** Note ** This is Part One of a Troutbitten short series about what tight line anglers might be missing by following competition rules. You can find Part Two HERE.
Euro nymphing has all the buzz in fly fishing right now. So it’s no surprise that the industry searches for its experts. Fly fishing companies, publishers and shops look to provide their customers with quality info and new gear for euro nymphing. And so far, they’ve largely turned to the competition scene to find authorities on the matter. It’s a logical place to start, as the term euro nymphing has been synonymous with fly fishing competitions since the beginning of this century.
But using competition fishing standards for the average angler is extremely limiting. And following FIPS Mouche rules makes little sense for most dedicated fly fishers. (FIPS is the governing body for international competition.) Comp rules strip away too much of the versatility and efficiency offered by long leader systems in the first place.
Let’s discuss the two main FIPS rules limiting the tight line, contact or euro nymphing angler. Because many long-liners fish under these limits without understanding the other options. And following these rules can be a major hindrance. So if you’re not competing — don’t follow them.
ONE: Nothing Attached to the Leader
FIPS rules dictate that nothing can be physically attached to the leader other than the flies. (Article 28)
This limitation has spawned some wonderful ideas in fly design and nymphing tactics, all in an effort to allow flies to drop through the water column and meet a trout. Restrictions foster creativity in many fields. And the popularity of beadhead nymphs and long, thin tippet sections are a direct result of working around the roadblocks.
But there are consequences to these constraints as well. And the competition rule against attaching anything to the leader other than the flies strips away versatility in numerous limiting ways. Here they are . . .
No Split Shot
Adding weight to the leader is a timeless tactic that I never want to be without. Sometimes, split shot is the better choice over weighted flies. And sometimes a drop shot system is the best answer. When used properly, with an efficient method for adding and removing shot, the advantages of split shot often outweigh the inherent disadvantages.
But weighted flies allow the angler to be in better contact with the fly, right? Sure. But good tight line nymphing is about being out of contact as much as in it. And split shot, pinched about five inches in front of the fly, is an indispensable tool for facilitating the freedom of movement that trout are looking for in a nymph.
Used with unweighted flies or employed as additional weight with beaded flies, split shot is an invaluable tool.
In recent years, it seems that the traditional proportions of a nymph are being lost at the vise. With oversized beads, tyers sacrifice these proportions to put extra weight in the fly (since no split shot can be used.) When fifty, sixty or seventy percent of the fly is taken up by the bead, does it really matter what is lashed to the hook behind it? Maybe not.
These extreme flies certainly work. But flies with proportions that are more similar to the natural nymphs rolling on the bottom may be better performers.
Likewise, shaggy dubbing on nymphs is trending downward, in favor of slimmer flies that plummet easier — cutting through the water with minimal bead weight. Flies like the Perdigon are killer styles, but shaggy dubbing on flies like a Fox Squirrel nymph and those tied with teased-out Hare’s Ear have stood the test of time for good reason. Sometimes buggy is better. And adding split shot helps easily get those flies down without going unusually large with a beadhead and destroying the proportions.
Remember, what makes tight line and euro nymphing work has nothing to do with where the weight is. It’s not the flies. It’s the leader and how the angler delivers the cast.
Super Light Tippets
Following FIPS rules has encouraged another trend. In an effort to aid the sink rate of nymphs without the addition of split shot, some anglers choose a terminal tackle that is thinner than ever. But it’s also weaker. And I grow tired of losing flies on the bottom of the river or snapping off 6X tippet in a tree branch when 5X could have won the tug-o-war.
Remember too, excellent drifts are achieved with excellent casting, and without it, super thin tippets can only do so much.
I also plan to hook and land the largest trout of my life every time I’m out — at any moment. And that’s pretty unlikely at 7X.
So the trade off for using extra thin tippets and keeping shot off the leader is not worth it for me. Again, this is a different mindset than the competition angler, who (justifiably) does everything possible to land and score each eight-inch trout. But if you’re not competing and you’re not bound by FIPS rules, your goals are likely different.
Using indicators on a tight line rig is one of the most overlooked and underrated tactics in the game. Taking tight line principles over to a suspender is a deadly method of fishing. And it solves many of the problems encountered while tight line or euro nymphing — namely distance and wind. Choose the right indy, and you can cast tight line rigs further, even on windy days.
But FIPS rules prohibit attaching anything other than flies to the leader.
The competition angler’s work-around is to use a tight line dry dropper style, which is a popular and effective way to fish (It might be my favorite way to catch a trout.) But there are many times when an indicator made of yarn, foam or plastic is the better choice. The advantages of these indicators, when chosen for good reason, kept small and used properly, are undeniable. Compared to a dry fly, they can be less wind resistant (small foam or a Thingamambobber) more sensitive (Dorsey Yarn Indy), easily adjustable and completely slidable.
To me, the inability to add a small indicator may be the biggest loss, while following FIPS rules.
But I was just doing what they told me . . .
Many anglers, new to nymphing on a tight line or even after seasons of experience, don’t realize that they are following FIPS competition rules. Instead, they’re introduced to tight line or euro nymphing through videos, articles and experts who are deeply entrenched in the competition scene. And without some balanced insight as to what makes a Mono Rig or euro rig work in the first place, the angler assumes — incorrectly — that indicators are in opposition to tight line rigs, or that split shot will harm the drift.
But by making these assumptions, the tight line angler takes away a host of options. There’s a range of tactics out there, only available by attaching something to the leader other than a fly.
So, why fish under any restrictions? Learning these new tactics is not only useful on the water, it’s enjoyable to use a full range of techniques and meet the trout on their own terms.
Next Time . . .
In the second installment of this Troutbitten short series, we take a look at the other FIPS rule that significantly restricts a tight line angler’s options and versatility.
It’s the rule that dictates leader length.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N