Last week, I published an article about the three ways to aim for a dead drift underneath the water. I’ve had some really in-depth comments and reactions come in across the channels. There are a lot of you out there who love the detailed game of nymphing.
Here’s a question that I received a few times about the topic . . .
I love what Troutbitten is doing with the podcasts and videos. But I’ll admit, I still look forward to your technical articles the most, because no other medium allows for such details.
Your latest piece about three ways to dead drift nymphs has me thinking a lot. I’ve been out there fishing twice since I read it, and I have some feedback, some thoughts and a question.
I learned to Euro nymph about a year ago. I hired a guide, and we fished the Truckee River. My guide was insistent that I should be OUT of touch with the nymphs. It was very hard for me, but everything was hard that day (HA), because it was all new.
Knowing that what you and others teach about nymphing runs counter to that, I asked my guide why. Why be out of touch with the nymphs? Wouldn’t that limit strike detection, and wouldn’t extra tippet get caught up in other currents of water?
His answer was this: “If you are in contact with the nymph, it won’t look natural, because it can’t move naturally. Leading the fly is bad because it just drags the fly along,” he said.
I spent most of that day not having much confidence in where my nymph was. But I learned a lot, and my guide was knowledgeable. Since then, I’ve gotten better at Euro nymphing, and I catch trout on most trips. Sometimes I even catch a lot! But I will say, most of my success comes when I feel like I am in control of the flies and when I do have contact. So I tend to use heavier weights as time goes by, because I like the results. Meaning, I catch more fish!
But am I doing this wrong? From your article it sounds like I probably aim for strike zone rides the most and end up bottom bouncing a bit.
Thank you for the Troutbitten resource.
While I agree that too much contact or too much influence over the nymph can look unnatural, I disagree that being out of contact is the best approach. I often do what we call slipping contact, where we try to ride the line between contact and influence vs no contact and less influence.
But, as all of this applies to the article in question, it’s important to understand that you cannot fish a nymph without influencing the fly. Here’s what I mean . . .
The idea that you can be out of touch with your nymph, allowing it to drop and then drift without any angler influence is another myth in fly fishing. It likely comes from mistakenly bringing over dry fly fishing concepts and applying them under the water.
When weight enters the equation, everything changes. With a dry fly riding the surface, we can see it travel with the current with no effect from the attached line, if we provide slack to the dry in all the right ways. And for a dead drifted dry fly, that’s the objective.
However, achieving the same goal on a nymph — a dead drift — is impossible to do in the same way with the same strategies. In even mildly mixed currents, extra and uncontrolled slack gets pulled across currents and among the three-dimensional movements of a river. So we try to stay tight, or close to it, to keep extra tippet out of the water instead of under the water. And whatever must be under the water, we keep it in one lane. This is the tight line advantage.
I’ve written about all of this often and published a video on the differences in achieving real dead drifts up top and underneath.
All that is to say that we always have influence over our nymph, whether we like it or not. And there are two reasons for that.
First, remember, the attached tippet is also in the river. And it is always being influenced by various current speeds.
Second, our nymphs, and anything else fished underneath, must be fished with weight. Whether it’s a tungsten bead or a split shot, weight drops. It wants to pull the nymph down. And for even the lightest nymph, being tied to a tippet is the only thing that keeps it from sinking immediately and landing on the riverbed.
To prove this, take a random, visible nymph, with light weight and toss it into two feet of clear water (no tippet attached). If you can track it, you’ll see the fly touch the bottom in just a second or two. In the fastest water, the nymph still makes it to the bottom quickly. Also, in the deepest water, the nymph still makes it to the bottom quickly. Because, without influence from the tippet, the nymph simply drops. Sure, it travels with the current a bit, but even a seven centigram fly — a #18 beadhead in my box — drops to the bottom if no tippet is attached. And there is no drift — no time when it is moving along in just one layer.
So, without the attached tippet and without influence from the angler, there is no lengthy travel with the currents — there is no drift on a nymph, and it does not look natural. I think it’s helpful to understand and acknowledge this fact, and then work with it. So understand, it’s our tippet that helps keep the fly moving along and drifting in the river.
We can certainly have less effect on our nymphs — less contact and less deliberate leading. We can do our best to let the river make the decisions about where the nymph goes next. I call this tracking the flies, and it can be a fun, effective way to fish.
It sounds like your guide was teaching you this method — what I call tracking. But in my opinion, he had part of the equation wrong. Because, remember, it’s impossible to have no influence over the fly. We might limit our influence, but the attached line, and the inherent weight necessary to fish nymphs, always demands some kind of responsibility — some kind of contact and control — over the nymphs.
Lastly, I think it’s excellent that you are experimenting and finding success. Choosing more or less weight is the fundamental change in this nymphing game, and you are seeing the benefits of both sides.
As I wrote in the article, having the facility to fish all styles and all methods, makes you a well rounded, versatile angler. It’s a lot of fun out there.
Fish hard, friends.
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