Fly Fishing Tips: #51 — Limit the line in and on the water

by | May 5, 2019 | 7 comments

Last fall I finished the Fifty Fly Fishing Tips series, after writing a short tip every week for over a year. I liked those articles, because while so many of the tactical pieces I write here on Troutbitten expand into long, chapter length breakdowns of multi-dimensional topics, my model for a Fifty Tips article was a quick feature that’s easy to read — keeping it trim and making one point — with short, concise articles, no longer than a few paragraphs. I enjoyed the writing, and many Troutbitten readers have told me they miss that style too.

So the Fly Fishing Tips Series is back, and the next logical marker is one hundred. But maybe I’ll keep publishing short tips until the internet implodes.

Here’s #51 . . .

Whatever line touches the river will drag. Start there. Assume it as reality. The currents take your leader, pushing and pulling it downstream. This wouldn’t be so bad if the current could be even all the way across, from bank to bank. But it isn’t. It never is. Even long flats and pools have microcurrents tugging on the leader and tippet, destroying all hopes of a dead drift and complicating the lives of fishermen.

It’s all plain to see while fishing dries. And good anglers painstakingly build slack into their casts to provide for longer drifts. They mend line toward the fly, lengthening the ride of a dry fly without influence from the attached leader. And they build longer, progressive tapers into the mono sections with supple nylon landing in s-curves on the river’s surface. But on day one in the tutelage of the dry fly angler, the unmistakable truth shows itself — more line means more problems.

READ: Troubitten | Dry Flies Need Slack, So Give it to ’em George Harvey Style

These issues are further complicated when our flies punch through the surface and enter the river below. Nymphs, wets and streamers are bossed around by the attached leader. It’s critically important then, to understand what the currents are doing to that leader. And so I’ll say this: It’s a lot easier to read the river’s influence on five feet of tippet under the water than ten feet of tippet and a taper together.


Instead of casting dry flies across stream, instead of mending multiple times and trying for sixty foot drifts, I choose to fish upstream and do most of my mending in the air. The fly lands with slack and the right leader curves for about a ten foot drift (if I’m lucky). Then I recast.

My tight line nymphing approach is similar. I like upstream casts that tuck the nymph into the flow with only the tippet that must follow entering the water. Everything else stays dry, with the upper part of my tippet and the sighter above the surface of the river.

Likewise, when I fish indicators, I strongly prefer a tight line to the indicator approach with a long leader Mono Rig — keeping everything from my rod tip to the indy off  the water.

Streamers and wets? Same thing. Although I may use the push and pull of the current to bend my leader and create desirable drag — to swing the fly or provide movement — I’m in better control of the fly’s path if I cross just one current rather than two or three.

Do it

Whatever you can keep out of the water — whatever you can keep off the water — do it. Get as close as possible to the target and work with minimal line. And when you do stay back and cast at distance, limit the line in the water and on the surface. Keep the rod tip up, or reach toward the target.

Wind and other real-world variables may complicate this objective, but the principle remains. Do whatever you can to keep line and leader off the water and out of the water, and good fishing will follow.

Fish hard, friends.


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. Great informative tips for Fly Fishing

  2. Gary Borger calls DRAG the number one nemesis of the film fisherman using dries or emergers. On a scale of 1 to 10, he rates DRAG at 100, everything else is a 5. Your advice to get as close as possible from below the feeding fish is spot on in order to minimize drag. Although it is a more common practice on the Upper Delaware system to fish from above from long distances, this advice comes from guides and their clients perched high in their anchored drift boats. For the wade angler, casting close from below is a better bet. Another great topic/tip.

    • I love the Upper Delaware especially junction pool. I did pretty good there last year before all the rain made it unwadable. I would cast up and across aiming for a dead drift across and slightly below my position.

    • Right on, Rick. I agree that drag, working with it and fighting against it, is the primary objective in river fishing.

  3. Happy to see the 50 tips coming back.

  4. Glad to see the tips come back. 🙂 Are you familiar with Ed Engle, Dom? He’s a well-known CO fly guy. His home water is the South Platte. He would agree with you about drag. He advocates “high-sticking,” or as you say tight-lining to the indicator. His basic philosophy is “keep as little as you can between the trout and you.” I started nymph fishing that way, keeping the line off the water, so it was an easy move to tight-lining without the indicator. They are similar strategies, but tight-lining takes it further (and lets your flies get deeper more often).


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