#1. Angle and Approach: Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

by | Jun 20, 2021 | 28 comments

** 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.

— — — — — —

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.

Photo by Bill Dell

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:

READ: Troutbitten | One Great Nymphing Trick

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?

Photo by Bill Dell

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Natural vs Attractive Presentations

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.

READ: Troutbitten | Turnover

— 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.

READ: Troutbitten | Spooky Trout

Trevor. Photo by Bill Dell

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.

Wade

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
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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28 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you about upstream casting keeping flies/tippet/leader close to a single seam. I suspect that one of the reason many comp anglers are fishing such small diameter leaders and tippets is to minimize the drag caused by casting across stream. With an upstream cast, I find I can get away with thicker terminal gear.

    I have also found that the main advantage of using a bobber is to facilitate an upstream drift, even with casting across stream.

    You’ve written about both of the above extensively, but I thought these ideas bear repeating.

    Reply
  2. nymphing gold dust info right there!! Many thanks for the info.
    Its amazing how some of us just get mechanical about nymphing and switch off, instead of thinking a little about how our flies are swimming.
    Thank for the article, an enjoyable read. tight lines

    Reply
  3. Fortunately for tight-liners, getting close to trout is made relatively easy in those broken riffles, runs, and boulder strewn pockets where the noise and commotion of the water works to their advantage. When you take the environment into consideration it should not surprise anyone as to how close they can get to trout. This is a money scenario: turbulent food factories with large feeding trout that have no idea you could touch them with your rod tip! Makes this DFO angler jealous. We can gat same seam close from below but it takes happy fish on good bugs, proper light conditions, and super stealth. Cheers to all you lucky tight-liners as Dom has provided the ticket to success beyond my wildest imagination.

    Reply
  4. Dom, is there anyway that you could supply a diagram of exactly what you are describing? I’m a visual learner and I think that would help anglers like me. Thanks!

    Reply
    • David…(I’m also a fan of visual/diagram learning), definitely click on the one link “Face upstream fish upstream” for some really good diagrams concerning at least that part of the equation.

      d.

      Reply
    • David…(I’m also a fan of visual/diagram learning), definitely click on the one link “Face upstream fish upstream” for some really good diagrams concerning at least that part of the equation.

      d.

      Reply
    • Sure. Please follow the link provided above, titled One Great Nymphing Trick. You’ll notice that I drop many links into these technical articles. So if something doesn’t make sense there’s usually a link to explain something deeper, in another dedicated article. Remember, Troutbitten reads more like a book than a blog. So follow those links and read the back chapters.

      Make sense?

      Reply
      • Thanks! It makes perfect sense now! Appreciate your time to respond.

        Reply
  5. Hi Dom. If I’m understanding this correctly, when you say touch the rod tip to the side to establish the distance away from you, I assume you are facing up stream when establishing this. Am I correct? Then casting up stream maybe 20’ but keeping the 12’ or so distance from your side.

    Reply
  6. I used to hunt when I still had the time to do so. At this point, I hunt fish. I’ve seen you touch on the idea of “being the heron” several times throughout your articles – and herons catch lots of fish – at close range. No matter the situation I find myself in, I walk/wade as quietly as possible. I also could not agree more with the positioning of your body/feet in relation to what you are fishing and to keep moving specifically from spot to spot. I also feel an important factor to keep in mind is to fish toward where you want to end up, as much as 30yds or more – as opposed to walking straight into the “money hole”. I’m constantly surprised at the amount of fish that I catch in places that in my mind are less likely to produce. With the proper execution.

    Reply
    • The ultimate in heron-like stealth is to not only WADE like a heron,
      but to also WAIT like a heron.

      It’s a predatory feeding behavior called habituation.
      By remaining motionless for several minutes (or more)
      you no longer pose a threat, relaxing trout that may have
      initially been put on high alert by your presence.

      Reply
  7. Probably like everyone who reads your articles, I consume everything Devin Olsen and Lance Egan write and show in videos. But how many times have I seen/read about them quartering upstream at a long distance? Also many times quartering upstream at a short distance.

    And when I have been on the water, quartering upstream, not at distance, I have often thought, surely the nymph, because the leader is angled from the sunken nymph to the tip of my rod, is likely to be under the influence of different seams and hence is not achieving a dead drift.

    So I agree totally with what you have written but how do I reconcile with what you have written and what I believe must happen, with the actions of two guys who catch more than the occasional fish?

    Reply
    • Hi Alan,

      Couple thoughts, here . . .

      Best you can do is test things for yourself. If your trout seem to like cross stream drift, then by all means, fish for them that way. The trout in my region are extremely picky — not because of angler pressure, but because they have a ton of food and the water temps allow them to eat ALL year long. So they’re in no rush to eat. Other regions of the country have much more willing trout. Likewise, some species of trout are much more willing than wild brown trout — especially these ones. And there are times, when I do find that a more attractive drift rather than a natural one pays off. But that is rare here. These trout will make you work.

      https://troutbitten.com/2021/04/21/natural-vs-attractive-presentations/

      Other thing: I think you may be overestimating how often other anglers in videos are actually fishing outside of their rod range. “Quartering upstream” can mean a lot of things. And I could easily describe what I’m talking about as such.

      You said:
      “. . . surely the nymph, because the leader is angled from the sunken nymph to the tip of my rod, is likely to be under the influence of different seams and hence is not achieving a dead drift.”

      Agreed. That’s an inarguable fact, really, as I described in the article above. In water with almost any flow, the nymph drags across, at least a bit. Again, watch what happens when you land a dry fly with a tight line. Also, watch where you nymph goes in and watch where it comes out on the pick up.

      Now, there are ways to mitigate the effect — to lessen it. And in the comp scene, these days there’s an obsession with going lighter and longer. A lighter leader will sag less and therefore pull nymphs across less. (Alex mentioned this above.) But because we’re not limited by comp rules and restrictions here, I would MUCH rather add a Dorsey yarn indy to the rig, go tight to the indy, with no line on the water, and let the indy drift the nymph precisely down one current seam. That, in my experience, is often a far better approach for distance or cross seam work.

      https://troutbitten.com/2020/08/26/euro-nymphing-what-youre-missing-by-following-fips-competition-rules-part-one/

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
    • Hello Dom

      I have exactly the same feeling as Alan; Dom you are right in theory but practically many competitors favor the quartering upstream approach unless fish is very spookyI’m fortunate to fish with some members of the French team and discussed that point many times with them :same answer as Olsen in his Dvd
      I’m a great fan of Troutbitten where I find a lot of informations useful for m’y fishing many thanks for that
      I apologize for my English
      Cheers
      Florent Coca a french angler

      Reply
      • Hi Florent.

        So what’s the answer? I didn’t get that part.

        Beyond what I wrote above in reply to Allen, addressing the question, I’ll add this:

        I also know and fish with some wonderful and talented anglers, some of whom are or were competition anglers. (Sidenote: the best anglers I know are not involved in competition fishing.) And I don’t know anyone who thinks that having line and leader crossing seams gives them a better true dead drift. Do fish eat it? Sure, sometimes. But generally, the more seams are crossed and the more drag occurs, the fewer fish come to the net. As I mentioned above, sometimes drag is attractive to trout, (natural vs attractive article link is above.) But for wild trout in this region, that’s rarely the case.

        But it’s a big world out there, and everything works sometimes. I encourage you to try all of it for yourself. Test without bias. Who cares what you’ve read or seen in videos? Why assume that they know more than you do? Fish your rivers hard. And make your own conclusions. I’ve done that for decades, and I’m still learning. But on this one, there’s not question in what my trout prefer.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
      • Florent, If you wish to describe what you learned from the French team in French, I would be happy to translate it into English for you. Mais, a vrai dire, votre Anglais est excellent.

        Reply
        • Hi Alex thanks for your help, How can we manage it without disturbing the blog?
          Cheers

          Reply
  8. Thank you for the continued great information.

    When you talk about fishing broken water, riffles, pocket water; does this apply also in the winter when the water is in the high 30’s and low 40’s?

    I did a fair amount of fishing this last winter and really didn’t do well. I thought maybe it was because I was focused on the wrong type of water for the season.

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan,

      Good point. It depends on the river and the temps. I don’t enjoy winter fishing in water below about 38 degrees, because trout seem to leave the feeding lies and go to deep holding lies. Not much fun.

      Dom

      Reply
  9. Dom,

    I understand the method you are explaining. When you have covered that piece of water, do you move straight upstream only, or can you move to your side and and fish that piece before moving up? Hope the question makes sense.

    Anthony

    Reply
    • Hi Anthony. Yeah, I understand. That’s totally stream dependent. You can keep going upstream and follow the same seam. Then come back for the next seam. Or you can go across the river and back, like a typewriter. For me, spooking fish would be my first consideration. But if the water permits it, you can follow the one lane up. Sometimes I zig zag too.

      Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply
      • Dom,

        Absolutely does. And a better way to fish it! Thanks for the reply!

        Tight lines!
        Anthony

        Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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