Spring creek nymph fishing tactics

I learned to fish spring creeks in the early 2000s, and at that time I spent a lot of my time fishing alongside an elderly English ex-pat, and fly fishing purist. let’s call him Malcolm because that was his name. Malcolm was a fanatic spring creek fisherman, every time I drove by the parking lots I will see his truck parked there. I don,t know how he did it, but over the next decade, he seemed to be fishing all the local spring creeks at once.

Despite 50 years difference in age, we both started fly fishing around the same time. I used my youth to go exploring wild places and alpine lakes, he spent his retirement learning the secrets of the spring creeks, and he certainly become an authority on the subject. Much of what I learned about fishing spring creeks I learned from Malcolm, so because some of the advice is his, I feel it is fitting to give him credit at the start of the article.

When most people start nymph fishing, they will probably head to a freestone river, probably a large one. Blind fishing larger rivers for trout can be intimidating for new fly fishermen.  There is just so much water to cover.  “How can a trout even see a 1/2 inch nymph in all this volume”. It is not uncommon for our minds to be full of doubt.

Then our brains will go into overdrive, trying to work out where how to find trout in such a large body of water. Such rivers really are daunting for anyone new to the sport. It is not uncommon for fly fishermen to walk and cover a lot of empty water before either spotting or locating their quarry. It takes a lot of time to become efficient at reading larger rivers, knowing where fish are most likely to be holding.

This is where spring-fed streams and creeks come into their own. Their small size and excellent clarity, make them much more manageable and finding the trout might be quick and easy. But, catching them is where the challenge begins.

The characteristics of a spring creek

Spring-fed creeks in many ways represent the perfect trout habitat.

They provide the three essential requirements for a trout stream in abundance.

  • Oxygenated cold water
  • Ample food
  • Shelter (Protection from predators.)

And you can begin to understand why so many trout choice to call spring creeks their home.

No matter whether you are fishing your local treasure, the world-famous limestone creeks of Pennsylvania, to the traditional chalk streams of England all these small weedy waters share a lot in common.

Spring creeks are different from freestone rivers. They offer year round stability in both flow and temperature.

The waters are usually gin clear, and oxygen rich with plentiful weeds providing both cover and habitat for aquatic insects that trout feed upon.

While water temperatures do fluctuate with the seasons, they are remarkably stable, often hanging around 57F throughout the summer making them an ideal temperature for trout to feed.

Spring-fed streams have saved many fishing trips when larger rainfed rivers are swollen and high. Spring creeks often flow clear and can remain fishable after all but the worst weather events.

The secrets to nymph fishing spring streams

Stealth and precision are of the most importance. The trout can see us just as easily as we can see them, and given heavy fishing pressure they will dart away under the banks at any disturbance.

I nearly always fish from the shore. I can not remember the last time I waded in a spring creek. The main reason. Spring creeks can be deceitfully deep, and extremely cold even on the hottest days mid-summer. It is also less likely to spook trout when there is vegetation to hide behind. The waters of a spring creek might seem shallow enough to wade, but the clarity can be misleading.

I do not want to be a downer, but there had been several drownings on my local spring creek, when people ended up in the water and went into cold shock and were unable to pull themselves back up through the weed infested sides.

Vary your approach, upstream nymphing and across and down.

The upstream, across, and down techniques work very well. Depending on where the trout are holding, and my ability to cast I will vary between both techniques.

Most importantly, your cast and drift must present the nymph to the trout precisely and without any unnatural drag. The clarity is often excellent, the trout will be able to detect even micro drag.

I always observe the trout as it feeds, and use this time to establish its depth, and its movement routine. Watch it take naturals as they drift downstream. Once this feeding pattern has been established, it is time to work out the depth of the fish and the velocity of the flow.

The next step is to match the weight of the nymph with the above variables so it will sink to within the feeding zone of the fish. The feeding zone is typically about a 2ft circle around where it is holding.

I use three nymph weights.

I will use a Pheasant Tail in #16 as an example:

  • lightweight nymph (copper wire body): Used to target trout feeding in the top foot or two of the water column.
  • Medium weight nymph (6 turns of .010” lead): Used to fish in water between 3 – 4ft in depth.
  • Heavyweight nymph (6 turns of .010” lead wire, and a 2mm tungsten bead): Targeting bottom feeders, six feet deep.

This next part takes practice, with time on the water it becomes possible to estimate the distance you need to present the nymph above the feeding fish to give the nymph time to sink to the trouts feeding zone.

The aim in judging these distances is to be able to present the nymph so it drifts right into the trout’s face. Trout are lazy, bring the food to them. Do not expect them to swim to your fly.

Track the nymph, and once it is about 3 feet from the trout, I like to impart movement by lifting my rod tip slightly. This causes the nymph to raise ever so slightly, a technique which is known as an “induced take”.

Gently let the nymph drift towards the trout, pause the rod, and, in the same movement raise the tip which will cause the nymph to rise slowly towards the surface. This is done to try and mimic the hatch of a natural.

During the drift, it is important to keep in touch with the nymph at all times. Watch the trout at all times. With keen eyes and crystal clear spring creek water, there is little need for a strike indicator or bobber.

Observe the trout’s movements. If, the trout moves to where you suspect the nymph is, be ready to rise your rod. Pay close attention when your trout swims to either side or climbs slightly before leveling off. This is a good sign they are about to inhale your nymph.

Be ready to STRIKE and set the hook at such movements.

Sometimes allowing your nymph to drift past to the side of the trout. This way, the trout moving in the direction of your nymph is a good sign that the trout is interested. Be ready to strike, it only takes a moment for them to spit out a nymph once realizing it is not food.

At other times, it might pay, to wait for the white flash of the trout’s mouth as it engulfs the nymph. It is all practice!

Across and down

I will briefly cover the across and down technique, the same attention to detail and concentration is required to deliver the nymph to where the fish is feeding.

Do not cast directly at the fish, target area that will allow the nymph to sink and naturally drift into the trout’s feeding zone.

Gently present the nymph approximately 10ft upstream of the feeding zone, this distance is determined by a combination of the weight of the nymph and the speed of the current.

Leader selection – longer is better

Spring creeks, often have lush riparian zones. Tall grass, thick reeds, and curtains of willows that can impede casting and tangle leaders. But despite the challenge presented by the vegetation long leaders are still beneficial.

If you can handle them, it pays to fish leaders no longer than 14-15ft (Including tippet). A long leader is useful for covering especially deep-lying fish and allowing for longer, finer presentations. But at the same time, it is important to be able to control your leader at all times.

With lackluster technique, it is oh so easy to collapse a leader in on itself or end up tangling the trees behind. Some days I catch way more poplar twigs than trout.

If you can not confidentially handle a longer leader, then cast a shorter one. A well-presented cast with a shorter leader is better than a cast that collapses in on itself with a long one.

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