** This is Part Two of a Troutbitten short series about contact, feel and sight while tight line nymphing. This all reads a lot better if you first visit Part One (Strike Detection is Visual). Also be sure to find Part Three (Contact Can Be Felt at the Rod Tip) **
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Smith and I emerged from the river, choosing a short hike up a no-name tributary for its gradual and scenic exit rather than climbing over large chunks of limestone that bordered the main river. It was nearly dark, but our eyes adjusted in time with the dying daylight.
On the riverbank, we stood amid the magic hour, watching a glowing horizon sink into the mountaintop while our waders drip-dried in the cold, late-winter breeze.
“Alright.” Smith broke the silence and renewed the conversation. “So you’re telling me that strike detection while tight lining is all visual?”
“Mostly visual!” I corrected.
Smith gave me a sideways look.
“Come on,” I pushed. “You know that all things in fishing are predicated with mostly, usually or pretty much.” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled. “Everything works sometimes, Smith.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Smith brushed off my hedging, and dug deeper for answers. He motioned to the river behind us and spoke his thoughts aloud. “So . . . back there you said that a lot of this tight lining game is about feel too.”
I could tell my friend was in the mood for facts and absolutes. So I went as far as I could toward a definitive answer.
“Yes, it is,” I nodded.
“But if strike detection is mostly visual, what part of this is feel?”
Smith had asked a question that I’d never fully considered. So I paused to reflect and understand my own experience before sharing any thoughts. The wind picked up a bit, and I jammed my hands into the fleece lined pockets of my wading jacket. I squeezed the hand-warmers and felt the heated blood flow up through my arms. The warmth gave me shivers. And I eased into this new comfort.
“I think the best way to describe it is . . . contact,” I replied. “We can feel that contact on a fly rod. We can sense being in touch with the flies. A good tight line angler can feel when he’s in contact with the nymphs. It’s all at the rod tip.”
“And you feel it tick the bottom too — or when a trout takes,” Smith added.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But again, we can see those signals on the sighter first. And that’s not really the contact that I’m talking about.”
“Well,” Smith argued in turn, “you told me, in the beginning, that I should read the sighter for contact. You said if the sighter is slack there is no contact, and if . . .”
“. . . and if the sighter is tight there is contact.” I interrupted. “Yes, that’s the first step. But eventually, you learn to feel the contact just as much as you see it — probably more.”
The color collage of the sunset was all but vanished. And the darkening forest made its transition as we peered through standing timber.
“Alright,” Smith hesitated for a moment. “So . . . at the rod tip, you think I can feel if I’m in contact with the flies.”
“Yes. That’s what I’m saying.” I agreed. And I paused to think a bit more about the things I’d never put into words.
“You can feel the push or pull of the water, of the currents against your leader and flies. And that’s what I think is the most important aspect of feel, in tight lining.”
I thought about it a little more.
“It’s probably part of what some anglers call a sixth sense for nymphing,” I added. “And it takes some time to develop, but eventually, you can feel contact with the leader and flies. Hell, you can tight line in the dark, if you’re good at it,” I said.
My hand motions no longer carried over to Smith’s vision. And I noticed that I couldn’t perceive his expressions either. I didn’t see my friend’s reaction. But I did have a good feeling for how well he was following me.
“It’s easier to feel it when there’s more weight on the line, Smith. By overweighting a bit, you can feel the contact — the load of some weight on the rod and against the current. Honestly . . . on your best day, when you’re really dialed in, you can even feel when you’re in the strike zone.”
Smith listened silently as I worked my thoughts into words.
“It also helps to use a rod suited for tight lining. And it doesn’t have to be a euro nymphing, tactical, competition-ready, two-weight specialty piece either. But, this is where the right high-end fly rod actually does make a difference. I’m picky about the tip section. The best rods have a lot of sensitivity built into them. The tip flexes a bit more, and you can feel the load of a fly against the current. In the same way, you can sense the rod tip relax when the fly is traveling with the current.”
Smith shuffled restlessly again. And I paused, allowing him to breath it all in, to take some of these new concepts and place them into the right boxes — organizing it all in his mind, some for now, some for later.
“Yeah, I’m with ya,” Smith said slowly. “But man, that’s some technical stuff.”
“Well, it doesn’t have to be,” I told my friend. “I suppose most anglers never think about all of this. And they catch plenty of fish. But to me, it’s fun to consider it. And I think it makes us better anglers in the end.”
“Probably right,” Smith agreed.
Something about the light shifted. And we gazed over the river to watch the stars reveal themselves in alternately shining singles and hazy groups of galaxies. We nodded and murmured in approval, but mostly, we admired the spectacle together in silence.
When the light of a crescent moon took over the sky, the transition was complete.
“You don’t buy it completely, do you?” I asked my friend.
“Ha!” Smith chuckled. “I’m just trying to process what you said. I don’t really get how it’s possible to feel the contact, though. I mean, I’ve felt the fly, tick, tick, ticking against the rocks. And I’ve felt trout hit the fly. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt the contact you’re talking about.
“I bet you have,” I challenged. “And I bet you could put it all together by tight lining right here in the dark.”
I saw Smith’s outline turn toward me.
“Seriously?” He asked with doubt.
“Yeah. Let’s hit the next riffle,” I suggested. “Actually, let’s wade over to the wooded bank, just to be sure you can’t see your line at all.”
I couldn’t see Smith’s expression, but I could tell he was up for the test.
Smith found a footpath and slowly picked his steps through scattered rays of dim moonlight. He walked toward the sound of the dark water, and I followed.
I think we both wondered how this might all work out.
. . . to be continued . . .
** This short Troutbitten series concludes with Part Three (Contact Can Be Felt at the Rod Tip) **
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