** NOTE ** This is the overview chapter for the Troutbitten series, Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing. You can find dedicated articles for each chapter and skill as they publish HERE.
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A few years ago I was in the midst of a group conversation with a few well-known guides and industry types when the subject of tight line and euro nymphing came up. One of the old-school anglers immediately sounded off, loudly voicing his opinion against what he insisted on calling Czech nymphing.
“I don’t see what the big deal is,” he told everyone. “How hard is it to stand there, lob a short line upstream and rake the bottom?” I looked around to see a few raised eyebrows in the group as the gentleman wrapped up. “After a while, catching so many fish just gets old.”
Not being one to throw a stranger under the bus, I bit my tongue. But I admit that I chuckled a bit when another author looked the gentleman square in the eye and said without pause, “Well, it’s really nothing like that, and I don’t think you’ve fished a tight line rig very much.”
With tight line tactics, our control over the flies is complete, so our room for refinement is infinite. And with immediate influence over the depth, angle, drop rate and speed of the underwater fly, it’s easier to screw everything up than it is to get it just right.
These systems are built for contact and versatility. And fishing a tight line rig but missing that point is a sad mistake.
All of this is to say that tight line and euro nymphing is hard. Don’t let early success convince you otherwise. Because, just as surely as you’ll have a day when you’re catching fish after fish, you’ll also have times when you can’t buy a take, even with what you believe is perfect technique. In truth, it’s never perfect. It’s not close enough to a natural drift — and that’s why they’re not eating your fly (especially in a wild trout stream).
Troutbitten has become one of the leading resources for tight line and euro nymphing. There are hundreds of articles here that address the subject, and I write often of the Mono Rig and its different uses, of formula adjustments and tactical refinements.
I teach these tactics to my guided guests, on the water over a hundred days each year, and I’ve seen first hand what is easy and what is hard. Anglers experience the same troubles, day after day. I’ve learned that most of their difficulties come from trying to jump ahead, or trying for too much too soon. It takes time and patience to build great technique.
There’s an order of skills for the tight line and euro nymphing angler. And to me, there’s an obvious and best way to approach things.
In this ten-part Troutbitten series I’ll cover every step along the way. Each skill will receive the attention of its own article. There’s a lot to learn, but it all makes sense. Sure, an attentive and determined angler could eventually learn all of this intuitively. But the learning curve can be shortened by understanding the steps outlined here and then converting them into action.
Likewise, experienced tight line anglers will also learn from this series, as the process of thinking things through tends to highlight our weaknesses or misunderstandings. I know that, through the years, my own process of teaching and writing has greatly solidified my command of the concepts and made me a better angler.
This, That and the Other Thing
Here are the essential skills for tight line and euro nymphing. A good grasp and facility for these techniques prepares an angler for all the variations: tight line dry dropper, tight line to the indy, streamers on a tight line and dry flies with a long leader approach.
These skills should be learned in the following order, as none can be performed without the ones that precede them. So too, these are the steps taken in a single cast and drift, from beginning to end.
- Angle and Approach
- Turnover and Tuck Casting
- Sticking the Landing
- Recovering Slack
- Finding Contact
- Locating the Strike Zone
- Guiding the Flies
- The Strike
- Putting it all Together
This Troutbitten series, Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing, will cover these nine steps with a dedicated article for each. And for a full picture of what’s to come, here’s an overview of all nine.
1. Angle and Approach
Good tight lining requires great body positioning. Most often, a dead drift is the key to fooling trout, and that only happens with everything in one seam: fly and tippet in one lane, while the sighter, leader and rod tip are above the water and tracking over the same lane as the flies.
The only way to make this happen consistently is with the right approach angle. Tight lining is a limited range tactic. So we must move close enough to cast to the trout without alerting them.
2 — Turnover and Tuck Casting
No matter the chosen leader for tight line or euro nymphing, the best things happen when that leader turns over. Just like a standard fly line cast, line loops should unroll in the air, above the water, before the fly enters. Without good turnover and a fly-first entry (tuck cast), the leader unrolls on the water, or it lands in the water with the fly. And that’s not nearly as clean or effective. Extra line in or on the water takes away our tight line advantage and makes the system much less effective.
Great turnover and a fly-first entry is also the best way to set up the next skill . . .
3. Sticking the Landing
When the fly hits, only the tippet that must go with it should enter the water, all extra tippet and the entire sighter should remain above the water. A forty-five degree angle is the perfect baseline from which to deviate. So, learn to stick the landing, with the sighter at a forty-five and all the extra tippet out of the water — also at a forty-five.
Essentially, we land the flies, then stick the landing on the sighter, ready to get contact.
Remember, keep the sighter dry. It never touches the water. (Floating the sighter is its own effective tactic.)
4. Recovering Slack
Dead drifts only happen by casting upstream. And when we deliver upstream, the river sends the fly back to us, creating slack. We recover that slack to get contact with the fly and keep it. It’s the only way we have control of the fly and a sense for strike detection.
We can recover that slack in three ways: by stripping, by raising the rod tip and by leading the rod tip downstream. And while these may sound basic, the heart of advanced tight lining is in the critical ability to recover slack in all three ways.
5. Finding Contact
Sometimes we land with immediate contact with the fly. But more often, the better bet is to land with a tuck cast, introducing just a bit of slack (inches of it) and allowing the fly to free fall without tension.
Recognizing contact is the fundamental skill of reading the sighter. Without contact, without a straight and tight sighter, we cannot trust what that sighter is telling us. But with contact, we know exactly where the nymph is — how deep and how fast it is traveling. Because a sighter with contact always points to the fly.
6. Locating the Strike Zone
The biggest error in nymphing is touching the bottom, over and over.
Bad things happen when we touch. We hang up, lose flies, spook trout, collect vegetation on the hook, stop the natural progress of the fly, and perhaps worst of all — we force ourselves to guess between the fly touching bottom and a fish eating the fly.
So instead of aiming for the riverbed, aim for the cushion of water near the bottom — that six-to-twelve-inch layer of water that’s going slower than the rest, because friction with the rocks and other structures on the riverbed slows it down. That’s the strike zone. And it’s where nearly everything important happens in a river. It’s where the trout are, and it’s the best target for our nymphs — not the riverbed.
7. Guiding the Flies
Seeing someone who has pure mastery over guiding the flies downstream is like watching a magician perform his best trick. And while it might look like there’s a sixth sense in use, there is not.
Skill for guiding the flies downstream comes from reading the water, from using the nymph as a probe and from reading the sighter. Good anglers gather data about what’s below and then make a mental map of the riverbed, all while refining the drift in one seam until it’s perfect. When it is, then we move on.
8. The Strike
There are two elements at play here: the strike from a trout and our strike with the fly rod (the hook set).
Learning to recognize a trout take requires skill. But it starts by trusting that everything and anything unusual signals a trout eating the fly. Tight line rigs are designed to be sensitive. And early on we begin to realize just how many takes we’ve been missing through the years. Most anglers have far more chances to catch a trout than they’ve ever imagined. So set the hook!
9. Putting It All Together
Combining all the essential skills for tight line and euro nymphing is a talent in itself. By tuck casting with a high stop of the rod tip we can stick the landing. Then we immediately move the rod tip into a leading position and recover slack to find contact. When we see the effect of the strike zone on the sighter, we guide the flies downstream and expect a hit all the way through the drift.
Learning to move from one element to the next, fluidly and without pause, is its own skill. It’s a mindset, a flow of techniques that blend and meld together until the end. Then eventually, we look up and say, “Oh . . . now that was a great drift.”
Fish hard, friends.
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