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The Seven Deadly Sins of Nymph Fishing, with Josh Nugent

Description: Josh Nugent of Out Fly Fishing in Calgary has been doing a series of “Seven Deadly Sins” podcasts with me over the past couple of years and this one is chock full of great advice [38:38]. Josh is a very preceptive angler and thinks deeply about how flies behave in the water and how trout react to them, and in the interview we go off on a number of tangents—all interesting and all about nymph fishing—and all of them with great advice on how to make your indicator nymphing game more fun and productive.
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Podcast Transcript:

Tom: Hi and welcome to "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast." This is your host Tom Rosenbauer and my guest this week is Josh Nugent from Out Fly Fishing in Calgary. And Josh has been on the podcast a number of times, and he's been doing this series of the seven deadly sins of various types of fly fishing. And this week, we're going to be doing the seven deadly sins of nymph fishing. Now some people think that nymph fishing itself is a sin but Josh and I both enjoy nymph fishing and we ramble quite a bit, there's definitely some tangents in this podcast and always happens when I get Josh on the podcast. But I think you'll enjoy it, there's lots of good stuff there. Josh is very perceptive and very thoughtful and really, really thinks about what's going on under the water. So, I think you'll enjoy it.
Anyway, first, we'll do the Fly Box. And if you have a question for the Fly Box, you can send it to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. either just typing in your email or put your question in a voice file, record a voice file and attach it to your email. So, our first question this week...actually, it's not a question, it's a tip that comes from Kevin. "I am a longtime listener who has been tying flies for more than 50 years, the art of fly fishing continues to evolve and it's exciting to watch new materials, techniques, opportunities, it will never be the same old, same old. I consider Orvis's products and all you do to be something very special, thanks for all of your contributions. Now, more to the point, I have sought ways to give back, writing and making videos and on social media but nothing will be more rewarding than seeing my grandchildren follow in my footsteps. To that end, I have been anxious to get them in front of a vise. It has been customary to wait until children reach an age where they can safely handle hooks and other sharp stuff.
My youngest granddaughter was quite curious and had to get her hands on the stuff much sooner than that. She just turned three and we began with tube fly materials. She started by wrapping thread onto the tube just a couple of weeks ago and this week, she is tying in material. Tube flies eliminate the danger from hook points and provide a longer landing zone for the thread wraps. I hope this suggestion can be used by others who are anxious to get their kids started in fly tying and this might arguably be a safer way to do that. Like many three-year-olds, she has a mind of her own and insisted on using some of my good pheasant tail fibers but it was a small price to pay all things considered. I think we are just a piece of yarn and some longer feathers away from actually catching a fish with her creation. I can only hope this will instill a lifelong love of fly fishing in her as well."
Well, that is a great suggestion, Kevin. And for those of you who have never tied on tubes, you do need a special mandrel that you put in your vise to stick the tube on. But what a great way of starting kids out in fly tying, I had never thought of that and that's a terrific suggestion. So, thank you for sharing that with us. Here's another email from Michael. "I would like to contact Tom Rosenbauer. I remember seeing Tom at a fly fishing show way back. I recently came across a photo of Tom displaying a fly pattern. I noticed a roll-top desk in the background of the photo. Just wondering about the roll-top desk, is that desk actually owned by Tom? I have the same desk, just wondering any information on the desk, and did Tom add any type of storage system to the area around the desk while tying? Looking for tips."
Well, Michael, I have no...that is my roll-top desk and I have no idea what kind it is. It probably wasn't very expensive. I bought it in a furniture store somewhere in Vermont and I've had it for many, many years and there's no identifying marks, so I don't know what kind it is but, you know, there's lots of basic wood roll-top desk out there. And, yes, I have added many different storage devices around the desk. I have one of those rolling containers that has a bunch of drawers that you would put tools or, you know, screws and nuts and things like that. And it's nice to have it on rollers so that I can move it around my fly tying vents.
And I also...I hate to tell you this, but I have a whole walk-in closet full of fly tying materials and I store those in large plastic, like, shoe boxes or boxes that you store clothing and papers and things like that, the inexpensive kind that you can buy at a Home Depot or something. And also my flight time materials often end up on the floor sometimes when I'm tying and I have a bunch of hackled capes and I'm not sure which I'm going to use, I'll dump them all on the floor next to me so that I keep them off my desk. And I also have a computer desk next to the fly tying bench and I often put materials there, so the stuff is all over the place. I'm not exactly a paragon of organization.
Jared: Hey, Tom, how's it going? Should I say greetings from Australia and start with the usuals? Yeah, thank you for everything you do for the sport. You know, I listen to your podcasts in the U.S. and I can't help but feel like it's helped me to catch as many fish up there as here. My question today is more related to a culture I don't really understand in the U.S. which is bird hunting. You know, over here, we have a lot of native ducks and birds and whatnot in the wilderness but we can't hunt them. And, you know, a lot of the time when I'm out fishing and hiking, I really enjoy just observing the birds and watching what they do. Over there, you guys seem to shoot them a lot, which I don't really understand.
You know, over here, we have a huge culture in trout fishing of catch and release. And it's more about, you know, maybe pluck a fish from the stream and observe it and then put it back on its way and let it live its life. But I don't really understand that culture over there of shooting a bird and killing it, what the purpose is of it. So, anyway, just curious about why you guys hunt over there and why you guys kill birds. Anyway, again, thank you for everything you do and, yeah, speak to you soon.
Tom: Jared, I'm sorry, you can understand the culture of shooting a bird and killing it. I guess it's not done that much in Australia but, you know, here in the states, you know, unless you're a vegetarian and you do eat meat, an animal has to be killed somehow and I certainly don't see any problem with killing an animal myself and then preparing it. I like knowing where my food is coming from. And I wouldn't shoot a bird that I wasn't going to eat but birds don't go to waste at all in my household. We eat the birds, whether it's a grouse or a woodcock or a duck. And I also save all the feathers from the birds I shoot, I cut the wings off, I pluck the feathers from the body, and put them in ziplock bags so that not only am I providing dinner for myself and my family, but I'm also providing myself with some inexpensive fly tying materials. So, you know, it's just a difference in philosophy, but I'm not going to apologize for killing birds or using the feathers from them.
All right, how about another email? This one is from Steve. "Joining in with those who have expressed their gratitude for all that you and Orvis have done to make fly fishing so engaging. My only personal regret is that I never had the chance to fly fish with my grandfather but I smile every time I look at his 1940s era bamboo rod. I have a few questions regarding lake fishing when it gets too warm to look for trout in Southern Vermont. One, where can I learn the different tactics for fishing large versus smallmouth bass? Two, do you ever use a dropper when using a popper? And if so, what do you use? And three, I sometimes lose my fly that is a streamer to what I suspect is a chain pickerel. What do you suggest?"
So, Steve, first of all, the best place I can send you for learning different tactics for catching large and smallmouth bass is the Orvis Learning Center at There are a number of videos about finding bass at various times of the year, what types of flies to use, what types of tackle to use. So, rather than me trying to do it here, I would advise you to take a look at the Orvis Learning Center. Video is always better because it's visual and you can actually see some diagrams of lakes and rivers and where you would find best. So, I'd encourage you to go to the Orvis Learning Center.
I do occasionally use a dropper when fishing a popper, usually not for bass. But I do for panfish, I'll use a small bluegill bug and a small popper or a sponge rubber bug and then I'll put a small lightly weighted or unweighted nymph on the back of that. So, it's like fishing a dry dropper for trout and, you know, sometimes the fish are attracted to the popper and they'll drop back and eat the nymphs. So, I don't do it that much for bass, I probably should try it more often for bass. The problem is with bass, you're generally using bigger streamers and it's tough to hang one on a popper and get it to float perfectly, so don't do it as much for bass. Regarding chain pickerel, there's a couple of things you can do. One is that when you're fishing for bass, which I assume you are when you're catching chain pickerel, you don't need to use a light tippet.
You can know, 20-pound is fine for fishing for any kind of bass, and 20-pound, especially 20-pound fluorocarbon is very abrasion resistant and it should be able to allow you to land those chain pickerel. They shouldn't be able to bite through 20-pound, a big pike or a muskie might be able to but chain pickerel usually wouldn't be able to. And if you really catching a lot of pickerel, then you can put a small piece of wire on the end between your tippet and your fly. So, I wouldn't worry about chain pickerel, they usually are not...the teeth aren't big enough and sharp enough to cut through monofilament.
Here's an email from Bill for Michigan. "Hi, I have a few questions about hair for fly tying. I was wondering how deer hair varies between species for uses in fly tying. I believe most of the hair is white-tailed, but can I use Axis or Sitka deer here? Do these vary greatly from white-tailed hair and are there any modifications I should make when tying with these? What uses are there for antelope and goat hair? I have some blackbuck hides and an ibex sitting around and I'm wondering if they could be used and what I could use them for. Thank you for all the advice you have given out."
So, that's interesting, Bill. I've never tied with Axis or Sitka deer hair. These are Asian deer that are sometimes raised on game farms and harvested. But, you know, it's gonna really depend on the individual deer. Even white-tailed deer that we use a lot, there's a lot of variation between different animals and where the hair was taken from the animals. But I imagine Axis or Sitka deer hair probably would be great for making small caddisflies and minnows and things like that. I assume the hair is hollow because they look similar to white-tailed deer. So, yeah, I honestly don't know, I'd love to try some sometime. I haven't used any but I am sure that you can find a use for it for, you know, any place where you would use white-tailed hair. And since they're a smaller deer, they may have really good hair for tying things like X-Caddis and Comparaduns.
As far as antelope hair is concerned, I've got a bunch of antelope and I never use it. It's not very strong, the thread will often cut antelope hair and it's kind of brittle and the ends aren't very even. That's one thing, you know, when you're using hair from a deer, regardless of what kind of deer it is, you want to look for very even hair length and not too long of a black tip. Most deer hair has kind of a very fine black tip on it and the shorter that black tip is the better the hair is going to behave. And so, antelope flares really well but it's pretty useless for most stuff as far as I'm concerned.
Goat hair is really good for long streamers. You can get goat hair that's quite long, it has a good action in the water, and you should be able to get some good either bass or saltwater streamers or even big trout streamers out of that goat hair. I don't know about blackbuck, I've never used that. I have a piece of ibex hair and in my experience, the hair that I've seen was a little too short and stiff for most things. But again, you may be able to find some use for it, particularly small caddisflies, but I would just experiment with those different hairs, just tie with them and see how they behave.
Jeff: Hi, Tom, this is Jeff from Bloomfield Hills. I like the others would like to thank you very much for the podcast, and I particularly enjoy the Fly Box section and seeing how close my answers are to yours. My question is about the 7 weight lines I've accumulated over the years. I'm hoping you can tell me which to keep and which I should probably replace. I use them for streamer fishing in Michigan rivers for trout. I have a spool and reel at my house and a spare spool and a reel at my place up north and I'd like a good two-line rotation for that purpose that is streamer fishing for trout.
The lines I've accumulated and they're all in good shape but I think they might have just been unwise purchases in the first place. I've got an Orvis Saltwater All-Rounder, I've got the Orvis zebra tip nymph taper, and then I have a Clearwater Sink Tip but it's got a five-foot sink tip on it and then a blank spool. So, tell me what you think might be a good two-line rotation and which of these lines might fit into the rotation at one of the locations. I'm thinking of Bank Shot is probably what I want for the spare spool but I of course defer to you. Thanks for everything, Tom. Hope to hear from you soon.
Tom: But Jeff, there's a couple of lines there that I think will be of good use for fishing streamers. That Saltwater All-Rounder is a great line for fishing trout streamers, it's a cold water line, it works well in cold water, so it should work well for trout fishing if it's the right size, if it's the 7 weight. It should work as a good floating line. You know, if you're fishing shallow or fishing at night or you're fishing a heavily weighted fly, that Saltwater All-Rounder floating line should work out quite well. The zebra tip nymph taper was a line that had zebra stripes on and it's used for strike indicator type things. So, probably not as much use for streamer fishing unless you're dead drifting streamers. You know, if you're dead drifting a streamer and you're watching the tip of your line for a strike, that might work out well but it's probably going to be of limited use for streamer fishing.
That Clearwater Sink Tip with a five-foot sink tip would be a good streamer line for relatively shallow water. You know, a five-foot sink tip is not that long of a sink tip, so it's not going to get really deep. And I think you're on the right track that that Bank Shot has a very heavy front end and it syncs very quickly and that Bank Shot sink tip would be a good line for streamer fishing, particularly when you're fishing bigger streamers. So, I think you've got a couple of lines that will work, and adding a Bank Shot to that, you should have all the streamer lines you need. You're going to pick two? I would pick the Saltwater All-Rounder that you already have and I would get a Bank Shot line for fishing deeper, heavier water.
Here's an email from Daniel. "Hi, Tom. Like so many, I appreciate the podcast. I have found adding a wing case to a smaller nymph size 18 or smaller to be a challenge. Last season, I decided to forego the wind case and simply use a small UV resin dollop. It worked quite well and was far less time-consuming." Well, thanks, Daniel. That's a great tip. I do a similar thing. I will often get some black nail polish and just put black nail polish where I would normally put a wing case and then I'll let that dry and I'll put a little bit of thin UV over the top to protect it. You may not even need the UV on top but it gives you a nice black look. And I know that there's also black UV resins but it's not as...I find that it's not as black, it's not as dark black as the nail polish.
It's just kind of mixed with clear and it doesn't quite get totally black. So, I like the nail polish and UV Resin on top but that is a great tip, especially for small nymphs but it'll work on bigger nymphs as well. Here's an email from Frederick from Denmark. Another one from Denmark in the cold Northern Europe. "I recently acquired a leader straightener with rubber interior, hence the greetings from the cold north. I do have mixed feelings around it, mostly since I tend to get small pieces of rubber on the leader after I tried to straighten it. Is this normal? And will it affect my fishing? I'm thinking of going back to just using my hands but wanted to know if you had any insight to this. Thanks, and thank you for an amazing podcast."
Well, Frederick, I think that leader straighteners are probably the most useless piece of gear that a fly fisher could carry. So, I would get rid of it, give it to somebody that you don't like. They're not very good for leaders, they can heat a leader up too much and change the molecular structure in the leader. They can leave a residue as you've seen on the leader, and they're absolutely not needed, you can straighten any leader just by pulling it in your hands and I think you should go back to that and retire the leader straightener because it's gonna be pretty worthless.
Here's an email from...I don't know who this is from, didn't give a name. "Thank you for your dedication to the wonderful world of fly fishing, I catch more fish and enjoy this wonderful world of trout because of the depth of knowledge that you share. I am seeking to learn large river tactics to assist me in exploring the Kennebec River this year. I will be hiring a guide several times but seek philosophical approaches to tackling the river. I typically nymph 75% of the time using close-range techniques. I would like your opinion on two-handed rods for French or Spanish long-range nymphing.
Is this approach a waste of time, or would it allow me to touch more fast on wadeable sections? Would you suggest a rod length and line weight? Secondly, my 10 foot 6 inch ESN Rod doesn't cast well despite industry claims, the tip sensitivity is the trade-off. However, I tend to feel more fish with my line hand and see indicator line movement than feeling the fish on the rod tip. Can you discuss the pros and cons for getting a less sensitive, better casting rods that will be slower action yet offering better casting accuracy but still dedicated to the nymphing game? Which Orvis rod would you recommend?"
Well, as far as using a two-handed rod for any kind of tight-line or euro nymphing, I don't think you're going to be happy with it. Two-handed rods have quite a heavy tip, they're not going to cast those light flies and leader very well and they're not going to be very sensitive, they're not designed for that. So, I would not...I don't know of a two-handed rod that's light enough for you, so I wouldn't recommend anything there. Regarding a euro nymphing rod, you know, I hesitate to give you a particular model of Orvis rod because I don't know exactly what you're doing or what you like. I do know that all the Orvis rods that are designed for euro nymphing are very sensitive in the tip. We work with a lot of experts, especially George Daniel, on developing these rods and George is really, really focused on having a very, very sensitive tip not only for feeling the strikes but for casting those lighter leaders with the weighted flies.
So, you know, any of the...I would recommend anything from the Clearwater up to the Helios 3, you know, it depends on your price point what you're preparing to pay for a rod. The Clearwater rods are very good. I use the Clearwater euro nymphing rods and quite happy with them. I use the Recon rods as well and the H3 rods are, of course, the best, they're the most sensitive, they're the strongest, they're the most accurate, but they are also the more expensive. The Clearwater rods are not made in our rod shop, they're made to our specs overseas, but the Recon rods and the Helios 3 rods are all made in the Orvis rod shop. So, anyway, sorry, I can't give you a specific recommendation but any of the 10 foot or 11 foot 3 weights are going to do the job for you just fine.
Here's an email from Nicholas from France. "Trout season is opening in two weeks in France but my waders are leaking like a sieve. My problem is finding and repairing tiny pinholes. I saw that some people on YouTube are spraying isopropyl alcohol to identify pinholes. I tried that and it was no different than spraying water except that it dried quicker. Am I doing it wrong or does it only work on some fabrics? What is your solution to finding pinholes in your waders and fixing them?" Well, Nicholas, I'm not a big fan of the alcohol test, I haven't found that it works very well either. But I love patching waiters, it's one of my favorite things to do in the offseason. And, you know, it's quite a feeling of accomplishment when you got leaky waders and you go in and you find the leaks and you fix them and you go out and your pants are dry all day. So, I take great pleasure in repairing waders, and here's how I do it if it helps you.
The first thing I'll do is I'll inspect the outside of the wader. Usually, you can get an idea for where there has been some abrasion or where a seam is starting to go. So, I'll look at those areas first, look at those suspect areas where I see a little surface abrasion. The next thing I'll do is I'll take a strong flashlight and I'll go into a relatively dark room, it doesn't have to be totally dark, with a marking pen. And I'll run the flashlight along the seam and if there are any obvious leaks, the light will shine through the wader fabric just like a star, it'll show up pretty apparent. And so, that's your first line of defense and usually, I find with a flashlight, I can find most of the pinholes in my waders and then I'll patch that with AquaSeal. AquaSeal is absolutely the best stuff to use for fixing your waders.
Now, if that doesn't work, the absolutely foolproof way of finding pinhole leaks is you have to get a vacuum cleaner or a Shop-Vac where you can reverse the hose so that it blows air. And what you do is you dip your waders in soapy water, just a little dish soap or something in some water, you dip them in soapy water and then you compress the wader fabric around the vacuum tube. And don't put too much pressure on it but just allow a little bit of air to escape, let those wader legs kind of blow up like a sausage, and where you have the pinhole leaks, that soapy water will blow bubbles.
I discovered this or I started using this after I saw a man testing for gas leaks in an outside propane tank and I find this to work quite well. So, it'll blow up bubbles and they'll extend out from the wader fabric. And that's a really good way to find leaks in neoprene feet because it's nearly impossible to find seam leaks in a neoprene foot in waders, but this method will work. So, there are other ways of testing for wader leaks, but those are the ones that I use. So, I hope this helps you and I hope you stay dry this season.
Here's an email from Andrew from Pennsylvania and Vermont. "On your recent podcasts with Noelle Coley, a questioner who is a new fly angler asked about when it was worthwhile for him to upgrade his rod to a better model. Your answer intrigued me and led me to wonder a few things. How to older rods compared to the more modern ones? For example, an original Helios 1, is that sort of the equivalent to the Recon series? Or where would an H2 fit in? Going older and showing my age here, the Trident or Silver Label series, is there any way to make a comparison?
Obviously, they all still fish and cast well and have held up over the years, goes to show the great craftsmanship in the rod shop. You also mentioned how the top-end rods are made in Vermont. What about the components like the guides and the graphite sheets themselves? For what it's worth, I toured the rod shop several years ago pre-COVID and it was fascinating. I would highly recommend that anyone in the Manchester area stop into the flagship store, take a tour of the factory, and walk across the parking lot to the American Museum of Fly Fishing while they're there. All worth the time. Thanks for the podcasts and all you do for Orvis and the sport."
So, your questions, older rods, the older Helios are not really equivalent to the Recon. The Recon is a rod that evolved and the Recon, actually, I would consider to be a better rod than the Helios 1 and probably equivalent to the Helios 2 or maybe even a little bit better than the Helios 2. But you have to understand that the rod shops always trying to make rods better and stronger and more accurate. And as we go through the years, we find new materials, we develop new construction techniques, and what you're going to find the difference between the older rods and the newer rods, the older rods like the Trident or Silver Label or Helios 1 are going to fish just fine, they're still great rods.
You're going to find that the newer rods are going to be a little stronger. You know, when you really stress them with a big fish, the newer rods are going to be much stronger, 20% or 30% stronger than the older series. And also they're going to be more accurate, the more we make rods, you know, as models change, we're able to eliminate a lot more vibrations and make the rods track better. So, the newer rods are going to be stronger and more accurate, probably not any lighter than, say, the Helios 1 or 2 but they're going to be just a little bit better. So, that's the answer in that. The older rods are still great rods but they're not going to have quite the same strength or accuracy.
Regarding the components in the rods that are made here in our rod shop, the guides are made in USA, the graphite sheets, I can't tell you where they come from because that's top-secret, but they come from an aerospace prepreg manufacturer and they are also made in USA. The cork comes from Portugal, our cork comes from Portugal by way of Canada to us, so we don't make cork in the rod shop but we do import it from Portugal as any rod manufacturer. And the reel seats, the metal components on the high-end rods are actually made in the same factory in New Hampshire that the Mirage reels and the Orvis pliers and snips are made.
So, the components, other than the Portuguese cork, on the rods made in our rod shop are all 100% USA components. And that is a great suggestion, the rod shop tour is definitely worth it, it's a fascinating tour. However, it's still closed at this point. So, if you're coming to the Manchester area and you want to take a rod shop tour, I assume it's going to open sometime in 2022 but we're not running tours at this time because of COVID. And the American Museum of Fly Fishing is open and the Orvis retail store is open but for the time being, the rod shop is still off-limits until we get a little bit further into recovering from COVID.
John: Hey, Tom, this is John from California and I've got a question for you. The other week, I was fishing in an effort to get back home as soon as possible, I left my rod rigged up and put it in my car with the tip on the dashboard running the length of the car to the back over the back seats. And the rod was bent, you know, just the weight of the rod itself mostly had it bent down just a little bit. So, it sat for about an hour, and then when I got home, I got distracted and busy with some stuff, so it had to sit in the car for another couple of hours and it was pretty hot. So, a couple of weeks later, I was taking a look at my gear and cleaning it up a little bit and I assembled my rod and I realized that it was now bending backwards just a little bit, like it was bending just a little in the direction of loading the rod and overhead casts.
And I was wondering, is it possible that...since I hadn't noticed that before, so is it possible that sitting in the car and bending just a little bit, a fiberglass rod if it gets heated up might then hold that shape? And if so, is there anything I can do to safely reshape it straight again like put it back into a hot car in the opposite direction upside down? So, anyways, it's not a huge deal but it's got a little bent now and I'm trying to figure out if there's anything I can do about it, curious to know what you think or your rod builders think. Thanks for the podcasts, big fan, learned a lot from it, and I appreciate any help. Thanks.
Tom: But John, you didn't say whether it was an Orvis rod or not. But the characteristic that you're describing is called a set and it's pretty rare in a synthetic rod and a graphite or a fiberglass rod. Certainly, keeping the rod set up in your car did not hurt it. Graphite or fiberglass cures at about 275 degrees Fahrenheit. And so, I doubt that you got over 275 degrees in that hot car. So, you know, you can leave a fly rod in a hot car for months and it's not going to hurt it. I've talked before about a rod that I have left leaning against my porch for...going on three years now, it's an old Orvis rod, and it's been leaning bent against my porch in the subzero Vermont weather, in the 95-degree Vermont weather, it's been in the sun and it's still as straight as an arrow.
So, you know, fly rods themselves...I mean, that the cork is all bleached out and the reel seat is fine, the guides are fine, the wraps are starting to show a little dullness from being out in the sun so much, but you really can't hurt a fiberglass or a graphite rod with heat or cold. So, what I would do is that rod may have been bent like that from the very beginning. I wouldn't worry too much about it, it may not affect your casting too much, but I would send it back to the manufacturer. If it's an Orvis rod, of course, it's guaranteed and they're going to replace it. But most quality manufacturers will replace a rod that has taken a set. And again, it's common with bamboo rods, which are a natural fiber. But as far as any of the synthetic rods, it sounds like something wasn't quite right when the rod was constructed. All right, that's a Fly Box for this week. Let's go talk to Josh about the seven deadly sins of nymph fishing.
My guest today is Josh Nugent and Josh over the years has been doing a series of podcasts with me, "The Seven Deadly Sins." And I don't know if it's the clever title or the fact that you're so cool, Josh, and you have great topics, but they've been some of the most popular podcasts I've done. And we realized the other day that we've never done one on nymph fishing. And, hell, there's some people that think nymph fishing is a sin in itself, so there's gonna be lots of deadly sins in nymph fishing. So, you prepared them, right, seven deadlies?
Josh: Sure, yeah, I wrote them down and we'll knock it out. And clearly, it's got to be the clever title and not the title list.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. No, you've always done a great job on the podcast and they have been super popular, all the ones you've done, so I'm sure people are going to enjoy this one. And Josh is the principal of Out Fly Fishing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which is a hotbed of fly anglers for sure. And Josh, you still guide, right?
Josh: Yeah.
Tom: Everybody worries about you.
Josh: Not as much as I used to be.
Tom: Everybody worries about you because you got so many irons in the fire but you still love to guide and you still get out there and people say, "How the hell does Josh handle it all?"
Josh: Well, the part of being in the boat with guests is still what probably keeps me sane and what I enjoy the most. But, yeah, it's hard to spend as much time in the boat now when they have enough stuff with the shop and now, we're at a point where right now we're doing renovations and expansion of the shop. We're knocking on a wall and taking over the space next door.
Tom: Oh, cool.
Josh: Yeah, I'm kind of working on the schedule of Vlad the Vampires where I'm working at night so that, you know, the shop stuff can get done during the day and I can do renovations at night and you just kind of go 24 hours a day.
Tom: Do you sleep? Do you sleep, Josh? Do you sleep?
Josh: No, I really don't sleep. I literally had insomnia for over 20 years and it's at a point that I can afford not to anymore. Because if I needed sleep, it would be a problem.
Tom: Yeah, that's unhealthy for you, though. I want you to stay healthy, so get some sleep.
Josh: Yeah, yeah, I slept...I had like seven hours the other night, so I should be good till April now.
Tom: Till April. Now, Uncle Tom says you got to get more sleep. I'm gonna keep an eye on you.
Josh: All right, yeah, I'm keep getting told that rumor, and the older I get, the more I understand it and believe it.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. All right. So, anyway, the seven deadly sins of nymph fishing. The first one is don't nymph fish, right? That's the first one.
Josh: Yeah, exactly, you know, that way we can get all the chuck nymphers after us and start with that as the first deadly sin, but I've got to go there.
Tom: No, we can do that. No, we can do that, I've had lots of people after me lately. So, you know, if you want to do seven deadly sins and number one is chuck nymphing or tight-line nymphing or euro nymphing, that's okay.
Josh: Yeah, because we haven't had enough targets on our backs over the years, right? Let's just add some more.
Tom: Yeah. All right, all right, enough of that, enough of the silliness. What's your first deadly sin?
Josh: So, the first thing we're gonna start with on this when we're talking about nymphing, it's going to be around like indicator fishing and nymphing because if you're in our shop and you want to talk about chuck nymphing or euro nymphing, I am not that person to talk to because I am not anywhere near as educated on it as a guide. But we've been really fortunate, we've got a young kid, Cletus, on the youth national team, and so that's really nice to have someone like that and you can just be like, "Hey, he's a better person to ask that question to." And we've got another young guy, Callum, in there that does a ton of that. They're both extremely knowledgeable and far more knowledgeable than I am.
So, we're going to talk more about indicator fishing, different ways to indicator fish, and some of the things that over the last 20 years of being on the water with guests, you see people kind of fairly consistently struggled with. So, one of the first things we're going to talk about, we're going to kind of start almost these sins in the order of how you would set up. And so, the first one that I see often as an issue is using the wrong size or style of indicator. So, let's say it's winter fishing, like right now. So, we've got a lot of people that are going out and they're fishing and, I mean, most of the bugs that the fish are keying in on are your small midges because that's predominantly what hatching through the winter here. And people are using an indicator that I would say like a summer size indicator, so there's just way too much buoyancy there.
In the wintertime, I mean, these fish are not slamming that fly, they're not wasting energy, they open their mouth, they close your mouth, that's all they're doing. So, if you've got a big giant super buoyant indicator, that really subtle take isn't even gonna register and you're not going to see it. You want to go with a really small indicator, something that's going to register those really subtle takes. You're also fishing really, really light flies and nymphs, so you don't need a lot of buoyancy to hold those flies up and to keep that indicator from getting pulled under. The lighter or the smaller the indicator, obviously, the easier it will get pulled under if we're trying to see really sensitive takes from a fish like we get in the winter all the time, and that's exactly what we want to use is something that's very small, something like even teardrop shape so that it will pull under with the least effort.
And so, that's one of the things that I think a lot of people kind of miss, either fishing an indicator that's way too big in the wintertime or you go into, you know, runoff conditions and stoneflies are hatching and you're trying to fish a stonefly or a double stonefly where you got a stonefly and a worm or something like that and now your indicator is getting pulled under all the time and people are studying the hook every time their indicator gets swamped or it's getting pulled under from the weight of the flies, it's not getting pulled under because it stopped on something. And so, size is a big one and we can make that mistake by either going too big or going too small just based on the conditions. But I think another really big one there is the style of the indicators and there's a lot more indicators available on the market than there used to be.
You know, we look at something like stillwater angling, so the [inaudible 00:45:40] Avid Fly Shop, Andrew, he is a huge stillwater guy and he just loves doing lake fishing, follows a bunch of Phil Rowley and Brian Chan stuff. Obviously, anybody stuff he can kind of get his hands on, the guy just kind of loves to consume knowledge in that realm. But they're often fishing, you know, 20 feet deep. And if you're using a regular indicator that just attaches to the line and you're trying to land a fish from a boat by yourself with a 20-foot leader, that is extremely challenging, right? Which is why, you know, they developed those stillwater indicators that, you know, when you set the hook, it's gonna pop loose and slide down your line, now you're actually going to be able to win it.
So, I mean, that's the perfect indicator to fish with in the stillwater situation. You look at...let's say if you're fishing tailwaters and you've got really calm kind of smooth water and you've got spooky fish, if you throw out a big Corky or a heavy indicator that lands hard on the water, you could spook a lot of fish. Whereas if you go down to the yarn indicator and you use like a little white tufted yarn that could blend in with, like, cotton cloth and everything else that floats down, you're going to be far less likely to spook a fish in that scenario by using a yarn indicator. Or if you've got really spooky fish, you could go and use, you know, another fly, I mean, where it's legal because obviously, there's places that you can only fish a single fly, and you could fish you know, a dry-dropper set up where you've got either like a caddis or a hopper or stoneflies or point flies and then your nymph is underneath it.
You know, I think that's still nymphing, you just got, you know, a dry fly that you're staring at instead of an indicator. Like let's say all the fish you're looking at, they're clearly only nymphing, they're not coming up on the surface but they're really spooky, and putting a strike indicator over the head is something where you're spooking them because they're sitting in very shallow water and you're only allowed to fish a single fly. Well, you can cut the hook off a caddis and you could run a little nymph underneath that. You know, if the fish is sitting in only 10 inches of water, if you put a little caddis over their head, that's probably pretty unlikely to spook that fish. But it's going to suspend the little, you know, midge or whatever pattern that you're trying to address to that fish, it'll suspend it very well.
Tom: Is that legal? That's legal, I guess, because it's hook points, right, where you're only allowed a single fly. So, if you cut the...
Josh: Anywhere that I read the regulations where it defines, like, how many flies you can have or how many hooks you can have, it always says like, basically, it doesn't count the shaft of the hook, it counts the bend and the number of hook points because you got treble hook that have three, or let's say like an articulated streamer that has three different shafts in it but only has one hook, it's still only counted as one hook. So, any way that I've seen maybe there's somewhere that the regs are written differently than that, Tom, and obviously, neither of us wanted to be held liable or brought into court over this. However, anywhere I've ever seen it, the definition is that way. As long as there's no bend and a point of a hook there, it wouldn't be considered a hook because whether I use, you know, a strike indicator that is made to imitate a bobber or I use a fly that's made to imitate, you know, an insect, if neither of them have a hook, then neither of them should count as a hook.
Tom: Obviously, you tie the dropper to the eye of the hookless fly and not the bend, right?
Josh: Yeah. You know, but I can bend and cut it off and then see what happens. [crosstalk 00:49:30] I'm sure I do it.
Tom: I can imagine that question coming, "How do you tie a dry dropper on if you cut the bend off the hook?"
Josh: Yeah, and that's fair. Honestly, and I didn't even kind of think of that because when I tie a dry dropper, I always tie it out of the eye. Because one of the things I really don't like is when know, if you put a dropper on that dry and you tie up the bend of the hook, there's two things that I don't like. The first one is now it's automatically given the dry fly a rudder because as you put that dropper in behind it and it drops down and sinks through the water, now it's given a rudder where it can't move as freely or spin as freely out on the water.
Plus, I've had to use a clinch knot on the back of the bend of the hook. A clinch knot is nowhere near as and I have had conversations about knot strength and how reliable those tests are and everything that way. But, you know, a perfection loop or some sort of 100% line strength loop knot is still always going to be stronger than a clinch knot that is going to degrade the strength of the line that you're using. So, by tying both out of the eye with a loop knot, I'm maintaining that 100% line strength and I'm not sacrificing that strength off the back of the hook by using a clinch knot...
Tom: I don't think any of those loop knots are 100%, particularly perfection loop in small diameters. I don't think it's very strong at all. The only 100% knot that I know of is a Bimini twist, come on. And you're not going to a Bimini twist on your dry fly leaders.
Josh: No, I certainly don't. So, I don't use a perfection knot, Tom, I always use a...I don't know what it's actually called, is it non-slip mono loop?
Tom: Oh, the non-slip mono loop, probably. Yep, and that is very strong. Yeah.
Josh: Yeah. Over the years, I've repeatedly seen it where the knot holds and the line breaks. And so, you see that loop is still there and the line has broken. And so, for me, I mean, maybe it doesn't register on a meter perfectly 100% but when you see that consistently year after year where you get people that...I mean, this happens all the time and I laugh. You can have somebody that they hook a big fish and they absolutely panic and freak out and they just clamp down on the reel and pull and everything snaps that they're just like, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so dumb, I can't believe I did that, I don't know why I did that." And I always laugh, I don't care. Like, if you land the fish, I'm gonna be happy for you. If you lost the fish, I'm not going to get upset, like, that doesn't help either of us, I don't care.
Like, it's unfortunate but, like, there's no point in getting mad at someone because they lost the fish. But it's funny how when you bring the line in and they're just going, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, that was so dumb, I can't believe I did that," over and over and over again and they won't stop repeating that. You bring it in and if you tie the clinch knot and they see that little pigtail that broke, they go, "Oh, the knot let go," and you're like, "Remember five seconds ago where you remembered that you panicked and you did everything conceivably wrong? Remember that?" But when you bring in that loop knot and they see that the knot is still there and the loop broke at the point of the loop, the fish may be off the hook but so am I because my knot held. And so, that's why I use that knot, that's the knot I teach when we do our Fly Fishing 101 courses, like, that's my go-to knot and I trust it and it holds. I mean, if my knot is still there when the fish is gone, then, again, like I said, at least I'm off the hook.
Tom: Yeah, and that's so important with knots. It's the knot that you have confidence in that you can tie well and if you trust it, then it's a good knot, right?
Josh: Yeah, and that you're familiar with because there can be great knot out there but if you don't know how to tie it know, and a poorly tied knot does not hold anywhere near the strength that it's supposed to if it's not tied completely correctly.
Tom: Yeah, it doesn't matter what knot it is.
Josh: Yeah, I can certainly nerd out over knots a lot. I met a buddy, Jerry, down in Florida...we're actually in Cuba at the time when I first met him and he was big into knots and he's like, "I think this knot is stronger," and I thought, "Well, actually, I think my knot is stronger." And so, what we would do and we've done this for probably 10 years now, anytime we have a knot that one think stronger than the other, we'll tie one on each end and basically, like, put a pencil or something on each end and we pull and we'll break five times and see whoever's knot, you know, broke the least out of those times.
And then we both switched the knot that we've used because his knot was stronger than mine in one of those cases and in other cases, it was the other way around and he switched and started using it. Like, I enjoy understanding the gear and understanding the knots that I use and I know that's something that a lot of people are not that interested in. But, yeah, knot is so important because let's say like if you have a knot that can hold at or very near 100% flying strength but you're tying a knot that at best is holding around 70% flying strength. Well, over the course of a year, that's 30% fewer flies that you lost and that, you know, 30% more fish that you potentially landed because the knot held. Right? To me, that's a pretty good thing.
Tom: Yeah. Are we still on still on number one?
Josh: We're definitely still on number one. But to be fair, we've only had two tangents so far.
Tom: All right, can we move on to number two? I'm keeping track here.
Josh: Our ratio is a bit off here, yeah. So, the second issue that I see is understanding depth and how to set the depth of your indicator. I see a lot of people that think, "Okay, well, I'm fishing two feet of water, so I need my indicator two feet from the fly." And as a really general rule, I always say you want at least one and a half to two times the depth of the water that you're fishing. And for a lot of people, the one and a half starts to get confusing and you're like, "So, three feet, half of that, two feet of water," I'm like, "Just double it." If you don't like the math and the number, just double it. If you're in four feet of water, you need to have at least six feet.
And the reason for that is, like, we don't have enough weight under an indicator that it's never going to hang perfectly straight like a plumb line if there's not enough weight for it to do that. Plus, you've got different currents in the water, there's always going to be a degree of slack and bowing underneath the leader. And I think one of the biggest problems I see when people are nymphing and I was looking at like, "What number do I put this at?" And it's kind of something that applies to virtually every number that we're going to talk about is people not understanding where their flies are in relation to where their indicator is.
And that, I think, is...even though it's not one of the seven, I think it's the big thing that applies to all of these because as we talk about all of these points, I have to know where my flies are in relation to my indicator because it makes a difference in, you know, how deep I run the indicator, it makes a difference in the direction that I set the hook and we're going to talk about all those things. But we have to know where our flies are in relation to our indicator, up they upstream to the indicator? Are they downstream of the indicator? Are they out in the current because the indicator got stuck in slow water and your flies are out in fast water getting swept away? All those things are super important in understanding that. When it comes to depth, we have to make sure that we're deep enough and you have to make sure that your flies are getting to the depth of the fish.
So, if we go back to, like, Andrew on lake stillwater fishing, you have to make don't necessarily have to be right on the bottom, but you have to make sure that your flies are actually at the depth that the fish are. And so, setting that depth and making sure that depth is correct, understanding that, you know, if you're a little too shallow, a fish will often swim up for it but it's going to be very unlikely that a fish is going to see your fly below them and swim down to get it. You know, so if you're unsure, err on the side of let's go a little bit too shallow than a little bit too deep if you're in a stillwater setting. Or even if you're on a river and you're in a big, you know, deep slow eddy, if you get below those fish, they're not gonna see, like, their eyes are looking upwards, not downwards, and you got to make sure that your flies are somewhere that they can actually see that.
A really common thing that I'll see, though, like for our rivers, so the Bow is what we guide on most commonly, it's a big river, and when people see big rivers, they think deep rivers. It's a very shallow river, like, the average depth is probably only four feet. Some of the deepest spots are probably only 15 to 20 and those are very few of them. But a ton of the water that we're fishing is, you know, under two feet deep even until making sure that you're not fishing a 10-foot-long leader, like, from your fly to your indicator when you're only trying to fish in a foot of water. Because if your leader is that long, the sensitivity that you have is gone.
And so, make sure that you're running that one and a half to two times the depth of the water that you're fishing. Now, this gets a little bit more confusing when you're in a drifting scenario, such as being in a boat, whether you're in a pontoon boat or whether you're in a drift boat and you're drifting with it. If people go like, "How do you change your indicator all the time because you're always changing the depth of water you're fishing?" Yeah, in situations like that, the only thing that you can do is kind of err on the side of what's the most common depths that we're going to be fishing and make sure that you've got enough for at least that or the deepest water that you can fish.
But the deepest water you're going to finish, if there's only two spots, you know, in an eight-hour drift that you're ever going to see water that's over 10 feet, and so trying to run your indicator for that 10 feet of water doesn't make the most sense. I mean, most indicators you can adjust them so quickly now. If there's very few places that are going to be very deep like that, just settle for your average depth and then I would err on the side of give yourself a little bit more. So, if most of the water you're fishing is four feet, make sure you've got six to eight feet at least, if you want to run it to nine, you can to be safe, but the longer that leader is, the more risk that you have of losing some of that sensitivity in terms of being able to pick those strikes quickly.
Tom: We got through number two without...well sort of half a tangent but, yeah, good, good.
Josh: I was like, when you say tangent, it sounded like sandwich, and now I'm saying about sandwiches and now I'm hungry, so I guess we did get off a tangent after all. Okay, so number three, mending and forgetting to mend. Indicator for sure could be really funny this way where people just kind of get in a trance and they get locked in and they're just staring at their indicator. And it's good that you're watching it but especially, if you're in a boat and you're moving at the same speed as the indicator, you can kind of forget that there are other currents between the boat and where your indicator is and now your fly line is getting swept away and there's this giant bow in your fly line and you're dragging the flies. You have to mend and mending is something that I think we've made way too complicated and people get kind of intimidated by.
The whole purpose of mending, if we can take it down to in a nutshell, is we want to make sure that our flies, our indicator and leader, and our fly line are all moving at the same speed. That's it. So, it doesn't matter if you have to move upstream or downstream, just make sure that you're moving at the same speed. Because people want rules, "So, I always go upstream," and you're like, "Well, only if your byline is getting ahead of the indicator, if it's lagging behind, then you're gonna have to move downstream." "Do I always mend downstream?" No, you don't always do anything, you can move in whatever direction is needed to make sure your fly line is now drifting at the same speed as your indicator, especially like if I'm waiting...sorry, the headphones coming off of my ear there.
Tom: It's all right, we'll edit this out.
Josh: Are we back?
Tom: Yep, yep.
Josh: So, if I'm fishing, like, especially at a small mountain stream, which might be for example because I would never indicate on small mountain streams because I would always try fly fish those because they're cutthroat. But if I'm in a scenario like that and there's pocket of water and I'm trying to fish a slow pocket behind a boulder, let's say, but in between myself and that slow pocket, there's really fast water that's trying to catch my line and rip that fly out of that. Well, I'm going to have to be mending up but I'm mending my line towards the indicators so that it's moving at the same speed as the indicator. If I had the reverse of that where I'm trying to cast into a fast pocket and there's really slow water in front of me, the fly line sitting on that really slow water...current seam would be a good example.
So, we're fishing a current seam and you're casting out into the current seam. And as you drift down, your indicator is drifting down through the current seam, the slow water on the inside corner, on the inside of that current seam, that's going to trap my fly line. And this is what really throws people off because they cast and then robotically, they just automatically mend upstream. And so, your fly line is already stuck in that slow water, your fly and indicator are already starting to drift quickly downstream, and now I just made it even worse by mending in the wrong direction.
All I need to do is make them match, just make them match, and then it doesn't matter what direction you go. And this throws people off too, you can mend sometimes...if you've got really weird flows or you're drifting through a lot of different water, it's very common that I'll mend four, five different directions on one drift. Because now my fly line is getting ahead so I need to move it back so it matches and now it's lagging behind so I need to move it up to catch it up. Just make a match, that's all you have to do. And then suddenly, the whole like, "I don't remember if I mend up or down," just make a match, that's pretty straightforward. Like, one is not matching the other, so just make a match.
Tom: Yeah, and make a match by putting...but you can't put the indicator someplace else, the only thing...or the fly, the only thing that you can put somewhere else is your fly line. Right? It's the only thing you can move. If you move your indicator, you're probably not going to do yourself any good.
Josh: Did you read my notes, Tom? That's a perfect segue to number four, which is moving the indicator.
Tom: No, I didn't read it, you didn't share your notes with me. I did this blind, Josh. I trusted you.
Josh: I didn't share the notes, [crosstalk 01:05:04] a few minutes before we called, so that's why there wasn't really a shared opportunity.
Tom: No, I didn't need you to share, I trust you.
Josh: Yeah. Well, it's kind of like when I showed up at your office and you're like, "Do you want to do a podcast?" I'm like, "Can I have five minutes to write something down?" And then we did it. It's fairly easy to talk about your job when it's fishing, so that's enough of that. But that point that you just raised and the fourth point to me, the fourth deadly sin is moving your indicator. And this is something that gets a ton of people and we'll see this, especially when you're in a drift boat and you get...or a pontoon boat, any type of boat that's drifting at the same speed as the indicator where you get extremely long drift.
And while you're getting this nice, beautiful long drift, someone throws this, like, power mend where they lift the fly line so much that they also lift their indicator up and it moves upstream three feet. And so, let's assume that we're fishing four feet of water, and so we're running those flies eight feet from the indicator. Well, they're trailing back behind, they're going to be trailing back upstream of the position of my indicator because there's always going to be faster water on the surface...not always, the majority of the time, the water will be faster at the surface than it will be on the bottom because there's friction from all the rocks and everything else on the bottom that helps slow the water down. Up at the surface, there's less friction.
I mean, obviously, you can have obstructions in the current that change something in the water column but typically, the surface will have less friction, so it will be moving faster than the water that's down at the bottom that has the friction of all the rocks. So, your flies will be lagging behind, they will be upstream of your indicator. They are not perfectly taut, it's just bowing to your leader. We did a whole chapter in one of the masterclasses that I did in April last year on this and understanding where your flies are, and I remember doing that, we stopped...we were doing a guide school and actually stopped what we were doing, had all the boats pull over, just to talk about like, "Do you guys understand where your flies are in relation to your indicator?"
And as we talked about it and we stood in shallow water and I put an indicator on with a giant white streamer and cast it into a foot of water to show people where their flies are, it was amazing to watch these eyes just get big and people are of the guys in the group did the little like, "My mind is blown," thing with his hands. And they're like, "Wow, we need to understand where our flies are if we're going to know how to set the hook and we need to understand that if my flies are eight feet behind upstream and I make this giant mend where I just moved my indicator four feet upstream, I have just entered four feet of slack into our whole scenario."
The reason that our euro nymphers and our tight-line nymphers catch a lot of fish and do so well is they're in constant contact with their flies and so, they feel a take right away and they set the hook immediately. One of the issues with indicator fishing...and this gets a lot of people and I feel bad, but most people have in their head because we've watched, you know, a bobber sitting on a lake with a worm underneath it and the fish swims up, grabs it, pulls the bobber under, that in their head, when a strike indicator goes under, it's because a fish pulled it under.
Now, there are certainly places where fish did suspend in deep water, the majority of the nymphing that we do on our river, those fish are sitting on the bottom. We don't see anywhere near as many fish that are suspended midwater column. It certainly happens but the majority of the fish that we see when they're nymphing, they're talking down on the bottom and using the obstructions like rocks and logs and everything else to help break the current so they don't have to work as hard. If a fish is sitting on the bottom and your nymphs are bumping along the bottom and they open their mouth and they close their mouth and they just ate your fly, how do they pull the indicator under? Do they burrow through the rocks like Sonic the Hedgehog? Like, they can't go [inaudible 01:09:32].
And, like, in people's minds, I know because I asked people and they explain to me, "Well, it pulled it down," "Well, how does it pull it down?" Like, we're looking at that fish, its belly is sitting on the rocks, it physically cannot go down any further than the bottom of the river. Why did the indicator go under? The indicator goes under because when the fish closes its mouth on your fly, the current continues to push your indicator downstream until the point that all that bowing and sag that was in the leader has now been pushed out and the line goes taut. At the point that the line goes taut, the pressure of the current will push the indicator under.
So, when the indicator goes down, all we know is that your fly stopped on something. Like, I tell people all the time and they're like, "Oh, I think that was the bottom," I'm like, "You might be right, set the hook and prove it." Right? When the indicator goes down, all we know is your fly stop. It might have stopped on a rainbow trout mouth, it might have stopped on a blade of grass, it might have stopped on a brown trout mouth, it might have stopped on a rock, we have no idea. Right? Unless your indicator starts going upstream and then you know that that's probably not a swimming rock, but other than that, we don't know and so we have to make sure that we set the hook and that should be the next deadly sin. Yeah, it is, look at that.
Tom: So, that was number four, don't move the indicator when you mend or don't move it too much.
Josh: Don't move it too much and people get pretty paranoid about moving and all. So, here's a really easy fix, and the one thing that I definitely want to talk about before we jump into number five is about setting it up. But if it happened...and people get really flustered because now that they understand they're not supposed to move the indicator, they make the mend and it moves and they just kind of panic or they feel bad and they just clench up. But it's like, "It's okay, just take your rod tip and slowly drag that indicator downstream until you feel tension."
And it'll actually really help you start to understand when there's slack in the system and when there's tension because you'll drag the indicator downstream and you feel no resistance until all of a sudden, boom, you feel that little bit of tension and you're like, "Oh, now there's a little bit of drag and now I can feel that leader taut behind it again and now let it dead drift again." Right? And so, I had a buddy, Tom, he called it the Windsor wiggle, Windsor was his last name, he would drag the indicator all the time to try and do two things. One, he thought and I saw this a ton, that you would drag the indicator and the fish would smoke it as soon as he moved it.
The other thing that you see a lot because he did that so much, I mean, he caught a ton of fish and he would go down the river, we call him like a vacuum, and just hooking fish like crazy. And he love nymphing, that was his preferred way to fish. Like, I would be happy to enter any, like, streamer competition or dry fly competition against him if you want just straight numbers and at nymphing, he was one of the first guys that I would not want to go up against because he hooked a ton of fish. But that's one of the things that he would do all the time, is he would move the indicator but he always move it...he doesn't move it randomly, he doesn't just wiggle it or shake it, he would twitch it downstream or drag it slowly and what that always did is it was maintaining the least amount of slack in his indicator system so that he would see that take before other people would see the take.
Tom: He was, basically, euro nymphing with an indicator, right? He was maintaining a tight connection.
Josh: Yeah, and maintaining that connection. And it was actually fishing with him and nymphing with him that I had one of the most humbling days that, you know, Tom, you've been around them, it can turn humble into humiliation pretty quickly. He was destroying me, he was out-fishing me like four to one. And to the point that...he's not the type of guy that will forget to mention that he's out-fishing you, so he was being very good and very verbal and reminded me constantly how badly he was out-fishing me. He put me in the front of the boat so I would have the first crack. We were fishing the exact same flies and back then, I would fish three flies quite commonly because you can fish up to three flies when you're nymphing.
And so, we're fishing the exact same flies in the exact same order and he was out-fishing me four to one. I used to run all of my, like, multi-nymph rigs off of tags. So, when I did my double uni knot, I would leave a tag that stuck out and I would run all of my nymphs off of the tags, not directly in line. He always ran directly in line, clinch knot to the eye of the fly and then a clinch knot off the bend of the hook to the next fly. In my mind, I'm going, "It's impossible for a fish to swim up and put that fly in its mouth without touching two pieces of leader tippet, so that has to be something that they're going to be more gun shy about and that has to catch us fish."
He was proving that that was not the case and he was out-fishing me very badly. What was interesting, though, is eventually I got rid of those tags and I ran eye to eye with my loop knot. And when I ran the same three flies in the same order that had been with the tags but I use loop dots and I ran them into the eye and then out of the eye of the next fly, I started out-fishing him. And it had nothing to do with the flies because the flies stayed the same, it had nothing to do with any other factors. I mean, I was obviously getting all of those same takes earlier in the day, I just wasn't actually registering them with the indicator. And then as soon as I went straight in line...I mean, because I was using a loop knot, it allowed that fly to move with a little bit more freedom, which probably makes it act a little bit more naturally and I started out-fishing him at that point.
And so, that was a huge eye-opener for me and you can see how, there's people right now I know who are cringy and they're like, "You know, I do tight-line nymphing and that's the way that everybody tells me to rig them and that's the way I rig them and I catch fish." Yes, I can see that for sure. Because when you're doing your tight-line nymphing, there's tension there, you don't have a bunch of slack and bowing in the leader. When you have slack and bowing in the leader, a fish closes its mouth on the fly, that current, depending on the speed of the water, it could take anywhere from one to three, even four seconds before that indicator drifts downstream far enough to actually have tension on it and go under. In that time, a fish has so much time to spit that hook back out, right?
And so, if you have tension and you feel it immediately, that's different. You are going to pick up on those takes like they do when they're title-line nymphing. But when we've got an indicator and we can't necessarily see the degree of bowing we've got below our fly, that was costing us a huge number of fish. And it was funny how often I used to see this quite commonly, you would get a guest that just picked up to recast and they had a fish on it. And, like, you could tell when someone starts to pick it up and that the indicator moves and all of a sudden, bam, a fish hits it and the reaction to that movement, they're usually really aggressive take.
But when someone picks up and you can see that slack and the leader started to whack and it hits tension, that fish already had the fly in its mouth. We didn't know, they didn't miss that take, I was watching the indicator as well. That fish just had the fly in its mouth but there was too much slack there for us to see it. And so, when they picked up, it was like, "Oh, dang, they tried to pick up to recast," and, "Oh, I've got a fish." It's like, "Yeah, I wonder how long that fish had those flies in its mouth and we just didn't see because of the way that we rig the flies." So, that's something that really surprised me and caught me off guard but it completely changed the way I rig nymph setups for all my guests, you know, for the 15 years since then.
Going back that was kind of talking about moving the indicator, number four. Number five, we touched on this, is not setting the hook. One of the biggest differences I see between the people that catch a pile of fish nymphing and the people that catch far fewer fish nymphing comes down to how many times they set the hook during the day. If I'm taking two people out dry fly fishing, probably 80% of the time, the person with more experience will catch more fish when you're dry fly fishing. You know, if I'm taking two people out and they're streamer fishing all day, again, probably 70% to 80% of the time, the person with more experience is the one that catches more fish.
Time and time and time again, when I take two people out and they're nymphing and they're indicator fishing, the person that sets the hook more and more often than not, I've seen this, you get a really experienced angler in the boat. And they're taking out a friend or you've got like a father-son or know, the father-in-law is taking out his son-in-law and he's like, "I fish all the time, you just help them and you show them how to do it." The person that had never fished before dramatically out-fishes this experienced angler because the experienced angler is used to dry fly fishing and every time that indicator moves, "No, I think it's bottom," and you're like, "You might be right, you could absolutely be right. "
Ninety percent of the time it's going to be bottom. However, I used to do this...most people don't like math and probability, and so this was the thing I used to always say. Let's just assume that 9 times out of 10, it is the bottom. Okay? Now, you're choosing to set the hook 4 times out of the 10, maybe even only 3 times, now you have to work out the probability. What's the probability that 3 times out of 10 that you set is actually going to be the one time out of 10 that it was a fish and you have to do the math and then your brain hurts and then you don't feel like you're on a day off, it's not a vacation anymore. You stress out, you give up.
Just set the hook, just set the hook, it's so much easier, just set the hook, right? No one likes to do the math when they fish, so just set the hook, you know? And I see this all the time and I laugh because it's kind of like the baseball analogy with the check swing where someone sees the indicator move and they just pucker up and you see them and it's just like everything goes tense and they're free. I always tell people, I'm like, "Ooh, you know what happens when you almost hit that?" They're like, "No, what?" I'm like, "You almost catch a pitch." And nobody ever, like, hearing that ever.
But if you want to hook fish with your indicator, first you have to set the hook. Now, putting on...if I put on a giant wireworm and a stonefly because I've got high flows and I'm bumping the bottom and I'm just dragging constantly and that indicator just vibrating all the time, and you set the hook every time it touches the bottom, well, you're never actually going to get a chance to drift or fish. So, that's why setting your depth is important. You want to make sure that that indicator is touching occasionally and you have contact with the bottom. But you can't be dragging the bottom where your indicator just vibrating all the time and now you can't tell the difference between, you know, is that just bouncing off the bottom or did it actually, you know, stop because the fish grabbed it?
So, that's why what we talked about earlier with our depth is super important and having an indicator that's large enough to hold the flies up that you're actually fishing. One of the big things that I've tried to teach people and if you're just getting into nymphing and indicator fishing...and I say like just getting into nymphing because there's a lot of really experienced anglers out there that always done this dry fly fish or all they've done is streamer fish. And then we see a ton of people that, like, they've been fly fishing for a long time. So, to me, there's a huge difference between, "I'm new at fly fishing," and, "I'm new to indicator fishing," because I know a lot of people that are intimidated by indicator fishing because they don't know where their fly is at, they can't see them, right?
That's why we have to have this bobber for us, like, that's our strike indicator to indicate a strike because we're way too cool to call it a bobber, so we call it a strike indicator. Right? That puts a lot of people off, and so they avoid it. And yet, when you look at, you know, the effectiveness, if 80% of the fish is being done subsurface, it makes a lot of sense to fish subsurface waters. And if we don't set the hook, we don't give ourselves an opportunity to actually catch a fish. And I do this with people all the time, I'll have them, you know, put their hand up flat so I can see the top of their palm and I'll put a fly in the palm of their hand and I'm like, "Are you hooked?" "No." "Okay, make a fist," and they close their fist around it and I ask them, "Are you hooked?" And 99 times out of 100, no one is hooked by just closing their hand on the fly.
If you squeeze too hard or it's got a hard point, maybe it does prick you and you get hooked. But 99 times out of 100, no one's hooked by just closing their hand on the fly. That's what a fish does. They close their mouth...very rarely does the fish come in and just ravenously slam a small nymph. It would make no sense. They cannot burn 10 calories to then receive 1/100th of the calorie in a little mayfly nymph, it doesn't add up, it does not work for them. So, they cannot burn more calories than they're going to take, so all they're doing is opening and closing their mouth, they've closed their mouth on the fly, they are not going to automatically set the hook on that themselves so they need us to set the hook.
That same analogy when that flies in the palm of your hand, make a fist, you know, and everybody makes a fist and they're not hooked yet, when there's a piece of tip hanging off of that fly and I grab that piece of tip and go, "Is it okay if I yank on this?" They drop the fly and go, "No." Exactly. The only way we're going to hook a fish is by pulling on the line and putting tension to set that up. It is not like streamer fishing, it is not like when I cast the spinner and I'm using conventional tackle where the line is under tension and then when the fish hits it, they're automatically hooked. It's a manual process, you have to assess the hook in response to the indicator fishing.
It's why for years when it came to single hand rod, I actually preferred nymphing over swinging streamers with a single hand rod because once they, I really enjoyed casting but then the line goes in the water and it gets so boring just waiting for it to swing across for a fish to come to latch on to it. Whereas with an indicator, I had to throw a cast and then I had to watch it, and again, my little squirrel brain gives it something to do, and then you had to see like, "I have to mend, do I have two different speed currents right now? Am I gonna have to mend ahead? Am I gonna have to mend behind?" And it kept me more engaged. Now, like, all winter long here, I basically just been going out with the trout spey and swinging because I enjoy the casting when I take, you know, a trout spey rod.
But that part of indicator fishing I actually always appreciated that it gives you something to do and it's engaging instead of just kind of standing there waiting for a fish to latch on your fly. So, we got to set the hook. This is something that I would not recommend for people that are new to indicator fishing but if you're comfortable with indicator fishing and you're catching fish and when that indicator moves, you're registering those subtle takes and setting the hook, this is something that can really dramatically improve the number of fish that you can hook in a day as long as you understand where your flies are in relation to your indicator.
So, if I'm casting upstream and as I cast upstream and it drifts down, my indicator is leading, so it's ahead of the flies, the flies are trailing behind. If I see my indicator twitch or tick or just a really subtle movement, and this is the thing that throws a lot of people off, it's anything that's unnatural under the water that it's on. If the indicator often just slows down, it didn't go under, it didn' the wintertime, the majority of the takes that I see, the indicator doesn't even go under. Sometimes it doesn't even really twitch, it just changes the speed. So, you're looking at the speed of the water and it's been drifting at that uniform speed and then, all of a sudden, it slows down, it just kind of looks sluggish. You set the hook and, bam, it's a fish, right?
And so, I learned a lot one time, this is about 20 years ago, I was fishing in November with two other buddies and they actually got out of the water. I mean, we had to get out because it was so cold that your feet kept kind of freezing and you had to get out to keep your feet from getting so numb. And they got out and they stopped fishing and they were just watching me and they looked at me and started going like, "Why are you setting the hook?" Because I was having a really good day and I was getting lucky and I hit a bunch of fish that day. And I remember, out of 10 fish, there were 6 of those 10 fish in a row that I couldn't tell them why I set the hook.
It's just something that was unnatural to the indicator. Those fish were taking it so subtle, the water was so cold, I actually got the worst frostbite I've ever had, I froze my feet and I got out of the river and went stumbling all over the place because I stayed in too long because I got so, like, just focused on like, "What are they doing? Like, they're taking so subtly that I can't even articulate to them why I set the hook." Like, it didn't go under, it didn't stop, but it changed and something changed enough and I set the hook and they're like, "Why did you set?" And it was a fish and it taught me so much that when the water is that cold and the fish were that sluggish, your takes are going to be very, very subtle.
And so, I'd gone to the smallest indicator I had, a little Corky that was, you know, a third the size of my...pinky thumbnail? That doesn't make a lot of sense. Pinky fingernail and it was the smallest indicator I had and they were still super, super subtle. And so, if fish are going to take that subtle, if you do a full hookset every time you see that tiny little tick or that tiny little movement, you will spend most of your time casting and waiting for your flies to sink and the moment they have contact with bottom, if you set the hook again, they're never going to be in front of the fish. I call it kind of a check swing, not check nymphing but check like baseball, you check your swing. As the indicator is drifting downstream, I know that my flies are upstream but the indicator is down, so in order for me to get tension the fastest, I need to set directly downstream.
If I set hard directly downstream and I see that indicator move, I immediately checked that swing or check that hook set and stop it and let it keep drifting. So, I don't even pull the indicator off the water, I set directly downstream keeping the indicator on the water. And what it does, if that indicator moves freely right away, I know that if it was a fish, I've already missed them, it's no longer in its mouth. So, it wasn't a fish and it was just bottom. I pulled that fly loose, it's not stuck on whatever that piece of structure is on the bottom, it's now moving freely again. If I stopped that swing...I only moved the indicator a foot and now that means that the flies are probably a foot off the bottom.
So, if I stop and wait, those flies are going to get back into the strike zone exponentially faster than if I pick up and recast, throw it back in the same spot, and now I have to wait three, four, five, maybe even six or seven seconds if I'm in slower water with a lighter rig before my flies actually sink back into the strike zone again. If I do that check swing and I feel tension or it doesn't move, I need to be prepared to go into a full hook set and that's where you got to be careful as you see people, they start popping it and they're just treating it almost like a popper where they just pop it when they did not have to pop it. And then they hook the fish and they pop it and then they're slack again and that fish just go underneath the hook right away and they're like, "Oh, no, I lost it," because they didn't continue into that.
So, it's a little bit hard to get that balance of the least amount of movement that you can make that is still aggressive enough and firm enough that it will set the hook if it's a fish. But if it's not a fish, to immediately stop so that your flies drop back into the strike zone sooner and you're not waiting while you recast and waiting for those flies to re-sink all the way through the water column and get down. All it does is it allows your flies to stay in the water column way longer and it also allows me to set the hook five, six, seven, eight times on one...and I just dropped that. I set the hook and...
Tom: Stop talking with your hands, Josh.
Josh: I have to go downstairs and retrieve that one, that was super professional, right?
Tom: Yeah, right.
Josh: And so, that's just the data. If you can set the hook more often while keeping your flies in the strike zone for longer, you're going to catch more fish. There's no way around that.
Tom: Yep. What was that, number six?
Josh: So, that was number five. Number six is related, which is setting the hook in the wrong direction. So, that same scenario we're just talking about, I cast upstream, my indicator is downstream of my flies. You see this so often where people are so used to just strike straight up like you're reaching up to recast. And what happens is the indicator goes from being way upstream of them and it drifts down and now it's even with them, it's straight perpendicular to them in the bag, and their indicator goes under, and they set upstream and they move their indicator directly towards the flies.
If you set towards your flies, you are not putting tension on your leader, you're entering slack into your leader and you're giving the fish more time to spit the hook. The same problem can happen if I'm doing a longer drift and I'm standing on the shore and I let the flies drift downstream of my position. Once that indicator is downstream of my position, the flies are closer to me than the indicator. That becomes very difficult for me to get a good hook set and in order to set the hook well, I need to sweep the rod downstream and towards the bank if I'm facing out towards the middle or whatever. That's the only way I'm going to be able to get the tension because if I set upstream, I pulled the indicator directly towards the flies, and I put slack into the leader, you're not going to hook fish if you're putting slack on your hook sets instead of getting tension.
The whole purpose of a hook set is to make sure that we get tension. That's why I talked about this before and the most important thing is for us to understand where our flies are in relation to our indicator. That's number six in a nutshell, that was a quick one. Number seven is knowing when to take the indicator off, or I guess the decision there would be not taking the indicator off at certain times. There are certain situations where like what we talked about earlier, you find a fish that it's nymphing like crazy in 10 inches of water. And you see that it's not coming up to the surface, so you go nymph, means I have to throw an indicator, and so now I throw this, you know, giant indicator that landed in 10 inches of water with such a crash that it splashes and then spooks that fish immediately.
There's a time that I can still nymph, like, if they're sitting in 10 inches of water and I can see it and it's a sight fishing situation, I could just grease my leader and now I can watch my leader and just leave the last 10 inches of the leader that I don't grease and let, you know, an unweighted nymph sink just below the surface. Or that's where I could switch and use like the dry dropper scenario we talked about where that's permitted or legal or, like, if two hooks aren't legal, you can still,...if the fish isn't coming up, like in the wintertime where those fish might slide into shallow water but they're not coming up and feeding on the surface almost ever, putting a caddis over their heads that they haven't seen in seven months, there's a good chance that they're not going to ignore the nymphs and go eat that caddis but it's probably not going to spook them, right?
So, if you drop that hook off, it's a perfect opportunity to now land your fly in there delicately and now you still have a strike indicator but it's something that's not going to spook the fish. So, it's important to know, like, there's a time and place that while we're nymphing and even if you're thinking about, you know, just whether it's like fishing or you need to see some sort of strike indicator, that strike indicator could now become another small fly that can be much more delicate and it's going to have much less chance of spooking the fish.
It seems like such a kind of little and obvious thing but it's amazing how often you watch somebody and if you walk up on a bank and you have somebody watch a fish feeding and they see it nymphing, they're like, "Okay." And they go to the boat and they grab a nymphing rod that has like a three-quarter inch or a one-inch indicator on it that you're using for a heavy stonefly in, like, runoff currents and now in this little, you know, side-channel and clear shallow water, they're about to throw that and saying, "Well, they're nymphing, so we need the nymphing rod." Okay, well, we just need to adjust our setup for the type of water that the fish is sitting if that makes sense, which hopefully it makes a bit of sense.
Tom: Yeah, it does. And I think that people too often don't take that option and it's a lot more fun, it's cleaner, and it makes it more interesting.
Josh: Yeah. So, here's a question for you because I had a really interesting scenario. I was guiding another guide and he guides for steelhead and fly-tying rainbows in Ontario, whatever you want to call them. Great dude, I haven't had a chance to fish with him on his water, I want to. You can tell, like, he's the fishy guy and I know he's a good guide and he brought up one of his clients to fish with him here. And so, I think it was fall and it was cold and the super-easy scenario where one guy says, "I don't care if I catch fish all week, I just want it to be a giant." I'm like, "Okay, cool." "Well, we can do that," he says, "but I want him to catch as many fish as possible, so can he nymph?" And I'm like, "Awesome, because that's definitely always the same water and the same way to fish."
So, that was challenging. But I remember the first thing that happened is I told him to cast out and I was telling him, you know, "Your flies are drifting back behind, so you need to set downstream," and he's going, "But, you know, Mike always told me to set upstream." And Mike said, "No, no, just do what he told you to do here, this is his water." And so, I asked a few questions and the reason why Mike did that is because when they're fishing steelhead, he's casting ahead of the boat with an indicator rig whereas we would always cast slightly behind on our trout streams here because we're fishing for those fish on the bottom, our flies are going down on the bottom that bumping along the bottom.
Where he was fishing for steelhead, he didn't want to put them on the bottom because they're the fish that are off the bottom and if the flies were on the bottom, the fish wouldn't see them. And their fish, like a lot of our steelhead here, will rise up for a flight but they're not going to drop in. So, what they were doing was casting ahead of the boat and constantly kind of pulling the indicator upstream for that same reason to keep just enough tension so if the fish rose up off the bottom and grab the fly, they've grabbed the fly mid-comb, and then they were dropping back down. So, those fish were physically pulling the indicator under.
And so, for that reason, you needed to set going upstream. Whereas when we're fishing with the flies trailing behind the indicator, you need to set downstream because our fish are on the bottom. Again, if that fish's belly is on the rock, that is a fish, it is not Sonic the Hedgehog, it cannot burrow through the bottom to pull the indicator down. And you can see that people laugh at me every time I say that, but in their head, everybody is thinking, "The fish pulled the bobber down." They can't do that when they're on the bottom, the current is going to push the indicator down, so I have to make sure that I set it away from the flies.
Whatever direction the flies are from my indicator, doesn't matter if I'm leading the boat and I'm fishing mid-current stuff or if I'm casting, you know, upstream, or I'm casting across for me and I'm stuck in this big stagnant eddy and my flies are swept out on a current seam and faster water, I need to pull in the opposite direction. Draw a line, three points and draw a line, flies, indicator, rod tip, set in the opposite direction of the flies on that straight line. I don't ever want to set back towards my flies and I see so many people do that and so many people missing fish or thinking that nymphing wasn't effective because they're just setting in the wrong direction. Like, you have to set for tension, you can't be putting slack into the line when you set the hook, you start setting for tension and you're going to hook exponentially more. That make sense?
Tom: It makes sense. Yeah, yeah, it makes total sense. And then, you know, what gets confusing, I guess, when people are fishing downstream with a long line. Let's say, you're, you know, swinging a fly or whatever and you hear people say, "Strike to the left," or, "Strike to the right," when you got that much line out, it doesn't matter because it's just gonna pull the line upstream regardless of which direction you set. And anyway, when you're fishing downstream, you probably shouldn't be setting the hook most of the time, we should let the fish set the hook themselves.
Josh: Yeah, the only thing that I've found that sometimes works and it's not a good hook set and it's not a reliable hook set, but when you're, if you're locked into a spot where you physically can't walk down any further to get there and be able to cast upstream too when you're nymphing or drifting down with an indicator is leaving the indicator and all the line on the surface and, like, set with your rod tip down into the water and leaving like a big lazy loop. So, you're not mending really well but you're leaving that lazy loop on the water downstream of the position of the indicator so that when you pull, what you're trying to do is use the resistance of the indicator and fly line on the surface tension of the water.
So that as you pull upstream, that loop of fly line and indicator themselves, the resistance of them will create tension, but it's going to be a very poor hook set. If you've got really small flies that are, know, the tip of that hook is, you know, even narrower than a hypodermic needle, those might find the way home. If you're doing that with stoneflies and larger like San Juan worms or, you know, big hooks like that, like, good luck. Actually penetrating a fish's mouth, that is going to be so unlikely. You might get lots of takes but good hook sets are really tough to get like that downstream.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. You just not gonna be able to move the slide enough.
Josh: Exactly. One thing we haven't kind of really talked about or addressed with this whole nymphing thing and this, there's certainly a stigma when it comes to fly fishing around, you know, indicator fishing and nymphing. And you look at most guides in western North America and the first thing they do with somebody who's never fished before is you put them on an indicator and you start nymphing with them. And there's a lot of reasons that can be done, one is, like, you can have someone functionally fishing and casting, water loading doing, a big windshield-wiper stroke, you know, with an indicator and catching fish after five minutes of instruction, right? It takes a lot more time to actually teach someone how to cast properly, the proper mechanics of casting, and get them functionally fishing and casting properly.
And so, a lot of us...and I mean, I did the same thing for years when I first started guiding, I had this impression that people were booking a day because they wanted to catch lots of fish. And you start using the boat to catch fish through your guests and they cast way too far and they hit that seam right there and they cast seven feet to the other side of that seam. And so, you, like, drag it in and they're not moving it, so you just take the boat and you drag their indicators where you need to and then you reposition the boat and put slack back into the line.
And you see that they're not mending and the current starting to take the lines, so you move the boat over so that you take the tension off the fly line and that it drifts naturally because you know what's about to hit a bucket and then it goes into that bucket and they help to fish. And they're not sending the hook well, so you back the boat away to add more tension on it. And you realize like you're fishing through them and you're trying to make sure that they catch as many fish as they can. And at the end of the day, it's a great feeling when your guest is just super excited. They're like, "That's the most fish I've ever caught in a day," or, "I've never fly-fished in my life and I just caught, you know, double-digit numbers of fish before lunch," and it's great to see that excitement.
But one of the things that I ran into is after probably...and it was probably 10 years of guiding and I am somewhat ashamed to say this, I started realizing that all these guests would come back and be like, "Man, I've never caught as many fishes that day that you took me." "Well, how many days you fished last year?" "Man, I fished, like, 60 days last year." Okay, that's awesome. And then, you know, now someone is talking about a trip 10 years ago and they fishing 60 to 100 days a year and they've never caught as many fish as that one day in the boat. And I think it's just kind of very egotistical to be like, "Oh, that's because I'm that good," as opposed to, "So I've done that poor job of teaching you how to catch fish on your own."
And that's what kind of hit home for me is like I'm not teaching people how to be a better angler, I'm cheating and trying to use the boat and whatever I can to make sure they catch more fish and I haven't taught them how to replicate this on their own, I've just fished through them with the boat. And I know there's going to be a ton of people that listen to this and be like, "Well, you're doing a podcast on nymph fishing, I haven't seen you with an indicator on your boat in the last, like, five seasons," and that's fairly true. It's not because I'm a dry fly purist, it's not because I don't believe that, you know, nymphing works, it absolutely works. I'm in a little bit different position now 20 years in that I don't take as many beginners as I used to and a lot of the guests that I take are people who are far more experienced.
And so, a lot of them books specifically because they wanted a day of dry fly fishing, or when they're beginners, I go out of my way now to make sure I'm trying to teach more, whether it's getting out of the boat more and fishing from shore more or, you know, there's places where we can't fish properly and I'll leave them in the boat and I get out of the boat and I walk the boat upstream or I hold the boat in the current somewhere where I can't just, you know, row and hold them in place to try and fish those spots more. And we've done a lot more dry fly fishing, but it's not fair to kind of like put people down...I shouldn't say, "kind of," in no way, shape, or form is it right or acceptable that we're putting people down because they enjoy indicator fishing or because they enjoy chuck nymphing.
It's fishing. If you enjoy it and it's making you happy and it's an ethical practice the way you're doing it and legal, then that's great. This like, "My way of fishing is better than your way of fishing," is just kind's why I probably started nymphing so much because when I first got into guiding, there was such like, "I'm a dry fly purist." And I actually had a guide walk up to my guest at a boat launch on a day that it fished fairly tough overall, you could see. But we had a pretty good...we had an amazing day, we caught a lot of fish, but we dry fly fish several times throughout the day. We got out of the boat and stocked fish a few times. It didn't produce almost anything. We beat up on nymph fishing and they had a great day.
At the end of the day, one of these guides walked up to the guest and said, "Man, like, what were you guys using today? Like, it was so tough out there. Every time I pass you guys, you had a fish on." And they said, "Oh, we're getting fish on stoneflies." I have no idea, it was the middle of summer, so it was probably smaller nymphs like caddis or something. But when they said nymph, this guy just, like, laughed in their face and like, "Oh, garbage, that doesn't even count as they're underneath the bomber," and just absolutely crushed these two people that have had the best day of fishing of their life, trying to humiliate them. But he did it in front of his clients because his clients hadn't caught fish all day.
And, like, that bugged me so much that I'm like, "I am not going to be this dry fly purist that won't nymph, I will nymph and just make sure my clients are happy." And at the end of the day, if you're guiding, it's not your frigging day, it's the guests. So, if people want to nymph, I should be nymphing. If people want to dry fly fish, I should be dry fly fishing. If people tell me, "I want to do whatever is going to catch the most fish or whatever you think is the highest likelihood," then that's what I'm going to do from there and that's what I should. But just because someone is catching fish in a different way than you that we should try and belittle them and put them down, it really bugs me and that's why it also bugs me to know that when people see my boat, they don't see those fishing indicators.
And some of that came from the fact that I knew I spent too many years just trying to get as many fish and it was all about numbers and, like, at the end of the day, it's like how many flags are you flying in Mexico? How many fish do we have today? It shouldn't matter what happens at the boat launch, I go out of my way to run my schedule around even if there's 100 other people in the river that day, just trying to do it with timing or a stretch where we're not going to see as many people. It's not about trying to brag how many fish we got at a boat launch, it's our guests in our boat, that's what matters and not comparing to other people and making sure that you had the best day.
And it was a bit of a hard wasn't a bit, it was a really hard pill for me to swallow when I started, like, trying to teach people how to caste better, how to stock fish, how to cite fish, how to read the water and do everything on their own. And you know what? The number of fish we caught in a day went down dramatically, absolutely destroyed the number of fish we're catching per day. And it was really hard and, in my head, I'm going like, "Man, these people are saying this was the best day of fishing they've ever had." Yes, we've hooked double-digit numbers of fish on dries today but we've only landed one fish and they're beyond stoked and now they're going to go home and tell people that the best day of fishing they've ever had in their life was on the Bow River and, "Oh, how many fish did you catch?" "Well, just one."
I mean, then I go, "Man, like, they're gonna tell other people and no one's gonna want to come fish with us because a good day was only one fish." But a good day should be defined by each person, not by your guide. And that was my ego, I just had to get over it and go, "Okay, what's a good day for this person?" and I'll make sure I do that. And that was a mistake I made for way too many years, just nymphing all the time every day just to try and put numbers on the bow because, like, it does. So, I don't know, that's a bit of a tangent but I just wanted to kind of touch on that and address that because, you know, if you're out there and you're catching fish and you're enjoying it in an ethical and legal way, then all the power to you.
Tom: Well, Josh, as usual, you've been a fountain of knowledge and we got a lot more than seven deadly sins today, we got a lot about nymph fishing in general and about the philosophy of guides and how to make clients happy. And so, I'm sure that people got some great ideas, I know I did today, and, you know, there's a couple of those sins in there that I'm guilty of. So, I'm gonna have to...
Josh: I've done them all. If there's a mistake, I've made it, Tom.
Tom: Yeah, I think there's a couple I may be making consistently. So, the next time we go fishing, I'm going to remember, I'm going to hear you yelling at me in the background and try to do better. We're always learning, aren't we? Even something as seemingly simple as fishing with a bobber and a flyer too, there are always nuances to make it better and to make them more fun, to make it more challenging and interesting. We've been talking to Josh Nugent. Josh, stop it. We've been talking to Josh Nugent of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. And the border is open now and, you know, I've never fished at the Bow River, I'm going to be knocking on your doorstep one day because it's a place I've really wanted to fish and I've heard so much about it.
Josh: Yeah, we've been talking about it for so long, you need to make it happen.
Tom: Yeah, I know, I know. Well, the border is open now, maybe I can do it this year. Anyway. Josh, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us today. And, again, Josh can be reached at Out Fly Fishing in Calgary, Alberta. Thanks for listening to "The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast" with Tom Rosenbauer. You can be a part of the show. Have a question or comment? Send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. in the body of an email or as a voice attached. You can find more free fishing tips at