Guadalupe River Fly Fishing

Guadalupe River Nymphing

A beginners guide to nymph fishing the Guadalupe river for trout.

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Guadalupe River Fly Fishing, Nymph FishingFor various reasons, many fly anglers in Texas have a deep fear of little flies and light tippet. When I first began fly fishing for bass on the Llano River I would walk into a fly shop, see the trout nymphs and shake my head, wondering how anyone would think that a big fish would ever want to eat such a little bug. As time went on and I began expanding my fishing horizons a few of the smaller flies found their way into my boxes.

I still have trouble with the idea of fishing anything smaller than a size 16 for bass but I quickly got over my phobia of small flies for trout, and if you look in my trout boxes you will find that most of my flies are smaller than a size 14 and quite a few are in the 20-26 range.

To most fly anglers, and certainly those who have read anything on trout fishing, the phrase “match the hatch” is an accepted fact of their fishing life. Applying this maxim can be harder and practice.  Knowing the various insects that live in the Guadalupe River is the first step, followed quickly by what patterns most closely match those hatches.  The quick and dirty method is to tie on a pattern that is of similar size and color to any bugs you might be seeing, either in the water, on the water or in the air.  The third, and most practical way is to develop a set of confidence flies.

Confidence Flies

Confidence flies are the flies that are proven to catch fish throughout the day and throughout the season. On the Guadalupe, my confidence flies include

  • #18 hares ear nymphs,
  • #18 and #20 pheasant tail nymphs in both natural and black,
  • #20 and #22 gray RS2s
  • various colors of #20-24 zebra midges.
  • #12 to 16 girdle bugs
  • Any of a number of egg (and later sucker spawn) patterns
  • Worm patterns in shades of red.

These are patterns that I will often start out the day with; if they are not producing I will change away from them but will often come back to later in the day. These are flies that on slow fishing days will fish longer and harder than other flies but, unlike the angler who stays with them in the same spot for a very long time, I will change away from, especially on those days when there are a number of other anglers on the stream.

As the season progresses, I add in other flies such as caddis emergers, more midges such as rainbow warriors, WD40s and black beauties, baetis emergers such as mercury baetis, biot emergers and other patterns in olive and gray, trico emergers such as #24 black RS2 and, later in the season, sucker spawn patterns in pink and yellow.

Stocking Your Box(es)

Walking into a fly shop and looking at trout flies can be a little overwhelming, especially when you walk into a shop without your boxes. I almost always know what flies are in my boxes but quite often will, shortly after restocking my boxes, find that there is still a gap in my box of a certain fly that, at that very moment is my best producing fly, leading me to dig deeper into the boxes to find another pattern that is similar to that fly and hopefully just as productive. Sometimes this digging can lead me to finding a new favorite pattern; often it leads to more fly changes as I keep wishing that I had remembered to get the better pattern in the first place.

Another advantage of taking your boxes into the shop is that it gives the person in the shop an opportunity to make suggestions on the gaps in your box. This is especially helpful if you are just getting into fly fishing for trout or if you are going to be fishing a river for the first time.

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Rigging Up

The most common method of fishing the Guadalupe is nymphing, and the most common nymphing technique is a two fly nymph set, with an indicator and split shot. 

nymphrig_diagram

Flows will help us to determine what we use for setting up this nymph set.  To simplify context of learning to nymph fish the Guadalupe, what I am describing below is best suited for Low to Normal flows.  Knowing about flows help you become more successful at targeting trout on the Guadalupe.

 

Flow (cubic feet/second)

Rod Weight

Leader Length

Leader Size

Tippet Size

Split Shot Sizes*

Indicator Size

Top Fly Size

Trailer Fly Size

100-250 cfs

4-6

7.5 foot

4x

4x to 6x

01 & 06

1/2 inch

10-16

12-22

250-450 cfs

9 foot

3x to 6x

3/4 inch

450-650 cfs

5-8

3x

AB & 04

8-12

*AB=0.6g and 04=0.2g; while 01=0.3g and 06=0.1g (most shot found in fly shops uses this).  The combination of split shots means that, by carrying two, paired sizes of shot, three of the smaller size shot weigh the same as one larger.  This keeps weight management simple, and helps to lessen the chance of bad things happening when there are too many shot on a leader.  Ideally, your are using two or fewer pieces of shot on a setup in order to get the flies to depth.   The overall goal, is to be able to get your flies into the deepest part of the riffle, run or pool that you are fishing.

 

Nymph Fly Fishing the Guadalupe River for TroutFly selection as the season progresses on the Guadalupe is often more a matter of going smaller on your flies and lighter on your tippet. In the early parts of the season, it is possible to be very successful on your standard patterns in sizes ranging from 14 to 18, fished on 4x tippet.

As the season goes on, I will get progressively smaller on the fly sizes, down to size 24 or smaller, fished on 6x tippet. This is partly due to the fact that the bugs (especially the tricos and midges) in the latter part of the season are smaller and also because many other anglers on the river are still fishing the larger flies on heavier tippet.

Once a trout has been hooked on a 16 bead head pheasant tail a few times they will remember the fly and will refuse it in favor of smaller and more natural looking flies. I do still keep my standard selection but often go one size smaller (#18 instead of #16) and fish that pattern as my attractor, upper fly on a two fly rig, with the smaller, more natural looking pattern as my trailer.

When setting up my nymph rig for the Guadalupe in low to normal flows, I will typically take a 7.5 foot leader to start and will immediately trim off the last 12 inches of the leader. I will then take 18 inches of tippet and tie on to the leader.

The purpose for this is to 1) create my preferred leader length 2) put a tippet knot onto the leader to create an anchor point for my weight.

At the end of the tippet I will tie in my first fly, which is typically a larger attractor pattern. After that fly is tied on I will take an additional 15-18 inches of tippet, tie in my smaller, more natural looking fly and then attach that fly to the attractor fly with at the bend of the hook.

If I need to make a fly change, I often will start by changing the trailing fly, but keep the same attractor. With the 15 inches base length between the two flies, I will trim and change flies to the point where there is 8 inches of tippet between the two flies. Any less than 8 inches and I will trim out the tippet between the two flies and start again with the 15 inches of tippet.

If after changing the trailing fly a few times without success, I will then change the attractor, and cycle through, or try other trailing patterns.

A brief bit about knots.  Learn one good leader to tippet knot and one or two good terminal knots (knots you use to tie tippet to fly), and get proficient at tying them.

My preferred knots include the double surgeons as well as the Davy knot.

The only remaining part of the two fly nymph rig remaining is the indicator. The general rule is to have a leader length one and a half to two times the depth of the water you are fishing. More practically, if your flies are not hitting the bottom every few drifts, increase the distance between your indicator and flies and possibly even add in a little more weight to make sure you are getting down to where the fish are.

If you are hitting bottom every time, shorten the length between your indicator and flies and/or remove some weight. Many times this is the most important change you can make to your rig throughout the day. You do want to check your flies every so often to ensure that your bottom bumps are not resulting in your flies getting slimed by the algae along the bottom of the river. There are many days when simply adding a little depth or weight will mean the difference between catching a few fish and having an epic fishing day.

Back to Fishing in Higher Flows

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Guadalupe River Fly Fishing for Trout, Nymph FishingOn the Water

On the water technique is another important aspect of successful nymph fishing. Many anglers in who fish for bass in the summer months will want to fish the water away from them, forgetting that many trout can be caught at your feet. Learning where the fish hold is often as simple as seeing where the water is flowing.

In low or average flow years, we look for trout to be in the deeper parts of the runs and into the pools, with few fish holding in the riffles.  When you approach a section of water in normal or low flow, look for the deeper water that has some current. These are the lanes where the natural bugs are flowing in the water column, which attracts the trout.  The deeper water will also provide the trout with a little more protection from predators such as osprey.

Look for the foam on the water or debris such as leaves or sticks are flowing down the river will show you the main flow on the river. Start on the near side of the flow, often on the near edge of the current. Make a handful of drifts on the near side of the drift,

Fishing methodically early in the day can help to locate the fish and, especially in low flow years, can keep you from spooking the fish as well.  These are not bass.  Your first cast should not be tight to the bank, but rather on the edge of the current closes to you.  Put your flies there and allow for a few drifts.  After you have made a few drifts on the near side, take out a little more line and work your next casts further across stream.

I’ll try to visualize the river in front of me as, rather than being a single current  it is made up of multiple smaller currents, that come to make the larger flow through the area I am wanting to fish.  For me to be successful. I try to fish each one of the individual currents to see if the fish are on one current or another.  Some days it is near, some days it is far.  One day you will find the trout holding in the upper part of the drift, other days they will be on the bottom part of the drift.

As you are making those drifts, you are also paying attention to the depth that the flies are getting.  As a rule of thumb, in average to low flows, if you are not tapping on the bottom every 6 or so drifts, you are not getting to the fish.  You don’t want so much weight that you are hanging up every drift.  Finding that balance is a matter of adjusting the amount of weight you are fishing, as well the depth between your weight and indicator, which can also be described as a depth modulator, but some people will get offended if you call it a bobber. .

Work with a pattern, but don’t get your feet locking into a spot.  If you hook a fish in the upper part of a run or pool, that will often alert the other fish as to your presence.  If you are able to work your way either up or downstream and allow the area where you had success to rest for a few moments, you can often move back into that area and find another willing participant.

Finally, learn to mend both up and downstream.  If you are fishing the near edge of a current, it is not uncommon for your fly line to be in an eddy or slack pool.  By mending downstream, you will allow your line to catch up with your flies. If your fly line is moving faster than your indicator, then mend back upstream.  Either way, you are trying to create a drift where the fly line is not creating a drag on the flies. 

This is what would be termed as a dead drift, or drift where everything your flyline to your bottom fly that is in or on the water is moving with the flow of the current.  If you are fishing into one micro current, you have to adjust your line and indicator, which are floating on other micro currents.

Final Thoughts on Nymphing

Fly fishing is a nuanced sport, and many people who fall into the dry fly only category look down on nymph fishing as chuck and duck, blind casting. There is a certain nuance involved in nymph fishing that can add a more technical aspect of trout fishing when compared a dry fly setup.  Certainly there are very nuanced aspects of dry fly fishing,  and some of the most rewarding takes you will see is a nice trout taking a dry of the surface. 

The simple fact, however, is that trout feed below the surface the vast majority of the time and, when you consider the fact that trout see many different natural bugs as well as artificial nymphs they can be much more discerning when it comes to artificial flies fished below the surface.

Nuanced nymphing is especially true on the Guadalupe in the later months of the season and focusing on making good drifts as well as changing your flies and depth will help anglers to become more proficient in their fishing technique so that their days on the Guadalupe are more productive.

As a bonus, all of these techniques can then be carried over to other trout streams, making those summertime trips to Colorado or Montana more rewarding experiences.

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