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White River Nymphing

by Dave Hughes

My old friend John and I were leaning against his rig the other day, catching up on life, which we hadn’t had a chance to do in a while. A flock of turkeys had just hustled up the hill above the upper campground. My wife, Masako, was picking enough watercress, from the bed of it not far from the lodge, to go with venison for dinner. The White River was in perfect shape, but we hadn’t fished yet.

While John and I talked, young Nick, who was staying in the lodge with his father, hustled by on his way to fish the pools just downstream from the lodge. John hailed him over, asked how the fishing had been. Nick had hooked one, his father another, in a day of fishing. I noticed Nick’s rig was set for nymphs, with a hard indicator up high, and two size 6 or 8 salmonfly nymphs a foot apart at the tippet end. He asked my advice, and I told him the only thing I’d change was the point salmon fly nymph for a size 16 beadhead of any sort, and then I’d pinch a stout split shot between the two of them. Nick, impatient to be fishing, bolted for the river.

John and I continued to talk, and a few minutes later heard an indeterminate yelp. It could have been from the river. It could have been from up in the hills.

John said, “Must have been Nick hooked one.”

I said, “I think it was one of those tom turkeys that just departed up the hill.”

Just a few more minutes later, Nick came loping up from the river, said, “That was good advice. I had one of the big ones on.” He’d hooked it on the size 16 nymph he’d tied on, whatever it was.

My normal advice when somebody asks for my advice is not to take my advice. That said, nine out of ten of the trout my wife and I have hooked on the White River have been on size 16 beadhead nymphs, usually Princes or A. P. Blacks, not that it matters. And in defense of my advice, I’m just passing on advice that somebody gave to me when I first began fishing the river many years ago. I’ve followed it ever since, and am passing it along now.

A small nymph is not going to sink anywhere fast by itself and the one requirement of the White, with it’s three- to six-foot deep holding lies and fairly fast current, is the need to get your nymph down near the bottom abruptly. That’s the reason for the heavy salmonfly nymph-that and the fact that the river is loaded with the naturals, and trout must eat them all year long. It’s also the reason for the split shot or two pinched between the larger nymph and the smaller one: The combined weight causes the two nymphs to plunge quickly and get to fishing depth almost the instant they hit the water.

The purpose of the indicator is to float all that weight, keep it suspended slightly above the bottom, keep you from snagging on every cast--you will on every tenth cast or so. I use those new balloon indicators in large size. I want no question that my indicator is going to float, and that I’m going to be able to see it. The White is usually off-color enough that trout are not bothered by a big indicator.

So there’s the standard White River rig, if you haven’t tried it yet: a big indicator about four to six feet up the leader from the point fly; a weighted salmonfly nymph on 2X or 3X tippet and a size 16 beadhead nymph a foot from it on 3X or 4X--White River trout are not leader shy. Pinch one or two split shot between them and you’re prepared to fish deep, down where those big trout hang out. Your rod should be 8-1/2 to 9 feet long. Your line should be a floater. Make each cast five to ten feet upstream from the water you actually suppose will hold the trout you’re after. It takes that long, even with all that weight, for your nymphs to reach fishing depth.

There are, not incidentally, folks who fish the White River and catch a lot more trout than I do. If you run into one, check out his or her rig; it’s probably going to be different than mine, and it might well be better. But it will certainly solve that problem of getting a nymph down deep and very quickly.

Dave Hughes Articles

Dave Hughes is the author of more than 20 books about fly fishing. They include the classic Western Hatches with Rick Hafele, American Fly Tying Manual, Handbook of Hatches, Reading Trout Water, Dry Fly Fishing, Nymph Fishing and the massive reference Trout Flies. His latest book, published in 2009, is Nymphs for Streams and Stillwaters. Dave, a native Oregonian and Vietnam Vet, is an accomplished amateur aquatic entomologist. His hobbies include collecting, identifying, and photographing the aquatic insects that are fed upon by trout, as well as tying and fishing the flies that match those insects and fool those trout. His articles on fly fishing have appeared in Field & Stream, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Fly Fisherman magazine, American Angler, and Fly Tyer. Dave served as editor of Flyfishing & Tying Journal for eight years, and is currently Elements of Success columnist for Fly Rod & Reel. Check out Dave's website at: www.davehughesflyfishing.com

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