You might be a poor judge of ten feet. In fact, on the river, you probably are. Anglers are notorious for overestimating the lengths of things, right? Your buddy tells you about the big trout he caught, up around the bend. “It was probably twenty inches,” he says. But he didn’t measure it. So you nod and smile skeptically. Tell that same friend you’ll meet him three hundred yards upstream for lunch, and you could be walking around hungry at noon, until you finally find him a half mile upstream. Again, we’re bad at evaluating distance out there.
With that in mind, consider this . . .
Here are three Troutbitten articles that serve as excellent companions to this one. This trio of tips/tactics are directly related, providing detail and background.
Stay in your lane
Keep the fly in one current seam. It’s the most consistent way to fool wild river trout with a nymph. Just like a dry, a natural dead drift, is the best look for our fly. Even if you choose to animate the nymph, or provide it some motion, if you swing it across currents a bit or lift it in the flow, the dead drift through one current is your baseline.
I’ve argued this before, and I believe it more strongly than ever: Keep those nymphs in one current seam while tight line nymphing, by fishing upstream and not across. Cast mostly upstream, and only across as far out as your rod can reach. Given the varying lengths of rods and angler’s arms, let’s round that off to ten feet. You can cast as far upstream as you like, but anything beyond ten feet across puts your flies in a different current seam than the one your rod tip can lead through.
How far is ten feet? Again, you probably suck at estimating that — especially if you’re looking upstream into pocket water for your next target. But you do have the perfect measuring stick in your hand . . .
Extend your arm and fly rod to the side. Reach out and touch the surface of the water with your rod tip. There’s your target seam. Now visually follow that lane all the way upstream to where you plan to cast. Pick a bullseye. Snap a good backcast, flex the rod forward, tuck cast the nymph into the water and lead it back down one current seam, behind the rod tip.
That is your best tight line nymphing approach. Do it over and over, and trout will find your fly.
But what about the cross stream stuff?
The Modern Nymphing videos, by Devin Olsen and Lance Egan, have done a lot to show both novice and experienced anglers more about euro nymphing and the long leader, tight line game. The videos are an excellent tactical resource with beautiful footage. These are guys who clearly know their craft, and there’s a lot to be gained by studying the way good trout fishermen approach things.
But there’s a good bit of cross-stream casting in those videos. There’s also a lot of cross-stream casting in other resources that anglers use to learn and perfect their tight line nymphing skills too. And that’s troublesome.
You can counter the negative effects of cross-stream casting with lighter tippets, thinner butt sections, shorter drifts, less contact or heavier flies to hold the seam. But you cannot change the physics of what’s going on. When the flies are attached to a leader which is, in turn, attached to the rod tip, those flies will pull toward the tip. And that may or may not be a good look. Around here? It usually isn’t.
I meet a lot of tight line nymphing anglers who face across the river instead of upstream. They cast forty-five degrees up and across, drift the flies, and finish forty-five degrees downstream. And I promise you, it simply doesn’t produce as well as an upstream approach — not on the wild and selective trout in my backyard.
These brown trout are picky, not because of angling pressure, but because they feed year-round. They need not rush to take food. There’s no anxiety to feed now or die in the winter. So on most days, these wild trout feed casually. And they are not easily fooled. They require a natural presentation — in one current seam.
Do this again
If your standard tight line nymphing approach is as much across stream as up, then try adding a more upstream look to your lineup. Notice the subtle differences in the drift. The rod tip can easily lead the fly as it hovers over the same lane where your nymph is drifting.
And instead of guessing how far ten feet is, stretch your rod tip out into the flow. Touch the river. Follow that lane with your eyes as it gently curves and winds. See the seam. Make the cast upstream and stay in your lane.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N