** Note ** This is Part Three of a Troutbitten short series about what tight line anglers might be missing by following competition rules. You can find parts one and two here:
What you’re missing by following FIPS competition rules — Part One
What you’re missing by following FIPS competition rules — Part Two
In recent years, the fly fishing industry has built a bank of knowledge and a category of gear around euro nymphing, which is fairly described as fly fishing under FIPS competition rules. This is odd, because the vast majority of anglers who are interested in tight line tactics also have no interest in competitions. And yet, the gear they are offered, the gear they are led to, is very much designed and specialized around a strict set of rules. The gear is built for competitive anglers. Truly, it is made to accommodate and work around a strange set of limits and rules that govern leader design.
I’d estimate that well over half of what I do on the water with a tight line system would not fall under competition-legal standards.
What I call the Troutbitten Mono Rig is a hybrid system for fly fishing with a long leader, using solid fly casting fundamentals to bring the tight line advantage to nymphs with and without an indicator, to streamers, to dry-dropper rigs and sometimes even pure dries.
That Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig is too long to be comp legal. I also (sometimes) attach things to it like a Backing Barrel, an indicator, supplemental split shot or a drop shot. None of that is comp legal either. I also routinely fish two flies much closer than FIPS rules would allow for.
Why? Because the versatility that I enjoy in my approach is fun. Because many of these adjustments are better suited for the moment, and because these rig modifications simply catch more trout. I’m not beholden to any set of rules other than what my state’s fish commission dictates. So I choose what works best — almost always.
So Then . . .
The purpose of this Troutbitten short series is to highlight the FIPS rule restrictions that limit tackle and technique. It’s also intended to show how those limitations affect an average angler, who often fishes under competition rules without ever knowing it.
One important point: This article series should not be read as an opinion against competition fly fishing. Sure, I’ve made it clear before that competing while fishing is not for me. But I have respect for anyone out there, in any style, putting in the time, fishing hard and enjoying themselves on the water. Do your thing.
Instead, this Troutbitten short series is intended to point out the shortcomings and limitations of a set of rules that few people seem to talk about. I’ve even heard it argued that these rules help anglers catch more trout. But I will argue strongly against that notion, as limitations rarely lend an advantage.
To recap, Part One focused on a FIPS rule that disallows anything attached to the leader but the flies themselves. This rule drastically limits a fly angler’s ability to adjust to many common situations on the water.
Part Two focused on the FIPS leader-length restriction and how that limit dramatically changes the options for leader formulas.
The FIPS leader rules begin what I call a downward spiral of adjustment — of concessions and compensations in other parts of the leader, in the flies, and in the presentations. The end result absolutely catches trout. But these rules and adjustments box the angler into a narrow set of tactics while using a tight line. And these limitations just aren’t necessary unless you are a competition angler.
Now let’s get to part three . . .
THREE: The Distance Between Flies
Competition rules dictate the minimum distance between flies as 50 cm. That’s roughly 20 inches. (Article 29)
I remember first placing my nymphs about two feet apart because that’s what Joe Humphreys recommended. You gotta start somewhere, and I didn’t question Hump’s wisdom for many years, not until I developed my own confidence to solve my own river problems.
The point is, twenty inches or so is a great distance of separation for a pair of nymphs, and it’s what I still choose most often. But there are many times in each season when I’d rather fish a pair of nymphs at half that distance, simply because it provides a greater advantage.
Here’s why . . .
Upper and Lower
Quick question: when fishing anything under the surface, what are you most in touch with?
My answer . . .
You are most in touch with the heaviest thing on your line. This makes sense when you think of a tight line system. And if you’ve fished much with these rigs, you can feel that control, that contact, directly with the heavier nymphs, with the split shot, with the drop shot or with the streamer. You are most in touch and most in control of the heaviest thing down there, and anything lighter is very much along for the ride.
With that in mind, consider why the most common configuration for two nymphs in a modern nymphing rig is with the heaviest fly at the point. Let’s say you are fishing a larger, heavy fly and a smaller, light one. By putting the light fly on a tag twenty inches above the heavier one, you are in-touch with the light fly on your way to the heavier fly.
This rig choice absolutely provides the best strike detection and the most control over the whole system. It also allows for two flies to effectively and predictably fish two levels.
Now let’s do the opposite. Extend the tippet a bit by tying another twenty-inch length to the end, right where the heavy fly was. Leave a tag and tie the heavy fly to it. That heavy fly will ride in the same position, near the bottom of the river. But now, clip the lighter fly from that upper tag and tie it to the point position, twenty inches further away from the heavy fly, from you and your rod tip.
With the light fly on the point like this, we are no longer in perfect contact with the light fly. Instead, it is on a twenty inch leash. It is somewhere in a twenty inch radius of the heavy fly. In reality, the fish that eats the light fly needs to move the heavy fly for us to register a take — because, remember, we are always in touch with the heaviest thing on the line.
That can be okay, but . . .
With the above scenarios laid out, our issues with limiting the distance between flies to a minimum of twenty inches start to become apparent.
In the first scenario, I might want the lighter fly (up top on a tag), riding closer to the same depth as the bottom fly. And by riding that tag only ten or twelve inches up, I can keep the top fly much closer to the strike zone. It simply rides lower than if it was spaced twenty inches from the point fly.
This becomes especially important during a third of the year, when trout in cold water hold low and feed low, usually unwilling to rise to a nymph that is out of the strike zone. At those times, riding a smaller fly twenty inches up is a wasted effort.
So then, why not ride the smaller fly as the point? That way, the heavier fly does the job of getting both flies down, and the smaller fly can ride through the same strike zone as its heavier counterpart. This is a fine solution, but do you remember that twenty inch leash? In the complex currents of a river, being twenty inches away most often puts two nymphs in a different current seam. They might both be in the strike zone, but they too often drift in different lanes. So the presentation of the light fly suffers greatly. We like to think that it is tracking along behind the heavier fly, but my testing repeatedly shows that this is not the case.
So what’s the solution?
Keep the flies closer together. Again, try ten or twelve inches, from the heavy fly to the trailing light fly. You have a much greater chance of keeping everything in one lane or seam, and strike detection is greatly improved.
This, of course, is not permitted under competition rules, but it is absolutely the best solution.
What This Rule Does to the Flies and Everything Else
Good anglers, competition or otherwise, understand the problems at hand with the twenty inch restriction. So they begin to accommodate . . .
A common solution is to fish one fly. There are good arguments to be made for fishing one fly in thin water with spooky trout or generally technical water with the most complex seams. But the truth is, a two nymph approach catches more trout under general conditions — if the setup is good. And sometimes, that setup means keeping the flies closer together than twenty inches.
Anglers who choose to fish one fly and who won’t use supplemental weight (split shot or drop shot) must now pack all the weight necessary into a tungsten bead and some lead wraps. But what if trout aren’t eating bigger flies? The most you can get out of a 2.5mm beadhead and some lead wraps is about 20 centigrams. So how can you get that 20 cg to the bottom? Use lighter tippet. Some anglers will also turn to a thinner leader, thinking to avoid line sag at a few extra feet, because a thicker leader weighs more than the fly does, and something must be sacrificed.
That’s the downward spiral . . .
Here’s the easier solution: Use the fly that fish are eating, and employ a little extra weight on the leader if necessary. Or . . . fish two weighted flies closer together.
For every angler, it is critical to understand what makes your fishing system work.
And for the tight line and euro nymphing angler, it is these three things:
- The elimination of a traditional fly line (removing sag and drag)
- Using a sighter to show you everything about what is happening below
- Limiting the diameters of tippet under the water
Note, it is not the flies themselves or the lack of split shot, it is not the leader length and it is not the distance of twenty inches between flies. None of that is critical to success. In fact, those restrictions actually limit our available tactics. They hamstring the angler from adjusting freely for the conditions and meeting trout at every bend.
I’ll finish with this . . .
If you choose to fish under FIPS rules, I encourage you to do so by choice, with your eyes wide open and for good reason. Maybe you like to compete or you plan to someday, so you want to practice within those restrictions. But if not, then take a fresh look at why you are choosing your flies, your leaders, your fly rods and your tactics. And be sure that you’ve thought through both the benefits and the consequences inherent.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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