** NOTE ** Video for the Lift and Lead appears below.
Also, please find the full Lift and Lead article that introduces this one. There you’ll find a full breakdown of the concept, along with diagrams.
When my nymph enters the water, I want two things to happen. I want it to free fall until it’s near the bottom. Then once the nymph is down — when the fly reaches the strike zone, I want to stop it from falling and just glide it near the riverbed. I can achieve this most efficiently — with any weight — by using what I call the Lift and Lead. I allow the nymph to fall by lifting the rod tip to recover slack. And once depth is achieved I stop lifting and start leading the flies through the zone.
There are a few different ways to achieve a dead drift on a nymph. I’ve written about this in an article titled, Three Ways to Dead Drift a Nymph: Bottom Bounce, Strike Zone Rides and Tracking. For the first two ways, my target zone is near the bottom, and the more time I spend with my flies in the strike zone, the more trout I catch. That’s my guiding light principle for nymphs.
Remember the following, and remember it always: EVERY weighted nymph in your box will hit the bottom very quickly if it is not attached to a tippet. Likewise, the smallest split shot plummets through the column if you drop it before attaching it to the tippet. Weight falls, and it falls quickly when it’s untethered. Try this for yourself. Drop in a visible nymph or split shot. Even the lightest weights make it to the riverbed, in three feet of fast water, in about two seconds. Never forget it.
The attached tippet is what keeps our fly from falling, and it’s our job to manage the tippet in a way that relieves tension to the fly, so it can fall naturally. The most common solutions for this are to choose thinner tippet or use more weight. Both are fine solutions, and sometimes necessary. But the better method might be to allow the weight you already have to free fall to the bottom. That’s where the lift comes in.
As you’ll see in the video, and as you’ll see in the diagrams of the companion article HERE, lifting the rod tip should not lift the flies. We are only recovering the slack created by the flies drifting downstream in our direction. Lift rather than lead at first. Then, critically, it’s time to stop lifting and only lead the flies.
Sadly, leading through the drift is becoming a lost skill. The current trend to fish lighter and longer in every water type has many anglers believing that leading the flies doesn’t look natural. That’s not true. And it’s helpful to understand that you always have influence over the nymph — your tippet always affects the fly — or it would already be on the bottom. (Remember what happens to a weighted fly not attached to tippet?) A #18 beadhead fly tied to 8X and a Micro Thin Mono Rig is still being steered, being bossed around, by the tippet — or it would reach the bottom in just a few seconds.
So then . . . surrender to that fact. From light rigs to heavy, tight line anglers are always taking the fly somewhere, regardless of the weight. And the heart of good tight line tactics is the ability to lead the flies. That’s the fun part. That’s the fishing part. So learn to lead the flies.
I’ve had anglers tell me they don’t want to drag the flies downstream. Neither do I. But if you don’t lead the flies, once they’re in the strike zone, they will continue to drop and simply hit the bottom. And that doesn’t look natural either. Instead, think about leading the attached tippet so the fly can drift naturally.
Leading is an art. It’s a never ending process of learning a small piece of water and guiding the nymph through it naturally. That . . . is fishing.
Remember, the lift to allows flies to fall without tension. Then we switch to the lead once the flies are in the zone. Maintain the same sighter angle and height throughout the drift. Aim to find a balance with the fly, with just enough tension to keep it from dropping, and enough influence to keep it coming along. Help the fly through the strike zone, because it cannot do it on it’s own. Weight wants to fall, not drift. So help the nymph drift with a good lead.
There is so much more about the Lift and Lead in the video below and in the companion article to this one. Dig into these resources and you’ll have a complete picture. Take the time to learn the Lift and Lead on the water, and you’ll have something very special. Lift the flies to allow them to fall. Then lead to stop the fall, and help them glide through the strike zone.
Here’s that companion article link again:
And here’s the video . . .
(Please select 4K or 1080p for best video quality)
Nymphing is a complicated game. Tight line tactics are tough. No, fishing doesn’t have to be work. But if we approach this endeavor with concern for the details, the joy of presenting small food forms — the nymphs that trout eat most — comes to light.
Have fun out there, and fish hard, friends.
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