VIDEO: The Golden Ratio of Nymphing

by | Feb 20, 2024 | 10 comments

** NOTE ** Video for the Golden Ratio appears below

There are two parts about the path of a dead-drifted nymph that matter most. The fly should stay in just one lane, and it should travel at the natural speed of the target zone.

On a tight line system, both of these aspects are determined by the rod tip.

The difficulty of achieving these elements to perfection is far greater than many anglers acknowledge. Because the nymph disappears below the surface, fishermen are forgiving, and they often settle on sub-par drifts because they don’t know what to look for — they don’t know how to read the drift and understand if the path of the invisible fly satisfies the requirements.

Is the nymph traveling in just one lane? And is it going the same speed as its parent zone?

Time on the water teaches us how to read the drift. We see the touchdown (the splash) of even the smallest nymphs, so we know our chosen lane. We also learn to read the sighter for contact — not too much and not too little. Trusting all of that, we know the speed of the nymph and its placement by simply looking to where the sighter points.

VIDEO: Troutbitten | Five Keys to Reading the Sighter

Trust. That’s the key. And we can trust the sighter when we cast within the natural limits of our tight line rig. Those limits, that ultimate effectiveness, lies within the Golden Ratio of nymphing. It’s one rod length over and two rod lengths up.

By staying within the Golden Ratio, we can trust that a perfect dead drift is possible, but casting outside of the ratio brings in a confusing array of unsatisfied questions.

So, staying within our rod range of one rod length over assures that the nymph truly can remain in one lane, without being pulled across seams, as it tracks toward the rod tip.

By staying within our range of two rod lengths upstream, we can trust that the leader will not sag and create drag to pull a nymph downstream faster than its target zone.

One rod length over and two rod lengths up. That’s the Golden Ratio. That’s the baseline, and it’s where trust in our drift begins. There are surely moments and situations that call for something different. But a good tight line style starts here, within the Golden Ratio of nymphing.

Here’s a full video on the concept, followed by a full breakdown in the paragraphs below . . .

(Please select 4K or 1080p for best video quality)

Rod Tip Boss

On a Mono Rig, on a euro nymphing system or a long leader style, we should acknowledge the limited range where our presentations are most effective.

One rod length over, and two rod lengths up. It’s the Golden Ratio of nymphing. My friend, Josh Darling, coined this term a while back.

Tight line tactics work because we’re able to keep everything up and off the water. We call this the tight line advantage. Surely there are times when we use a suspender, a dry fly, a yarn indy, or we might even float the sighter. These are also effective tactics, but they complicate this discussion.

READ: Troutbitten | The Tight Line Advantage Across Fishing Styles

While keeping all line off the water, everything tracks toward our rod tip. Regardless of the leader build or the weight at the end of the line, our rod tip is the boss. We are connected by monofilament from rod tip to fly. This is the inherent advantage of the system, and it is not unique to fly anglers. Gear anglers understand this advantage as well, and a tight line rig makes the same thing possible.

Contact, then, brings the advantage of control to the system. But we must operate within the bounds of effectiveness. Knowing that the nymph will always track toward our rod tip on a tight line, we fish just one rod length over to keep the fly in one lane. And we fish two rod lengths up to avoid leader sag. We fish within the Golden Ratio.

Photo by Josh Darling

One Over

Every angler gets lazy about this one — every angler. It takes a commitment to wading, almost constantly, to stay within the Golden Ratio.

Want to fish the next lane just two feet on the other side of that rock? Then wade over two feet.

READ: Troutbitten | We Wade

How far away is one rod length? Don’t guess. Simply drop the rod tip beside you and touch the water. That’s one rod length. Now follow that lane up with your eyes. That’s the lane you can cast into and truly keep the fly in just one seam, all the way down.

Do repeatable things. That’s one of the keys to success in so many life skills. And by holding that distance of one rod length over, we can fish the same angle for hours at a time.

Commitment to one rod length over means we will not often let the fly go past our position. As I showed in the video, I pick up when the fly is almost across from me. After a solid and true backcast, the nymph fires forward toward the next drift.

Trout holding across from you, just ten feet away, are probably spooked or they’re already gone. Likewise, trout below your position holding in the lane just ten feet away from you are also spooked, especially if you just waded up past them.

While fishing just one rod length over, you can elevate your rod tip, allow the nymphs to pass underneath, then drop the rod tip and let the nymphs continue drifting below your position. With skill, you can keep the nymph in the same lane the whole way through. But it requires broken water, dirty water or dumb eager trout to eat in a lane that close.

Last point on one rod length over: I don’t recommend fishing straight upstream. As I showed in the video, fishing inside of your rod reach is uncomfortable, and it limits your retrieve options. Casting upstream doesn’t permit leading with the rod tip. Instead the rod must either lift to recover slack, or slack recovery is all with the line hand. Both can work, but casting one rod length over is more comfortable and introduces more options for getting a true dead drift.

READ: Troutbitten | Face Upstream, Fish Upstream

Photo by Josh Darling

Two Up

Fishing one rod length over takes care of keeping the nymph in one lane.

Remember, the second part of a great dead drift is matching the speed of the target zone. And we take care of that by casting close enough that we keep the influence of our leader off the flies. Two rod lengths up is the other part of the Golden Ratio, and this distance works with all flies and all leaders, light, heavy, thin and thick.

As I show in the video, it’s easy to measure distance on the water. We have a measuring stick in our hands. And if the rod is ten feet, then having ten feet more outside of the rod guides allows for a maximum reach of twenty feet. However, we don’t reach and stretch at the end of the cast; we stop the rod tip higher. We also prefer a tuck cast in most situations. And both of these require more line. So measuring a rod-length of line out of the guides, plus another half of that length, or another few feet, gives us the distance of two rod lengths up when the nymph lands.

Two up is a perfect distance in most nymphing scenarios. It takes discipline not to strip line off and cast further. But instead of lengthening the line, wade another step or two. Remember, do repeatable things, and good results follow.

Two rod lengths upstream is the baseline. Yes, a micro Mono Rig will give you some extra distance and more sagless reach. But only by another five feet or so. And do you need that extra length? Maybe not.

READ: Troutbitten | Fish Closer — Don’t Be a Hero

In every sport, more accuracy and success comes along with less distance. Don’t be a hero. Aim for short but accurate, controlled drifts, by staying within the Golden Ratio of nymphing.

Last point here on fishing two rod lengths up — we’ve said this often on the Troutbitten Podcast. There’s enough weight to counteract any leader sag. Here’s another common principle understood across the wide world of fishing. Do you want to cast further and maintain control? Use more weight.

Weight is a necessity, not a crutch. It’s the fundamental factor of all underwater presentations. Fishing lighter does not mean you’ll inherently get better drifts. Don’t be trapped by that belief. Fishing lighter often means your nymph gets swept away from the trout who have no chance to eat the fly.

Weight counters leader sag. So balance that weight with your leader build and be disciplined about your fishing distance.

Do It

Fly fishing is enjoyable because there are multiple solutions to everything.

Sure, you can fish forty-five degrees, thirty feet across the river. Yes, you’ll catch trout. But those trout will not be eating dead drifts. Your fly cannot and will not be riding in one lane. It will be moving faster than a dead drift as it crosses lanes toward your rod tip. And that . . . is not a dead drift.

Everything works sometimes. And if you find that trout are eating a cross lead or a speed lead more than a true dead drift, then keep it up! No doubt, there are a variety of presentations preferred by trout at every moment.

But a dead drift with a nymph is the baseline presentation. That’s best achieved within the Golden Ratio of nymphing. It’s your baseline, and any deviation should be done with purpose and for good reason.

Fish hard, friends.

 

READ MORE : Troutbitten | Category | Nymphing

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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10 Comments

  1. Outstanding video. As always, interesting and helpful. Enjoyed it for sure. I wondered about this topic. So, thanks.

    Reply
  2. Another great video. Very well explained what a fly fisher needs to do to be very successful on the water.

    Reply
  3. Man! I have been working and working at this and for some reason the triangles you did with your hands and arms really helped me….as well as the overhead shots with the outlines.
    I really enjoy your out-takes as well! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Triangles ….. awesome !. no sag no drag …. Perfect … nice video good to watch and learn from

      Reply
  4. Dom, reading your Troutbitten posts are so incredibly informative. After watching the video, and especially the drone footage, I am totally sold on The Golden Rule. It cured me of the minor mistakes I’ve been making over the years with regard to the “correct” drift. Some things can be said over and over…but visually seeing it from above is self explanatory. PLEASE do more videos

    Reply
  5. This video is outstanding. A lot of questions answered in this video. Thanks

    Reply
  6. Excellent video technically, and as well in reminding me that fishing is supposed to be fun. Too often I find myself cursing a bad cast, etc. From here on the response is ‘One more time.’ Thanks for the good work.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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