Nymphing for Steelhead...why are folks against it?

Discussion in 'Steelhead' started by jroni, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. Sageman

    Sageman Member

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    I use every flyfishing method you can think of to catch steelhead, and some methods that probably don't have names. My preference is dry flies, but I do spend the majority of my time nymphing. Not only is it more productive, but it is also more interactive with the river and requires a higher ability to read water if you do it right.

    I think most of us have had this discussion at some time or another with other flyfishermen. I think that when most people think of traditional steelhead flyfishing, they think of swinging and so I think this is where some people feel it is the "purist" method of catching a steelhead. It is also damn cool to have a steelhead slam a fly on the swing and try and take the rod out of your hand....

    It has always seemed to me that if you really look at it objectively, nymphing is a more pure form of flyfishing than swinging. When you are swinging, you are using streamers that don't really imitate anything natural and trying to induce a strike by pissing them off. With nymphing you are at least generally trying to imitate something natural and present it in a natural manner. Steelhead clearly respond to flashy, audacious flies, so the flies don't always end up representing natural bugs all the time, but we do use a lot of stoneflies, caddis, shrimp, and egg patterns.

    I also don't for a second buy the argument that it is just gear fishing with a fly rod, or that it is the easiest method. Gear fishermen use monofilament line and heavily weighted jigs, often with additional weight attached somewhere on the line. They can just cast it out there and generally do not have to worry much about line management.

    Having used every method and taught others each method, nymphing is by far the hardest one to teach somebody to do properly.

    Setup: With swinging, the setup is easy. Tie a fly on the end of your line, either with a longer leader for greaselining or a shorter one with a sink tip. With nymphing, just getting set up with your indicator at the proper depth for the water, getting the proper amount of weight to get it down but not drag down the indicator, etc. is difficult to get the hang of.

    Line management: With swinging, you pretty much just need to be able to cast, mend, and set the hook. You need to be methodical in making sure that you hit the whole river, but as you are bringing your fly through all of the various current seams on each cast, you really only need to make a few mends, all upstream. With nymphing you need to manage the amount of line you have out (cast upstream, strip in as the flies come toward you, then mend out line as they move downstream of you). You also need to manage your mends in order to maintain a dead-drift. Your mends may be upstream OR downstream and in some cases you may need to make an S-shaped mend in which part of your mend is upstream and part of it is downstream.

    Reading water: With swinging you need modest understanding of how to read water. You need to be able to find water that is going to hold fish and the speed of the current may require you to mend more or less aggressively, but generally you find a run and cast across the hole, set up your mends, and let it swing across the currents. Step down a couple of steps and repeat the process. When you get more advanced at swinging you do start using the currents to swing the fly into specific current seams in some locations. Nymphing requires a whole other level of understanding the river, the currents, and the potential holding spots for the fish. You need to be able to identify specific likely holding spots and then figure out how to get your fly there on a dead drift. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts to get the drift past a specific point just right and get the take. When you start targeting holding spots on the far side of multiple currents it gets really tricky to figure out the mends or get out further into the river to take some of them out of play altogether. You have to be very methodical in working through a hole to target each and every little holding spot individually and get the proper drift along each side of each rock, current seam, etc.

    Setting the hook: Hooking a fish on the swing is an awesome sensation. Just pure power. You definitely don't get the same experience hooking one on a nymph. The nice thing about getting a hard take on the swing is that the fish often sets the hook themselves. I still recommend driving it home, but once you make your cast and set your initial mends up, you can essentially swing blindfolded and hook fish. With nymphing you have to be much more in tune with what is happening to hook a fish. You have to detect the strike, which is sometimes surprisingly subtle, and then you need quick, powerful reflexes to set the hook the minute you detect a strike and also have the proper line management skills to be able to set the hook. With swinging the line will already be under tension, with nymphing you may have some slack line to account for. It also can make for an interesting first few seconds of the fight if you have to pick up a bunch of line. You may not have much ability to take up line if they come at you.

    I do get the argument that it is more rewarding to catch one swinging, because the strike is more ferocious and it is a less frequent occurrence. By that argument though, I'd say the ultimate would be landing one on a size 20 BWO on the dead-drift with a 0-wt rod.
     
  2. Ed Call

    Ed Call Mumbling Moderator Staff Member

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    Because it works? Because some have a preference that is not nymphing? Who knows?
     
  3. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    I once pulled plugs for steelhead. This really means I sat in a boat while a real nice dude rowed the boat and talked my ear off. I lost the one fish that was hooked. I didn't feel like I had lost a thing. I suspect I would have the same lack of feeling if I lost a fish that I had nymphed up. This is one reason why I don't gear fish or nymph for steelhead.

    Additionally, I moved here to the PNW from the 'cuse in upstate NY. I caught many a steelhead in lake Ontario trib.'s nymphing. It was all anyone knew and I can honestly say, it sucked. I literally moved 3,000 miles so as to swing for steelhead. I went years before I caught a winter fish and it was worth it. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't nymph because I think it sucks.

    BTW- The next elitist flyfisherman I meet in the PNW will be the first. That's my experience.
     
  4. koolminx

    koolminx Member

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    What the hell is nymphing????
     
  5. BDD

    BDD Active Member

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    Sageman,

    Thanks for posting. You brought up some great points. The one thing that may be lacking, which is very important for some folks, is swinging has a longer history, more lore, and lots of pioneering authors who have written extensively on the subject while fly fish nymphing for steelhead is a relatively new approach. Some of those pioneers would argue that it is more satisfying to get the steelhead to come to a swung fly than to simply drift an egg past its nose. They would argue that to nymph for such a magnificent fish as a steelhead when it could be caught swinging would be sacrilegious. But then again, some of those old-timers thought Pacific salmon would not come to a fly so I guess it shows what they knew.
     
  6. Ed Call

    Ed Call Mumbling Moderator Staff Member

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  7. Sageman

    Sageman Member

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    You must not talk to anybody on the river. Actually, if you are swinging you aren't going to see it. Trying nymphing for a season, you'll meet lots of elitist fishermen.

    My favorite was the guy who came through my hole on the Methow in early October one morning. I had landed a steelhead dead-drifting an October caddis pattern, and brought 6 more up on a skater, landing 2 of them. I had literally made about 2 casts with a nymph setup when he came by and started flipping me crap about nymphing and preaching to me about how someday I'll learn the real joy of flyfishing and swinging for steelhead and I'll never go back to "watching bobbers."
     
  8. kjsteelhead

    kjsteelhead Member

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    Swing vs. Nymph
    Spoon vs, Jig
    Shrimp vs. Roe
    Snagging vs. Netting
    12 Volt vs. Blasting Caps
    Damming vs. Logging
    Lakers vs. Yankees
     
  9. Sageman

    Sageman Member

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    I think you are exactly right on this point. I think that since the historical steelhead authors were swingers, and wrote about it, that it has become the "pure" form of steelheading. Kind of like Columbus "discovering" America. Since they described it before nymphing really became a common technique, it carries more of a romantic quality for a lot of people.
     
  10. rainbownater

    rainbownater New Member

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    I have to comment on this post because I am purely tired of "hoity toit" fly fisherman who buy the latest gear and spend a fortune decking out their spey rods with the most technologically advanced lines, reels, etc. Most of which are walking billboards that can't cast their $2,000 dollar set-up. All the while they claim that they are the elitist badass "Swingers".
    Give me a break, learn how to cast, and until you judge others for using nymphs. Take a look at the equipment your wearing, the rod your using, the technology that aids you into propelling your "so-called" TRADITIONAL wet fly.

    Don't hate on other fly fisherman that use nymphs because their catch rate is 10 to your 1.
     
  11. slim

    slim Fish or Ski...Fish or ski....fish!

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    Mumbles, that's funny #@$% Sageman that description was perfect. I've taken a lot of that stuff for granted over the years. On a trip to the Ronde earlier this year I was teaching a couple of my buddies how to nymph and alot of what you said is so much easier to say than to teach especially trying to get into specific seams and rocks. I really do think there's specific water to target for the swing and nymphing.
     
  12. bobduck

    bobduck Whiskey Tastes Best from a TIN CUP

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    You can nymph without an indicator and catch fish, with an indicator and catch fish and swing flies in traditional style runs and catch fish. I think the idea is to have fun. But to be honest, the take on a swinging fly is the most gratifying and exhiliarating of all.
     
  13. Charles Sullivan

    Charles Sullivan dreaming through the come down

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    I'm really glad I don't hang out in the same haunts that you do. I honstly never meet these popele that you speak of.
    This whole elitist hoity toity thing is really a myth to me.
     
  14. inland

    inland Active Member

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    Sageman,

    Matching a food source while nymphing for non-feeding fish = the same as swinging a green butt skunk. Neither are 'pure'. Neither are right. Or wrong. NON FEEDING FISH. VERY small percentage of them actually ingest items- cig butts, birds, leaves...are those the food sources you are talking about???

    Swinging is simple. Very simple.

    The technical side of nymphing is more difficult. So what? I spent so many years (nearly singlemindedly) nymphing for trout...I would rather break my fingers with a ball peen hammer then try to catch another fish that way. Ask knowledgeable gear fishers what they think it is? Nearly to a man they call a spade a spade. It IS gear fishing with a flyrod. So what? Does that in some way diminish what you like doing? I see don't why you (or anybody) would, or should, care.

    Catching fish with the method is neither right or wrong. Obviously a lot of guys enjoy it. Just like guys sidedrifting roe from a sled, pulling plugs, pinning, swinging spoons, float and jig, or whatever.

    The only conflict comes about when people take and grow roots in runs. ESPECIALLY when this is done in the buckets. Effectively stopping other anglers from fishing through. No different from anyone else that does this.

    There is a 'public' access stretch on one of the most famous salmon rivers in Scotland. Where an angler may use a fly. Bait. Lures. One could even nymph if they choose. Pools are marked at the head and tail. All anglers begin at the top and WORK through the pool. Stepping between each cast. Since this 'beat' is unlimited access this is a very fair and efficient way to ensure everybody gets a crack at the fish = pool rotation. Failure to follow these rules results in your being removed from the property.

    A foreign concept for most of America. PNW included. Pool rotation...what a clever idea to let everybody get a crack at the fish. Do you teach your students to rotate? Or park?

    William
     
  15. floatinghat

    floatinghat Member

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    Because nymphers have a reputation for camping on water, not moving and if they move they move against the grain and fish upstream. It goes counter to tradition and can really f up the flow in certain rivers. Take the NFU, nymphing is effectively outlawed, because guys would plug productive pools all day and not move.

    Is the reputation justified? I guess that goes by personal preference.