Tight Lining — Not All That Tight

by | Aug 21, 2018 | 7 comments

Tight line nymphing suffers from its own definition. The term itself creates expectation and confusion. We use tight line tactics for fishing streamers and wet flies too. And sometimes, we attach things to the leader, like dry flies or indicators, but we still use tight line principles. This is why I often use the term Mono Rig, because it defines the equipment used rather than the tactic. And you can do a lot with the Mono Rig. But even that definition has its problems . . .

READ: Troutbitten | What is Euro Nymphing? And what is the Mono Rig?

So the major benefit of a Mono Rig (or tight line rig, Euro rig, or whatever you choose to call it) is the available contact you have with the flies. Note that I said “available.” You don’t have to be in contact with the flies on a tight line. But if you want to be, it’s an option. And that’s not the case with fly line.

Fly line is best for pushing flies to a target — flies that are too wind resistant or too light to get there without the extra help. But the fly line weighs so much that it sags after the cast. We lose direct control over the flies. We lose contact. The Mono Rig gives us these things back. After delivering the cast with a Mono Rig (or a competition fly line) we can stay in touch, in control and in contact with the fly — because we can stay tight.

But the real secret to tightlining is in staying somewhere between tightline and slackline — that’s where the magic lies.

— — — — — —

I dropped the hood of my raincoat with the line hand. I shook off clumpy white snow and shuddered as the cold hit the back of my neck. It melted and trickled behind the fleece pullover. The day was cold, but warm enough if I kept moving through the snow squalls.

The wind carried dry snow from an overnight blizzard, lifting it from tree limbs and renewing the air with minor whiteouts, blowing and swirling at all angles as it cut against the limestone rocks of the canyon. I pulled the hood over my ball cap again and zipped it tight against my chin, watching the artistic path of the squalls I’d left downstream.

I had walked away from the heart of it, rounding a ninety degree bend in the river and moving into a stand of sturdy hemlocks. With the pulsing sound of stacked static, evergreen boughs broke the hard push of winter winds. The hemlocks settled the cold force into a steady breeze. Still carrying dry snow picked from the treetops, the wind now drove white speckled sheets over the river’s surface as I waded in, knee-deep.

I’d fished downstream, in the center of the squalls for hours, fighting the wind in a familiar flat. Success came by casting Orange Nuke Eggs trailed with Zebra Midges to the side of every current seam within reach. Rewarded consistently with willing fish, I’d stayed on, fighting the cold.

To keep the wind from turning my leader into a sail, I used a little heavier split shot and did everything I could to stay in touch.

Now upstream and in calmer water, it took only a few drifts among the easy, gliding snow to understand what I should change. When no trout agreed with my offering of egg and midge, I brought the rig to hand and removed one split shot. Now with half the weight, I cast to the same trout and drifted again. I searched for the point of contact with the weight, finding it between my rod tip and the fly. And then I backed off. Moments later, I felt the contact again. I eased the flies down into a deeper bucket, giving just a bit of slack until I was slightly out of touch.

“I focused on finding the line between in-touch and out . . .”

Within each ten foot drift, I passed in and out of contact with the flies multiple times. I focused on finding the line between in-touch and out, allowing the flies to drift naturally and (mostly) uninfluenced by the tethered line.

The trout agreed. And after a short fight in forty degree water, each trout surrendered to the pressure of a fly rod and slid sideways into my open net.

— — — — — —

Not all that tight

There are times for constant contact. There are windy days and fast water pockets that call for a little extra weight and a drift speed that keeps your rod tip tight to the flies.

But on most days, the best tight line presentations are not about feeling the action of the fly or the weight on the bottom. It’s not about a perfect tight line with the rig. Rather, it’s about slipping in and out of contact with the fly on a small scale — staying somewhere between tightline and slackline — that’s where the magic lies.

Aim for that, and I promise you’ll catch more trout.

Fish hard, friends.

Photo by Bill Dell


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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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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  1. Terrific post, Dom. I agree that “tightlining” can be a bit of a misnomer. However, the problem with “sort of tightlining” is knowing where your nymphs are. One trick that I use is to see the moment when my sighter goes from describing a curve to being straight. When it’s straight, I assume that my flies (or point fly) is on the bottom. Of course, it is then that they are no longer dead drifting.

    One way to get around the problem of knowing where your nymphs are is to use a drop shot rig. With such a rig, I can usually feel the lead bouncing along the bottom. However, when the lead is on the bottom the sighter is usually pulled tight and most of my takes are telegraphed by feel, not sight.

    You’ve talked about drop shotting previously, but in light of George Daniel’s new book, in which he discusses drop shotting extensively, a further discussion might not be a bad idea.


    • I would second the suggestion for more info on the drop shot rig, last time I was on the stream I tried this tactic but quickly changed back. I couldn’t find a good way to secure my drop shot tag to my rod and after bushwhacking ensued I had a huge tangle. Any ideas?

      • Try a twist tie. A bread bag tie, whatever you like to call it. Keep it wrapped around the rod, near the hook keeper, and if you’re relocating, just lift that drop shot tag up into the twist tie and give it a wrap. I’ve done that before.

      • Andrew,

        What I do is to hook my lower fly to my fly keeper the same way I would do if fishing a conventional “Euro” rig. Then I hold the shot tag against the rod handle and grip them both.


    • Good perspective, Alex. I guess the out of touch that I’m talking about here is on an almost micro level. I wouldn’t suggest being so far out of touch that we might not know where the flies are. In general, we want to be in touch, in contact, in control of the flies. But then back off just a tiny bit and let the nymphs come downstream almost by their own will. Know what I mean?

      Regarding drop shot, yes I definitely have some drop shot stuff coming. It will take a mini-series to cover. Can’t do it in one article.

      Thanks, man. I always love hearing your thoughts.

  2. Change doesn’t always come easily to me. After reading your posts on the mono rig I built a couple of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of change as a personal growth mechanism… I just seem to talk a better game than actually applying the philosophies encouraged. But, open mindedness prevailed and while I’m not hooked on the rig, I am going to pick up a competition style line and continue my education. I’m thinking a comp line may help with the traditional fly line withdrawal I’m suffering from. Nice post, Dom.

    • Nice, Mike. You probably will like the comp line. I’m glad you got the message that using the comp line is still the Mono Rig, really. Same principles, just a different butt section.



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