This Post was Originally Shared on Fulling Mill's Blog
Nymphing and its practitioners: fly fishing’s dark arts and outcasted children. Iconoclasts, breakers of tradition, new radicals, new ideas, old truths. Presentation over everything. Drift. Anti fly fishing establishment. Nymphers have had a long and storied history in the fly fishing world. Challenging the fly fishing status quo can be traced to GEM Skues. Skues pioneered controversial subsurface techniques on the River Itchen and went head to head with FM Halford, the archetypal dry fly purist. Nymphing has pushed the boundaries and fishing theory since its inception and the contemporary era is no different. With European nymphing dominating the current fly fishing conversation, it seems the more things change, the more things stay the same.
What is a fly? What is fly fishing? A Blaise metaphysical, spiritual soliloquy on the transformative and zen-like nature of the fly cast. Is tweed still a thing in 2019? So many questions, ethics, and traditions dictating the best practice to stick a piece of metal through the lip of an animal with a pea-sized brain.
I like fly fishing. I also like catching fish, and so do my clients. This is why I and most guides in the Rockies turn to nymphing rigs – our livelihood literally depends on it. Over the past few seasons, I’ve especially turned to European nymphing techniques to guide clients. Why? Because it’s a refreshing return to science.
Early pioneers of nymphing pointed to the fact that trout spend the majority of their time feeding subsurface. Modern nymphers point to tippet diameter, bead mass, current speed and dialing in the perfect drift. Without being tethered to surface currents, we can now program our leaders to sink and drift exactly how we want them to with various combinations of tippet and fly, giving us the best presentation to entice our pea-brained piscatorial pals.
5.5x and 6x make up the bulk of my tippet use. I always try to use the thinnest tippet I can get away with to get the optimum drift. In really rocky rivers I’ll turn to 5x. The most important decision to make when rigging is your weight, especially your bead size. I often get asked what I’m looking for when digging through a fly box. The first thing I’m looking at is the size of the tungsten bead so I can get the perfect drift. Generally the more complex the current and the deeper the run, the heavier (bigger bead) I will use. Secondary things to consider are the size of the fly, UV elements, etc.
With the adoption of the jig hook and slotted tungsten beads, we can now oversize beads like never before. Many of us will fish #16 flies with 3.8mm beads. Thus getting the weight of a size #8 fly in the body of a #16. Pretty cool. Sometimes the adjustment of going up or down a bead size is the difference between fish and no fish. The ability to dictate where your flies come to depth in the water column is paramount in nymphing success. To get a rough idea of how bead size translates into grain weight, I’ve added a chart below. These measurements come from a lot of free time and my buddy’s gun powder scale, so don’t take these as exact measurements.
Slotted Tungsten Bead Size to Grain Weight Approx 2mm approx 1.1 gr 2.4mm approx 2 gr 2.8mm approx 3.2 gr 3.2mm approx 4.5 gr 3.8mm approx 7.0 gr
If you don’t tie, the ability to select a pattern with an oversized bead to dial in the perfect drift is right around the corner. Remember GEM Skues from above, the nymphing pioneer from the banks of the River Itchen? Well, Fulling Mill can also trace its history to the banks of the River Itchen and will be pioneering the ability to choose your bead size starting in 2020 via the Tactical Anchor Collection! This huge advancement in nymphing is a big step in the fly fishing market. With 2020 right around the corner, this offering will surely be worth the weight (pun intended)… Anchor Collection preview below…
If you'd like a specialty box put together please check out my friends at Los Pinos fly shop here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They will be able to build you an awesome box organized by bead size if you give them a call.