Good fishing happens by doing a bunch of the small things right. And improvement happens when you do more things right than you did last time. Our favorite wild trout teach us good fishing habits because they’re discriminating. They are rarely fooled by inferior presentations. It’s not easy, but that’s what we love about all this. So we adopt the lifelong challenge to improve — to fix what was wrong yesterday — and to find more agreeable trout.
All of that sounds like maybe there’s only one right way to fly fish. But that’s not true. There’s plenty of room for style, even within the dedicated branch of tight line nymphing, for example. My friend, Smith, often fishes further away than I prefer. His angles are more horizontal, while mine trend toward vertical. He likes over-weighting and leading through long drifts, while I might choose to underweight the flies and track their progress downstream while trying not to lead them. (In truth, Smith and I both use each style, but we each have our preferences.)
And while the same success can be had with a bunch of different flies, rod types, leader materials and casting styles, we cannot deny some of the foundational principles that allow each of our presentations to succeed. The physics of gravity, of line sag, current drag and sink rate do not change.
So here’s the trick: Never mistake poor technique for personal style. And if you choose to fish further away, then understand what happens when there’s more line past the rod tip and hanging in the air. The physics of that sag do not change, but your style can be adapted to prevent it from becoming unwanted drag.
Along these lines, there’s one mistake that all long-liners should avoid — one common error that tight line anglers make, over and over. Many of them forgive it as their style. But it is not. It’s a deficiency in casting that leads to an unmistakable loss of control and more drag in the system. What’s the mistake? Unnecessary line on the water.
Think of it like this: Tight line anglers should stick the landing at the end of the cast. Only the line that must enter the water should go under, while everything else remains above the surface and in the air. The leader should be tight, from the water’s surface to the rod tip, almost immediately. Stick the landing! Learn what angle the sighter eventually takes through the drift, and that’s the angle you should start with.
Stick the Landing?
Anything that touches the surface drags, and everything that goes under the water drags even more. I wrote an article about this recently, discussing how it applies to all fly fishing tactics. And this is doubly important for the tight line nymphing angler.
Don’t reach. Cast with speed between two points, and stop the rod tip higher (somewhere in the range of 9:30 to 11:00, depending on what you want to achieve. Deliver the flies with at least a tuck cast. Turn the line over in the air, and have the flies enter the water with only the necessary tippet. The rest of the tippet and the sighter should establish the leading angle immediately! Now that’s how you stick the landing.
Extra line on the surface immediately pulls on the flies. It robs the nymph of any built-in slack from a tuck cast. It puts the flies under immediate tension and drags them downstream. Given a long enough drift, the nymphs can eventually settle into the strike zone, but by laying line on the water (even for a second) much of the effective drift is taken away.
I suggest standing across from a friend who is casting nymphs on a tight line. Watch her cast a bright colored nymph in clear water. See what happens when any leader lays on the water at the end. Watch how the nymph is ripped downstream unnaturally. This might not stand out so much until you see the opposite. Next have your friend turn the line loops over above the water and stick the landing. Watch the bright nymph settle naturally into the strike zone while your friend takes the fly on a much more effective ride. When you see it, the effect of sticking the landing is undeniable.
Why do you lay it down and then pick it up?
No, really. Why does everyone do this? At the end of the cast, are you finishing with the rod almost parallel to the surface? Trouble is, the line follows, and it lays on the water. Immediately after, the (somewhat better) angler raises her rod tip into a leading position, but the damage to the drift is already done. The effective range of the drift is cut in half.
I believe this is a commonly overlooked mistake that has caught on, simply because it appears in too many videos. And anglers assume this as correct form. Also, tight line nymphing can dramatically improve an angler’s catch rate simply by handing someone a Mono Rig and teaching ten minutes of the basics. Many days, trout respond without any refinement in technique, and the surprised angler is suddenly a new expert. But we must be careful what we learn. And never be satisfied.
Dropping the rod at the end of a tight line cast is another time where you can’t argue with physics. The effect is undeniable. It’s not a style. It’s a bad habit.
Many, many fishermen make this mistake. I see at least ninety percent of tight-liners with this flaw. And the other ten percent are the ones who catch a bunch of trout.
Streamers and Suspenders Too
Of course, there’s a lot more we can do with a contact system than just tight line nymphing. When I use the Mono Rig for streamers, I often stick the landing with the long flies in the same manner. I do it with intention, to get the fly exactly where I want, with full control over depth and angles by not laying extra line on the water.
I also stick the landing when I’m fishing tight line dry dropper style, or tight line to the indicator — usually. Keep the extra line off the water from the beginning. Use the contact rig to your advantage.
On the longest cast, I may choose to lay a little line on the water for the first part of the drift. But within the range of about thirty feet, it’s easy to stick the landing with proper technique. And doing so with a tight-to-the-indicator or dry fly approach keeps extra line off the water. Therefore, the main thing influencing the indy is the flies and the line under the water, instead of surface currents pushing around a sloppy leader and bossing around the indy.
It makes a huge difference.
Remember, having your own fly fishing style is great. Find your own way of doing things. Learn which of your personal strengths are a good match for your preferences. Put in some thoughtful river time. Experiment, and trust the feedback received from the trout.
But do not mistake early success for a sure thing. Aim to understand not just what makes a trout eat, but what properties of casting and leading angles make for a good drift. And don’t try to argue with physics. Open your eyes and see what happens to the leader in surface currents.
Stick the landing while tight lining.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N