South Platte

December 4th, 2006

Tributary Four
The Secret of the Depths, Part 2
By Carl Pudlo, Colorado

One April morning in 1998, I decided it was time to fish the nymph to the exclusion of all else, until I mastered the difficult techniques. I drove to 'the Confluence.' After the nerve-wrecking drive, I performed the customary drill of getting the waders on, and stringing the fly rod. I had fished 'the Confluence' several times before with streamers. I devoted this fishing trip strictly to nymph fishing. I have two favorite stretches of the stream that I like to fish. The first stretch I fished that day has a moderate flow of water whose depth easily surpasses wader tops. The moderate pool of water lies below a narrower section of rapids with large rocks on the far side of the stream and a black sand bottom on the near side. Since it was spring, the flow was not as heavy as in early summer. I waded through the muddy south bank to about mid-stream, then headed upstream as far as I could without taking on water. Since I stirred the water a bit, I stood there for a short time to allow the water to settle, all the time observing the many flows and eddies the water was following. I finally cast the nymph toward a spot forty-five degrees upstream from where I was standing. I mended and stripped the line regularly as the current quickly brought the nymph back to me. The nymph was a bead head, and I could feel it sink quickly as it hit the water with each cast. I had patterned my casts to fish all possible water as far as I could reach with a reasonable cast. After thoroughly fishing the far bank at all possible depths, I began to concentrate my casts on the middle part of the stream where the water appeared to be deepest. About the tenth cast into mid-stream, I felt a major tug. I did not need to watch the fly line for the atypical motions that signal a strike on the nymph. This fish made its presence known with a major attack on the nymph. After a short battle, I had in my hands a streamlined thirteen-inch brown trout. I had to admire the trout for a while before releasing it. This had been quite a success for me. I had caught and released a nice fish, but the pleasure I received from that fish stemmed from the fact I had caught it with a nymph!

After a short respite to enjoy the single catch, I moved downstream to my second favorite stretch of the stream. This stretch of the stream follows a wide, deep turn in the river and precedes a narrower, rock-infested decline. The section is famous for sweeping people off their feet, making it necessary to sidestroke through the deepest part of the stretch to the safety of the opposite shore. I fished the upper part of the hole around a boulder that sat on the opposite shore. I moved closer to the down-stream side of the hole, carefully noting the rocks and washes I would fish with particular attention to detail. As in the previous hole, I fished the far bank and proceeded in a methodical pattern to mid-stream. Again, as in the previous hole, the mid-stream fishing coaxed a strike from another thirteen-inch brown trout. This time I had to rely on carefully observing the floating fly line for any scant movement, movement unnatural to the current.

My abilities as a nymph fisherman have become better and better the more I use nymphs. In one section of the South Platte where I fished for an hour, I have fished only two holes pulling in over 15 trout using a nymph. The trick is patience and observation. I cast upstream as if I were fishing a dry fly and closely watch the fly line. I will set the hook with any unnatural movement of the fly line. There are many ways to fish a nymph than just casting upstream. The conditions of the river will define the method of fishing the nymph. Rarely have I been skunked in recent years while fishing a nymph. In fact, many times a fish will suck in and spit the nymph out without any indication in the fly line. Once while walking upstream on the South Platte, I noticed several fish swimming in a small, clear pool of water. I stayed far off the bank, behind a bush so as not to disturb the trout. I tossed in a nymph. The fish immediately noticed and went to investigate. Two or three fish looked closely and turned, one fish sipped the nymph into its mouth. There was absolutely no movement in the fly line to tell the fish sipped in the nymph. I set the hook and landed a thirteen-inch brown trout. For the many hours of nymph fishing I have put in, it is quite possible that I have had hundreds of strikes without even knowing there was a take.

One day in the life of fly-fishing can be a determining day for future fishing. This day happened to be a day that taught me lessons I try to keep ever-present on my mind as I fish the South Platte River. When I fish streamers, I pay less attention to the streamer as it rides the currents of the water. It is easy to ignore the streamer since the fish will more noticeably attack the imitation minnow. I have missed many fish due to daydreaming while fishing a streamer. Similarly, I have caught a number of fish while daydreaming and keeping my non-visual senses aware of the streamer. Quite the opposite is true with fishing a nymph. Because the strike on a nymph is so unnoticeable, and the fisherman must rely solely on the movement of the fly line or strike indicator, constant vigilance on the float of the fly line is mandatory. I often wonder how many fish have tasted and spit the nymph without any visible trace, or how many fish have left such an indiscriminate strike indication that I did not notice.

Observance and patience, those two rules have become a motto for me whenever I fish a nymph. Without patience and the ability to observe, nymph fishing is nothing more than casting practice. With practice and experience, nymph fishing is by far the most rewarding way to fish trout. The road to mastering nymph fishing is filled with potholes. My hope in writing this is to encourage slow learners, like myself, to persist in familiarizing yourself with multiple fly-fishing techniques. One last note to those nymph fishermen who use a strike indicator, develop some talent and learn to fish without the indicator. Real nymph fishermen, like real men who do not eat quiche, do not use strike indicators.

To be continued... ~ Carl Pudlo, Colorado

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