** NOTE ** This is the fourth 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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Good dead drifts with a nymph happen only by casting upstream. Just how much upstream and how much across is variable, and those details are covered in the Angle and Approach section of this Troutbitten series. But when we deliver the nymph in the upstream direction, the river sends the fly back to us, creating slack in the leader. It’s our job as attentive anglers, aiming for perfection, to simply recover the slack that is given to us.
While tight line and euro nymphing, pulling downstream too much creates unnatural downstream drag. But leading too little allows slack to build up, putting us out of contact, dampening strike detection, and permitting excess tippet to drift into conflicting currents that destroy the dead drift.
Recovering slack, then, is a critical skill.
After the tuck cast, and after sticking the landing, it’s time to pick up line and find contact. Because it’s the only way to gain control over the leader and have contact with the fly.
The skill of slack maintenance is overlooked too often. And while it seems intuitive, I’ve seen enough good anglers struggle with this seemingly simple skill to know otherwise.
Here’s a breakdown . . .
God gave you two of these things, so why leave one dangling at your side? Use two hands to fly fish.
Many tight line nymphing anglers fish with only their rod hand involved, forcing themselves to do all the slack recovery with their rod tip instead of also using their line hand to manipulate the Mono Rig or fly line. And that can be a good place to start. Simplifying things with an approach similar to Tenkara is a fine way to focus on the other things, like body positioning, casting angles and accuracy. I bring up Tenkara, because it’s a style that forces anglers to fish with a fixed length of line. There is no reel, and there is no line stripping. But once you’re comfortable with the basics of tight line and euro nymphing, then bring in that second hand — yes, even at short range.
Learning to manipulate the line and leader provides us far more control in a wider array of situations. Line hand skills are especially important in tough conditions, like wind or tight cover. So, use ‘em both.
With the line hand involved, we now realize there are three ways to recover slack: one with the hand and two with the rod tip.
With the line hand, recover slack by stripping or hand twisting. But be careful, here. Strip only the slack that is given, and don’t pull or drag the flies through the water with streamer-style stripping. Strip or hand twist only to recover the line, not to move the fly.
With the rod tip, recover slack by lifting. Again, attention to detail is paramount. Don’t lift the fly from its position — don’t alter the fly. Instead, lift only the slack as it is sent back downstream. The rod tip lifts, and the extra line is brought into the air, over the water.
With the rod tip, recover slack by leading with the rod tip. This is the most common way to maintain slack. The nymph goes in, and we lead with the rod tip down one current seam. Beginning anglers think about leading the flies. But advanced anglers focus on leading the tippet and just barely maintaining tension to the nymph by recovering the slack that is given.
So we can recover slack in three ways: by stripping, by raising the rod tip and by leading the rod tip downstream. And while these are basic skills, the heart of advanced nymphing is in the critical ability to recover slack in all three ways.
The Next Step
I fished a tight line nymphing rig blind for over a decade, and then I finally added a sighter to the rig. Also, I believe that indicator nymphing is popular because the indy gives anglers something to look at. But a sighter changes all of that. And even when I fish indicator setups, I still keep a sighter built into the leader, bringing tight line principles over to a suspender style of fishing.
Point is, the sighter provides all the information we need about where the flies are. But first, it tells us if we’ve recovered enough slack. Are we too tight or not tight enough? That’s the next skill in this series of nine essential skills for tight line and euro nymphing — finding contact.
Fish hard, friends.
** Next up is the fifth skill for tight line and euro nymphing — Finding Contact. **
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