Tightline-Nymphing Tips: When in Doubt, Drag ‘Em

Written by: George Daniel, Livin On The Fly


In fast-water stretches, it pays to err on the side of too much tension on your nymphs.
Photos by George Daniel

Nymphing without an indicator can be a challenge, especially when you’re fishing turbulent water where micro currents are moving in different directions. Some currents may be moving straight downstream, while some are pulling to the side, some are pushing downward towards the stream bottom, and so on. Instead of having an indicator to suspend and control the drift of your nymphing presentation, you have to decide both the direction and speed the rod tip needs to travel to stay in touch with your nymphs. It can be difficult to determine how fast or how slow to lead the flies in this kind of water are because it’s constantly changing.

To “staying in touch” with your flies, you need the rod tip to be in a position that maintains some degree of tension between angler and fly. This tension allows the angler to detect a take (by feel or by sight) when a trout strikes. Often, the ideal amount of tension is enough allow the angler to see a strike the moment a fish takes, but not so much that the angler is dragging the nymph. Usually you don’t want to drag the nymphing rig too fast, since that may cause a trout to refuse the presentation for the same reason that it would refuse a dragging a dry fly on the surface. Of course, it’s easier to see drag in a dry-fly presentation. When your nymphs are out of sight below the surface, sometimes all you can do is guess. So what do you do when you’re not sure about the correct speed to lead the flies in fast water?


Pocket water often contains conflicting micro currents that make indicator fishing difficult.

Asked about the best course of action when faced with such dynamic currents, a top Czech competitive angler told me, “I would rather have too much drag than too much slack when nymphing fishing.” You can’t detect a strike if there’s too much slack in the line. Slack may help you achieve a natural drift, but but if you can’t detect the strike then what’s the use? Although the drift may not be as natural when you’ve got too much tension in the line, at least you’ll be able to feel the strike.

This makes perfect sense in fast, turbulent water—such as pocket water and heavy riffles—where a dragging presentation can be masked by the strong currents and where trout don’t have as much time to think about whether or not to eat. Finally, adding weight to the rig, in the form a heavier fly or shot can create an anchor and better keep the nymphing rig deeper the water column, while the angler leads the presentation under tension. This approach may not work in slower and clearer stretches where trout can really examine your offering. However, when in doubt, drag your nymphs in fast-moving water. You may not fool as many fish, but at least you’ll see the strike.

George Daniel operates Livin On The Fly, a guide service in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of Strip-Set: Fly-Fishing Techniques, Tactics, & Patterns for Streamers, as well as Dynamic Nymphing

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3 thoughts on “Tightline-Nymphing Tips: When in Doubt, Drag ‘Em”

  1. Dragging or skating a dry (large caddis, Humpy, stimulator,etc) also works in similar water for those surface-minded

  2. Hey Thanks,
    For the article “Drag em”
    That gives me some clarity on tight line nymphing.
    I’ve just begin learning Cael nymphing this past year.
    I bought your nymphing book.
    I live about 40 min from the Farmington river in CT

  3. I developed my tight line nymphing technique (Utah nymphing) in such rapid waters as described about 20 years ago. My home water was a highly productive seldom fished stream through a remote canyon that had no trail through the middle 5 miles. You need to limit this to 1 weighted fly and yes have constant contact with that fly. The beauty is that the fish have to make split second decisions and in productive streams catching a dozen nice trout an hour becomes the norm. You are only going to be able to consistently get 1 fly into the strike zone and have a reasonable drift on it at the same time. I’m not sure why everyone is pushing “Euronymphing”. This technique was developed independently in various parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas for a century or more. I developed my technique without knowledge others had done so at the time even if I never assumed I was the first to do it. But obviously there is a reason so many of us developed similar techniques over all those years. You always need to improvise to find techniques most suited for the waters you fish. If all you do is hack some technique with a trendy name you aren’t going to catch half the fish you are capable of catching.

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