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 . . .
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N