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

by | Oct 25, 2016 | 8 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 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. 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 can’t really 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.

 

three-elements-of-a-nymphing-rig-troutbitten-11

 

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 can 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; 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 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 in even the swiftest water. But when the nymph is tied to a line and pulled 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

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

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. It’s 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

 

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

 

More Troutbitten articles on nymphs:

The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks
Tight Line Nymph Rig
Sighters: Seven Separate Tools
Learn the Nymph
Tags and Trailers
The Backing Barrel
Take Five
The Add-On Line
One Great Nymphing Trick
The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It
It’s a Suspender — Not Just and Indicator
Stop the Split Shot Slide
Trail This — Don’t Trail That
For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?
Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig
Over or Under? Your best bet on weight
Modern Nymphing, the Mono Rig, and Euro Nymphing

chris-kehres-vertical-brown-860

Photo by Chris Kehres

austin-dando-leaf-and-rocks

Photo by Austin Dando

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

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.

More from this Category

Dry Fly Fishing — The Forehand and Backhand Curve

Dry Fly Fishing — The Forehand and Backhand Curve

Learning to use the natural curve that’s present in every cast produces better drag free drifts than does a straight line.

It takes proficiency on both the forehand and backhand.

I’ve seen some anglers resist casting backhand, just because it’s uncomfortable at first. But, by avoiding the backhand, half of the delivery options are gone. So, open up the angles, understand the natural curve and get better drag free drifts on the dry fly . . .

Stabilize the Fly Rod with the Forearm

Stabilize the Fly Rod with the Forearm

A steady and balanced sighter is important from the beginning, because effective tight line drifts are short. But there’s one overlooked way to stabilize the sighter immediately — tuck the rod butt into the forearm.

Here’s how and why . . .

Tight Line and Euro Nymphing: Tracking the Flies

Tight Line and Euro Nymphing: Tracking the Flies

Regardless of the leader choice, angle of delivery, or distance in the cast, every tight liner must choose whether to lead, track or guide the flies downstream. So the question here is how do you fish these rigs, not how they are put together.

Good tracking is about letting the flies be more affected by the current than our tippet. Instead of bossing the flies around and leading them downstream, we simply track their progress in the water.

Tracking is the counterpoint to leading. Instead of controlling the speed and position of the nymphs through the drift, we let the flies find their own way . . .

Thoughts on Rod Tip Recovery

Thoughts on Rod Tip Recovery

Rod tip recovery is the defining characteristic of a quality fly rod versus a mediocre one.

Cast the rod and watch it flex. Now see how long it takes for the rod tip to stop shaking. Watch for a complete stop, all the way to a standstill — not just the big motions, but the minor shuddering at the end too.

Good rods recover quickly. They may be fast or slow. They may be built for power or subtly, but they recover quickly. They return to their original form in short order.

Here’s why . . .

A Simple Slidable Foam Pinch-On Indy

A Simple Slidable Foam Pinch-On Indy

One of the joys of fly fishing is problem solving. There are so many tools available, with seemingly infinite tactics to discover, it seems like any difficult situation on the water can be solved. Perhaps it can. For those anglers who search for answers in tough moments, the prospect of solving a puzzle builds lasting hope into every cast. And after seasons on the water, the game becomes not how many trout we can catch, but how many ways those trout can be caught. Then, when presented with conditions that chase fair-weather fishers off the water, we rise to the moment with a tested solution, perfectly adapted and suited for the variables at hand.

There is not one way. There are a hundred ways. And the best anglers are prepared with all of them.

One of them is the slidable foam pinch on indy . . .

Tight Line and Euro Nymphing: How to Lead the Flies

Tight Line and Euro Nymphing: How to Lead the Flies

Leading does not mean we are dragging the flies downstream. In fact, no matter what method we choose (leading, tracking or guiding), our job is to simply recover the slack that is given to us. We tuck the flies upstream and the river sends them back. It may seem like there is just one way to recover that slack. But there are at least two distinct methods — leading and tracking.

Let’s talk more about leading . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

8 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
  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

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Pin It on Pinterest