Fly fishing nymphs in clear water has its own unique challenges and opportunities. On one level, you can see the fish in most cases. On another, they can see you very easily unless you stay low and blend in with your surroundings. Fly fishing nymphs in clear water in the Great Lakes or in Western tailwaters requires a specific mindset to be consistently effective at getting fish to take your fly. This article highlights the points from the video below and focuses on the essentials of fly fishing nymphs in clear water and the presentation involved.
Most Western tailwaters are clear the majority of the year. In contrast to this, Great Lakes rivers often go through a rain cycle of rain to murky water, particularly in the spring. Water during fall fishing in the Great Lakes is usually clear and often low. It is during these times of year when steelhead and brown trout will be in the rivers and exposed to humans. In both places, you have lots of fish, low clear water, and often heavy fishing pressure. Sight fishing is the name of the game to both target active fish and avoid snagging inactive fish. At times, you just need to relax fish and do not need to sneak up on them as much, but in other instances as much stealth as possible is the rule.
The most important part of fly fishing nymphs in clear water in these specific situations is to be able to watch the fish’s reaction before, during, and after your presentation. Don’t just start blanket casting the entire river. It’s not about finding the fish at this point—they’re everywhere. I see this approach all the time, and those anglers have hookups all day. The problem is that the fly is in the fish’s dorsal fin etc. Don’t waste your time with this approach. Study each fish. Is it active? Is it opening and closing its mouth? Is it more concerned with spawning than anything else. Even if a fish isn’t showing any signs of being active, it doesn’t hurt to show him or her your fly. Watch your fly as it sinks and then watch the fish’s reaction. Try to follow the fly completely past the fish. If the fish doesn’t move for multiple perfect drifts, then downsize your fly or switch to a different trigger (see the video), or see this article on nymph fly selection in general for ideas. If still no reaction, then move on to another fish. When you find an active fish, you’ve got a good chance of getting it to eat. You can always try an inactive fish later, and you usually have lots of targets.