READ

Two Ways to Splat a Terrestrial Dry Fly and Follow It With a Dead Drift

Trout love the plop of a terrestrial — sometimes. But we catch even more by setting the fly up for a dead drift after the plop. It’s not easy, but it makes all the difference . . .

The Spooky Trout: Find Their Blind Spot

Understand that trout can’t turn their heads, and they don’t look behind themselves casually.

And from a fisherman’s perspective, as one who has spent decades accidentally scaring the fish I intended to catch, I assure you that the best way to approach a trout is from behind . . .

Aiden’s First Brown Trout

Hundreds of times Aiden has snagged the bottom, pulled the rod back, and either asked me if that was a fish or has told me flatly, “I think that was a fish.”  This time, he finally experienced the certainty that a couple of good head shakes from a trout will give you . . .

Part Two: What you’re missing by following FIPS competition rules — Leader Restrictions

Leader length restrictions unnecessarily limit the common angler from taking full advantage of tight line systems. Such rules force the angler to compensate with different lines, rods and tactics. And none of it is as efficient as a long, pure Mono Rig that’s attached to a standard fly line on the reel. Here’s a deep dive on the limitations of using shorter leaders and comp or euro lines.

Waves and Water

. . . But when all of that dries up, when the travel seems too long, when dawn comes too early and when chasing a bunch of foot-long trout seems like something you’ve already done, then what’s left — always — is the river . . .

Quick Tips — Set the hook at the end of every drift

I watched the line, waiting for some indication of a strike and intently expecting a fish to eat the nymph. Then at the end of the drift I looked away, scanning for my next target upstream. When I lifted the line for the backcast, I was surprised to find a trout on the line. He bounced off quickly because I never got a good hookset.

That’s happened to you a hundred times too, right?

Nymphing is an art of the unseen, and no matter the material attachments we add to the line for visual aid of a strike, trout take our flies without us knowing about it — probably way more often than we can imagine.

That’s why it’s best to end every underwater drift with a hook set. Do this with nymphs and with streamers, at the end of every dead drift presentation, and you’ll find unexpected trout attached to your line. The short set also prepares the line and leader for your next backcast. Here’s how . . .

Are You Spooking Trout?

All trout continuously adapt to their surroundings — they learn what to expect, and they spook from the unexpected.

So, stealth on the water and understanding what spooks a trout is foundational knowledge in fly fishing. Trout are easily scared. Are you spooking fish?

Depth, Angle, Drop: Three Elements of a Nymphing Rig

Good nymphing is both an art and a science. When an angler first dives into the nymphing game, the technical challenges (the science) may dominate. All the options for rigs and modifications may be confusing for a while. It might take years, but eventually we get comfortable enough that all the adjustments become second nature. At that point, I think art can take over once again.

Each of the three elements influences the others. They are interactive and woven together . . .

GEAR

This is what I fish with, season after season . . .

Here’s a large and growing collection of my favorite gear. Many of the products below include links to Troutbitten articles for more background and more reasons why I prefer all this stuff in the first place.

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This is all gear that I’ve used extensively and believe in. This is what I fish with.

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RECOMMENDED

FLY RODS

I guide a hundred days a year, so I see a lot of fly fishing gear. I’m a teaching guide. And inevitably, I spend some time with the client’s rod in my own hands as I demonstrate a casting motion or a drifting technique. There’s an impressive field of rods on the market today. And the ones listed below are the most outstanding to me.

A dedicated angler forms a deep attachment with a good fly rod. “I don’t know,” he’ll say, “it just feels right.” Exactly! These preferences and devotions to rods and reels is personal. And what may be perfect for me, may not be for you.

I value versatility on the water. It’s a primary factor in how I choose a rod for the day. And most of my choices here reflect that.

Every one of the rods below handles dry flies beautifully — yes, even the “specialized” nymph rods. For me, the real test is how a fly rod handles a little weight on the end of the line. Can it do that with finesse? These rods can.

I hope you connect with one of these rods. And when you do form that bond . . . you’ll know it.

Hardy Zephrus FWS

I do a lot of things on the river with one rod. And this is my favorite tool for doing everything. It has the perfect tip for tight lining with a Mono Rig — small flies and large, light and heavy. The Zephrus suits my tuck casting style well. This rod also has enough stiffness in the tip push around an indy or to perform jerks and jigs on streamers while still maintaining excellent contact. I like it best in the ten foot four weight. This is an extremely versatile rod.

READ: For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?

Orvis H3F

This is the most sensitive rod I’ve ever owned. Fishing underneath, you can paint the bottom with it. Up top, the H3 will launch flies much further than you can reasonably fish. It’s another rod that just feels right. I suggest the H3F. The H3D is too stiff for what I like to do. I like the ten footers in four and five weight. And the ten-and-a-half foot three weight is a great tight liner’s stick.

READ: Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #12 — Use a versatile and general fly rod

Thomas & Thomas Contact Fly Rod

This might be the perfect rod for tight lining nymphs. That said, the three and four weights are also quite versatile sticks. Even the three weight has no trouble casting medium streamers on the Mono Rig. The extra eight inches over ten feet makes it a little long to be called versatile, but if hitting the river to tight line nymphs is your primary goal, here’s your tool.

READ: One Great Nymphing Trick

Sage ESN

Here’s another excellent tight-liner’s tool. The tip of the ESN is slightly softer than the T&T Contact, but it has plenty of power and a very quick recovery. It is crisp but soft. I like that. For many of my clients, this is their favorite rod of all the ones that I put in their hands.

READ: Nymphing — The Top Down Approach

Orvis Recon Fly Rod

Like the H3, Orvis offers a full range with the Recon series, to match whatever kind of angler you are. If you aren’t willing to spend a month’s mortgage on a fly rod, here’s the best rod in the mid-price range. I like the four weight ten foot.

READ: Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #39 — Look Upstream to Find the Seams

Cortland Competition Fly Rod

With this rod, Cortland offers the best tool for tight line anglers available at this price point. I bought this for my sons, and I use it a lot. The feel and the recovery of the tip is impressive. If your budget is under $250, here’s your nymphing rod.

READ: Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #39 — Look Upstream to Find the Seams

RECOMMENDED

FLY REELS

Some trout anglers think the fly reel is just a place to hold the line, that a world-class drag doesn’t mean much.

I’ll grant the part about the drag. Although a smooth and powerful one, with a startup like butter is nice, it isn’t necessary. I landed my largest wild trout ever on a second-hand, no-name reel that lacked a counterbalance across from the handle. As the twenty-six inch beast took off downstream, I thought the reel was exploding in my hands. (I was young.) But ya know what? I palmed the spool on that click-and-pawl setup, got my wits about me and landed the fish. And it was fun.

That was about fifteen years ago. And I’ve graduated on to better gear. Although I don’t need it, a well-built fly reel (like the rod) is something to personally connect with. Likewise, long liners have a few special considerations in a reel.

These are my favorites.

Sage TROUT Reel

This is a full frame (full cage) reel, but it’s sized for trout rods. That’s a key consideration for us long liners, because the thin mono leader can unexpectedly slip between the spool and the frame. We call it the mono pull through. And with a full cage reel, it simply can’t happen. This has become my go to reel. It’s super solid, the sealed drag is perfect and I love the click sound (sometimes the nuances matter).

READ: How  to pick a fly reel — And why I choose the Sage TROUT

Ross Evolution LTX

Ross reels are manufactured with tight tolerances and narrow gaps. So the mono pull through (almost) never happens. I have hard-fishing friends who’ve put nearly two decades on their Ross Evolution reels. No issues.

READ: Tight Line Tips — Stop the Mono Pull-Through on the Fly Reel

Waterworks-Lamson Remix

My main reel was a Lamson Konic for about eight years. I still have it, and my son, Joey, uses it the most. Lamson replaced the Konic with the Remix. It’s only slightly more expensive but is built much better. This is a great reel with a bulletproof drag. It’ll serve you well for many years to come.

READ: Missing the Mornings

Sage Click

The second generation Click not only has a gorgeous look but a sound to match. Does that matter? Sure it does. If you’re buying a reel with no drag, then the aesthetics of things are probably important to you. For me, a basic click-and-pawl reel adds another element to the game, saying, “Disc drag? No thanks, I’ll do it myself.” This is also a good one for the angler who wants a reel as light as possible.

READ: Obsessions

RECOMMENDED

WADING GEAR

Simms G3 Guide Waders — Stocking Foot

I counted up to 17 pair of waders I’ve owned in my life, from many brands. But you can’t beat Simms. The G3’s are the sweet spot in their lineup.

READ: How to Pee With Your Waders On

Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants

I know, they’re just pants, right? Not really. What you wear under your waders matters. For average temps, these are the perfect layer for me underneath. Super light, breathable and they look good. These are also my favorite pants for wet wading.

READ: How to Wet Wade — The System

Simms Freestone Wading Boots

Why not the Guide boots? Because it’s the soles of the boots that wear out, regardless of the model. Simms Freestone’s have excellent foot support, while the uppers last a long time.

READ: It’s Wading, Not Walking

Simms Solarflex Shirts

Solarflex material is super soft and cooler in the sun than short sleeves. These are the best shirts I’ve worn for summer fishing. No sunscreen necessary. That’s nice. This material is light and somehow doesn’t cling when it’s wet. So, so good.

READ: Things that are good — Simms Solarflex Shirts and Gaiters

Simms G3 Guide Tactical Wading Jacket

Like waders and boots, I’ve gone through a lot of raincoats. This is the only one that can rightfully be called a wading jacket. It’s so functional, I wear it rain or shine, whenever I can.

READ: Even When it Rains

Simms Bulkley Jacket

Super warm, windproof and totally waterproof, with a hood that changes the game. Makes me sad when winter’s over and I hang this up.

READ: What to Trust

RECOMMENDED

FLY TYING

Custom. That’s the important word. And having your own set of flies, tied just the way you like, is the key reason for rolling your own. Custom flies are confidence flies. The slight variations on a Hare’s Ear nymph that a fly tyer wraps onto his hooks are what make them more personal, more individual and ultimately more effective. We fish our own patterns with more conviction, certain that our adjustments and refinements are what make this fly a fish-catcher.  READ: Troutbitten | Tie your own flies — Here’s why

Griffin Montana Mongoose

This wonderful vise does it all and comes with everything. The jaw design is simple and powerful. For me, this the best vise on the market.

READ: Troutbitten Fly Box — The Full Pint Streamer

Danica Danvise

True rotary at about $100. I tied on my Danvise for about a decade. Jaw design is the same as the Mongoose. Fantastic value here in a vise.

READ: Troutbitten Fly Box — The Bunny Bullet Sculpin

RECOMMENDED

TOOLS AND TACKLE

From nets to wading staffs to split shot, all of it matters. An angler’s gear is chosen for efficiency and effectiveness. Every trout bum has a system. And this is mine. 

Fishpond Nomad Hand Net

Durable, lightweight and suited for the job — here’s the perfect trout net. The carbon fiber frame floats and the rubber mesh bag is deep, ready for your next Whiskey or that mythical thirty-incher.

READ: Things that are good — The Fishpond Nomad Hand Net

Smith Creek Net Holster

This is the unbeatable way to carry a net. Put the weight on your hips, not on your back. This holster is bulletproof in design and will last a lifetime.

READ: Of Nets and Holsters — The Smith Creek Net Holster

Dr. Slick Spring Creek Clamps

These are strong clamps with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and unbuttoning hooks. I’m picky about my tools. These are the best.

READ: A Slidable Dry Dropper System

Trekking Pole Wading Staff

Nothing is more important than covering water. I wade with speed and confidence when I have a staff. Do I need it all the time? Nope. So I want a light but strong staff that folds. And I don’t spend a hundred dollars on one. Trekking poles are perfect.

READ: What about the wading staff? Thoughts on choosing and carrying a wading stick

Blackhawk Utility / Wading Belt

Carry the weight on your hips. Experienced hikers understand this. So I put the heaviest things I must carry on my hips: net, water, wading staff, camera. And the flimsy wading belt that comes with your waders will never work. This Blackbelt is built for the job.

READ: Let’s Rethink the Wading Belt

Gear Keeper Retractor

I use retractors in twelve ounce and nine ounce strengths. These are perfect for keeping the Trekking pole wading staff right at your hip and ready at any moment. I’ve tried other brands of retractors. These are the best.

READ: Find Your System

Orvis Non-Toxic Removable Split Shot

Man, am I picky about split shot. And here’s the good stuff — perfect because it’s matte black, non-toxic but soft enough to work with, and it grips thin tippet. Good job, Orvis.

READ: Stop the Split Shot Slide

New Phase Fly Box

900 flies in slotted foam. If you need more than that, carry a second box. The double-sided middle leaf on this box doubles the capacity. That’s efficiency, right there. Tough, waterproof and priced right, this is my go to fly box.

READ: The first time out, a fly needs a good showing

C&F Chest Patch / Fly Box

This is one of the most critical items in my system. Here’s a small storage box for  mounting on your vest or pack. Flies can dry here and are at the ready for the next quick change. Magnets and slot foam inside, foam and magnet outside. Light but strong. A perfect design.

READ: Things that are good — The C&F Chest Patch

Ape Case SLR Holster Camera Bag

You might not carry a camera on the river. But if you want to reliably tell a story with variable apertures and shutter speeds, you need more than a smartphone. I carry this amazingly durable bag on my belt and have access to my camera in seconds. And I found the perfect way to make it waterproof. Read the article below.

READ: Fishing with a Camera

Nalgene Narrow Mouth Water Bottle

You might think of your water bottle as an afterthought. But I don’t. I’ve used these for over fifteen years. I carry the bottle on a carabiner attached to my wading belt, so the weight is on my hips. The bottle is as light as it can be and still be durable. And because it’s not aluminum, there’s no clanging around. Shhhh. Don’t spook the trout.

READ: Olives at the Tailout

Costa 580 Glass Lenses Fantail

For a long time I thought expensive lenses didn’t make a difference. But I was wrong about that. After receiving these Costa frames as a gift, I can never go back to my old ways. The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes. I like copper mirror. And I like the fantail matte black design, because the medium size frame fits my face. You’ll find your own style.

READ: Angles, Angles, Angles

Lifestraw Go Water Filter Bottle

The best fishing happens far from the parking lot. On long walks and long days, nothing beats the convenience of cold, clean water on demand. This is a game changer.

READ: Fishing Alone

RECOMMENDED

LINES, LEADERS & RIGGING

Lines and leader are what connect us to the flies and the trout (on a good day). From reel to rod tip, from tip to fly, it’s what carries the fly and forms that connection that matters — it matters a lot. So, rigging and adjusting these materials is at the very heart of an angler’s success. And having a few tools to do the job with efficiency is priceless.

Maxima Chameleon

This is the best stuff for building the Mono Rig, a George Harvey leader or any other leader formula.

The Mono Rig — A Long-Leader Fly Fishing System

Amnesia

Good material for making sighters or highly visible butt sections

Sighters — Seven Separate Tools

Rio Two Tone Indicator Tippet

Excellent, limp, visible material for building sighters.

READ: Is a soft sighter best? Not always

Rio Fluoroflex Plus

Tough but flexible fluoro for underwater presentations.

READ: Let’s Talk about tippet — Three questions about the end of the line in a fly fishing rig

Seaguar InvizX

Excellent fluorocarbon for less than half the price. Tough but soft. Invizx is my daily use fluoro tippet from 2X-5X.

READ: Fly Shop Fluorocarbon too expensive? Try InvizX

Rio Suppleflex

Super limp nylon tippet for delicate dry fly presentations. Far and away my favorite nylon for fishing top water.

READ: Dry Fly Fishing — The Stop and Drop

Loon Rigging Foams

The ultimate tool for the efficient angler. Storing pre-rigged tippet sections is finally simple.

READ: Efficiency Part Two — Leader and Tippet Changes

Sea Striker Leader Spools 4″

Perfect for quick leader changes. Long leaders don’t store well on smaller spools or when wrapped around your hand. Bigger spool, less coil.

READ: Streamer Presentations — Strips, Jigs and Jerks

OPST Lazar Line

Another great option for the butt section of a Mono Rig. Highly visible. The diameter of 30lb Lazar Line closely matches the diameter of 20lb Chameleon. (.017″)

READ: Ask an Expert | For Euro Nymphing or the Mono Rig, what leader material do you like for the butt section?

Scientific Anglers Air Cel

Still my favorite fly line. Yes, I’ve used hundred dollar fly lines too. And I keep coming back to the Air Cel. It’s durable and has a great taper.

READ: Quick Tips — Put More Juice in the Cast

Cortland Competition Mono Core Fly Line

This is the line that I hand to my clients who want to fish a Mono Rig, but hate holding mono in their line hand. I like the .022″ level line.

READ: What is Euro Nymphing? And What is the Mono Rig?

Stanley’s Ice Off Paste

The Stanley stuff works just a little better than everything else.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — Ice in the Guides?

RECOMMENDED

WINTER GEAR

The winter months — no other season requires such dedication from an angler nor such a dedicated set of tools. And the first challenge for anyone is to stay warm. Without the right gear, from head to toe, even the most die-hard angler finds himself back at the truck, shivering on the drive home and heading for the easy chair. But with some forethought and a willingness to spend a few minutes on smart layers, anyone can experience some of the best fishing of the year.

Fox River Fingerless Wool Gloves

Warmth and dexterity. We have to have our fingers to make adjustments on the river, no matter the weather.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — Your Hands

Fox River Wool Folder Mittens

When it’s extra cold, the foldover mitten makes a difference.

READ: Winter Welcome Home

Simms Guide Windbloc Foldover Mitt

Simms foldovers are a good alternative to wool.

READ: Absence | Goodbye, Winter

Darn Tough Vermont Merino Wool Boot Cushion Sock

All day, everyday. The perfect wading sock is Darn Tough’s merino wool full cushion hiker. Lifetime warranty on a sock? Yup.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Extra Cushion Sock

Darn Tough’s best insulating wool sock, for the coldest waters.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — The System

TrailHeads Contour Winter Beanie

A first-layer hat. Thin enough to wear under a ball cap and warm enough to make a difference.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — Ice in the Guides?

Balaclava Thermal Fleece Hood

This balaclava is my secret weapon for winter fishing.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — The Go-To Nymphing Rig

 

Patagonia Nano Puff Pants

Incredible warmth. Slim, insulating pants for under your waders. Actually too warm in many conditions.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Meriwool Mid Weight Base Layer

Crew neck merino wool base layer. Warmth starts here.

READ: Fly Fishing in the Winter — The Secondary Nymphing Rig

Marmot Men’s Drop Line 1/2 Zip

This mid/heavy weight layer from Marmot is my first-layer fleece insulator.

READ: Absence | Goodbye, Winter

Columbia Cascade Fleece Jacket

I use this mid weight Columbia fleece coat for a second-level insulator — and for just about everything else.

READ: Winter Welcome Home

Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff Jacket

The Nano Puff jacket is tough to beat. Super warm, light and packable.

READ: Night Shift — Tracks

Patagonia Adze Jacket

The Patagonia Adze jacket is my outer shell. I wear it everywhere.

READ: Mid-Season Form

Simms Bulkley Jacket

Super warm, windproof and totally waterproof, with a hood that changes the game. Makes me sad when winter’s over and I hang this up.

READ: What to Trust

RECOMMENDED

BOOKS

Below are my favorite fly fishing books. These are the pages that I continue to revisit, time and again. Because at every pass, I learn something new. A good book is like that. You can’t process everything on the first reading, because you simply aren’t ready for it.

These are the books that I’ve loaned to my friends. Most times they come back. If not, I buy them again. Because every one of these books will be with me until the end. At which point, a stack of papers and hardcovers will show the makings of a man. Of a fisherman.

Trout Tactics — Joe Humphreys

Simply the best book on trout fishing. Humphreys covers it all. This is the kind of book you learn from every time you read it — again and again.

READ: What is Euro Nymphing? And What is the Mono Rig?

Dynamic Nymphing — George Daniel

The seminal work on modern nymphing techniques. An enlightening book jam packed with info to put more trout in the net.

READ: Ask George Daniel | Nymphing Angles

Nymph Fishing — George Daniel

GD’s follow up to Dynamic Nymphing broadens the perspective, including the full range of nymphing tactics with a look to the future.

READ: Ask George Daniel | Drop Shot Nymphing

The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout — Tom Rosenbauer

An influential book that I’ve passed around to many friends. Rosenbauer nails it.

READ: The Downstream Fisher Yields to the Upstream Fisher

Tactical Fly Fishing — Devin Olsen

Devin’s writing is indeed tactical. His excellent book goes deep into techniques learned from the comp scene.

READ: Modern Nymphing Elevated — More of What’s Possible with a Mono Rig

Strip Set — George Daniel

Fishing streamers is not always about big flies and fast chases. But sometimes it is. GD covers it all.

READ: Streamers as an Easy Meal — The Old School Streamer Thing

Keystone Fly Fishing

Every PA angler must own this book. It’s packed front to back with critical information about rivers, tactics and patterns.

READ: Searching Through the Margins

Trout Streams of Pennsylvania — Dwight Landis

Dwight has a remarkable way of leading you to new water without giving away its secrets. He preserves the discovery for you. This is still my favorite PA guide book.

READ: Right Here

Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout — Galloup and Linsenman

This book changed the game. This is where we got the Butt Monkey and the Sex Dungeon, and where streamer fishing was renewed for the 21st century.

READ: Modern Streamers: Too Much Motion? And are we moving them too fast?

Trout Bum — John Gierach

I refuse to pick just one Gierach book. Start at Trout Bum and work your way forward. Like Maclean, here’s another writer who has affected generations of anglers.

READ: The Walkout

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