Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Imagine you want a subsurface fly to lurk near the bottom along its drift, and that you’re amenable to employing a high-floating indicator to get that job done. You adhere to the reigning wisdom and place the indicator about 1.5 times the assumed depth, up from the point fly. You cast, but soon it hits a snag because the fly drifted across water more shallow than were your assumptions. Or you get no snag but also no fish, because the fly drifted across a great fish-holding hole that’s deeper than you’d thought. Or neither of those things happens because you know the depths like the back of your hand, but you must change the indicator’s position on the leader with every cast to a new location, drifting your fly only as far as that particular depth extends, and where the bottom drops off slowly on a slope, you just pick some depth and hope for the best.

A leader rig that employs an indicator to suspend a fly at a desired depth provides support for the fly from above, but it sets the fly’s depth based on the surface, which is a roughly level-ish plane. Stream bottoms are normally not level–they change from bar to channel to hole to protruding shelf. If the bottom rises and falls like it does in most streams, the fly drifts at the preferred distance from the bottom only a fraction of the time; the rest of the time it may be higher than you’d like, or dragging bottom, with all the hazards and opportunities to release foul oaths that that scenario implies.

A “bounce rig,” on the other hand, sets the depth based on the bottom’s depth at any given point in the drift. Termed “bounce nymphing” or “drop shot nymphing” by its originators along Utah’s Provo river, and commonly employed on California’s Truckee river and elsewhere as well, the method consists of using a small weight (usually a split shot or series of small shot) as the lowest object on the leader, with a length of “bottom sepaation tippet” leading from that shot up to the lowest fly. The angler thus fairly precisely selects the height off the bottom that the fly will ride. The bounce rig still needs some sort of floatation to keep the fly above the point shot (and to afford visibility for detecting takes), but not enough floatation to defeat the point shot’s downward pull, since that weight is intended to bounce or tick lightly along the bottom. For slow water you can use light bounce weight and weak floatation; for faster water you generally need more of both.

Figure 1
Fig-1 – Basic Bounce Rig Diagram

The angler must take into account the fact that the leader may not always be strictly vertical. Especially if the point shot lags during the drift behind the line that’s on the surface (which is likely), the entire leader can “lay down” somewhat and compress the fly’s distance from the bottom. Just expect a bit of that.

Dragging a piece of lead shot can slow the fly’s drift, but that can in fact be an advantage, since current along the bottom tends to move significantly slower than would an indicator along the surface. Dragging a lump of shot can also raise debris or hang up in rock cracks and vegetation, although one could even use a length of wire instead of shot in such places where that’s a risk, so that snagging and bottom disturbance are reduced. Anything, even as unassuming as a straightened piece of paper clip, can serve, if it has enough weight. (By my measurement, a normal-sized paper clip has a mass of about 4 grams, which is like one lead BB shot or two #4 lead shot. A large…sometimes called jumbo…paper clip has a mass of 3x that.) But in general there’s little need to re-invent the sinker.

Figure 2
Fig-2 – Alternative Bounce Weight

For floatation (to keep the leader vertical-ish), personally I try to rely on a good floating line’s own buoyancy rather than using a more forceful bobber; I like the “dry tip” floatation of an SA line, but we each have our preferences. I concede that this is a pretty weak float force, but I feel it gives me enough for one very small unweighted fly, does little to overpower the point weight, and has a “visual sensitivity” that can help in detecting takes. I’m simply limited to really light point shot, and to slow current. Light bounce weight and a light float force (such as a mere floating line tip) won’t work for all anglers, all fly masses or all current strengths. Pick your own values based on the kind of water and the kind of flies you fish, and get used to it.

Regarding fly attachment, the bounce rig can still be used with multi-fly rigs, although the point shot is one more dangling thing to complicate casts, so remember that simplicity has its merits. The fly can be tied directly to the tippet above the bounce weight, or it can drift on its own short length of dropper tippet out to the side of the leader. The latter is superior for a natural presentation, very slightly inferior for indicating a take, adds slightly more variance in the height off the bottom the fly will drift, and is measurably more aggravating in that wind knots and wrap-arounds are a lot more common. Having tried both, while the fly dropper tippet sounds tempting, I myself can only control this rig with the drop shot dangling directly from the fly’s hook bend. (A laterally attached fly on a dropper has become synonymous with language I learned in my seafaring days.)

For flies that ride in the bottom twelve or fifteen inches of the water column, try to pick less flashy classics, such as olive or grey or brown colored nymph patterns–hare’s ear nymphs, pheasant tail or olive mayfly nymph ties, ostrich herl patterns, dull green caddis worms, etc. Even in cloudy water these are the kinds of things fish expect to see coasting low along bottom gravel. Dead-drifted patterns are the most appropriate flies for this rig.

NOTE from J. Stockard: Part II of this post discusses the overall “value proposition” of the bounce rig, regulations, a few points of leader construction, and ways and limits to using the rig.

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