Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig

by | Oct 25, 2016 | 10 comments

Legendary saxophone player, Charlie Parker said, “Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.”

I think the same honest advice extends to fly fishing.

Good nymphing is both an art and a science. When an angler first dives into the nymphing game, the technical challenges (the science) may dominate. All the options for rigs and modifications may be confusing for a while. It might take years, but eventually we get comfortable enough that all the adjustments become second nature. At that point, I think art can take over once again.

chris-kehres-fall-flow

Photo by Chris Kehres

Nymph fishing is far too complex a subject to tackle here in total. (But I have done that through the large collection of nymphing articles here on Troutbitten.)

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Nymphing

Instead, I’d like to present some food for thought, something that sets the table for making sense of the science and clears the way for art.

There’s a trio of intertwined elements determining where your nymphs are located in the water and when they will get there. They are depth, angle and drop.

For years I struggled to understand what adjustments I should make while nymphing. I was stumped by a basic question: “Should I lengthen the distance between the suspender and nymphs, or should I add weight?” The question was simple, but the answer was never easy. Finally I realized the question cannot be answered without also considering current speed. And most importantly, I had to understand how all three elements interact with each other to get the answer.

The components of depth, angle and drop apply to both tight line nymphing and indicator (suspension) methods. But I think it’s easier to understand them in a suspender rig first. I’ll present that here.

 

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Let’s consider the elements one by one. We’ll presume that we want our nymphs on the bottom. Let’s also assume that the cast lands with the nymph upstream of the suspender, and there’s no slack in between. (I covered this basic presentation in the article One Great Nymphing Trick.)

Depth

The distance between suspender and weighted fly (or split shot) sets the depth. It’s important to understand, however, that sliding the suspender up or down only sets the maximum depth the nymph may achieve. The two other elements also affect how deep the fly goes, especially this next one . . .

Angle

In a moving river, the speed of the current creates the angle between suspender and nymph. In very slow water the nymph can quickly reach an angle approaching 90 degrees (directly below the suspender). But in fast water, the nymph trails behind the suspender at a shallower angle.

Drop

Drop is how quickly the nymph sinks. It’s the sink rate. But drop isn’t just weight. It’s also a function of how buoyant, bulky or streamlined a nymph is. The thickness of the attached tippet also affects the drop rate. So does the angle. And in fast water, more weight is required for the nymphs to drop at the same speed as in slow water.

Considerations

Each element influences the other. They are interactive and woven together.

So here’s the question again: “Should I lengthen the distance between the suspender and nymphs, or should I add weight?” The answer requires some thought about depth, angle and drop. It’s far better to try things out than to just think about them, so slide the suspender up the line. Add some weight. Observe the results. How has the angle changed? Is the nymph close enough to the bottom now?

Understand that if you drop a nymph in the water, with no line attached, it will find the river bottom very quickly, even in swift water. Without the tether and tension, nymphs drop through the column. But when a nymph is tied to the line and guided along by a suspender, the drop (or the sink rate) is changed. Heavy weight is less potent in faster water. It takes more weight to get down in fast water than slow water. Shallow angles created by fast water require greater depth (or distance) between suspender and flies, so try sliding the suspender up the line.

three-elements-of-a-nymphing-rig-slow-water

Illustration by Dick Jones

three-elements-of-a-nymphing-rig-fast-water

Illustration by Dick Jones

Many “Nymphing 101” articles recommend setting the distance between suspender and nymph at two times the depth of the water. That’s a decent starting point, but getting an effective drift isn’t usually that easy. Maybe you aren’t ticking the bottom at that depth. You can keep fishing the rig as it is and wait for a bit of luck to come your way, or you can consider the elements of depth, angle and drop. Then adjust the rig.

Here’s one more thing to consider: You have direct control over the two elements of depth and drop (you set the depth, and you choose the weight). But you have only indirect control over the angle, which is primarily determined by the current speed (though you can influence the angle with the other two elements).

Experiment to Learn

The three variables of depth, angle and drop are interactive. They are a blend. A push and pull. Give and take. The interplay between these elements remind me of the photographer’s triangle, where the elements of shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together to set the right exposure and capture the image as the photographer wants it.

It’s a complex game. And it’s a fun game!  Every current seam and pocket offers a different challenge.

Again, there’s a lot to think about here. I could go on and detail many scenarios, trying to explain when, why and how to choose which element to adjust. But the truth is, it’s better to do it yourself. Try it on the water — day after day — and you’ll become familiar with the elements of depth, angle and drop. Eventually, you’ll get past the science and into the art.

Back to Charlie Parker with waders on: Learn to read the water and master the casting strokes. Then forget about all that bullshit and just fish.

Now go catch ‘em.

austin-dando-leafy-road

Photo by Austin Dando

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Photo by Chris Kehres

austin-dando-leaf-and-rocks

Photo by Austin Dando

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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10 Comments

  1. It seems like we have some control over angle (and consequently depth) by mending the suspender upstream or in the case of tightline nymphing, by raising / extending the rod tip to lift and move line. Excellent information, as usual. Your blog posts have been a great follow up to reading George Daniels book and helping me continue to improve my nymph fishing.

    Reply
  2. Great post. It took me years to buy into the theory that depth matters over fly selection. I finally added weight here and there in fast current and sure enough I had more hook ups. Many fish don’t want to move far to chase your fly. Put it in front of their face and few fish can resist it.

    Reply
    • Right OK, Kevin. I feel like getting the fly in the fish’s face is most important.

      Reply
      • This must be the reason why a fish ignored offering for multiple presentations,other than maybe nymph wasn’t acting 100% natural. Often times will make a drift thru exact spot 10,20 times before fish hits. And then other times,first pass gets the hit.

        Reply
  3. Another excellent read Dom. There’s also tippet diameter to consider which can affect sink rate and angle, right? As always, I feel like I know just a bit more about things after reading one of your tactics posts. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Bill! That’s the point, right! Tippet size, yup. Weight, material resistance, tippet diameter — all part of how I defined Drop. Anything that slows down the sink rate.

      Reply
      • Yes you did! I need to read more carefully!

        Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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