This one is simple. Line, leader or tippet laying on the water drags. It’s a plain truth staring right back at us. Meaning, it’s pretty easy to see the results of drag on the water’s surface. It’s harder to see drag happening under the water and out of sight, but once you’ve put in a few thousand river hours, intuition mixes with experience, and the subtle visual signals above the river reveal the same telltale drag.
What’s the trouble with drag? It kills dead drifts. And most of what we do with dry flies and nymphs out there is predicated on allowing the fly to drift as free from the influence of our leader as possible. If it wasn’t for the damn tippet attached to the fly, dead drifts would be a whole lot easier. Amiright?
So we go through all the contortions of mending: stack mends, reach mends and aerial mends, trying to put some extra line and tippet upstream, or just laying it somewhere that it won’t tug the fly off course and out of position. But our best mending efforts result in mediocre results that lend the fly just enough slack to appear natural, if only for a moment, and perhaps long enough to fool a trout. Even the dumb ones know exactly what real flies drifting in one seam look like, so nothing is more important than a dead drift.
Mending is rarely the best solution. Often, the better bet is to keep extra line off the water altogether. By holding line in the air we have more control over it. Sure, at longer distances, even a long and thin leader in the air can sag and cause more unwanted drag, but that’s just more motivation to fish closer. (Fish as close as possible. Always.)
So, keeping line and leader off the water is a great strategy with a dry fly. Only the line that must touch should touch. Nothing else.
And the same holds true while nymphing. Only the line that has to touch the surface should be wet. Even more importantly, only the line that must go under the surface should disappear.
How deep is the piece of water in front of you, and where are the trout? Alright, two feet deep. Let’s say you’re rigged with five feet of tippet beyond the sighter. Now factor in the angle of drift, and you might need three-and-a-half feet under the water — four feet at most if your drift angle leans horizontal. Most of us aren’t out there thinking in feet and inches all the time. But if the action is off, ask yourself this: Do I need to put all that tippet under the water? You probably don’t. Everything under the water drags, so limit the line underneath to only what is necessary.
Last point: When you make the delivery on a tight line rig, are you laying leader down on the water and then picking it up? If so, stop it! Anything that touches the surface, drags. So don’t lay that leader down. Keep the sighter up, along with all the tippet that isn’t necessary for getting into the strike zone. All of it stays in the air.
Everything that touches, drags. And everything that disappears underneath the surface drags even more. Never forget that. Develop your strategy around this knowledge. Refine your approach with this in mind. Keep extra leader and tippet up in the air. Keep it dry. And real drag free drifts will come much more naturally.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N