Fly Fishing – The Pheasant Tail Nymph

In my last article the Killer Bug was extolled as the answer to every fishermen’s dream during low fly days on the chalk stream. True weighted or ‘sunken’ nymph fishing, or ‘Netheravon Style’ nymph fishing as it is sometimes known, is a completely different technique to dry fly or Killer Bug fishing. Dry fly fishing exploits the water surface while Killer Bug fishing is designed for the bottom of the river. Nymph fishing targets the last area of the river – the sub surface. This area is highly attractive to fish as it is the area where hatching nymphs make their way to the surface.

There are a huge variety of nymphs and an enormous number of species. However, the hatching nymphs can be grouped into 2 or 3 categories. There are those that swim up from the river bed after spending the larval stage of their lives in or on the river bed. Mayfly are the most well known of this group, but caddis and BWO also hatch from the bottom. Next are the nymphs that crawl out of the water on weeds, rushes, rocks or anything else that rises from the river bed and breaks the surface. The final group are those nymphs which live in weeds and swim from the weeds to the surface to hatch.

A few summers ago I was fishing on the Avon on a sunny mid morning in late august. The reach was the shallows just upstream of Corfe End Lakes at the start of what is known as Darkest Africa. The water level was reasonably high and as clear as gin.

I had started my day’s fishing with 10 grayling on a Killer Bug. I consider this an essential start to any day’s fishing as it irons out all the jitters and nerves and is an ideal way of checking the tackle to see if it works. As luck would have it, I also managed to bag a small trout which took my bug with gusto.

As I moved upstream it became clear that there was little or no fly hatching. I was moving slowly stopping every 5m to spend a few minutes observing and studying the next few metres of river. I find that this drill prevents me from missing any fish as I make my way along the bank.

Upstream close to the near bank I noticed on several occasions a subtle surface disturbance. There was clearly some sub-surface activity in the area. As I edged closer I spotted a nice trout of about ¾ lb. As I studied the fish it became apparent that it was a wild fish. Not only did it have the characteristic deep red spots and light gold colouring of the indigenous Avon trout, but its hyperactive and flightly movements, coupled with its location next to the bank and obvious cover, suggested it was wild. I find stocked fish tend to be much darker, more leisurely in their activity, and more often than not found in the open river, sometimes with other stocked fish.

The fish was lying in mid water and its fin and tail movement showed clearly it was on the feed. I had a small Killer Bug on my line so cast well upstream of the fish. The trout showed no interest on the first cast. Usually a fish eating shrimps will take a Killer Bug on the first correctly placed cast. I didn’t risk a second cast as it was clear from the slight tail flick that the fish had seen the first bug but chose not to take. A second cast would almost certainly have frightened the fish away. I am a strong believer that you only get a couple of casts at most with a wild fish.

There were a small number of hatching flies so I tried changing my tackle to a small pale dry fly. The position of the fish and the current made the dry fly presentation extremely difficult. I didn’t want to frighten the fish so I was rather conservative with my casting ensuring that the line did not flash over the fish. Although I dropped the fly over the fish two or three times, there was not a sign of interest in the fish. I decided to watch the fish for while in an attempt to glean more information on the trout’s feeding habits.

The sudden movements left and right and slight disturbance of the surface were the give away. The trout was taking occasional nymphs that were hatching from the weed growth at the edge of the river. The trout was taking the nymphs only 5-6 inches below the surface and this was causing the disturbance.

I selected the smallest pheasant tail in my box which was a size 16. The cast was made about a foot upstream of the trout and the nymph dropped quickly through the surface. A slight raising of the rod tip caused movement of the nymph and this was enough to induce the fish to take.

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