I have long ago found the French nymphing style a useful backup option for the times when fish are not responding to the dry fly. It has served me well especially in the very early and very late parts of the season, when the water is cold and fish reluctant to rise.
I have recently come to have doubts about the "Frenchness" of my approach: I was taught the technique by true masters, who surely forgot more about nymph fishing than I can ever hope to learn. But while all of them knew well the way of the nymph none were particularly strong in foreign languages, and I am positively sure none of them understands a word in French. So the technique I am about to describe might have been French at its start, but has passed through so many Czech hands that I am unsure how much of its origin remains.
The key part of the technique is the indicator. Unencumbered by the arcane requirements of the FIPS Mouche competition rules I have found that the simplest home made indicator works the best for me. I am using a short length of braided Dacron fly line backing in bright orange color. It has a perfection loop tied on each end and when treated with red Mucilin it floats like a piece of cork.
The indicator is loop to loop attached to a level 0.30 mm Stroft monofilament leader some 6 meters long. The weight of the indicator and flies attached is sufficient to cast this leader to the distance of around two rod lenghts, which is OK for my kind of fishing.
At the other loop is attached the tippet, again using the reliable loop to loop connection. For most of my fishing I am using 0.16 mm Fluorocarbon tippet. I try to avoid lighter tippets for nymph fishing whenever possible, as any bottom snags with a 7X tippet are likely to result in loss of whole team.
On the tippet I tie my team of flies. I always fish with two flies, a heavier one on the point and a smaller one on dropper. I adjust the length of my tippet according to the depth of the water I fish, aiming for approximately one meter long tippet in knee deep water.
The point fly serves several purposes - it adds weight to the team so I can cast it further, helps to straighten the leader and drags the lighter fly to river bottom. Actual fish catching is secondary. The smaller fly on dropper does most of the work and accounts for about two thirds of the fish taken.
An example of the point fly is the Heron Goldie fly above, tied with 3.3 mm Tungsten bead.
Examples of the dropper flies are a #16 Motley Turkey nymph with a 2.4 mm Brass bead and a #18 Crane feather nymph with a 2.0 mm Brass bead.
All the flies are tied to similar pattern - tail of rooster hackle fibers, contrasting tag of pink, orange or chartreuse thread, body of nondescript color with a furry thorax and a metal bead. I tie my point flies with Tungsten and the dropper ones with Brass - the additional weight of the dropper fly is small, but the difference between cost of a Brass and Tungsten beads is large.
I found that the choice of fly rod for nymph fishing matters less that the tackle manufacturers would like us to believe. Fly fishermen who specialize in nymphing like to use long wimpy rods - 10' to 11' in length of the AFTMA class 2 or 3. These indeed do the job, but are impractical for any other fly fishing technique, especially if overhanging vegetation is involved.
I have the French leader and a box of beadheads stowed in reserve in my fly fishing bag, and whenever situation demands so I rig them on my 8'6" AFTMA 4 class dry fly rod. There are times when I wish for a longer reach, but overall this method serves me just fine.
The fishing season on Czech trout waters traditionally opens on April 16th. This date is eagerly awaited by local anglers, as it presents the first opportunity to cast a fly line since November. This period of forced abstinence is usually manageable during the time of hard winter frosts, but as the weather starts to warm up in March severe cases of withdrawal syndrome begin to appear in the fly fishing community.
For the formal occassion of the first cast in new season I chose the river Střela. Unlike my other favorite rivers, Kamenice & Jizera, it has its headwaters in relatively low altitude where the snow has already melted and its flow was close to normal.
The river flow was stable and the water was only lightly colored. It was still rather cold though, at only 6°C. The streamside meadows were sporting the first spring flowers - buttercups, primroses and butterburs - but the hoped for hatch of large dark olives did not materialise for the whole day. A quick shake of the submerged vegetation with a kitchen sieve showed that the LDO nymphs were present in large numbers, but waiting to hatch on some later day.
Some smallish midges were fluttering around the river edge, and I tried for a while fishing the dry fly. It was a futile effort, mainly to satisfy my conscience as a dry fly fan. The fish were firmly hugging the river bottom, and if I wanted contact with them I had to present my flies at their level.
Having discarded the dry fly I turned to the nymph. The French leader to hand technique with a little Czech twist was rather productive, and I proceeded to catch and release a number of brown trout. Most of them were of the smaller size, but all of them were in good condition. Plump, well marked out and they fought with attitude.
The most productive flies were beadheaded nymphs. I fished a team of two flies, a #12 hairy grub with 3.3 mm tungsten beadhead on the point and #16 turkey herl nymph with a copper bead on dropper. The point fly provided weight to cast (or rather lob) the team and accounted for about a third of my catch, with most strikes going to the dropper.
I plan to open the 2012 fishing season this Thursday. The rivers are still running high from winters snow - some of the ski resorts are still operating - and recent rains. I have my boxes filled up with the usual lot of brightly coloured super heavy bugs that are the reliable openers of the river fishing season.
But hoping against the odds for a BWO hatch I prepared also a batch of hatching nymphs. The fish will be still sluggish after the long winter, and will not be chasing the duns on water's surface too hard. Lightly greased nymphs fished in the film as emergers might get more reactions.
I keep my fingers crossed...
#14 Dohiku 302 wet fly hook
Sheer 14/0 thread gray
light cream rooster hackle for tail
Gütermann Sulky Mylar tinsel rib
Brown Olive goose feather for body
natural hare dubbing for thorax
magpie tail for thorax cover
a light touch of dark CD marker pen to colour the head