Have you ever seen somebody on the stream with their fly rod held high? Do you wonder what they are doing in the middle of the stream? They are performing the art of high sticking also known as short line nymphing. This type of fishing will often out produce other techniques. Some of my best days on the streams occur when I am high sticking. It is a great skill to learn for use when there is no hatch present.
The preferred rod for high sticking is a 9ft long rod with a fast action. A fast action provides greater feel as the line moves along the bottom. The longer length rod allows you to keep as much line off the water as possible as this will cause drag. People have been known to use rods as long as 12 feet in order to obtain a longer reach and keep as much line off the water as possible. The St Croix Imperial Fly Rods come in a variety of weights; these rods have a fast action allowing for greater feel of the bottom. The weight of the rod should match the species of fish. A four or five weight would work for trout, a seven or eight weight would be the preferred rod for steelhead.
The size of the reel used should match the weight of the rod. If you are pursuing steelhead, a reel with a reliable drag would be necessary. The Ross CLA has an excellent drag and can handle the long runs of the steelhead. This reel should be spooled with Cortland 12 or 20 pound Micron Fly Line Backing. Any floating line would be the next step in the setup. This line should match the weight of the rod. Rio Mainstream or Cortland Classic Fly Lines are both superb lines for high sticking. The leader should range from 7 and a half feet to 9 feet depending on personal preference. The Climax Tapered Leaders have the preferred taper. These leaders also come with a small foam ball which aids on strike detection. A few spools of tippet are also necessary. The Rio Flouroflex Tippet Material provides the best strength to diameter ratio available. This is good to have when one gets hung up on rocks and needs to pull free. A spool of 5x and 6x is recommended.
One of the most important things you can carry when high sticking is split shot. You will need a wide variety of weight in order to accommodate for the different currents and depths you will be fishing in. You can use the Water Gremlin Removable Split Shot with ears but this type of shot is more likely to get hung up on the bottom due to the ears. A better choice would be the Sure Shot Split Shot which do not have the ears and roll along the bottom. The key is to get the weight on the bottom of the stream, yet not have it hang up constantly. This is best accomplished with an assortment of split shot in order to add or subtract small amounts of weight. Another tip is to space your split shot out on your leader approximately one third of an inch apart if you are using multiple split shot. They also should be approximately 12 inches above your fly. The distance from the nymph to the fly may need to be adjusted based on stream velocity.
The final piece to the high sticking puzzle is the fly itself. This comes down to selecting nymphs that are present in the stream. The nymph you choose for this type of fishing it is all dependent on the insects that occupy the stream. If you are steelhead fishing you can try using egg imitations in the same manner. A generalized list of nymphs would include pheasant tails, hares ear, prince, caddis pupae, and stoneflies. The Trout Nymph Assortment would be a good starting point. Having these patterns in both bead head and normal style is a plus. The bead adds weight allowing the nymph to stay closer to the bottom.
A tandem rig is commonly used in this scenario. The simplest way to create a tandem rig is to tie off the bend of the point fly. The larger heavier fly is usually used as the point fly. Other tandem rig possibilities include tying off the eye of the point fly. Often a tandem rig is created by tying your own leaders. On one of the lower sections you would leave a large tag end by which you would add tippet to. You would attach your second fly to this section of tippet. Using two flies allows you to fish two different depths of the water column increasing your chances at hooking a fish.
This technique is best used in Pocket Water. Pocket Water is where there are changes in the current. These changes in current can be caused by rocks and logs in the stream or a point of land sticking into the stream. These changes allow the fish to eat and expend little energy. There are many other things that can create pocket water you just need to keep looking. The key is to fish the seams of this pocket water. These seams provide the fish with an excellent place to hide and ambush their prey. Target the inside edge, outside edge and the seam itself. In order to get closer to the fish you want to use an upstream approach. This approach if performed properly will allow you get close to the seam you intend to fish and not require large amounts of line to be used.
After arriving close enough cast to the top of the seam. The rod should be kept at a 45 degree angle to the water as the fly drifts back towards you. The key is keeping as much line as you can off the water. This will allow for more of a drag free drift. As the fly moves back towards you, strip in line. Your line should almost be completely straight from rod tip to the fly and split shot on the bottom of the stream. You want the flies to move at the same speed as the current. If your fly is moving to fast add split shot. If the fly is moving to slow and getting hung up constantly take some shot off. Getting hung up occasionally is not a bad thing it means you are at the perfect depth. In order to detect a strike you must pay special attention to the line as it moves back to you. A fish may take in your fly and spit it out before you even know what happened. Detection of strikes is accomplished by watching a section of your leader. I prefer to watch where the leader and fly line join together. Any time the line pauses or jumps to one side or the other set the hook. If you are having trouble detecting strikes you can add a Weldon Foam Strike Indicator to help detect the strikes. If you tie your own leaders you can add a section of Red Amnesia for better visual cues. If this technique is performed properly you will feel the shot move along the stream bottom. Take some time to learn high sticking. It is an extremely productive method and gives you something to do while you wait for the hatch to come off.