Fly Fishing Traditions

Fly Fishing Traditions Blog and Website
"It's about Life & Fly Fishing"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nymphing Techniques on the Lower Yuba River - The Riffles

I'm getting ready to help out with a Gold Country Fly Fishers' club techniques clinic on the Lower Yuba River. Being it's February, we'll be focusing mainly on nymphing techniques and with nymphing it all starts with an indicator a big plunk of lead and mending.

With that said, the techniques you employ depend on the water type, depth and speed of the current. So let's attempt to break it down a little bit. Let's start by looking at one of the different water types you will encounter when walking and wading the Lower Yuba River and start with riffles.


You will find riffles, which are the bug factories of the river, spaced at intervals as you move up and down the river. The riffles are almost always directly below tailouts from the runs above them. The water in the riffles are usually the places where the current speed is the greatest. In general the midst of the riffles are not the most productive or desirable places for fish to hold or to present your flies. The edges and pockets are the exception to this, especially when steelhead are moving through or the resident rainbows are staged in the holding spots when caddis, mayfly, or stonefly hatches are happening or the bugs of are participating in their daily drownstream seasonal drift.

So let's look at the three main components of the riffles that are of importance to the fly fisher. (1) The edges and pockets at the main body of the riffle. (2) the drop off at the base of the riffle, and (3) What I consider the most important section of the riffle where the riffle transitions from the riffle to th erun below.

Nymphing the Body of the Riffle

If you are going to fish the body of the riffles, it is best to focus on the edges and out of the main flow of the current tongue. I have found that the best thing to do is to focus your attention to visible boulders that create soft spots behind them, or to the shallower edges where the current is much slower. You will be able to spot the hard seam between the faster and slower edge currents. The areas to focus on are the areas inside this seam not on the seam.

I like to think in terms of searching when I nymph the riffles. I like start at the head of the riffle and move downstream, presenting my flies quartering downstream with a tight line, even with the indicator on, and place casts so the flies will swing into the pockets behind the boulders and into any slots or trenches. This is essentially tight line nymphing and you are in contact with your flies the whole time. If a trout hits the flies, bang, you know it. If there is not strike I let the flies swing directly below me, still expecting a take. If not, I pick up and fire another cast to the next likely spot. This is run and gun fishing and you can cover a riffle pretty quickly.

I typically move the indicator up high and am fishing by feel and not really even paying much attention to the indicator. Why do I even have an indicator on? Mainly because I'm running and gunning the riffle and will be using the indicator as soon as I get to the bottom of the riffle at the base of the riffle where it transitions to a run. I could take it off but I don't.

This is fun run and gun fishing and you'll be surprised how many fish can be picked off as you are moving downstream. I'm typically working my way downstream to fish the transition area, which I beleive is the prime spot of a riffle.

Nymphing a Riffle Corner

On the Lower Yuba River you may find a riffle corner at the base of a riffle. This is a v-shaped slot that if you're looking up stream you will see the soft spot right at the top of the vee. This spot and the soft water downstream of it are one of the prime spots for fish to hold and feed as the nymphs get pushed down the riffles and into these soft side waters. This is especially true if there have been hatches in the days prior.

The first rule when fishing a riffle corner is not to step into the water, period. You must fish this riffle corner from the bank or you'll likely be stepping on fish. You what to use the "Shotgun" method and thoroughly cover the water before you step into it.

So, let's go through how to do it.

(1) First off you want to envision lines running parallel to the current running downstream about 1 to 1 1/2 foot apart.
(2) These are the lines you'll be running your flies and indicator through.
(3) Set your indicator to roughly 1 1/4 times the depth of the water you'll be fishing and make sure you have enough shot on. More than you think.
(4) Feed out line directly below you the distance that you want to cast upstream.
(5) Once the line is out, point your rod tip at the indicator downstream.
(6) Set up your footing so you are facing partially upstream.
(7) With a smooth deliberate motion, pick the line up and follow through upstream and point your thumb at the target area.
(8) The flies, shot and indicator hit the water up stream and your ready to start fishing.
(9) Raise your rod tip as the indicator and flies start downstream (High Stick) keeping most of the line off the water.
(10) As the indicator floats downstream, and then floats just past you position, mend the line upstream of the indicator and then lower the rod tip as they move downstream.
(11) Once they are at the end of the drift let the indicator and flies swing directly below you and then do it all over again but place your cast 1 to 1 1/2 feet further out (on the next line).

You repeat this until you've reached all the water in front of you where you think might hold fish. Once you've fishing 15 feet or so out from the bank you can carefully and stealth fully start wading in to enable placing your casts further out. Most of the water close to you can be fished with a fixed amount of line. As you fish further out you will need to keep mending, possibly stack mending and using good line managemant techniques to keep your rigg dead drifting correctly.

Nymphing the Dropoffs at the Base of a Riffle with an Across and Downstream Presentation

My favorite spot to fish the Lower Yuba is at the base of a riffle, when the caddis are hatching from the riffles above. They can also be extremely productive when the Skwalas are in the drift or the various mayflies that live in the riffles. The thing to remember is that the Lower Yuba River trout are essentially lazy, you will not find them holding in the dropoffs unless there is a reason for them to do so. This means food must be present or they will drop down into the runs below and just let the food be delivered down to them. If there is a hatch coming out of the riffles this is where I want to be. In knee deep water slightly upstream from the drop offs. This is how I like to do it.

I first rigg up with a large thingamabobber at about 1 1/4 times the depth of the water in the the run directly below the dropoff. I use enough weight to get the flies down but not hanging up constantly. I want to place myself in a position that I'm about 15 feet or so above the dropoff. This method is for fishing the dropoff with a down stream presentation and you will be in direct contact with your flies for most of the drift. If a fish takes, your indicator will shoot away from you and then you will feel the take. So here we go.

(1) Place your cast above the dropoff about 6 to 8 feet above the dropoff, targeting the dropoff spot that is the closest to your position.
(2) The cast needs to be a straight line cast and the flies, shot, and indicator should land in a straight line.
(3) When the flies land they will drop and tumble down the face of the drop off if you have enough shot on. If you are not hanging up from time to time you need to add more shot.
(4) Follow the indicator with your rod tip down the drop and once they have floated about 7 or eight feet throw a big upstream mend directly above the indicator and feed down a ways into the run.
(5) Pick up and re-cast to the next line 1 to 1 1/2 feet further out.
(6) Continue to work the water out as far as is reasonable.
(7) When using this technique 1/2 to 2/3 of the drift will be tight lined and the remainder will be deaddrifted. That is the goal.

This technique can also be used with a dry dropper combination or with soft hackles and be very effective.

Nymphing the Base of a Riffle with an Upstream Presentation

Another very effective presentation technique for fishing the base of a riffle is to take a position just below the drop off and present your flies, shot and indicator up stream and across, also using the "shotgun" method. You will be working the water from the inside out in drift lines. You must also be careful not to wade right in and on top of holding fish.

This technique will require mending and line handling to be effective. The idea is to place your casts upstream about 6 to 8 feet above the base of the riffle, high stick the indicator as in comes down stream to your position, Place a big mend behind the indicator and then follow or feed downstream below your position. Follow the drift with your rod tip and if the indicator moves set in the direction to the bank below you, not upstream. So this is how it works.

(1) Place a quartering upstream cast so that it lands 6 to 8 feet above the drop off, it's important not to mend at this point as the flies are getting deep in a controlled manner. If you throw a big mend popping the indicator upstream, the flies they will rocket down and get hung up in the rocks.
(2) After the flies hit raise the rod tip and (high Stick) the indicator with as much line off the water as possible without drawing the indicator back towards shore. They need to be able to continue a straight line path downstream.
(3) Lead the indicator downstream towards your position. If there is a take and the indicator dips, set downstream.
(4) Once the flies are slightly downstream of your position, place a big mend behind the indicator without stopping its downstream progression and follow with your rod tip, lowering it as the rigg moves downstream.
(5) Continue mending and feeding as far downstream as is practical and manageable.
(6) If the indicator, stops, moves upstream, or goes down set to the bank downstream, again not upstream over your head.


So, there's four techniques that you can add to your arsenal the next time you're on the river. I hope it improves your success rate.