Last week, I published a video about how we can get the fly deeper. It’s a companion video that pairs with a widely shared article that I wrote a couple of years ago. Every angler who has ever sent flies under the surface quickly learns that trout are near the bottom. Rarely do they hang out mid-column or just under the surface. Especially in the water types where we most often fish nymphs and streamers, trout keep their bellies near the bottom and look for food to come to them.
There really are seven different ways to get your fly deeper. And I often walk my guided guests through these methods as we fish nymphs and streamers throughout the day. Everyone understands adding weight. They get the concept of allowing more tippet under the water to get deeper. And they easily grasp the drag of material resistance, understanding that a bushy fly sinks slower than a streamlined one of the same size and weight. The tuck cast gives people trouble, but they get the idea. They also know that cross currents create drag, and they intuitively understand that a longer drift allows for more drop time and greater depth.
But . . . when I bring up the difference between dropping and drifting, their eyebrows scrunch up.
Once you send that weight or a weighted fly to the end of the cast and it enters the water, your job is twofold.
Let it drop. And then help it drift.
What’s the Difference?
Take the lightest beadhead fly in your fly box and drop it (unattached) in two feet of moving water. Or do the same with a #6 split shot. In both cases the fly or the shot reaches the riverbed in no time at all. I’d say that, even in the heaviest flows, the fly or shot finds rock in no more than two seconds. In lighter flows, even less.
Always remember that example. Without our tippet attached to the fly, it sinks easily. It sinks naturally. It sinks quickly. And it’s our job to allow that to happen.
Most often, I want my nymph near the bottom as soon as possible, and then I’ll try to keep it drifting through the strike zone. I aim for a free fall of the nymph — the kind of drop where my tippet has no influence over the fly. Trout eat more flies on a free fall than a tension drop anyway. And if I can allow the fly to fall without my influence, I catch more trout on the drop, and I get into the strike zone quicker where most hits come anyway.
Free fall. Then let it drop. That’s the concept. And there are a few different ways to allow that to happen.
Once again, we arrive at the useful tuck cast. Because if want the fly to fall naturally, immediately upon entry, there must be some slack in the line following a fly-first entry. However, here’s what makes the tuck cast tricky. Give the fly too much slack, and the extra tippet will be pulled in various directions by grabby crosscurrents in the three dimensional underworld below the surface.
So we tuck cast with precision, with measured control over the fly entry and the tippet entry. We allow the fly to free fall because we are out of touch, but just barely. We know where we’ll gain that perfect contact, and we are ready to detect strikes on the drop.
Don’t Lead Yet
Just let it drop. Many anglers try to land with contact, in fear that they will miss strikes while the fly drops into position. Truth is, tension on the drop produces less strikes, as the fly moves downstream and takes longer to drop into the strike zone.
Anglers landing with contact also tend to lead downstream immediately after entry, to keep that contact. But as I mentioned in the video. If you are leading a nymph or streamer, it’s not dropping as efficiently as it could if you’d simply allow it to fall.
Let it drop. Allow for that motion downward. Leading or stripping takes the fly somewhere else, so don’t do that yet. Instead, allow the fly to fall.
A great way to do this is what I call the Lift and Lead.
The words we choose matter. Long ago, in a college English class, I had a professor who stressed this point all semester long: As writers and educators, our words carry concepts and connotations, so it’s our job to understand those meanings, to predict misunderstandings and choose the best terms.
What we do with a nymph under the water, specifically with a tight line presentation, is subject to a host of complicated terms that confuse the conversation.
Such is the case with “leading.” Leading does not mean to drag the flies downstream. Instead, we are recovering the slack that is given and barely altering the fly’s course. But we must acknowledge, if we don’t do something once the fly has fallen to the strike zone, it will next touch the riverbed. After that, it will find something to hang us up. Leading, then, is what we do with a fly to prevent it from dropping any further.
This concept, this skill, is the most difficult thing an angler who’s fishing with underwater presentations must do on the water. You might work your whole life and never perfect it.
For me, there’s a difference between leading, tracking and guiding the flies. And I’ve written a full series on this concept:
For our purposes, leading means it’s time to stop the fly from falling. We’ve let the fly drop on a free fall, now we help it drift by leading it. Stop its progress downward (don’t let it drop anymore), and guide it downstream.
That’s the tactic. Help it drift.
Remember two things that a nymph should do when it hits the water, and separate them into two actions with your fly rod. Let it drop and then help it drift. That’s great fishing.
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Enjoy the day.
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