Stillwater Presentation Q&A – Ascending/Emerging Nymphs

Stillwater Presentation Q&A – Ascending/Emerging Nymphs

I recently received this question via email from one of our readers and thought it would make a nice followup blog post.


Hi Matt,

 I just read this article on Callibaetis nymphs, and I have a question.  Don’t nymphs in stillwaters usually rise fairly straight up from the bottom?  How can I simulate that with nymph flies?  No worries on moving water, but I’m confused with this one.

Thanks so much.

 Maryellen


Maryellen,

Thanks for reading and reaching out!  Great question. I’d say that when they are emerging, Callibaetis nymphs will rise up at a semi-steep angle, but not completely vertically.  That said, the rising motion can definitely be a trigger to get the fish to eat.  Let me offer you 3 or 4 ways that you might accomplish this…

 1:  Floating fly line, long leader, and a weighted nymph.  Cast out and let the nymph sink down as deep as you think it needs to.  Maybe the top of the weeds if the area is shallow enough.  When you start your retrieve, the fly will naturally rise up at an angle following the leader up to the surface where the line floats.  When you’ve retrieved an amount of line about the equivalent to your leader length, stop, and let the fly sink back down again.  Repeat.  To detect takes, you need to watch the end of the floating fly line.  If it twitches, dives etc, set the hook.  You may not feel the take because the line isn’t drawing a straight line from you to the fly.  Pay attention while the fly is sinking back down too.  Sometimes that is the trigger!  It’s important that your leader not have coils in it so it is as straight a connection tot he fly as possible.  I’ve also incorporated a tiny strike indicator into this method at times, especially if there is a chop on the water that obscures my view of the tip of the flyline.  Foam pinch-ons work great for this.  Last tip, flourocarbon leaders sink faster than nylon mono leaders.

 2:  Intermediate sinking tip line (or intermediate sinking poly leader) and weighted or unweighted fly.  Basically this is the same approach as above, but with a sink tip to get the fly deeper initially.  If you are in say 10 to 15+ feet of water, the leader and weighted fly alone will be annoying or impossible to get that deep, especially if there is any wind.  Let it sink and then retrieve it up as before.  Then repeat.  Watch the color change of the line or where it enters the water for the take.  Also feel fro the grab.

 3:  Full sinking intermediate line and unweighted nymph. This line system draws the fly through the water horizontally for the most part and is my #1 way of searching for fish before, during, and after a Callibaetis hatch if I don’t see them rising in a way that allows me to effectively target them on the surface.  But, at the very end of the retrieve, when the fly is deep, and you begin stripping the last few yards of line up toward the surface, the fly does rise at an angle.  A lot of folks just pick up and cast again.  This is a mistake.  UK stillwater experts preach about “fishing the hang” at the end of a retrieve.  Focus on the last part of that rising retrieve.  Pause it, sink it, and raise it again.  Don’t strip the fly right to the rod tip, but leave a bit of line out and slowly raise the rod tip itself to make the fly ascend.  If you start getting fish only when the fly is rising, maybe you need to switch to one of the first 2 methods!

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

  • Originator:  Brian Chan
  • Hook: TMC 2302 or equivalent, #10 – 16
  • Thread: 8/0 Uni, dark brown
  • Bead: White, sized to match hook
  • Body: MFC Sexi Floss or Spirit River Flex-Floss, brown
  • Rib: Uni Wire, small, red and silver

Brian Chan is a Canadian Stillwater angling expert and signature tier for Montana Fly Co.  We’ve found his Chironomid Bomber patterns to be absolutely deadly on Hebgen both before and after the more glamorous hatches of Callibaetis, Tricos, and damselflies.  These can be fished static, under a strike indicator, or slowly retrieved using a hand twist on a floating or intermediate tip line.  You’d be amazed at how strong the takes are on a fly that is barely moving!  Another great thing about this pattern is that, if you tie your own, you can easily experiment with other color combos.

– Matt

The Total Eclipse Chironomid

The Total Eclipse Chironomid

As you probably know, a solar eclipse was visible across the entire United States on August 21st.  The band of “totality” became a tourist destination as amateur astronomers, photographer, and thousands of interested citizens flocked to those zones to experience something truly unique.  The buzz was exciting to say the least.

https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/nasa_eclipse_map.jpg

In the Tetons they got totality.  In West Yellowstone, we experienced 99% coverage.  In Helena, we experienced about 93% coverage.  I took a break from work to observe it from my backyard.  Several things came to mind during the eclipse.  First, our sun is truly bright and powerful.  Even 93% blocked, there were deep shadows everywhere.  It got noticeably cooler.  The birds stopped singing for 20 minutes on either side of the peak.

Having seen photos, and heard first had accounts from those who were within the band of totality for the eclipse, I now wish I had made the 3 hour trip south into Idaho to witness it for myself.

What does this have to do with fly fishing?  Well, in the aftermath of the eclipse, folks are wondering what to do with their used “eclipse glasses” that allowed them to stare at the sun safely.  My answer to that question was to use the lens material at the fly tying bench.

Nothing fancy here, but the lens reflectivity and color reminded me of the color of chironomids in their early stage of emergence, down deep, before they fully inflate with air.  It’s a similar color to the anti-static bags that many have used in the past.  So, I whipped up a few using the following recipe:

  • Hook: Daiichi 1120 scud hook, #10-14
  • Bead: Red glass with silver lining, from the craft store
  • Body: Thin strip of eclipse glasses lens
  • Rib(s): Ultra wire, small, one red and one black
  • Thread: UTC 70, black

That’s it!  The Total Eclipse Chironomid.  Looking forward to testing them out soon, if the Callibaetis ever thin out.

Thoughts Regarding Callibaetis Nymphs

Thoughts Regarding Callibaetis Nymphs

A while back I wrote a post about Callibaetis and Chironomids where the punch line was that my buddy and I wanted the fish to be eating Callibaetis but they were really on chironomids.  Well that was then, and this is now…

Callibaetis and damselflies have been dominating the trout’s menu on my local stillwaters recently, so of course they are also the insects that my mind has been feasting on.  In particular, the morning Callibaetis emergences have provided my friends and me with some really fun fishing opportunities.  The great thing about being into a great hatch over the span of a couple of weeks is that you really get to dial things in and experiment with what works and what doesn’t work as well.  So with that in mind, here are a few thoughts that I’ve been having as it refers to the nymphal stage of Callibaetis in particular.

Lake Habitat

It’s fairly easy to tell where the best Callibaetis action is going to happen on a lake.  These insects LOVE the weedbeds.  What’s really cool is that trout will often move into very shallow water to feed on the nymphs before the main hatch starts.  But when they go shallow, those big trout get really spooky compared to when they are out on deeper weed flats or off the drop-offs. If you can find the travel lanes that fish use through the weedy halls of their world, you have probably hit the jackpot.

Fly Selection

There are A LOT of commercially available Callibaetis nymph imitations out there.  I’m not really interested in going into which specific ones to use here.  What I can say is that there are a couple of important elements to fly selection that I have found to be rather important.

First, and most important, is size.  Match the size of the most prevalent size of nymphs you can see in the water.   That’s usually a 14 or 16 around here.  Sometimes a 12 will do in the early season, but that may be because the fish aren’t quite as dialed in at that point, rather than because the bugs are actually bigger.

Second in my order of importance (and I think the most overlooked element) is fly profile.  Mayflies in general and Callibaetis in particular are thin insects.  In fact, there aren’t many fat insect in the water aside from maybe dragonfly nymphs and giant water beetles.  So, those obese, poorly proportioned PT nymphs that you scored for $0.89 each in the sale bin of your local hardware store probably aren’t the best choice of patterns.  Slim and sparse is what you need.  In fact, some of the most effective Callibaetis nymph patterns that I’ve seen look not only anemic, but also downright absurd in their simplicity and material choice.

Third in my order of importance is color.  The usual grayish-tan standard usually does just fine.  On a couple of occasions, it seemed like color was more important than usual, so if you spend a bunch of time fishing or travelling to fish stillwaters that have Callibaetis hatches, you may want to carry other tones, including grayish-olive, brownish-tanish-gray, and rusty-tanish-grayish-olive.  Got it?

Retrieve

This is a pretty big deal when fish are locked in on the Callibaetis nymphs.  At least as important as fly size and profile.  Maybe more important.  Callibaetis nymphs are good swimmers, but they are also still tiny bugs, so that retrieve you use when fishing Clousers for striped bass needs to be left at the dock.  It seems to me like they wiggle forward in short bursts that can be imitated by a series of 3-4 inch pulls, or some quick hand twists.  But then, the nymphs almost always seem to stop for a bit to take a break before heading back on their way.  So, a nice pause after a series of strips can be the ticket.  I’ll do that most of the time, matching my flyline to the water depth – floating line and long leader in the super shallows, slow intermediate when I need a hair more depth.  Fast intermediate lines seem too sinky for most of my work as I find myself hitting the weeds too soon on every cast.  If you are finding fish down deeper than say 8-10 ft you may want one to cut down on your countdown time.

I’ve also heard that Callibaetis nymphs will swim up to the surface and back down to the weeds a few times before finally committing to hatching from the surface.  So, a rising retrieve followed by a sink seems logical as well.  I need to fool around with this more.  Maybe an indicator and floating line or a short sink tip will do the trick.

Lastly, I’ve had a lot of fish eat a nymph suspended below a Callibaetis dry fly.  Heave it and leave it.  It works well.

Alright!  I’ve got myself fired up to fish now.  So, hopefully when you are reading this, I’ll be out on the lake.  If you’ve got any thoughts to add, I’d love to hear them.  You can reach me at mklara@bigskyanglers.com

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

PS – Like my last post, this one is running double duty both here and at Sexyloops.com