If there’s one thing in nymph fishing that gets far too much credit, it’s the induced take, in all forms. From Frank Sawyer’s slight movement up and out of a pure dead drift, to the Leisenring lift, nymphing anglers everywhere are enamored with ways to twitch, jig, swing and lift the nymph.
And why not? A dead drift is seemingly just one thing — it’s a pure drift of the nymph, traveling with the surrounding currents, not unnaturally influenced by the attached tippet. And when you get that, what else can you do with the fly? Move it, right?
Well sure . . . sometimes. But let’s be careful with that.
Dead drifts catch trout. High quality, natural drifts with the current convince more wild trout than any other tactic, and it’s hard to argue against the point. Because most trout in most places eat small foods. They like to eat bugs. Mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies and midges are the staples. Add in scuds, cress bugs and crane flies to round out the group, and you have a host of aquatic life that really doesn’t move much (more on that below).
So a dead drift with the equivalent nymph is far and away the tactic that seals the deal most often. But it’s also an elusive and maddening undertaking — because trying to drift flies under the water while simultaneously maintaining some form of contact to the fly for strike detection and allowing it to move freely with its surrounding currents is a task that entertains and teaches us until our last days on the water.
Thankfully, even the pickiest trout can be a bit forgiving on that pure dead drift underneath. Why? Because real bugs do have movement. And while they surely don’t dart twelve inches across heavy currents, they move within a modest range relative to their area. Take for example, the full class of swimmer mayflies, including the Slate Drake and Callibaetis. Often referred to as good swimmers, anglers take this description to heart. They abandon the dead drift and aim for a presentation with built in movement.
Likewise, we’ve all seen trout intercept emerging caddis and mayflies under the water, and that too would seem like a good time for abandoning the dead drift to instead move the nymph. Enter, the induced take.
But I think we’re giving a half-inch water bug too much credit. Sure, some are “good” swimmers, and every insect that a trout eats has some animation. But how much can a #18 Baetis nymph really move down there? I think we’re lending too much credence to the videos we’ve all seen of mayflies swimming in an aquarium. A river trout eats nymphs most often in moving water. Riffles, runs and pocket water are called the food factories of a river, because that’s where a high percentage of nymphs live — very different hydraulics than stillwater.
If you lift your rod tip ten inches in one second, does this really look like what even the best of the swimmer class of mayflies can achieve? Maybe. And that’s probably why it works sometimes.
If you allow your fly to swing out at the end of the dead drift, performing the Leisenring lift to perfection, how naturally does that represent a quickly emerging caddis? It depends on a lot of factors, doesn’t it?
The induced take might very well be the solution to a tough morning on the water. Because, sometimes, groups of trout are absolutely triggered by motion on a nymph. And yes, that might coincide with hatch activity.
But an excellent dead drift is your baseline presentation. The induced take is a variation. And do not forget that a good induced take begins with a great dead drift. That is what is so often missed.
What can you do with a nymph when trout won’t eat it on a dead drift? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask die hard anglers.
The most frequent answer from anglers whom I respect is to go find another trout. Cover water. Stick with the dead drift and try to make it better. Don’t blame the fish. Instead, be critical of your dead drifts. Improve them. Then try putting that dead drift into different parts of the water column. What if none of that works? Try moving the fly. And go ahead, call it an induced take — especially if they start eating it.
Mistakes and Misunderstandings
Here are a few key points:
A good induced take should look natural. Lift two to six inches, or strip the same distance. And if you’re letting the flies swing out, remember that a real emerging nymph does not swim into the current as it lifts. It does not fight the current. It simply swims up and travels along with the river. So try to match that look, even if you’re lifting the nymph all the way to the top. This is a wet fly fisherman’s principle, and it’s the best thing that I carried over from my wet fly tactics into nymphing.
It’s very difficult to move a nymph and then return to a dead drift. So once you’ve moved the nymph, it’s hard to stop moving the nymph because you have pure tension to the fly. This is easy to understand by watching what happens when you animate a dry fly in any decent current — most often it drags immediately after the animation.
Even the bugs with the best swimming ability probably aren’t swimming fast very often. My 40-yard dash time might be 5.5 seconds (probably not). But I spend most of my days at a walking or sitting pace — just dead-drifting through life.
The imperfections within our attempted dead drifts probably move our nymphs enough anyway. And accidental movement is more subtle — arguably more realistic — than overdoing an induced take.
Just because bugs are hatching doesn’t mean trout won’t eat a dead drift. You may pick up a few trout on a good lift. But you might catch twice as many, during the emergence, with a good dead drift at the right level.
Every so often, trout eat shiny stupid things. So it’s a good idea to mix in speedy lifts and long jigs when the trout say no to what we think should work.
Always understand the trout you are fishing for. Stocked trout, club trout or eager trout that populate infertile streams may eat a moving nymph a lot more than a dead drift. But don’t take that feedback too far. Don’t expect wild trout or selective fish to do the same.
Induce With Restraint
Overall, many of the anglers I meet make far too much of the induced take on a nymph.
So, develop the ability to move the nymph out of a dead drift in a few different ways. Use the induced take occasionally — until trout seem to prefer it. Then use it primarily, within that brief window of time.
If movement on the nymph is not clearly the trout’s preference, then return to dead drifts as the baseline, because moving the nymph probably looks like bad drag most times, giving trout just cause for refusal.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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