As a fly fisher, if you have any experience with a spinning rod or baitcaster, then you understand the tight line advantage. When I was young, my uncle taught me to hold extra line off the water by keeping the rod tip up. That made sense, because I could feel the weight of the Rooster Tail or fathead minnow against the rod tip when I was in touch. And however I fished with a spinning rod, the goal was to be in contact with the bait as we kept extra slack out of the system.
That same approach can be effectively carried over to all fly fishing styles.
Casting Line and Casting Weight
The most consequential difference between gear fishing and fly fishing is the thickness in lines. Gear anglers tend to use the thinnest lines possible. Fly anglers may use the thinnest tippet possible, but it’s attached to a thicker leader that usually finishes in a thicker butt section, and that’s attached to an even thicker fly line. It’s necessary because flies are (generally) light, while lures are heavy enough to carry the attached line behind them, flying off toward the target. But with the extra diameter in fly line and leader comes extra weight. And while the gear angler can easily hold line off the water, the fly angler can hold only some line off the water. The rest must lay on the surface.
I first picked up fly fishing as a teenager, and I vividly remember the confusion. With time, I learned to cast the weight of the line rather than the weight of the lure, but I didn’t know what to do with the line after the cast. Sure, I learned about mending, but that never seemed to solve the problems at hand. Enter, tight lining concepts.
The Tight Line Advantage
Staying tight to the flies or just barely out of contact — that’s the tight line advantage. And to achieve this, we keep all extra or unnecessary line out of the water and off the surface. Doing so improves contact, strike detection and control over the course of the flies.
While the tight line concept is most often considered for nymphing, the tight line advantage is useful across all fly fishing styles. So, understanding and employing this key concept dramatically improves fishing success.
Let’s start here . . .
Tight Line and Euro Nymphing
Much of modern fly fishing is centered around the goals of dry fly anglers. The standard indicator nymphing set up is similar enough that it’s comfortable for the masses. Casting, watching the indy, mending to keep it drag free or feeding slack are all visually similar to fishing dry flies. It’s a popular style, effective enough in the right circumstance and easy for anglers to accomplish.
Tight line nymphing is now a widely accepted and a popular method. But the concept of the tight line advantage has been in practice since the very beginning of fly fishing with nymphs.
“Just fish pretty short and keep your line up.” That’s great advice to any nymphing angler — from the first timer to the most river-worn sharpie.
By keeping the line up and out of the water, we eliminate the influence of extra currents — no drag pulling the line, leader or tippet in multiple directions, just a direct connection from rod tip to the fly or split shot. That’s the tight line advantage in its most obvious form. And the effectiveness is intuitively understood, especially by anyone who’s spent time with a gear rod in hand.
The tight line advantage is easily brought over to the indy game by keeping all the line from rod tip to indicator off the water.
It can be done on a standard fly line and leader setup by wading close to the target, fishing with twenty feet of line off the reel and using longer rods of nine to eleven feet in length.
But that range can be extended to thirty feet or more by using a long Mono Rig or euro nymphing leader. Mount the indicator below the sighter, on the tippet, and take tight line principles over to the indicator setup.
I call this the Tight Line to the Indicator method. And it combines our tight line advantage with the unique benefits and problem-solving attributes of using an indy. It’s a deadly variation.
Tight Line Dry Dropper
My favorite way to fish a river is with a dry fly paired with a suspended nymph on a Mono Rig.
Using the same concept as the Tight Line to the Indicator style, the dry fly replaces the indy, and it does the work of leading the nymph down one current seam.
With good casting, the tight line advantage remains for both the nymph and the dry — the dry fly is in touch with the nymph, and the nymph is in touch with the rod tip, with no line on the water. I call this Tight Line Dry Dropper.
Like tight line and euro nymphing, this style can be practiced at short distances, given a standard leader and fly line setup. But the method really shines with a long leader system. So, tie the combo on the tippet end of a Mono Rig or euro leader and extend the range of the tight line advantage.
Keeping all line off the water from rod tip to dry fly allows for amazing drag free drifts on the dry. The tight line advantage here provides a natural look, with options like stalling and hopping the dry that are unavailable with any other rig.
The logical extension of the tight line dry dropper style is Tenkara. And whether the fly is a dry, wet fly or weighted nymph, Tenkara is the quintessential example of the tight line advantage.
With an extra long rod, a light leader and no fly line, the Tenkara angler has the option to be in touch with the fly at any moment. And that contact — that control and strike detection — is at the heart of success.
Even fishing a single dry fly on a standard dry line will benefit from the concept of the tight line advantage.
Of course, direct contact on such a rig results in a dragging fly, because a dry fly needs s-curves in the tippet to freely drift drag free down one lane.
But advanced dry fly anglers understand a key concept: The line leading to the s-curves is best kept off the water. And as we recover the slack in an upstream dry fly presentation, we limit line on the water by raising the rod tip and stripping slack, keeping tight, not to the fly but to the first s-curves on the water. This is a modification of the tight line advantage.
Streamers and Wets
The liberation of fishing streamers and wets is the breakaway from a dead drift. We spend all our time with dry flies and nymphs aiming for a one seam, natural approach — the dead drift. But the lifeforms we imitate with streamers and wets do different things. They cross seams. They rise in the column and swim at varying speeds. Imitating those movements is the joy of fishing long flies and wets.
We can dead drift these flies, of course. But the same tight line advantage we use for a dead drift translates well to the multitude of viable presentation angles and options at hand with streamers and wets.
It’s as simple as this: By keeping all unnecessary line up and out of the water, we are tight to the flies with immediate control over the next move of the fly. The more line that is under the water or laying on the surface, the less control we have over the next move of the fly.
Like every other method and fly style, longer leaders allow for greater range of the tight line advantage to streamers and wets. I’ve detailed my preference for using my Standard Mono Rig for streamers, because it allows for precise control over the depth, angle and drop rate of the flies, at any moment, all the way through the drift. By staying tight, and keeping unnecessary line off the water, I control the head position of the streamer or wet fly with my rod tip.
Close and Kinda Isn’t Good Enough
For each rig and fly style, using a tight line advantage significantly improves the presentation. And when possible, all the extra line should be kept off the water. Not some of it. Not most of it. All of it.
This is easily seen by watching the indy or the dry fly in their respective tight line style. See how the indy skirts off downstream when some of the sighter touches the water, and watch how it slows down when that colored line and all of the tippet is picked up. It’s the same with the tight line dry dropper. When all of the tippet leading to the dry is held off the water — not just some of it — the dry drifts as pure as you’ve ever seen it.
Staying tight from rod tip to fly or from rod tip to indy is the heart of the tight line advantage. Use it, and catch a lot more trout.
Fish hard, friends.
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