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Winter's Reflections, Part 2

If the last post's technique isn't getting it done, here's a surefire setup for you!

Team Downstream member Roz releasing a fat winter bow.

When the cold of winter has a firm grip on everything, how do you make the most of your hard-earned time on the water?

The last post discussed my favorite winter setup for fly fishing. The heavy-bug-on-the-bottom method is a winner in a lot of low or slow times of the year. Fall, winter, or spring (pre-runoff), it's a personally proven technique.

But, sometimes, it just seems like you still can't get low and slow enough with that technique...or any other for that matter.

When the world is wrapped in the death grip of winter, everything slows down. The river slows down. The bug life slows down. The fish themselves slow down.

So...maybe we can slow down our presentation too?!

Much of the thinking in fly fishing is a natural, drag-free presentation. But, what if the flow is just moving too fast for the fish? What if they're glued to the bottom of the deepest buckets and holding there for warmth as they attempt to grab a passing meal as best they can?

Fish are cold-blooded. That means they don't feel the cold like we do but it definitely slows down their bodily functions. With the upcoming method, you'll not only be able to reach previously unreachable fish and unthinkable depths, but you'll also be able to slow down the drift without your bugs appearing to be unnatural.

Winter Nymphing technique #2: The Teton Rig

Purists scoff and scorn but no upturned nose can deny its effectiveness.

This rig goes by many names, including ugly. The most common name is the Teton Rig. You may have heard it called

  • Pogo

  • Pogo Rig

  • Bangin'

  • U-Bangy

  • Crappy Rig

  • Not fly fishing

  • Etc.

Or you may not have heard of it at all. You'll most likely not find this method included in any fly fishing class or even employed by many guides on the water.

But here's the skinny:

  1. Start with a 9-12 foot leader/tippet. Longer is better for deeper water obviously. A long leader still works well in shallower water too (see why in the second diagram below). The cast is the only thing that will be a little more difficult with a longer leader.

  2. At the bottom of the rig, place a small overhand knot. You'll put your weights here on the bottom and the knot helps to keep them from sliding off. It also helps you keep track of the main (running line) while finishing the setup. Some go without the knot to make snags easier to save. Up to you.

  3. Cut a 6 inch-ish tag piece of tippet. Attach the tag 10-16 inches or so above the sinker knot with a double surgeon's knot, leaving at least 4-6 inches on one end of the tag. Trim the shorter end of the tag. With the longer, untrimmed end, tie an overhand knot around the running line/leader so your tag sticks out 90 degrees from the running line/leader. Trim the tag to 4 inches or so (just wider than the palm of your hand). You'll attach your bigger bug here.

  4. Repeat step 3 but place this second tag 12-18 inches or so above your first tag. You'll attach your smaller fly here. An emerger pattern works great in this upper position.

  5. Pinch on your weights

  6. Tie on your flies

  7. Add an indicator. A Sindicator or Thingamabobber works best because of the buoyancy. You may want to size up one over your normal on the indicator.

And there you have it. This rig will get down deep and keep your bugs in place. Perfect for many winter nymphing situations. It also works great in spring runoff/high water but you'll notice you need to add split shot until you get the "pogo" effect.

Now, there are a couple of things to understand here.

First, since the weight is on the bottom, as you're drifting you'll notice the indicator ticking along too. As the weight registers the riverbed, your bobber will tick, tick, tick, right along with it. That's what you want. The amount of split shot is important here. Too much and you'll get hung up or won't get a drift. Too little and you won't tick the bottom.

How do you know if its a fish and not the bottom?

Most takes are lively and will dunk the bobber quickly in a very head-shaky manner. Snags make the bobber appear to slowly "lean" under the water. But winter takes can be slow and subtle so don't be afraid to set on something that looks "out of rhythm." If you find you're setting too often and have to re-cast every time, use a "check swing" set... a half-set of sorts. Strong enough to come tight if it's a fish but not strong enough to rip your line out of the water if it's not. If it is a fish, you can always set a second time if you feel like your first one was too soft. If it's not, you just keep drifting.

Second, the cast isn't pretty. Since the weight is on bottom, you don't want to false cast this setup! I repeat, don't use a traditional false cast!

Instead, use a roll cast or a plop cast (lift your rod tip high, plop your back cast on the water to your downstream side, lift your tip up high again and plop the water on your forward cast too. Repeat if necessary to gain distance). If you aren't using too much weight (a few BBs or so), you can do a circle cast... your back cast should come low/to the side and your forward cast comes high over the top. It's really more of an oval cast, TBH.

Any cast you choose, just make sure there is no slack in your line whatsoever. You'll want your line taut to the weights on the bottom to make a proper cast. If you don't, be prepared to do a lot of untangling or soothing a welt on your skull.

Third, You'll need to mend...a lot! I suggest a high-stick method. As you're drifting, keep your rod tip up 45 degrees and follow the indicator. Doing this means your mending maybe 4 feet of line instead of 14.

"But Nic, how do I set if my rod tip is already up?" Great question. Nearly every fish in the river is facing upstream. So, if your rod tip is up, the most effective set (maybe in nymphing in general) is downstream (with the flow of the river) and toward you (or toward the shore your back is facing). Basically, drop your rod tip downstream and pull your rod hand toward your face or downstream shoulder.

If you think about it, this means you'll be setting the fly toward the fish (into its mouth) and across its face (pulling it right into the lip).

Take a minute or two to picture this. Once you've understood it and practiced it, it'll become second nature.

And that's it!

It probably sounds foreign to most but if you can add this arrow to your quiver, you'll have a surefire way to find fish in difficult conditions.

If this is uncharted territory for you, practice your surgeon's knot at home. Set up this rig in your garage before you head out. Get some reps and you'll soon become confident with this very particular rig.

If you don't like using surgeon's knots, you can use tippet rings to attach your tag lines. Using dropper loop knots is also a great method

I hope you've found this little ditty useful! Drop a comment and let me know what you think, ask a question, or share your tips for winter fishing!

Cheers and tight lines,


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