A lot of my own fishing in the spring takes place on smallish, wild rivers. There are no carefully manicured lawns sloping gently to the water’s edge here in Mayo! Access to the river ranges from ‘interesting’ to down right life threatening. When you do arrive, sweating and breathless at the river you are faced with an endless variety of problems to solve when you when trying to present your fly to the trout.
The sheer variety of water means to be successful you must be flexible in your approach. Anglers who are used to wide open river banks often become frustrated by small overgrown rivers. You will drive yourself insane unless your mental approach to the challenges is correct. I find that a day on a wild river is best treated not as one session but as a series of short, individual angling vignettes. Each pool, run or potential lie will require its own specific issues to be addressed. Around the next bend will be yet another, probably very different set of circumstances for you to adjust too. It varies of course, but a typical spring day probably sees me spending only a quarter of the time actually fishing, the rest of the time is taken up with getting into position, changing set up / flies, and simply just watching.
One of the big questions when fishing in the Springtime is how to get the flies or nymphs down to the right depth. In these days of heavily weighted flies you may think this is not really an issue. Most of us carried an array of differently weighted patterns, enough to cover just about every conceivable scenario. That is fine and grand when you have easy access to the river and can pick the angle to cast and fish. In tight corners this is not always the case, so what do you do when confronted with a hard to reach lie?
In the corner of a box I carry a couple sacrificial nymphs. They are rarely used but when I need them they have proved their usefulness. Precise pattern is unimportant, these flies are not meant to copy anything in particular so I use hares ear to cover the heavy wire underbody which has been wrapped on a jig hook.
Leader construction is important. Keep the sacrificial fly close to you other patterns, I like to have it only 8 – 12 inches below my ‘proper’ fly/nymph. My preferred method of attachment is New Zealand style and the trick is to use a weak link of lower breaking strength nylon to join the flies. This will allow you to break off the sacrificial fly if it becomes snagged without losing the whole leader.
How to tie the sacrificial nymph
I have also used the sacrificial nymph on a dropper above a ‘normal’ pattern. This works too but for some reason I find I have more tangles when using this configuration. I bet some of you Grayling fishers who are reading are amused at these feeble attempts to control nymph depth. I know there are experts who can control their flies to within inches of where they want them. The problem on the rivers I fish is simply getting the fly down as fast as possible once it hits the water before the whole shebang is whipped away by the current. The sacrificial nymph allows me to do that and at the same time know I can break off easily if the nymph becomes lodged on the bottom.
I use this set up when I am faced with difficult access to tight lies. For me it is the last option as there is a high risk of losing the fly. The bonus is that you could be fishing a lie which is rarely or even never fished by other anglers.
Another issue with depth…………………………..
There a couple of stretches I fish where there is the opposite problem. Open, fast flowing straight runs with deep water. Here the trick is still to get down quickly but I also want to hold the depth as I swing a team of wets across the current. Normally, I tackle this kind of water using an upstream nymph but some days the fish just don’t respond and over the years I have found that swinging wets works instead. To help to keep the team of flies low down in the water column I carry a couple of sinking tips which take only a few minutes to add between the line and the leader. They don’t get to see the water very often but they are damn useful on occasion, so I recommend you have one in a pocket of your fishing jacket. Beaded or weighted patterns on the point of the leader are a must to keep the team low down.
The cast is made across and down and I like to throw a loop line line as the flies hit the water so there is slack. This gives the team a chance to sink before the current grabs them.