You know there are fish there. The river is deeper than where you have been fishing, but you know a trout is looking up from below. Maybe you see them against the stones. Maybe soft sips along the surface prove it to you. Perhaps it just looks fishy. Whatever the reason, you are confident this spot holds trout. Fishing has been good, but suddenly everything that had been working is not.
It is one thing to throw nymphs and not catch fish. It is another to be hooking up all day and then come up short on a great spot.
If your flies have been working, and you are showing the fish a solid drift with the correct split shot and strike indicator set up for the depth of water you are fishing, it could be that your flies are not getting down to the bottom of the river fast enough.
The speed of the current adds to the problem. The water at the top and middle of the water column may be a good deal faster than the water along the bottom where the water flow is being broken up by the rocks and debris in the riverbed. If the spot you are targeting not very long, the current may carry your fly past where the fish are before it reaches the bottom.
Instead of just putting on more split shot, try casting further upstream. This will give your fly more time to get down to the strike zone and present the fish with a longer, more natural drift downstream along the bottom.
It works in deeper water, or if you are fishing where the river drops off at a ledge into a deeper hole. If you have been fishing a certain depth and you need to go a little deeper, adding weight and moving the strike indicator up on the leader may not be all you need. Cast further upstream, so your fly gets down sooner and is already at the bottom when it reaches the ledge. Now the weight has a better chance to reach the fish in time. It may require some patience. You will most likely have to finesse the fly across the bottom of the more shallow water to avoid getting snagged as it approaches the drop off, but if you need to get your flies down, this method gives your fly a head start.
Quick ‘Been There Done That’ Story
My brother experienced this on the Big Hole River. We had anchored the drift boat about ten yards out from a grassy ledge along the river while my father and I ate our lunch. My brother was casting towards a nice seam in deep, fast water. It had been a great day of fishing. Simple flashback pheasant tails and copper johns were working well. Fishing along the bank had produced fish, but the spot we had anchored at was a little deeper. My brother added a bit of split shot and moved the strike indicator up on his leader. Then he cast as he had before.
He fished it for a while with no luck before he cast upstream almost twice as far as he had been. He was a line stripping fool, but he nailed a nice brown on his second cast and pulled several other fish from that spot. All it took was getting his flies down early enough to put them where the fish were eating.
It was a good lesson that helped us through the day and the rest of the trip. The next time you need to get the fly down a little deeper, try casting further upstream and give your nymph a head start to the bottom.