Time and time again, I see beginners “tight-lining” their nymph fishing presentation as they scratch their heads wondering why they are catching no fish. I think what happens is that neophytes have a preconceived notion regarding what fly fishing is and how it should look – probably as a result of watching the movie “A River Runs Through It” one too many times.
If you have ever fished with a conventional rod and reel then you know that there is only one way to present your lure to the fish. That is with a tight-line retrieve method where you are constantly reeling the line in so the lure doesn’t hang up on the bottom. A lot of people make a cast with their fly fishing setup and end up with a tight line right away. I believe this can really inhibit your presentation if you are attempting to “dead-drift” with an indicator.
There are tight line techniques that are effective; like streamer fishing or stripping soft hackles. With dead-drifting though, slack is crucial, but most beginners are scared they won’t be able to set the hook effectively with the appropriate amount of slack on the water. I say: they will never get a strike with a tight line, so there is no sense in putting the cart before the horse.
There are good reasons why slack is important when indicator nymphing. You must have slack on the water if you want to properly feed line into your drift. Also, line mending without moving the indicator very much can only be achieved with sufficient slack. The goal when nymph fishing with an indicator is to create the longest drift you can before having to recast. Just remember: it’s hard to catch fish if you’re spending the majority of your time casting.
You do not need a whole lot of slack when nymphing, but if you’re line is tight in the least, there is absolutely no margin for error. Here is exactly how a tight line can hurt your chances: let’s say you have a big fish looking at your fly and your line is tight from the rod tip to your indicator. Any movement with the rod tip will spook the fish because the fly will look unnatural. You must think about all these little things because the subtleties of fly fishing are what will make you or break you on the river. I’m sure you hear this mantra all the time: “a good presentation is more important than what fly you are using.” Nothing could be more accurate and beginner fly fishermen should treat this advice as gospel.
After you make your cast, throw a little slack in the line before you start your drift by lowering the rod, loosening up your hold on the fly line and moving the rod right to left. And remember: if you’re at the point in your dead drift where it is time to feed line; make sure you have a little slack in the line before you go to feed any, or else your indicator will move all over the place and the fish will move as well – away from your fly. I hope this helps you and if you have any questions whatsoever make sure you send me an email as I will be happy to explain the above concepts in greater detail. See you on the river.