Sometimes, yellowfish rise from the sand and rocks where they grub for nymphs clinging to the bottom, to hover high in the water column near the surface. Highly visible, they also become very skittish being so exposed to predators and a slightly different approach is needed to target them.

When indicators start spooking the fish, sight fishing with a long leader and relatively thin, fluorocarbon tippet is key. This is also when smaller, weightless or ‘lightly weighted’ flies are the only things that present naturally – hovering in the flowing water like a drifting/swimming mayfly/stonefly/damsel nymph. Here is a simple step-by-step photo sequence for a lightly weighted nymph pattern that has worked well for me when I’ve come across wary yellowfish cruising close to the surface in relatively clear water.

A little swimmer with UV rust dubbing used for the thorax, a subtle trigger in these flies.

The Ahrex FW570 #14 is the perfect hook for little swimmers that you plan to cast at dirty fighting fish in rivers with lots of snags.

The Ahrex FW570 dry fly hook (top) vs the Gamakatsu S10 multi-use hook (bottom). I tie a variety of flies on both these hooks and each have their place on fishing missions.

Example of a Gamakatsu S10 standard down eye hook that opened while fighting a large yellowfish in a river riddled with snags – note that if the fish is hooked in open water where it could run freely without swimming around boulders or through sticks, the Gamakatsu S10 standard down eye is still a great hook (my hook of choice for fisheries with few or no snags) and I can really recommend them from #12 to #18.

There are times when adult yellowfish will swim visibly near the surface of rivers and dams and little swimmers are great flies to target these skittish fish.

Step-by-step photo sequence of an olive swimmer:

I’ve opted for a #14 Ahrex FW570 dry fly hook with a 2 mm tungsten bead for this fly.

Coq De Leon feather fibers are recommended as tail material in this fly (and for nymphs in general) as they have great movement and are much more durable than pheasant tail fibers, for instance.

Tie a pinch of Coq De Leon feather fibers in above the bend of the hook – I used Gordon Griffiths Sheer 14/0 as thread in this fly.

Tie in a thin piece of copper wire that will be used as rib to secure the abdomen of the fly.

Pheasant tail fibers are great for abdomens (provided they are protected with rib like fine copper wire or 4-5X fluorocarbon tippet) – warm olive dyed pheasant tail used in this fly.

I usually tie in two pheasant tail fibers for smallish nymphs (#14 – #18), but will use at least three fibers in the abdomens of #10 to #12 nymphs. Then I shape the abdomen of the fly with the thread (somewhat cone-shaped, tapering down to the tail) and cover it with a thin layer of varnish before wrapping the pheasant tail fibers over it (it simply makes the fly more durable in my experience).

Wrap the pheasant tail fibers over the varnish and tie off where you plan to start ‘building’ the thorax of the fly.

Secure the abdomen of the fly with the copper wire.

I have a variety of Ice Dub, including UV dubbing, that I like using in the thorax of nymphs.

I selected a dull red UV dubbing mix for this fly.

Cul de canard (CDC) remains my favourite material in collars of nymphs; if tied in sparsely, the fine CDC fibers add great movement to sinking flies.

I still enjoy using Gordon Griffiths Sheer 14/0 for most of my tying and especially when I plan to split the thread for CDC collars etc.

Place the CDC fibers into the split thread, trap the fibers near their bases and spin the thread to create a sparse CDC brush.

Wrap the CDC brush to form the collar just behind the bead and tie off.

Completed olive swimmer, a great fly to fish on a long leader in channels between weed beds or for sight fishing to cruising yellowfish or trout in clear rivers.

Little swimmers are ideal flies to use in periods when mayflies are hatching, and fish expect to find free swimming nymphs that are moving towards the surface to hatch.

Fighting a yellowfish that ate a little swimmer near the surface of a boulder-strewn river. You still need some luck landing these fish between snags, but I feel that the combination of a strong hook and Trout Hunter fluorocarbon tippet has increased the odds in general for me. (Photo by Ben Pellegrini)

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