Some people will catch fish this winter by swinging fancy wet flies or streamers down and across the Great Lakes tributary streams. Some will even know where they might find trout rising to dry flies.
But for most of us, it’s nymphing time. The water temperatures are below 40 degrees and will be for the next 16 weeks. The trout are lying low, so we’ll need flies that suggest aquatic insect larvae and pupae, designed to fish down deep.
Every so often, I decide to stop being so lazy and make a concerted effort to fish with more than one nymph at a time. It has lots of advantages.
With two (or even three), there’s a greater chance your fly will be seen. One fly might slip by the trout unnoticed, but two or three are less likely to be missed.
You can use a heavy fly at the “point” or “stretcher” position — that is, at the very end of your leader — to help drag the whole rig down into the deep water, instead of using split shot (although some experts recommend putting them heavier fly first and using the lighter one as the point fly).
You can offer the trout choices of size, style and color — say, a Green Weenie tied ahead of a Zebra Midge. The trout may not be interested in a large, bright, chartreuse bug, but the small, dark midge pupa coming along behind may be just the ticket.
You can also offer a choice of fly type: two nymphs, a nymph and an egg, a nymph and a wet fly, a nymph and a streamer or any other combination that strikes you as a good idea.
Now, of course, back in olden times, fishing more than one fly at a time was standard. David Webster, author of the 1885 book “The Angler and the Loop Rod,” fished nine flies at once.
All those flies were attached to the leader by the use of droppers — short lengths of tippet attached to the main leader with various knots so that they extend out perpendicularly.
I’ve fooled around with rigs like that from time to time. They can be effective, but making them requires a fair amount of fussing. The droppers also tend to tangle around the main line.
So usually, I do what most of us do these days: tie a nymph to the end of my leader, then tie 18 inches of tippet to the bend of that hook, and tie the second nymph on to the end of the tippet segment.
It works fine, and I’ve never had any problems with it. But imagine my surprise as I was leisurely reading “Two Centuries of Soft-Hackled Flies” by Sylvester Nemes and suddenly got a scolding.
Nemes said he felt compelled to “rectify the wrong and harmful way in which American anglers are now using droppers on their leaders. I never suggested the method so much in use now, whereby the dropper is tied directly to the bend of the first hook, allowing it to swing wildly.”
Using the old perpendicular leader system, Nemes wrote that he never accidentally snagged a trout, “but I have recently seen many fish snagged on droppers tied to the hook at the end of the leader.”
I’ve never seen a fish snagged on an in-line rig (I’ve heard it called a New Zealand rig). Of course, Nemes, who died in Montana two years ago, likely fished a lot more than I do.
I suppose if it starts to be a problem, I’ll build dropper rigs. But this winter, I’ll stick with a fly hanging off the back of another fly until there’s a reason not to.
FLY-TIERS’ EVENT MONDAY
The Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited will hold its annual Fly-Tiers Roundtable and Holiday Celebration during its December meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Albany Ramada Plaza Hotel, 3 Watervliet Ave. Extension. There will be raffles and light refreshments. Attendees are welcome to bring holiday treats to share. Anyone who would like to tie flies can make arrangements with Glenn Kuhles at 869-0817, but walk-ins are also welcome. More information can be found at www.clearwatertu.org.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.