It’s no secret that nymphing is the most productive style of fishing day in and day out while targeting trout in rivers. As anglers we can find consistent success by exploiting the trout's tendency to feed subsurface more often than not. If given the opportunity to fish dry flies I’ll usually take it; however, as people who want to make use of our time, we can’t rely on conditions to line up accordingly for a surface bite every time( we are on the river). What I can do is catch fish on nymphs every day no matter how challenging the conditions. Knowing the state of the river and the mood of the fish is key to knowing which rod and leader setup will give you the greatest tactical advantage. I’ll aim to detail my general analysis on nymphing as the seasons progress, share thoughts on advantages of the Contact II Nymph Rod, and include some theory on targeting big fish with nymphs.
A 7lb backcountry NZ buck taken on a streamer fished upstream on a European style leader with the 10’ 9” 4wt Contact II
Starting in the dead of winter, nymphs are typically a go-to for most anglers out there, and for good reason. Low water temperatures slow down the brown trout's metabolism as they recover from spawning. Two factors come into play during winter that can make for some quality fishing, and big fish. First, they must eat when conditions are right to retain their relative body weight. This generally means when the temps rise and you think the fish should be biting, they are. On the freestone streams in the northeast I fish, there are very few fish under 16 inches feeding during the coldest months of the year because they can go longer without eating than the adult fish. Secondly, there is less food readily available in the drift this time of year, thus making the larger adult fish easier to catch because they simply can’t be as selective. During the winter I prefer to fish the Contact II 1094 because I am usually fishing bigger food items and switching between a long line streamer presentation depending on the water type and conditions. I fish a slightly heavier butt section in my leader build than I fish in the summer because I find myself using an indicator as much as I tightline this time of year. This is mainly because fish will typically set up in deeper slower water in the winter making it more conducive to indicator fishing.
Will Coates tightline nymphing perfect spring holding water with a silver bead caddis on the Ahuriri River, South Island NZ.
During spring and summer we see a huge shift in temperature as the river comes back to life. There is a short window that usually occurs March-May where the water swings from 45-55 degrees. This is my favorite time of year to target trout on rivers in the northeast for a few reasons. The big fish that have been trying to recover from spawning are usually in good shape by this time of year, putting on weight and hopping on the first new signs of life that emerges from the river bottom. Stoneflies, Hendricksons, Midges and Caddis make up a bulk of the trout's diet this time of year. Leeches and worms are also a great food item to imitate when targeting big fish in the spring. Fish over two feet can be taken by fishing big food items this time of year as well. Depending on the fishery and conditions I typically fish around similar water types to winter water. As temperature rises, the heads of the runs will become more productive areas, and rising temps will place fish in good spots for tight-lining. I like to fish big nymphs upstream on a long leader, covering spots with just a few casts and moving around long stretches of river. I will animate my flies a lot this time of year, jigging them actively through the drift to entice bites from fish. Bug emergence can be huge this time of year and by June fish are really keying in on movement of flies up in the column. Big fish this time of year don’t take a lot of convincing to get a bite from if they are feeding, so don’t waste your time running drift after drift over the same area. If anything, try changing your approach to the run, or move your flies more through the drift. The Contact II rods are outstanding at controlling and moving all sizes of flies throughout the drift because of the fast tip recovery and thin walled build. I fish the 1094 or the 1003 depending on the size of the river. The smaller the flies you plan to fish, the lighter the rod should be. I prefer the 1003 on days where I see a dry fly bite developing. I will spool 20’ of nymphing line and a long leader onto a normal 2-3wt DT fly line so I can quickly switch to dry flies if the opportunity presents itself. This rod is an exceptional dry fly rod and is honestly one of the best I’ve ever fished for dry flies, and the best part is it’s marketed as a nymphing rod.
Matt Litwin working prime summer pocket water on the Taylor River in Colorado with the 10’ 3wt Contact II
Peak summer into fall can present challenging and silly fishing all at the same time. This is a time when you want to be specific about when, where, and how you are fishing nymphs. I’d characterize this time of year as fast and high nymphing. I usually seek out pocket water and the fastest water I can find that will hold fish. Trout in these areas are going to be much happier and freely feeding than trout in the pools in July and August. The 1002, 1092, and 1133 Contact II are undoubtedly the tools of choice for this time of year. These rods allow you to fish at a distance with extreme control and sensitivity during a time of year where fish are spooky and the bites are lightning fast. Another big advantage of the lighter Contact II rods is their cushioning factor when fishing light tippet. Downsizing tippet while fishing small nymphs allows you to sink your flies much quicker and more naturally into the zone, resulting in more bites. In order to avoid breaking fish off, the rod needs to be soft enough to cushion the tippet on quick hooksets, but powerful enough to pin the fish well.
Rigging up with 6x and a single nymph for demanding late summer conditions on the Gunnison River
I will typically fish a 30ft level leader with an 8-6lb butt section. This allows me to fish lighter flies at a distance with minimal sag in the leader. You can also fish bigger heavier food items on this leader with ease as long as you adjust the casting stroke. Early mornings, late evenings, and cloudy rainy days present the best opportunity for success this time of year. Target your best spots first thing and consider a siesta in the middle of the day. One big thing to lookout for is the super quick bites as soon as the flies enter the water. Trout are eager and high in the water column when they are in fast moving water, so tuck casting and maintaining contact with the fly as it enters the drift is key to converting more bites into the net.
As the seasons progress, take time to observe the subtle changes in the river environment you are fishing. The temperature of the water between 35-45, 55-60, and 60-70 presents a wide range of different scenarios for the angler. Knowing what rod will give you the best advantage in each of these windows is key to having a system that works efficiently and effectively. Most above average anglers I see today are fishing the same types of jig nymphs year round in the same water types. Experiment with the size of the fly and the water type you target. My favorite thing about trout, and brown trout in particular, is their ability to recognize good bang for their buck. Even if there are mainly blue winged olives in the drift, a large trout will likely punch a crayfish with some gusto if given the opportunity. Finally, my favorite thing about the Contact II rods and something that sets them apart from any other nymphing rod out there is the ability to feel the bite from fish on a tightline rig. Personally I would rather work a little harder to feel a few hard bites on a large food item, than a hundred light bites on a small nymph.