#3. Sticking the Landing: Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

by | Jul 12, 2021 | 8 comments

** NOTE ** This is the third 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.

— — — — — —

So you’ve waded into the perfect position to present the flies in one lane. You’re faced upstream and casting up two and over one rod length. So the flies have a chance to drift drag free, guided by your rod tip, because your angle and approach are excellent.

Next up is a good tuck cast, not just to get deeper quicker, but to have full control over the fly and the tippet placement. You’ve learned to cast tight loops with a contact rig (just like a fly line), and the dreaded lob is gone. Now you make the cast. And with a fly-first entry, you choose to allow a bit of controlled slack in the tippet. It’s a moderate tuck cast, allowing the fly to free fall through two feet of moving currents before it reaches the strike zone near the riverbed.

It’s a great tuck. And if you have the next step right, the fly will reach the bottom in no more than a second or two. But if you do the next thing wrong, the fly will drag. It’ll take twice as long to reach the strike zone, you’ll struggle for good contact with the flies, and when you do get it, the drift will be more than half over.

So the next step is critical. What is it?

Stick the landing on the sighter.

The Perfect Ten

In a previous article on tight line and euro nymphing with the Mono Rig, I detailed the tactic of sticking the landing. I’ll cover it again here and flesh out more details, but I strongly recommend reading the other article. Consider it as supporting material for this one, and do your homework.

(Remember, Troutbitten reads more like a book than a blog. And the best way to learn things around here is to follow the in-article links like this one.)

READ: Troutbitten | Stick the Landing While Tight Lining

How do you stick the landing after the cast? Think of a tumbling gymnast, somersaulting and twisting on a balance beam, the uneven bars or a floor routine. At the end of all those acrobatics, she lands on two feet and does not move. The perfect landing results in no side steps and no leaning to regain balance or recover. The gymnast’s goal is to stick the landing — to end in the final position perfectly, rather than stepping or struggling to find it after the landing.

Your sighter is that gymnast. It turns over in the air, sending the tippet and fly to the target with precisely the entry and slack that you choose. And when the fly hits, the sighter lands above the water at exactly the angle it will need to gain contact, just seconds later.

At what angle and how far off the water should it be? Those are fair questions, and you already know what I’ll say next. It depends. But let’s try for forty-five degrees and a foot above the surface. If the water is two feet deep in medium current and you’re running five feet to your point fly, then forty-five degrees and a foot off the water is a good start.

Sticking the landing. The sighter lands at the angle and depth where it will eventually (soon) gain contact.

Honestly, forty-five degrees is a great baseline for the sighter in most situations. Then, as you learn the currents and find the strike zone on the lane you’re working, you’ll refine that angle on successive casts and drifts.

So, learn to stick the landing at a forty-five.

Keep It Dry

I emphasized this in the other article too — it is imperative to keep the sighter off the water. There are surely times when we float the sighter, but this is not our standard approach. Learn to stick the landing. Keep the sighter dry. And then deviate from there.

Laying the sighter down just to pick it up a second later is a terrible habit that hurts the drift. Line on the water creates tension that drags the flies downstream as the line is picked up. So stick the landing, and that unnecessary tension and drag never happens.

Another bad habit connected to dropping the sighter is dipping the rod tip or reaching with the tip to finish the cast. It is very difficult to drop the rod parallel to the water but also stick the landing on the sighter. Instead, do not drop the rod tip lower than where it will be for the drift. Stop the rod tip higher and stick the landing on the sighter. Dropping the tip lays line on the water. Remember, any unnecessary line on the surface takes away our tight line advantage.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Casting — Don’t Reach

Slack and Tension

What we call tight line nymphing is something of a misnomer. Contact systems are not only about contact. The trick to all of this — the real magic of the magician — is knowing where your contact is, but deliberately drifting the nymphs without contact at certain points through the drift.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Lining— Not All That Tight

Good tight line and euro nymphing anglers learn to slip in and out of contact as the fly drifts downstream. But the best anglers learn to adjust the amount of slack — and therefore, time to contact — within the cast. That’s the art of a good tuck cast.

We tuck and then stick the landing on the sighter at an angle and depth where we expect to catch that contact. The moment after the cast finishes, we are likely out of touch with the flies. Good! That’s a deliberate decision. The flies can free fall into position for a second or two without tension from our rig. This slack, this lack of tension with our rod tip, is mere inches, not feet of slack. Even a deep tuck provides only a few inches of slack for the fly to fall. But those few inches make all the difference.

READ: Troutbitten | Nymphing — Free Fall and the Drift

When the fly hits the water and the necessary tippet follows, we stick the landing on the sighter. In these brief moments of slack, the sighter may look limp, wavy or nervous — but just barely. We want it free from tension, but not by much and not for long.

Of course, the more slack we send into the tuck, the harder it is to control everything, to stick the landing and lead to the point of contact with the nymphs.

So let’s tackle one more facet of sticking the landing . . .

The Next Move

There are surely more than nine things to get right in a euro nymphing cast and drift, because each skill has multiple components.

After the tuck cast, the fly enters first and the sighter sticks the landing. Great. But now what?

If the rod remains static, the sighter will go limp, more vertical and never have a chance to gain real contact. Understand this: The river is pushing the nymph and the tippet downstream, creating slack, so our rod tip must either lift or lead to take the next steps — recoveribng slack and finding contact.

READ: Troutbitten | The Lift and Lead

In the slowest water, the rod tip need not move much at first. But in the fastest water, we must begin leading, it seems, before the fly ever touches the water.

All of these variations are an effort to find contact on the sighter. Tuck the fly and stick the landing first, then recover slack and look for that contact. It’s coming next . . .

Fish hard, friends.


** Next up is the fourth skill for tight line and euro nymphing — Recovering Slack. **

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Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. This is my biggest problem area these days. I get it….in theory at least. But I’m really struggling to actually do it well in practice. The main thing is that my line tends to flop and bounce around a bit once that fly/tippet hits the water. I just can’t seem to effectively calm it all down and I waste time and of course a good bit of my drift. I’m trying to stop my rod tip sooner/later, trying to stop the cast a little more/less crisp,
    trying to put more/less oomph into the cast, trying to tip up/down at bit at the last moment…..but nothing seems to actually “work”.

    I think Dom, that if you could just come out west and go fishing with me for a day or two, you could show me in person, and help me work it out. I’m sure that would help.


    • Hi Dave. I get it. I really do. I see this trouble almost every day while guiding. And that’s why I started writing this series. I feel like I’ve been through this about 500 times. Ha. And that’s not a joke. There are 9 skills to learn. If you actually have some wave and unsteadiness on your sighter at the landing, that’s a GOOD thing, for a second or two. Most anglers land with contact because they never take the step to get comfortable with that bit of slack at first. The fourth skill is finding contact. That’s what you’re struggling with. And that article comes next week. Until them, try leading more aggressively to tighten things up right after landing. You’ll get it.
      You’re on the right track.

  2. Good stuff. Sighter angle is somewhat dependent on the distance you are fishing, if you are fishing far away upstream the angle will have to be shallower, unless you happen to have a rod tip that can be held 20 ft in the air to maintain the geometry of 45 degree angle. I usually lead the flies and raise my rod tip as the flies track downstream and eventually end at a 45 to 90 degree angle (almost vertical sighter) depending on the speed of the drift and water characteristics/speed…I like probably a 60 degree angle the best.

    I’ve also noticed that the stiffness and thinness of the sighter plays some role in determining whether the slack “curve” goes fully away. For example, with 5x indicator tippet and very heavy flies, the sighter will be go taut the second contact is achieved. However if you are using one of the “old” amnesia sighters made of thick/stiff mono and a lightly weighted nymph, the sighter may never go completely “taut” despite being in contact with the nymphs…and that little bit of curve/coil in a stiff sighter can also be a good strike indicator (i.e. when that goes away and it straightens you know a fish – or rock – has interrupted the drift).

    • Hi Greg,

      Good point on the distance casting. The further away you cast, the more you are forced into a shallow angle to your rod tip. I don’t like that. And as you said, you spend a good bit of your drift waiting for the fly to fall. My strategy is to cast closer (as I mentioned up two and over one rod length — and I covered this more in part one). And at closer, more reasonable tight lining distance, I have the choice of sighter angle steep or shallow. Again, it’s a great advantage that is missed by casting further away.


      Regarding the bow in the sighter. I think too much is made about that. And as you brought up, it’s very much dependent on all the other factors, like fly weight, depth, angle, etc. So I don’t rely on the sighter bow or look for it too much. I’ve learned to read my sighter without that bow. There’s just a certain loose quality to it when it’s out of contact vs in contact. Of course, fly weight matters there too. More about all of that in part four! Lastly, I build my sighters for power, and that’s why I don’t care much about that bow or limpness.


      You’ve clearly thought all this through too, and you have your own preferences. I like it!


      • Yeah I hear you. I think a bow in a sighter can be of use in situations where the speed of the current/drift is very slow. I think about a sighter signaling a take in several ways:

        1. direct tension (i.e. you feel the strike, i don’t like this because this is too “late” in my opinion and gives the fish a change to spit the nymph)
        2. pause in drift (e.g. sighter drifting along at a fixed angle, and then the drift speed slows)
        3. change in sighter angle (e.g. fish takes the nymph and swims upstream or downstream, thereby altering entry angle of sighter)
        4. straightening of any slack in the sighter

        I usually use a pause or change in drift as the primary signal of a take, and this is easier to see when the drift is fast, IMO. In very slow sections, it can be harder to detect. If your sighter is almost stationary anyway, it’s not going to show a pause in drift. So sometimes I find a the slack going out of my sighter a useful strike indicator in those situations.

        I pretty much fish 2 extremes now: 20lb monorig with your old/original stiff amnesia sighter, or extreme microthin w/30ft of very limp 4x sighter. Each has it’s place, and each works very well for certain tactics.

        One thing I tried, which I kind of liked – I used a colored stiff japanese fluorocarbon of 6lb for a 30ft microthin leader rather than a mono microthin leader, and that was a truly “sensitive” leader. People always says microthin mono leaders are sensitive in a tactile sense (i.e. feeling the strike), but I think that is nonsense – mono has so much stretch it is the least sensitive material. Spin fishing guys (including me) will tell you that braid (no stretch) or fluoro (less stretch) is much preferable to mono when it comes to sensitivity. My microthin fluoro set up was super sensitive in a tactile sense with instant hooksets and less dropped fish…in the end I went back to 4x mono because the fluoro was more dense and sagged more than 4x mono.

        • Nice. I love the breakdown there. I experimented with fluoro as well, because no doubt it is more sensitive. Same result though as you. Sags more. Also what I had held a coil coming off the reel.

          Agree with your take on reading the sighter. One thing I may do differently in my system than you . . . I don’t tight line slow water. Instead, I use a Mono Rig with a suspender — preferably a Dorsey. I find that I can line up the flies and the indy in one seam, even casting across from me, if necessary. And then, I allow the indy to do the job of leading flies down one seam. In slow water, it does a better job than any of us can. And with contact to the flies, it is super sensitive. You ever do that?


          • The fluoro I used was YGK Ultra Sight in 1.5, it actually straightened out quite nicely with a pull, as good as chameleon or amnesia. I think I’ll fish it again late winter/early spring when the water is up and cold, and I am mostly just nymphing close (<15ft) with heavy patterns – in those situations it was awesome. Trying to nymph at distance was nowhere near as good as a microthin mono leader though.

            Agree with tightlining slow water, for sure suspender is better, and I do it a lot with a yarn indicator or dry/dropper, especially in long sections of slow water. Sometimes when you are in pocket water, and there is a nice very slow but short area of slack water downstream of a large boulder it's nice to just throw a cast in there quickly and let it sit or drift ever so slowly without taking the 20 seconds to add a suspender…but maybe I'm just lazy.

          • Nice. The Tenkara lines I’ve tried were thicker than that. They would stretch out fine, but I’m saying when the line went back on the spool it coiled again pretty quickly. Honestly, so does Lazar Line and things like it in cold weather. That’s why Chameleon is such a good material for a Mono Rig. Much less issue with that.

            Good stuff, Greg.


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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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