middle dropper thus ensuring they are in the feeding slot immediately above the bottom.

Rigging Diagram

To make this outfit I use a single piece 9 foot tapered leader down to 4lb and I remove a third of it. I then attached the two additions. One at 6lb and the other at 4lb. This rig works well for me and it is important that the leader is not longer than the rod that you are using. I use nothing less than 9 feet and the Polish fly fishers use anything up to 10 feet.

Degrease the leader before you use it. You want the rig to sink as quickly as possible.

While Czech nymphing requires specific flies and leader set up it really is your ability to read a river and be brave enough to put yourself in situations where you might get wet. The Polish and Czech fly fishers wade right out into the water, some of it very fast and strong. So you have to be brave (or foolish). I use chest waders, strong wading boots and at times have had the water come right over the top. I have even tip-toed down the stream as the strong current unsettled my balance. And I caught fish doing it. So get out into the middle.

All fishing is done upstream, never to the side or down stream. The trick is to get the flies to the bottom as quickly as possible and let them 'free fall' along the bottom. Just like an insect that has been dislodged.

You will only need about 50 centimetres of fly line out the end of the rod. This is a lesson in constraint as most fly fishers want to cast the whole line. "Far off" is definitely not the way to go here. Control yourself and cast the flies immediately upstream or slightly off to the side where you think fish maybe holding. Keep the rod tip up and watch the leader like a hawk. I don't need strike indicators as I am only 2-3 metres away from the point where the leader enters the water. You could use fluorescent line if it helps.

At the slightest pause - lift. I cannot emphasise this enough. You will see a slight straightening of the leader and it is at that moment that you lift. You won't always have a fish on as the middle fly 'ticks' itself along the bottom and can catch up a little. Make sure you check the flies now and again to remove any rubbish.

When the flies have come level with you, lift and recast. This is really rapid fire stuff. Cover the water quickly and make sure that your flies cover all possible lies. You don't need to thrash the air. One false cast and back into it.

You will be surprised how many fish you catch right at your feet. As long as you move deliberately and don't crunch the bottom too much.

Does it work? Well the first time I did it I was really learning. For the better part of the day I struggled to get out in the deep water, let alone keep my balance and restrain myself from letting out line.

In fact you basically only use one arm. The other could be used on a stick you felt uncomfortable wading in deep and fast water. But once I gained confidence I began to hook onto fish.

Now an average day for me would be 20 -30 fish. The best I have had was in excess of 50 fish and that was in the 'Strid' on the Wharfe. The bit that is similar to the Kiewa.

I must admit I love this new adventure. I am tying flies that challenge the representation element of fly tying. I just love the challenge of getting into the water and using this deadly technique. Yes I still fish dries but I keep that for the special occasion when the insects are hatching and the fish are up on top.

I can't wait to get back on those Australian streams that I had long ago discarded in deference to lakes.

Drop me a line on philipbailey@ozemail.com.au if you want to know more. ~ PB

About Philip Bailey:

Philip has a managerial and consulting background in Financial Services for over 35 years and works globally with companies to improve their performance.

Philip spent a short period outside of the Financial Services Industry as owner of a small fishing tackle shop and Professional Fishing Guide leading clients on wilderness excursions in Tasmania. During that period Philip acted as a lobbyist on behalf of Recreational Angling and was a key member of the task force which established the Peak Angling body for the Australian State of Victoria. Philip served as an inaugural board member on the body which represented nearly a million recreational fishermen. During this period, effective lobbying removed the devastating effect of Scallop dredging in bays and inlets around that state. Founder and inaugural chairman of the high profile lobby group, The Australian Trout Foundation, Philip was one of a small band who were responsible for the return of a closed season and bag limits for the Victorian Trout Fishery.

Philip was also a key member of the advisory group to the Minister responsible for Fishing in the Australian state of Victoria for the establishment of a Peak Angling body representing 1 million recreational anglers and was an inaugural board member representing 300 thousand trout anglers.

Born in Mildura on the Murray River, Philip began fishing at the age of three and moved into fly fishing nearly 30 years ago. An accomplished fly fisherman Philip has also been President of the Victorian Fly Fishers Association, President of the Council of Victorian Fly Fishing Clubs, a recipient of the Councils award for recreational fishing and the Norm trophy from Greenwells Fly Fishers.

Currently he is working in the United Kingdom as a Management Consultant in the Financial Services industry.

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