The Sweet Ride

by | Dec 18, 2019 | 9 comments

There’s a sweet spot to every drift. For each swing of a wet fly, strip of a streamer or drift of a dry, there’s a range — a distance — where the fly looks its best. This is the moment where the fur and feathers tied to a hook are most convincing or most natural. It’s when the fly is really fishing and not just dragging through the water. Good anglers recognize this sweet spot of the drift. They maximize its length. They position themselves in the river to control it with their rod tip or with slack line. And they set it all up to happen over the best trout in the river.

First, there’s the cast and delivery. Our line hits the water, and it may take a moment to gain contact with a nymph, to get the streamer to depth or provide extra slack to a dry. Then the drift, the strip or the swing begins, and we try to recognize the part of the ride that is just right. We attempt to lengthen that inherently short time. And at our best, we take this perfect look to the juiciest gut in the run.

All of this is variable. Sometimes it’s eight feet of a perfect dead drift with a BWO Klinkhammer in a gently rippling seam. Other times it’s the head-flip-and-drift after a deliberate lane change while working streamers on a crossover technique. Or maybe it’s a five foot glide with a nymph through the strike zone before pulling it out at the lip. We’re looking for the best part of what happens after a cast. We’re searching for the sweet ride. And we’re trying to make it last as long as possible.

READ: Troutbitten | Get Short and Effective Drifts with Your Fly

At First

The first few casts in a specific lane are exploratory missions. And if you get much of a good ride on the first cast you’re either very lucky or a master at reading currents. But it’s certainly easier to nail it the first time with a dry fly, and it’s probably hardest with a nymph.

Because we can see the surface currents and watch their effects on our fly, casting dries and finding the sweet ride up top is all visual. We want the dry to land with enough slack to drift drag free instantly. Most of a good surface ride starts when the dry touches, so the experienced angler places the fly upstream of the trout and in the same current seam. Good dry fly anglers get long, sweet rides.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Dry Fly Fishing

Under the surface, good fishing starts with contact and control. And after the cast with a streamer, wet or nymph, it might take a moment to gain that contact, to get the right depth and set the fly on its intended course. So the fly isn’t really fishing at first. Not until we reach the strike zone or strip the streamer off the bank are we on course toward the sweet ride below.

Get Over It

Once the best part of the drift is through, when the sweet ride is over, the angler then chooses to extend it further or pick up the line and cast again. I’m strongly in the camp of pulling it as soon as the best part of the drift is finished. And I believe by giving up on the back half of drifts and swings I maximize my productive fishing time, catching a lot more trout in a day.

Look at it this way . . .

Every good dry fly angler that I fish with picks up the fly when it starts to drag. They backcast once, shoot the line forward and put the fly back on the water. Skillfully, they provide enough slack to the dry fly on the cast. They get a few seconds of a sweet ride and take the fly back off the water as soon as drag sets in again. I see no successful anglers extending dry fly drifts beyond the point where drag sets in. Not around here, and not over picky wild trout.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Tips #10 Mend Less

On the other hand, I see most subsurface anglers trying for much longer drifts than they should. Truth is, there’s a limited range for the sweet ride underneath — just like up top. If you learn to read the water, watch your sighter and control your fly line, you can easily recognize a good drift or the best part of the retrieve. So, once that’s through, give up on it. When the sweet ride stops — get off. Set the hook, backcast once, and shoot the fly forward again.

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. This was the most valuable thing you taught me when you guided me on Penns. I still believe there are some windows where the extended drift works quite well, like in a caddis hatch. Yesterday getting off at the right stop was key.

    • Right on. Time and place for everything. But most often, getting off at the right stop . . . I like that.


  2. What % of your overall nymph takes occur during sweet part of your drifts? Just curious.

    • Oh man, maybe . . . 75 percent?? But I think I’m pretty good at lining things up to make it happen too. And you have to remember, as I wrote above, that as soon as the sweet ride is over, I’m out of there. That’s usually my approach, anyway.

      Make sense?

      Cool question.


  3. I think one of the big advantages of tight line nymphing is you are fishing off the end of your rod most of the time thus your drifts are shorter by nature. When we indicator fish we have the tendency to start fishing 10 or so feet in front of us and unless the current is extremely consistent your control of the drift gets away from you much easier and you watch the bobber while your flies are doing whatever, hoping for a miracle. 🙂 good article Dom!

    • I get what you are saying, and I agree that most people fish indys that way. But I’m always trying to get anglers to fish indys with tight line principles. Like this, really:

      In that way, I may not fish any further away from me. The drifts may be no longer than when I’m straight tight lining. And I am NOT out of contact with the nymph at all. Instead, I’m still in good contact with the nymph, and I’m aware of its position. There is no hoping. But the big advantage is that I can let the indy do the job of leading down one current seam.


      • Another great article, Dom. I also think that the article about nymphing with an indicator is one of the most astute observations on nymphing that I’ve ever seen. I was wondering if these days your preference is still for a sighter over a suspender. I realize that it depends on water type, but I mean do you tend to use one over the other as a default in average kinds of runs?

  4. I’m definitely guilty of extending my nymph drift to far downstream of my position. The smaller trout, mostly bows hit sometimes downstream from me. Caught one 20”bow on the East Branch Delaware this summer on the dangle while lighting up a smoke. Ha. But all the other large trout were caught across or upstream of me.

    • Good point Dom I should have made it clear I wasn’t talking about tight line indicator fishing that you have described I was talking about what most people do when they put on an indicator. In terms of catching fish on the D on the dangle if I’ve seen it once I’ve seen it a thousand times. I took a guy there once for his first time (not the best newbie river) and I saw him working on a tangle in his fly line with his indicator 20 ft. below. when he got the knot out and reeled in he had his first D fish. Like swinging wet flies only different. 🙂


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