** This is Part One of a short Troutbitten series about contact, feel and sight while tight line nymphing. Be sure to find Part Two (How Much of this is Feel?) and Part Three (Contact Can Be Felt at the Rod Tip) **
Smith arose from his halfway crouch and took a step backward. He threw two more half-hearted casts toward the limestone-green seam before reeling in his line and wading toward me. We were fishing a large river — wide enough for two guys to walk up the middle, with one fishing left and one fishing right. That’s what we’d done for most of the evening, and now the sun dipped below the hemlocks. Shade engulfed the highlights and began ushering in the daily darkness.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Smith approaching. I knew he’d struggled on this trip. In truth, he’d struggled a good bit since he picked up tight line nymphing. His expectations had been sky high, because every euro nymphing article he’d read described triple the catch rate and a full net. Smith had already experienced some success — enough to spark his determination and curiosity — but the consistency he’d expected was missing. So Smith set up over my right shoulder and watched for a while, quietly examining my backhand drifts and spitting sunflower seed shells on the water.
I landed two trout and missed another.
“Did you feel those strikes, or did you set the hook because the sighter twitched?” Smith asked.
“Sighter,” I replied, as I forced a deeper tuck around the outside corner of a mossy rock.
“So you didn’t feel the strike?” Smith asked. He seemed surprised. “Do you ever feel it, or do you always set the hook because of something you see on the sighter?”
I turned another trout at the merging V shape, where two seams flowing around the mossy rock came together. Then I paused and turned to Smith. He offered his bag of sunflower seeds, and I poured out a handful.
“That’s a good question with an answer that will create more questions,” I laughed.
“Start with the first one,” Smith insisted. “You probably caught a dozen trout tonight. Did you feel any of the takes?”
I shifted my weight and jammed the handful of salty seeds into my left cheek.
“Yes. Sometimes,” I replied. “But when I felt the take, I saw it on my sighter too. Know what I mean?” I asked. Smith listened. “If a trout hits hard enough for me to feel it, then the sighter surely indicates the take too. And the truth is, I see it before I feel it, if only for an instant.”
Smith nodded thoughtfully.
“So you’re not waiting to feel the take?” Smith asked.
“That’s right. I’m definitely not waiting to feel it.” I shook my head and gestured upstream. “These trout take a fly so softly that I’ll never feel most of their hits. They don’t grab the fly. They just slide over a couple inches and intercept it, stopping its progress.” I shook my head again. “They rarely hit hard enough to feel it, man. And if you’re waiting for some some kind of tug or tap, you’re missing a lot of strikes.”
Smith gazed off to the horizon, like I’d just told him the moon was made of Swiss cheese.
“Man, that’s different for sure,” Smith said. “I’ve been waiting to feel the strike this whole time. Imagine how many trout I’ve missed because you didn’t tell me this sooner.” Smith pushed me playfully, and I rocked back on my heels.
A mink scurried over the bank side rocks, drawing our attention for a moment, but Smith’s thoughts remained on the drifts.
“So how do you know what pause of the sighter, what twitch, jiggle or whatever sign from that colored line to set on?” Smith asked.
“Well, how do you know when to set if you’re relying on feel?” I asked him in turn. “You’re bumping and ticking a lot down there, right?”
Smith hesitated. “Ummm . . . I was guessing, I suppose.”
“Yeah, that’s why my goal is to not touch the bottom, so I set the hook on any unexpected movement of my sighter,” I said. “I’m looking to ride my nymph through the strike zone and stay slightly above the river bottom. That way I can set on anything unusual and not have to guess so much.”
Smith nodded, but I could see that his confusion remained. And I continued . . .
“There’s a lot to it, Smith. But that’s why it’s fun. Point is, I don’t feel the take. I see it. And when I do feel the take, I see that too.”
Smith and I stood silently for a few moments, watching the water flow and feeling its force pushing against us. No doubt, Smith was exploring the same questions I’d gone through when tight lining was new to me. And I was happy to let him make his own discoveries while filling in a few blanks here and there.
Smith zipped his jacket fully up to his neck, buffering against the incoming breeze of nightfall. Then he asked another question, with some noticeable doubt.
“So, this whole thing — all of this tight lining and contact system stuff — is it a hundred percent visual? And are you saying that feel has nothing to do with it?”
I reeled up my line and fixed the stonefly nymph to the rod’s hook keeper.
“No,” I answered. “Strike detection is visual. But there’s a lot of feel in the tight line game too. The contact that we’re aiming for is felt as much as seen.”
“Think about that one for a while,” I chuckled.
“Yeah. I like it,” Smith said.
With Smith deep in thought, we waded through the deepening shadows and started our long walk back to the truck.
** This story continues with a discussion about feel while tight lining. You can find the next article in the link below. **
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N