** NOTE ** This is the first featured skill in the Troutbitten series, Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing. You can find the overview, along with dedicated articles for each chapter and skill as they publish HERE.
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It’s midday now. And here among the wash of whitecapped pocket water, your peripheral thoughts are escorted aside. It’s just you and the river, casting across a spans of time that could stretch on for hours if it wasn’t broken by the tug of a trout or the occasional streamside mink that’s been playing hide and seek all morning.
You’ve come with a friend, too — a good fishing buddy who has recently reached that stage of fly fishing where just being out there isn’t good enough anymore. He wants to catch trout. “Less hoping that something will happen and more making something happen,” he says. John has repeated this back to you a few times now, remembering what you first told him about tight line tactics. And this extended weekend trip is to be his first foray into the new stuff.
John’s doing alright, but here on day two, he’s still making the biggest errors— fishing the wrong water at the wrong angles. Habits are hard to break in life, but they seem especially engrained in fly fishing. Most of us hit the river to forget everything for a while. So we spend a lot of time in a transcendental state, zoning out, casting and catching. And when it’s time to focus on changing something important, we quickly slip away from the necessary attentiveness and slide back into our comfort zone. That’s what John is doing. Specifically, he’s fishing water that’s too slow, and he’s fishing across the river instead of upstream.
So at the head of the next run, you walk upstream to help your friend again. It’s a good conversation. Among a dotted green carpet of dripping moss and chunky limestone, you explain the first essential skills of tight line nymphing — to have a great angle and approach.
Limit the Range
Sure you can fish tight line tactics at long distances. But that’s not how you learn it. Our baseline approach should be as close as possible.
In truth, that goes for every style of fly fishing. Quite simply, everything is easier and more accurate at short range.
I wrote about this extensively a week ago, in the Troutbitten article, The Fundamental Mistake of Tight Line and Euro Nymphing. Bottom line: fishing far away weakens the tight line advantage (our ability to keep the leader and line out of the water).
The natural tight line range is about two times the length of the fly rod. Fishing with anything past three times the length of the rod makes tight lining a chore, and it’s much less effective (usually).
Upstream Two and Over One
Our goal with a nymph is a dead drift, same as a dry fly. Anglers quickly understand that throwing a straight line to a dry fly with no slack creates immediate drag. And that problem is compounded by crossing seams. It’s easy to see the dry fly skate and drag, over and over. And that doesn’t look natural at all. But for some reason, nymphing anglers seem to believe they’re getting wonderful drag free drifts on a tight line, just because the nymph disappears out of sight.
Here’s the fact: If the line is tight and it’s crossing seams in any way, you are not dead drifting the nymph.
Understand the following key principle: In tight line and euro nymphing, the fly must track toward the rod tip. Your rod tip is in charge of everything. So knowing that principle and working with it is at the heart of great tight lining skills.
We must not cast across seams. Instead, everything should land in one seam. The fly and all necessary tippet enters the water in one lane, while the sighter, leader and rod tip are positioned downstream of the fly, in the air, and over the same lane. Please read the following article for an in depth breakdown of this concept:
The way to achieve a one seam drift is to fish upstream and over only as far away as the rod can reach. Let’s say the rod is ten feet. Add a little arm length and we can fish over about twelve feet. Cast as far upstream as you like, (how about, twenty feet?) and only over twelve feet. It requires remarkable discipline to stay within the range of your rod tip, and most anglers can’t do it for long. Can you?
Most of us routinely overestimate this length. So here’s a great way to keep yourself in check. Reach out to the side and touch your rod tip to the water’s surface. That’s your lane. Now follow that lane upstream visually, and cast into it. That’s as far over as you can cast without pushing the range of your tight line tactic and causing unwanted drag. It’s that easy. But the discipline required to keep that angle is not.
Sure you’ll catch trout by casing further over than twelve feet. But if you fish a seam that is beyond the reach of your rod tip, then cross stream drag will occur. Like it or not, the flies track to the rod tip on a tight line, no matter the design of the leader.
Remember, cast upstream at a range of two to three times the rod length, but only over one rod length.
Forget the Forty-Five
Fishermen of all kinds see a great piece of water and wade directly across from their target. Then they cast upstream and over about forty-five degrees, let the fly pass the trout across from them and finish by letting the fly drift (drag, actually) until it’s forty-five degrees downstream. Repeat ad infinitum and catch a trout once in a while.
With this cross stream approach, the flies are doing exactly the wrong thing — the opposite of what we just addressed above. Instead of landing everything in one seam and dead drifting, now the flies, tippet, leader and rod tip are all in different lanes. It’s a fundamentally bad presentation. Remember what happens to the dry fly if you cast it with a straight line across lanes — it drags immediately. The same thing happens with your nymph.
Change this habit. Shift your body position from facing across stream to facing upstream. This is a major change in the way most people see and fish the river. So, look for your targets upstream. Face upstream and fish upstream.
Instead of casting from forty-five upstream and drifting to forty-five downstream, cast upstream. Cast only over as far as the rod tip can reach. Keep things close. Try for twenty feet upstream and ten feet across. Now, the rod tip reaches out to guide the flies down one seam. And when the fly gets across from your position, pick up to cast again.
That’s right, don’t fish the downstream portion of the drift. There are many good reasons not to let the fly drift much further beyond your position. Here are three:
— You already fished that. If you’re facing upstream and fishing upstream, then the water downstream of you was already covered by your previous casts.
— You’re out of backcast range. Once the flies get downstream of your position, the rod tip is no longer in a great spot for the next cast. What’s left is a lob to send the flies back upstream. And as we’ll see in later parts of this Troutbitten series, it’s hard to turnover and tuck cast with a lob. Lobbing takes away the preferred fly-first entry.
— You’re spooking fish. Fishing within the reach-range of your rod tip means that the flies are only twelve feet away as they pass your position. That’s too close to a trout in many cases. The fish across and downstream of you are probably gone.
The Sweet Water
The majority of fly anglers avoid the best water in the river. Time and again I watch fishermen walk past the most productive areas of the stream. The pocket water, riffles and runs — these broken water sections are the food factories. This is where the vast majority of nymphs live, because they need extra oxygen and sunlight. So when trout want to eat, they go where the food is. And if you’re fishing nymphs, there’s no question about it — you should fish the broken water of riffles and runs.
Flats and pools are easier to wade, and with the slower water and fewer currents, they’re certainly easier to fish. But they simply aren’t as productive under most conditions.
Tight line and euro nymphing tactics should begin in the regions of broken water. Learn to fish where trout feed — where the nymphs live. Fishing this water also forces us into correct technique, with short, accurate casts and targeted, effective drifts.
In the heaviest currents, our presence is disguised, and we are hidden from the trout at very close range. So use that advantage as well.
The last point here is perhaps the most important. Tight line anglers must wade into great position, all day long. By staying mobile, in nearly constant motion, we work the mixed seams of pocket water efficiently. Fish a fixed length of line. Find a rhythm and stick with it. And don’t change the angle of delivery. Instead, change the location of your body.
Punch tight line casts upstream into precise targets and aim for short but effective drifts that end just twelve feet across from you. Set the hook swiftly into the backcast and tuck the fly back in. Repeat ad infinitum this way, and catch a bunch of trout.
Fish hard, friends.
* *Next up is the second essential skill for tight line and euro nymphing — Turnover and the Tuck Cast **
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Enjoy the day
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