As a fly fisherman, there’s nothing as satisfying as achieving a good cast, a perfect drag-free float and the feeling I get after fooling a trout into taking a dry fly. But dry fly fishing does not always work in all conditions or all seasons. As my fishing buddy/fish coach often tells me – We can try to fish on top, but if you want to catch fish today, we might have to fish under the water.
After the first real cold weather came down in November, all the insects except the midges stopped hatching.
Midges hatch here all year round and the trout rise to eat them, but it is very difficult to catch trout with the tiny midge patterns in the midst of a thousand real, live midges.
Fishing the tiny midge patterns is something I am trying to get better at, but as coach says… “If you want to catch fish today, you might have to fish under the water.”
Fish Under the Water
Fishing under the water, AKA nymphing or midging. The method that we use most is the called the bounce rig. The rig bumps along the bottom and fools fish by imitating nymphs drifting naturally in the current. The nymphs are attached to tags, which float down stream and reach the fish before the rest of the tippet (See Figure 1).
Bounce Rig Diagram (Figure 1).
- A – weight – several small split shot sinkers
- B & C – Tags with nymphs (3 tags may be legal in some areas)
- D – Float, bubble or indicator
- 3X – 5X tippet between A & D
- Make Tags from 4X – 7X Tippet
When I first heard about the bounce rig, someone called it the Provo River Bounce Rig, and it supposedly originated in Utah by fly fishing guides on the Provo River. I have also seen the bounce rig used by guides on the Green River (Our Float Trip).
I have only used the bounce rig with my fly rod, but I see no reason why this technique can’t work with a spinning rod. Since I originally wrote this, I have seen people successfully using the bounce technique with different types of fishing rods.
Bounce Rig Video
We shot the following video showing my young cousin fly fishing for the first time with the Provo River Bounce Rig. This was his first morning as he got the hang of casting the bounce rig and setting the hook. On his second day, he tied his first fly (a sow bug) and then caught fish on that sow bug using the bounce rig.
Bounce Rig Tips
- Start with about 4 – 6 feet from the butt end section of a salvaged (but still strong) tapered leader.
- Attach about 3 – 4 feet of 3X – 6X tippet to the leader (depending upon size of fish and depth of water).
- Use fluorocarbon tippet if the water is very clear because it is less visible and it also sinks faster, but it is not a durable and it will break after you catch a few fish.
- Create 2 or 3 tags, depending on how many flies you can legally use in your area.
- Each tag should be about 2 inches long and spaced so they can’t tangle with each other. Longer tags will work, but will tangle more often. Longer tags will allow you to change flies a few times before the tags get too short. Start with 6 – 12 inch spacing between the weights and the next tag, but experiment to see what works best under different conditions.
- Tags should be made from the smallest tippet possible (5X – 6X). The key is to find the balance between getting strikes and losing fish.
- Use egg-shaped, green colored weights, so they blend in with the mossy bottom and slide across the stream bottom.
- Use several small weights (3 – 7 BB or smaller) instead of one large weight, because they slide over the bottom better and hang up less. If the rig does hang, you may loose only one or two small weights instead of all the gear.
- Tie knots both below and above the weights. The lower knot prevents the weights from sliding off the rig. The upper knot allows the line to break at the knot in the event of a serious hang up so you don’t also loose the rest of the rig.
- Set the bubble (indicator) so the distance between bubble and weight is at least 1½ times the depth of the stream.
- Learn what the indicator looks like as it bounces along the bottom. Any quick movement sideways or down is probably a strike, so Set The Hook! When in doubt… Set The Hook!
- If the rig is not bouncing, you are not reaching the bottom and are not fishing deep enough. Move the bubble to fish deeper and/or add more weight.
- Be very careful casting this rig. The best method is to let the pressure of water weight the rod, then flip it upstream. Start by fishing it very close.
- Like fishing a dry fly, the drift should be as natural as possible, so Mend, Mend, Mend.
Nymph Patterns to try on the Bounce Rig
Any nymph pattern will probably work, be we primarily use:
- Egg patterns
- Sow bugs
- San Juan worms
Looking back at my records, between last Nov. and mid Feb., my fishing buddy and I fished 22 times using the bounce rig technique and caught 227 fish (10.3 fish per trip). Not too bad for a tough time of the year to fish.
In case you are worried about losing large fish on the small tippet, we landed at least one 16 inch or larger fish on 14 of our fishing trips and we landed 19 inch or larger fish on three trips, all with 4X – 6X tippet. Sure we lost some big fish, but isn’t that what you want anyway? You have to find them before you hook them and you have to hook them before you can land them.
Sometimes I try to buck the odds and catch fish on dries and it is very satisfying when it works. But I almost always switch to a bounce rig because I actually want to catch a few fish.
For those of you that think this only works on western streams, a buddy has been using the bounce rig on eastern streams. He said he watched a group of guys fish a stretch of the stream and fail. After they left, he fished the bounce rig using local scud patterns and caught several nice fish including his largest trout in that state.
So when there is no hatch, the fish aren’t rising or if the water is fast or if the wind is too strong, you might need to fish under the water. Give the Provo River Bounce Rig a try.