The key to a good tight line dead drift is a stable sighter. After the cast, we lock that leader and the colored line into an angle and keep it there, with no bouncing or unwanted motion. Because on a tight line, everything the sighter does is translated through the tippet, and it ends at the flies.
A steady and balanced sighter is important from the beginning, because effective tight line drifts are short. But there’s one overlooked way to stabilize the sighter immediately — tuck the rod butt into the forearm.
Mayfly nymphs, caddis larva, scuds, stoneflies and more aren’t darting around much down there. It’s important to understand the way real nymphs behave. None of them have an engine that allows for repeated motions up and down through the water column. And they don’t fight currents sideways or cross seams much. Instead, nymphs generally stay attached to the rocks of the riverbed or they make a home in the logs and weeds. When they do dislodge from structure, nymphs usually drift with the current. They are relatively poor swimmers.
Always remember that. Because our presentations should reflect this action. And we should aim for a dead drift.
A bouncing sighter destroys the dead drift by moving the nymphs up and down in the current. Sure, subtle motions on the fly can also be attractive, but the baseline approach should be a dead drift. And we should bring intentional movement to the nymph only as a secondary approach.
What causes the bounce and jiggle of a sighter? Look up and see what it’s connected to. The rod tip is the cause.
— — — — — —
I stood with Smith on a chilly day in April. The overnight dusting of snow was thin enough that the weeds and grass poked through, making a gorgeous canvas of early greens half covered by pure white. Snow flurries were tapering off, but big flakes still came down. It was the kind of morning that invited a lot of pause and reflection. And it was a good morning to fish with a friend.
I’d fished a piece of pocket water for twenty minutes while Smith stood nearby. Now we’d switched positions. And we spoke occasionally.
“I don’t know if that’s the breeze or the bottom,” Smith said, gesturing toward the spot where his leader entered the water. “My sighter is moving a lot.”
I remained silent and watched the next two drifts before I responded.
“Neither,” I told my friend. “It’s your rod tip bouncing and settling. Whatever the tip does, the sighter reflects.”
Smith let the next cast drift beyond him and swing out to hold in the current. Then he turned to look at me. Saying nothing, his stare asked for more explanation and a solution. So I broke it down.
“After the cast, your rod tip is still moving. It’s slight, but it’s enough to cause the sighter to bounce,” I told him. “That makes it hard to read contact. And when you do gain contact, then the nymphs are moving up and down a bit. You don’t want that.”
“What do I want?” Smith asked.
“A stable sighter,” I motioned with my arm representing the sighter and gliding through the air. “Right from the beginning.”
Smith turned to start casting again, and I kept talking.
“Some rod tips take forever to recover,” I said. “But you have a good fly rod, and it settles quickly. So don’t blame it on the tools, buddy.”
“Ah. So it’s angler error then,” Smith said in between drifts.
He fished a little longer, trying to settle the tip after the cast. I saw him look up to see the rod tip shaking and jiggling. And I think I saw him miss a trout-take on his sighter.
“Want a piece of advice?” I asked.
Smith let the line dangle downstream again before turning toward me.
“Let’s have it,” he said.
I took my own rod and held it at a forty-five, approximating a drifting position.
“Okay, watch the tip,” I told Smith.
In the backwater upstream of me, I cast and delivered the nymph. I stopped high to turn over the leader. The fly tucked in while the extra tippet and sighter remained above the water. I had contact instantly. With no currents in the backwater, the only thing to influence the motion of my sighter was the rod tip. The colored line waved and shuddered a bit, and it lifted and dropped an inch or so.
“Were you watching the tip?” I asked Smith?
“Yeah,” he said. “It was definitely moving after the cast. Not much. But yeah, enough to move the sighter.”
“Okay. Now look at my rod hand,” I said.
I showed Smith that I was holding the rod as most anglers might — with the wrist free to move and flex.
“See? But here’s another way,” I said. And I tucked the rod butt into the muscle beneath my forearm.
“It doesn’t have to be jammed in there hard. Just rest the butt end of the rod into your forearm. That stabilizes everything. Now watch the tip.”
I repeated the cast into the backwater — line turnover, tuck, then contact. And the sighter locked in immediately. It didn’t move. It didn’t rise, fall, shudder or bounce. And Smith saw the difference.
“So that’s all it takes, huh?” Smith asked.
I shrugged, and Smith began casting to the pocket ahead of him.
“Locking the butt into the forearm during the drift uses bigger muscle groups and bigger bones to do the work,” I said. So everything is more stable than when the whole thing is controlled by the wrist.”
The difference in Smith’s drifts was noticeable immediately.
“That works, for sure,” he chuckled.
“So hey,” Smith asked during the next drift. “Do you keep the rod butt tucked into the forearm the whole time, or just right after the cast?”
“That’s a good question with a lot of answers,” I told my friend. “I think it’s really a stylistic choice. The action and weight of your rod matters too. Personally, I keep the rod butt there for the whole cast. So I cast tight line rigs with my elbow — most times — but I use the wrist to sort of dial in the degree of my tuck cast.”
Smith was quiet for a while as he watched the smooth glide and balanced drift on his sighter following every cast.
I began wading past Smith to fish a heavy seam on the far side, but I left him with this:
“I think, by keeping the rod butt against the forearm while you’re drifting, you’ll end up finding a new way of casting too. It’ll probably happen naturally. And really, you’ll be more accurate more often.”
Then I waded into the flow to fish among the snowflakes.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N