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"If it ain't broken, don't fish it" (or something like that)

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Ever heard the phrase "if it ain't broke don't fix it"? Well, for European Nymphing or Tight Lining, one of the common themes I find myself talking about in podcasts, blogs, and with guests on the water, is that this technique shines in "broken" water. Therefore, "if it ain't broken don't fish it". Read below for some tips and techniques on what this means and how to capitalize the next time you are out!

A wild Gunpowder River brown trout eagerly feeding from the riffle in the background

Euro Nymphing is one of the most highly effective ways to fish. Arguably there is no better way to catch good numbers of fish. Surely, there are many ways to catch fish. Dries, Emergers, Wet Flies, Nymphs, and Streamers. All types have a special place and in the right conditions some may actually be more productive than Euro Nymphing. However, staying in contact with nymphs, with a tight line, can be some of the most addicting and successful ways one can fish year round.

In this article, I will discuss the types of water I tend to hunt when using this deadly effective technique.

What does broken water even mean?

To describe broken water most simply, it is water that one can't immediately see the bottom when looking at it. This type of water is often faster and more turbulent than other sections of the river. Much of the broken water can be difficult to wade or read. Thus, many anglers will simply skip it or write it off. Fortunately, for the dedicated anglers willing to dissect and pick a part a piece of river, this can be some of the most fruitful fishing in optimal conditions.

Where is it located?

Image of guests working a run just past a bend in the river along a beautiful rock structure

Any river you have fished typically takes on the classic characteristics of the standard riffle, run, pool set up. Often times, the riffles can be right before, along, and just after a hard bend in the river, or an "elbow". Elevation changes, where there is a drop in the river system, often aides in creating these chutes for a strong riffle. After the riffle you can find a run. This water is a transition area that still has good pace and depth of water, but isn't nearly as fast or as deep as a riffle or pool. Finally, the pool is the tail out or ending point of the run. For example, the classic dry fly water, where fish can be seen sipping or rising to bugs readily, is where the pools lie. Many fly fisherman look at pools as the most likely spot for fish to congregate. Although this can be true in some times of the year. I would argue it is often the least productive water to fish for a multitude of reasons.

"With more experience comes increased knowledge, effectiveness and refined technique. I enjoy each day on the water and always try to find some takeaways to continue my growth as an angler." - Lance Egan

Why should I fish it?

Although I am still early in my guiding career, I hear far too often from guests "I walk right by this all the time". Typically that is followed by "I can't believe how many fish are in there". Being able to read water is critical when on the water. Knowing the time of year fish stage in different types of water is equally important. Finally, knowing how they feed in these styles of water can determine if you will catch a fish, or if they will reject all offerings. Here are some potential pro's for why fishing broken water is most effective:

  1. Fish can't as easily see you

  2. Fish can't as easily feel your presence when you walk near them

  3. Bug life is most present in this type of water

  4. Bugs are more easily unearthed thus more easily available to eat

  5. Predators can't as easily see and hunt fish

  6. Cooler water temps

  7. Highly oxygenated

  8. Less time to inspect/reject presentation

  9. Less pressured

  10. Fish are expending energy in it, therefore they eat to justify the position/spent energy

Why do fish like it?

Fish often prefer this water for many of the reasons listed above. Furthermore, this water actually has softer water within than we will give it credit for. For example, while watching the film Elevated Nymphing, by Lance Egan and Devin Olsen, I learned an important lesson. Below the waters surface there are arguably three different current speeds to be mindful of. They masterfully demonstrate this by filming underwater, with pegs and bright pink ribbons which are tied to the stake, to show the way the water pushes them in each column. It was eye opening to say the least and I trust anyone who has fished all over the world while having an advanced degree tied to learning water hydraulics. Below are the key takeaways from the film.

There is the top-third of the water column, which is nearest the surface. This water flows the fastest and makes it difficult to see to the bottom. There is a mid-third of the column. This water is often flowing at an intermediate speed and can often be where many of the bugs flowing down stream can be picked off by eager trout. Finally, the bottom-third of the water column is the slowest, and where fish will hold. The often rocky bottom substrate slows the water and creates a small cushion for fish to hold and dart in and out of the other water columns to eat when ready. All three elements combined play a role in making this area a wonderfully effective style of water to fish.

A recent float trip where Nick is fishing a riffle/run effectively picking up fish Euro Nymphing

Is there anything special within this broken water?

When I am fishing personally, or guiding on this style of water, I look for areas within riffles and runs to find a "sweet spot". I would argue directly behind a rock, near a log, or near an undercut banks, all located next to the riffles and runs are best. These areas allow fish to be near the most productive water to find food, yet not actually use their energy consistently to reside in it. They can dart in and out of these most opportune feeding lanes, yet not actually have to be present within them all day.

I also find there can be "buckets" within these riffles and run. A good way to find these areas in your water system is to go during drought conditions. It can be terrible fishing, and arguably unethical to fish during a drought or low water. However, one could wade and walk their local waterway to map out and learn where these buckets are. Essentially, these spots have a slightly impressed or indented depth that makes it slightly deeper than surrounding areas. Moreover, they may only be a foot, to a few feet, in width and length. It is also possible it is just a few inches deeper than the rest of the surrounding areas. When I am on the Gunpowder River, I often look for these spots by locating a riffle or run, and searching out an emerald green hue in a specific spot. What this color tells me, compared to the rest of the water, is that this specific small spot is deeper than the rest. It is my belief when I find that spot, there is a fish in it and more often than not a nicer than average fish.

Get your boots wet and chase down some fish!

I hope this breakdown of broken water, with tips included, helps you the next time you head out to the Gunpowder River, or any local waterway. Be sure to head over to my Youtube Channel, and see the latest adventure and consider booking a trip for the summer through the website.

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