The Bubble Line

Paul Miller hits the sweet spot.

Many parts make up the whole that is a trout stream. There is the obvious and alluring body of moving water and the stones beneath; the bankside vegetation that frames the stream and affords shade and some cover for the trout; and amidst all the complexities of current speed and flow there are those mysterious deeper sections that always draw the angler’s eye. These are the features that we all learn to love and to exploit at particular times of the day. Take the head or tail of a pool for instance. In the mornings the trout are often holding in the faster water where it tumbles through rapids from the pool above. In the evenings it is the broader, slower tail of the pool that sees last minute action with a frantic rise to insects before darkness envelopes angler and stream. Running through all these features there is an interconnecting and continuous thread that we soon learn to recognise as the food superhighway of any pool. Depending on the nature of the streambed, this frothy strand of bubbles can be seen snaking its way gently from the rapids to the tail. We see it as a series of bubbles left over from the rapids above, but the trout know it as the place where insects are trapped and carried along. Trout are naturally adept at exploiting the survival equation whereby they need to gain more calories than they expend in rounding them up. They do this by positioning themselves efficiently in the prime parts of the stream and harvesting as much insect life, both surface and sub-surface, as possible while expending a minimum of effort and keeping themselves safe from predators. The bubble line is one spot they rarely abandon if there is sufficient depth, because they can sit near the bottom in reduced flows but still keep an eye on the surface for any tasty morsel being delivered by the stream. Dry fly anglers pay particular attention to the bubble line as they fish their way upstream towards the rapids. They use long tapered leaders with fine tippet dimensions to deliver their flies in an attempt to attain as long a drag-free drift as possible down this highly productive part of the stream. Nymph fishers also like the bubble line and the opportunities it provides for upstream presentations or close contact downstream nymphing. Here in Australia we have many streams and rivers with sections highly suited to the relatively new Euro nymphing styles that have grown in recent years from the world of competition angling (FL#93). Anglers who adopt these techniques can catch amazing numbers of trout from medium depth, faster running water, especially if it has a bouldery bottom that provides cover for the trout and breaks the flow. Over the years I have learned to slow down and really watch a section of river before fishing it, always paying particular attention to the bubble line. There are many hidden bonuses in this approach. You will often see a subtle rise, for example, alerting you to the location of a feeding fish, and this just makes the whole experience more exciting when you know where your quarry is located. You then have a chance to cast delicately into the bubble line above the rise and to watch with anticipation as your little piece of deception floats down to where the fish is stationed. If all goes to plan and you’ve achieved a realistic presentation, the trout rises and accepts your offering. Then all hell breaks loose. The gentle meandering bubble line is disrupted by the fish repeatedly leaping and crashing through the surface and then rushing around the pool. When the battle is over the stream almost miraculously recovers its composure and becomes itself again. There are times when the rise is not what you expected. I’ve lost count of how many platypuses have popped up in the bubble line and made my heart miss a beat. Oh this must be the mother of all trout with a rise like that you think… and then you realise it is a platypus, or native water rat with the white tip on its tail, moving so perfectly through the water. For me there is rarely a sense of disappointment. Very early last season I was fishing the upper Murrumbidgee with my cousin Bruce ‘odd sox’ Sidebottom. It was actually the second weekend and our club’s ‘opening season’ trip. Several of the guys were having success with Woolly Buggers fished across and down but that method wasn’t working for me. Instead, being a little game and optimistic, I decided to fish a small #14 Adams Irresistible. Having extended a standard 9-foot 6 lb wet fly leader to my usual 12-foot tapered dry fly leader by adding three feet of 4 lb Maxima at the point, I moved up to a fresh pool. I watched for a while, but as expected, nothing was rising, so I started to blindly search up along the bubble line with my fly. And what a pleasure it was to be dry fly fishing again, so early in the season. I had no success for quite a distance until I came to an unusually large and deep section of stream, leading into the boisterous and fast running head of a pool. I’d almost given up on the dry when a nice little drag-free drift was nailed by a trout that blasted up off the bottom almost vertically, hitting the fly, but miraculously failed to connect. It all happened so fast that we couldn’t determine whether it was a brown or a rainbow. Well, at least there was a fish in what had seemed like a barren stretch of river moments beforehand. Bruce suggested running the fly over the same line again as the trout hadn’t been pricked, so I took his wise advice and towards the end of the drift along the inside edge of the bubble line the fly was pounced upon again. It was a beautiful new-season brown in prime condition. Not a big fish but a pleasure to winkle out of its pristine environment for a few precious seconds, before releasing it to fight again another day. The good old bubble line had produced again, albeit very early in the season for fishing the dry. We continued fishing dry for another hour or so with no result. I then changed to a #16 tungsten bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymph, on two feet of 4 lb fluorocarbon tied to the bend of the buoyant little Adams Irresistible, and continued to work the bubble line up-river for another hour or so until near dark. The result was another plucky brown of just over a pound, and a really nice rainbow that was unusually large for this little alpine stream. It gave me a hell of a fight in such small water. As I released it I sucked in two lungfuls of crisp alpine air, held my breath for about ten seconds and relished the moment. I thought how very privileged we are in Australia to have pristine streams, tenacious trout, and so many attractive bubble lines to show us the way.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.