Fly Fishing Strategies Tips/Tactics

Fly Fishing Strategies: Over or Under? Your best bet on weight

on
February 8, 2018

When nymphing or fishing streamers, I think most of us are trying to use enough weight to get the fly down and keep it there, and yet not so much that the damn thing snags a rock with every cast. You might think there’s a fine line to this, but honestly . . . sometimes the line’s not all that thin.

We use weight to get the flies under the surface and into the strike zone. But the range of effective weight used to get there can be fairly wide. Basically, there are three options for weight: just the right amount, overweight or underweight.

Given an ideal setup (where does that exist?) we use just the right amount of weight to get the flies in the strike zone, and our rig bounces along naturally with the current. We find the sweet spot, where the weight of the rig is balanced with the current speed — perfection. So the perfect amount of weight is the ideal middle ground, but we can also decide to go over or under it, right? Why would we do that? Why use more or less weight? Here are a few reasons.

— Overweight for more control.

— Underweight for more stealth.

— Overweight for a more stable drift.

— Underweight for a more natural drift.

How much weight do you need anyway?

Here’s my (very) general rule for finding the right weight in average flows: three seconds. Whether nymphs or streamers, I want my flies in the strike zone within three seconds of entering the water. While nymphing, I’m most often aiming for the bottom cushion of water — the strike zone — let’s say, the bottom 2-10 inches of the water column. My drifts are often short, and I don’t want to waste half of the drift with my flies outside of the strike zone. So I use three seconds as a guide. If my flies aren’t where they should be by the count of three, I’ll probably add weight to increase the sink rate.

Understand though, there are a hundred different variables you will come across, and three seconds is only a starting point for deviation.

Once the flies are in the strike zone, I want to keep them there. If I’m fishing streamers, I combine the right rod angle with a retrieve speed that keeps the fly in the strike zone. If I’m tight line nymphing, I lead the flies through the drift to maintain their position in the strike zone. And if I’m using a suspender/indicator, I do my best to keep the suspender drag-free on the surface.  With some luck and a lot of practice, the nymphs will ride in that bottom cushion (the strike zone) for the rest of the drift, and I might fool a fish.

That’s sort of the perfect set-up and perfect drift scenario. But I also purposely overweight or underweight my rig to meet certain conditions or to get a specific type of drift. Let’s look at that.

Overweight

My favorite days are spent in fast and deep pocket water, with a heavy anchor fly at the point of my nymph rig, and one trout after the other slamming the tag fly. It’s a blast to fish this way; the casts are close-up and the hits are jarring — the connection with a trout is immediate. To make it happen, I often overweight the rig. Because the water is fast and the drifts short, I use extra weight to get my flies down now. I like to use flies that sink very quickly. Once in the strike zone, I can feel the heavy fly (or split shot) on the bottom, and I can control it. I often catch more fish by over-weighting the rig and forcing a drift that’s significantly slower than the current. I think it gives trout more time to see and react to the flies. And fish in this kind of water are used to making split second decisions about food.

Over-weighting offers extra control: It’s easier to cast (especially with a tight line rig); it’s easier to feel, and it’s easier to stay in contact. In fast water and mixed current, a light nymph can get lost — we’re out of control, and strike detection suffers. Over-weighting helps stabilize the nymph rig in heavy, mixed water. It can also help keep a tight line rig anchored in the bottom current on windy days.

Sometimes I overweight a streamer rig too. Maybe I’m casting tight to the riverbank with short drifts, and I’m convinced that trout are holding close to the structure and right on the bottom. If my rig is under-weighted, the long fly never gets into the strike zone before it’s pulled away from the bank (and the trout). But by over-weighting and using targeted casts, I can put the streamer in the fish’s face as soon as it enters the water.

Underweight

Anglers seem to underestimate how spooky a trout can be. I often underweight my rig when fishing low, clear and shallow water. I choose smaller and lighter nymphs or less split shot — all in an effort to create less splash and less noise as the rig enters the water. Sometimes, it makes a huge difference.

I also underweight my rig to get a more natural drift. There’s some debate about this, but most of my fishing friends agree that lighter flies perform more naturally in the current.

I think this is especially important in slower water. When I’m suspender/indicator fishing deep pools or wide flats, I don’t care if it takes more than three seconds to get my flies down, because my drifts are long. The lighter flies (or split shot) are carried along by the current a little easier — more in balance with the flow — more like a natural insect or baitfish.

So overweight in fast water and underweight in slow water? Is it really that simple?

Nope.

Remember these points at the starting block.

— Overweight for more control.

— Underweight for more stealth.

— Overweight for a more stable drift.

— Underweight for a more natural drift.

But none of this means anything without your own trial and error, because the only education worth anything is time on the water. Thankfully, it’s gorgeous on a trout stream.

Get out there and get after it. Fish hard, friends.

 

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

 

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Josh Coburn

Hey Dom,
I’d love to hear how you know where your flies are in zone in both tightline and suspender nymphing. I can’t usually see my flies when I’m fishing and have trouble figuring out where they are.

Great post, the strike zone time limit can be used for dries as well. When I’m fishing really slack water and trying to be stealthy I’ll shorten my leader so the fly only gets a dead drift for maybe 2-3seconds. Sure you get a better drift with a longer leader but that’s also more line you have to lift up when a fish strikes.

Alex

Another discussion I would like to hear about, placement of weight. I’m somewhat interested in hearing about it placed below fly as opposed to above fly on leader. Enjoy the blog, with beautiful pictures too. Thanks,

Cory

Love your site! Something I struggle with is weight. I understand that every situation is different but everything I read or watch no one really says…”I’m using such and such tungsten bead on a size 12 as my point fly”. I could look at pics or video and compare to my water.

What is your typical weights you tie into your point flies based on water levels and flows? Your answer would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks!
Cory

Marty

Do you ever drop shot nymph….some say it allows the fly to move more realistic.

Richard Reszka

Drop shotting is my fav…I do it 90% of the time. I feel like I’m always in contact with my flies/rig.

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

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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