Nymph Fishing Marlborough’s Spring-fed Streams & Creeks

(by Malcolm Fretter, of Blenheim, expert caster and successful flyfisher and former honorary ranger for Fish & Game)

For many nymph fishermen, fishing the larger rivers in our region presents a rather daunting exercise. Their logic takes over and the brain goes into overdrive, working out how a trout or salmon is going to see their nymph, which is only 15mm long, drifting in such a large expanse of water. As you can imagine, many do a lot of walking until they spot their quarry, but this is the only way to train yourself to recognise the water that trout are likely to feed in.

When you consider the three basic requirements of oxygenated clear water, food, and somewhere to hide from predators, you begin to think like a trout and, of course, if one of the above elements is missing, no trout will be found hanging about.

Because the Wairau Plains are prolific in springs, which in turn feed many streams, creeks and drains, I concentrate on these small twiggy waters. They are different and they are more stable and relatively challenging. The clear water, well oxygenated with plenty of weed for cover and nymph habitat, are what the fish love and the temperature of the water is very stable (14degC), ideal for feeding fish. Another plus for the fisherman is that, when the larger rivers are running at very high flood levels, the spring-fed streams seem to hold their own, the flow rate and levels not varying greatly and, of course,
the water is still very clear.

With small streams, the stealth of the angler is of paramount importance. I fish from the bank because the creeks vary a lot in depth and there is less chance of alarming the fish. I vary my approach, upstream nymphing and across and down. Both work very well, but the presentation has to deliver the nymph to the fish in a precise and gentle manner.
By spending time watching the feeding fish, establishing its depth, and its movement distance to a take, is observed. Once this feeding pattern has been established, the depth of the fish and the speed of water flow need assessing, as one has to imagine the sink-rate of the nymph according to the weight of the nymph patterns available in one’s fly box.

I use three weights. An example of a No.16 Pheasant Tail would be:
a) A light weight nymph (copper wire only)
b) Medium weight nymph (6/8 turns of .010” lead)
c) Heavy weight nymph (6 turns of .010” lead plus a 2mm tungsten bead)
The above light weight would relate to a top-feeder, in the top 500mm of water.
The medium weight would relate to a fish in the medium depth of water, 1 –1.5m deep.
The heavy weight would relate to a bottom feeder, 2m deep.

With practice, you should be able to estimate the distance you have to place the nymph upstream above the feeding fish to allow the nymph to sink to the trout’s feeding level. You, as an angler, have to judge these distances to get the presentation correct, right in the trout’s face. When the nymph is about 1m away from the trout, I impart movement to the nymph with a small lift of the rod tip which is called an “induced take”. Let the drift run out, stop the rod and, as you do so, raise very slowly causing the nymph to rise to the surface as a nymph would do when about to hatch.

With across and down, the same attention to detail and concentration is required to deliver the nymph to the fish. Do not cast to the fish, pick a target area which would allow the nymph to sink and drift into the trout’s feeding zone, usually about lm diameter around the fish. Land your nymph upstream approx 10ft above this area so that the sink weight and current will deliver the nymph where required to be seen by the trout.

With all the trees, grasses and bushes on the banks of most creeks/streams it pays not to go longer than 14/15 ft. of leader (inclusive of tippet). This will cover deeper-lying fish as well as longer and finer casts. You need to be in control of your line, keeping in touch with the nymph all the time. Your attention then never leaves the trout. You do not require the crutch of an indicator. Watch the trout’s every move. If, in fact, the fish moves to where you think your nymph would be in the drift, lift your rod, especially if he has moved to either side or rises slightly and levels off ready to inhale your nymph.

STRIKE at any of these types of movement. Sometimes it pays to allow your drifting
nymph to pass to the side of the trout. This way you will know he could be after your nymph if he moves to that side. Be quick to strike or your trout will have spat out your nymph after realising it is not the real thing. At other times you will have to delay until you see the white mouth of the trout close on your offering. It’s all practice!!!

Think about small waters for your nymph fishing. It is demanding of your concentration, peaceful and very rewarding. You will wonder where the time has gone!