Tight Line Nymphing: Reach with the rod to find the seam — Then stay in your lane

by | Jun 9, 2019 | 11 comments


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 . . .

Read ‘em

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.

One Great Nymphing Trick

Quick Tips: Hold the Seam or Cross the Seam

Ask an Expert | George Daniel on Nymphing Angles

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 . . .

Photo by Austin Dando

Do this

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.


Here’s the bottom line — trout recognize when items in the flow are changing lanes under the surface, just like they do up top. And if you have your fly crossing those lanes, you should have a good reason to do so.

— Troutbitten, March 2019


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.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing — Not all that tight

Photo by Bill Dell

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.
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. When I used to be primarily an indie fisherman, I differed from most of my peers by casting almost exclusively upstream. The indie led the flies downstream on a tightest leader and the takes were telegraphed relatively quickly.

    Now, I fish mostly with a sighter and I must admit that my casts have drifted a bit more across stream than they did when I fished an indie. The main reason is distance from the fish. When I fished an indicator, I could cast a ways upstream. With a tightline presentation, I’m typically casting around fifteen feet of leader. If I don’t want to spook the trout, I sometimes position myself a distance away (i.e., across) from the seam I want to fish and cast more across stream. To accomplish that and minimize drag, I’ve taken to using very thin (i.e. 4x) Rio sighter material as my “line.” It sucks if you’re trying to fish a dry or a streamer, but it works fine for tightline nymphing.

    However, I find that my old methods, and the point of this article, almost always work best. An upstream tightline drift is almost always the most effective method of nymphing that I use.


    • I wanted to add what Dom has already said: perhaps the greatest advantage to using an indie isn’t strike detection but lane positioning. Simply, you can cast nymphs somewhat across stream with an indie, and the indicator will pull the flies behind it, resulting in the drift staying in a single seam.

      • Good stuff.

  2. I’m a novice, but I’m not as good at setting the hook with an upstream cast. The videos mentioned, have that clear downstream set before the next cast. Any tips?

    • Hi Andrew. I also set downstream — always. No matter what angle I cast and drift, my hook set is always as downstream as possible.

      In the scenario in the article above, we are wading into position to cast mostly upstream and then across only ten feet. The drift is over when the the flies get across from my position — usually before that, honestly, but it depends on water clarity. Along the length of the drift, if I find a reason to set the hook, the hook set is in the precise direction of my next back cast. Most sets don’t find a trout, so that’s my backcast and then onto the next forward cast without pause.

      Make sense?


  3. This is what I love about your articles… your ability to systematize technique with concise tips that make everything clear!
    I always attempt to cast upstream and a little off to the side. However, fishing in rivers that are often to tight to extend a ten feet rod off to the side, only allowing you to cast directly upstream, I like to hold the rod upright and strip in the slack with my line hand, allowing just the right amount of sag to help the nymphs along the bottom.
    In both cases, though, the key is to keep the leader aligned with the direction of the current. “One great nymphing trick” I once read. Thanks for that!

  4. I had the good fortune to have Domenick guide me and my brother on Spring Creek last month. After tight lining with a sighter set up on my 8.5’ rod, Domenick was kind enough to offer his 10’ nymphing rod to experience the difference the extra length provides. Under Domenick’s tutoring I learned how to fish upstream, stay in the 10’ lane, lead the nymph through the seam, pull the downstream backcast & catch wild browns. The 10’ nymphing rod definitely provided a significant advantage when tightlining. Domenick shared there are some good mid priced nymphing rods that don’t break the bank. Thanks for a great lesson Domenick!

    • Cheers, Gary. That was fun.


  5. Yes great stuff as usuall.I must admit i fish across a fair bit.I will float the sighter or an indi more if fishing across though.I will wade more to get an easier straight drift grayling fishing.Grayling are way more tolarent of your presence than trout.


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