We know that trout feed subsurface most of the time. In streams and lakes much of their food is aquatic insects (nymphs) such as mayflies, caddis, midges, stoneflies, damselflies, or other invertebrates such as scuds, snails, and sow bugs. These food sources, and other food items such as fish eggs, daphnia, and salmon flesh, drift along in the current and are consumed by relatively stationary trout waiting for food to come to them.
There are few times when trout in a stream do not feed on nymphs. Even during a good hatch, more and bigger trout feed on nymphs than on adult insects floating on the surface. Dry flies and streamers provide only sporadic action.
Most of this subsurface feeding or “nymphing” occurs in the lower third of the water column. I have tried dozens of nymphing rigs and techniques to catch these deep-feeding trout but none is more productive than an uncommon method I call bounce nymphing. This nymphing style keeps my flies suspended close to the bottom, at nose level to the trout, much longer than regular nymphing.
Bounce nymphing is a term originally used in Utah by Provo River anglers to describe their technique of fishing artificial nymphs on a spin or fly rod with monofilament line and a spinning reel. I experimented and adapted its best traits to fly-fishing tackle, and it’s now my favorite nymphing system. I am a guide and often use it to help first-time fly fishers catch fish. More experienced clients go crazy for it because they recognize the advantages. Bounce nymphing with small nymph imitations is especially good for selective fish in heavily fished waters, but this technique works in most places and with most nymphs.
In regular slack-line nymphing, the fly takes a long time to get into the strike zone near the stream bottom. Once it sinks, it is near the bottom only a short time before it swings up at the end of the drift. When you use heavy weights to overcome these problems, the rig quickly hangs up on the bottom.
High-stick nymphing keeps little slack in the system. With experience, you can keep the nymphs at the right level and detect strikes quickly, but you can’t fish effectively at long distances. Drifts are short, so this works only in swift, shallow water where you can approach the fish closely. The slight tension on the line common in high-stick nymphing sometimes discourages selectively feeding trout.
When bounce nymphing, the weight is on the end of the leader with two short droppers above. This keeps the flies suspended just off the bottom and slows the flies to more closely match the speed of the naturals in the slower water near the stream bottom. Bounce nymphing keeps the flies near the bottom two to three times longer than other nymphing techniques because the flies sink quickly and don’t “ride up” until the very end of the drift.
Because there is no hook on the end of the leader, this rig also reduces the number of stream-bottom hang-ups. Several small split-shot in a row, or some other weighting methods (see sidebar), rather than one large split-shot reduces the likelihood of the weight wedging between rocks and makes weight adjustment easier. Tie an overhand knot on the end of the leader to keep the weights from slipping off.
Setting up Your Rig
The distance between your buoyant foam or yarn strike indicator and the bottom weights should be about three times the water depth, so I use leaders from 8 to 16 feet long. You can fish a bounce-nymph rig without a strike indicator, but it works better with a visual reference.
I start with a 5- to 7-foot tapered leader and add 3 to 9 feet of 3X to 6X tippet. Long, thin monofilament allows the nymphs to sink faster and stay down without being pushed upward by the current. Use as light a tippet as possible given the size of the flies, the water conditions, and the size of fish you expect to catch.
Place the droppers 6 to 12 inches apart and keep them short (2 to 5 inches) to help avoid tangles. The bottom dropper should be about 6 to 12 inches above the weights. To make a dropper, connect two tippet sections using a double surgeon’s knot or blood knot. Clip the upper tag end and leave the lower tag end long enough to attach the fly.
This rig is designed to drift with a taut line between the weights and the strike indicator and a slack line between your rod tip and the strike indicator. This gives you the advantages of both slack-line and tight-line nymphing. The taut portion drifts more slowly than the surface currents because of the weights dragging and bouncing along the bottom. This taut section transmits strikes better than standard nymphing rigs where there is often slack between the flies and the indicator.
The indicator bounces and twitches as the weights negotiate along the stream bottom, but the rig should not hang on the bottom if you use the right amount of weight. The flies should not drag on the bottom; they should drift suspended 2 to 12 inches above the stream bottom, so do not use weighted flies.
For bounce nymphing, use a 9-foot, 4- or 5-weight rod with a clean and conditioned floating line. Lighter lines are great if you can cast them with weight. Heavier rods and lines cast weights better, but the stiffness and water resistance of heavier lines reduces their effectiveness at achieving a natural drift.
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