Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #43 — Two Ways to Recover Slack

May 27, 2018

Much of what we learn about fly fishing comes from instinct. Fishing, after all, is not that complicated. It does not take a special set of talents or years of study to figure most of this out for yourself. It just takes a tuned in, heads up approach out there on the water, and a good bit of want-to.

Being self-taught has its own rewards, namely a certain individual satisfaction about doing and discovering things your own way. I would argue, however, that no one is fully self taught. And the motivated anglers I know all seek out information from a variety of sources to improve their game.

I like to think that this Fifty Tips series and the Troutbitten site as a whole caters to the ambitious kind of angler — the one who takes pride in fishing hard and digging deep for new resources, mining information about the next small (or large) adjustment which hooks more trout to the line.

And many of these adjustment, these tips or discoveries, are downright obvious. They’re the kind of things that you certainly would figure out on your own if you thought about it long enough. They’re the things you already know, inherently, but perhaps haven’t thought about in much detail. And within these simple things are the keys to the greatest discoveries — your biggest steps forward.

So here’s a “Duh” tip that has big consequences:

There are two ways to recover slack after the cast: stripping in line or lifting/moving the rod tip.

I would never suggest using either method exclusively, of course. There are times to use both, because each method comes with its own caveats.

Here are two scenarios for consideration.


Say you’re tight line nymphing with the Mono Rig, directly upstream — and I do mean directly. You are casting thirty feet, perfectly upstream of your position, into a pocket behind a midstream boulder. You’re allowing a pair of nymphs to be carried downstream with the current, in one seam. To keep those nymphs in just one seam, on a tight line, you must keep the rod tip in that same vertical plane, above the water and guiding the flies back downstream.

You cast and then recover the slack returned to you by gradually lifting the rod tip straight in front of your position.

Now, after about five to ten feet of drift, your rod is vertical — the tip is pointed to the sky. You have nowhere to go to recover more slack, so you must cast again, right?

Not quite. Now’s the time to remember that the line hand can also recover slack. And if you use the line hand in conjunction with the lift of the rod tip from the beginning of the retrieve, you can obtain an extra five to ten feet of effective drift.

Dry Fly Fishing

Let’s say you’re fishing a slow flat, with a relatively even top current from bank to bank. You’re casting thirty feet of fly line and a nine foot leader, punching a Klinkhammer dry fly into a downstream breeze toward the sporadic rises shown by a pod of wild brown trout.

After the cast up and across the stream, your rod is parallel to the surface, and you begin recovering the slack by raising the rod tip.

That’ll work, until you encounter a problem. As you raise the rod tip, the weight of the fly line hanging from the rod tip is pulled down by gravity. That unavoidable pull of the hanging line tugs unnaturally on the fly line remaining on the water, which in turn pulls on the leader, straightening out the the slack you’ve so artfully given the dry fly with your George Harvey Dry Fly Leader. The stiff breeze blowing downstream pushes against your hanging fly line and only makes the problem worse. Your effective drift length is therefore shortened.

It takes a half dozen of these abbreviated drifts before your angler’s instinct kicks in. Then instead of raising the rod tip to recover slack, you keep the rod tip low, right next to the surface, allowing more fly line to remain on the calm water. In turn, you remove the elements of wind and gravity and are helped along by the even currents. Your effective drift is lengthened by more than ten feet and you start catching twice as many fish.


Simple Thoughts

Again, so much of what we do out on the river comes back to the basics. It’s a simple, intuitive game where all advanced techniques have their kernel in simplicity.

Sounds like just about every other sport out there, doesn’t it? The grand gateway to advanced techniques is a simple step through a common man door.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Phil Foster

Great tip.

Wow! Awesome blog post with great tips! In this article, you offer great tips for us about fly fishing. Thanks for sharing!

Domenick Swentosky

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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