My introduction to modern nymphing techniques happened by chance on the Salmon River many years past. I was swinging and indicating a heavily fished run (normal for the Salmon) with my friends and even though the conditions looked perfect, the action was non-existent. What happened next was mind altering and would take me on a path that seems to be unending. Joe Goodspeed, currently with Thomas & Thomas, stepped into the river above us.
Joe went to the head of the run, which was the only spot available and, in my opinion, was a low percentage location in terms of fishing success. To my surprise, he immediately began to take fish when everyone else went fishless. Moreover, each time an angler would leave the river, Joe would move to their vacated spot and continue hook steelhead; in water that had been pressured all morning, to bout. That did it!
Having to know what he was doing differently, I reeled in, waded directly beside him and said, “okay Joe, I give up, show me”. The next 15 minutes would forever change my approach to steelheading using nymphing techniques. For years, I fished nymphs under indicators or drifted them on various lengths of tippet. Joe was the first to introduce me to essentially what has been referred to as “tight line nymphing”. This was his basic set-up as I remember it: to the end of the fly line, he added 25-30 feet of 25lb test Maxima Chameleon to that he added tapered sections of thinner diameter Chameleon ending at a 20-inch 2X bright Amnesia “sighter”; then he added the tippet. The main tapered Chameleon leader starts from the 25lb test section and overall is about 12-14 feet (not including the tippet). The 25lb test Chameleon functioning as a fly line provided for a more natural drift with less resistance. Using Joe’s set-up and his brief explanation how to fish it resulted in many steelhead landed in the following few days.
So, I asked myself what was so different with this “Euro” approach? I’m sure we all have an opinion but fundamentally it made for a more natural presentation that was adjustable throughout the drift while fishing the fly with precision that would not have been easy or possible to do using any other method. While incorporating visual strike detection, it reduced slack by allowing me to be in direct contact with the fly from the moment it hit the water; thereby, providing for more positive results. Over the years, I have modified Joe’s initial leader many times. However, the basic principles behind the construction of the leader remain. Much has been written on modern nymphing and depending on what you read and where you live, claims are made about which variation of this leader is the most effective. I will leave that discussion up to you but what is currently convincing, at least to me, is the information coming mainly from the past and present team members of Fly Fishing Canada.
More recently, I have been fortunate to experience world class “hands on” workshops organized by Smart Angling. Coming to these events with an open mind, I considered myself to be an advanced angler and caster. Boy, was I humbled! Using this information and practice, practice, practice, I have enjoyed the challenge of learning something new, as well as, becoming more confident with my skills. As a youth, when I was attempting a new task, my father would always say to me, “go to the experts your solution will come much faster”. His advice continues to serve me well.
What is my current set-up? Following the urging of the owners of Smart Angling, Ivo and Ciprian, and being convinced (one more time) by spending a full day recently with Ian Troup, I am now using a leader which is a modification of the FIPS competition requirement. Basically, the single diameter leader is twice the length of the rod. I use a small perfection loop to join the leader to the tippet instead of a tippet ring. I have also been encouraged to go with the smallest diameter leader and tippet possible for the specific fish I am targeting. Gear is an important consideration and does play a part, so a good place to start is by asking key individuals what they use and why. Their answers may surprise you, as they did me. Astonishingly, it wasn’t always the most expensive stuff that they recommended.
Along the way, I am indebted to number of fly anglers who have patiently helped me as I continue to ask all of the unending questions. Seek out qualified individuals to assist with your casting and fishing challenges. I see this as an investment and money well spent. The beauty of this sport is that the fish are in charge. We never really know it all. If I could add one last piece of advice; never be afraid to ask! Play safe and happy journey.
About the Author Marty Tannahill:
Retired from the health care field, Marty is married to Adèle his lifelong partner. He is an (FFI), CI, MCI, and THCI casting instructor. Normally, most of his early spring and summer is spent teaching and certifying canoeing and kayaking through the Ontario Recreational Canoeing Association. When not fishing or paddling, he, enjoys hiking, photography and travelling with his wife.