Is Tightline Nymphing Spin-Casting Made Difficult?
I was fishing with a friend, Jake, a few weeks ago. He was tightlining, with a prodigious length of mono. It reminded me of an old saying, that “what goes ’round comes ’round”. And so I think it is with tightline nymphing, the latest rage in the world of fly fishing for trout. Most trout anglers begin fishing with lures or bait, using a spin-cast outfit. Some move on to fly fishing, appreciating the thrill of catching rising fish on dry flies. This is of course why fly fishing was first begun eons ago with Tenkara-like rods.
But fly fishing has evolved, to include subsurface fishing with nymphs and streamers. Tightline or Euro nymphing is perhaps the apex of this evolution, driven by international competitors. International rules proscribe the tackle that is allowed for competition, and specifically prohibit the use of sinking or sink-tip lines, split shot, and strike indicators.
Faced with these limitations, competitors found alternative methods to fish nymphs near the bottom of a stream, where trout feed most often. They developed heavier, streamlined flies that sink quickly, using beads and wire, and lacking feathers or other materials that might slow their descent in the water column. A section of colored mono was incorporated into the leader, aiding visual detection of strikes. The rig is fished with the rod held aloft, and the line and leader held off the water surface, similar to high-sticking with dry flies. Due to their weight, fly lines sag between the rod tip and the mono leader, introducing some slack into the rig. The Orvis company and others responded to this, and developed tactical nymphing lines, which are lighter than traditional fly line, nearly eliminating the sag.
Outside the world of competition, inquisitive anglers have combined aspects of Euro nymphing and more traditional nymphing. The flies used are typically lighter, with more life-like movement provided by the materials used to tie them. To get them down in the water, split shot is often pinched onto the leader. And with longer rods, 10-12 feet, long mono leaders, twenty or more feet in length, are cast and fished with no line extending beyond the tip of the rod.
So, where does that leave us? I think we have circled back to the same techniques we began with, using a spin-cast outfit. When spin casting, only mono line is present, and the mono line is kept tight to a heavy lure, or split shot with flies dangled below.
When tightlining with a long leader, I often reflect on this, especially when struggling a bit to cast my flies accurately. I know in my heart and mind that it would be easier to spin-cast. Would it be a sacrilege to return to spin-casting after fifty some years? I haven’t answered this question yet, have you?
written by Al Simpson, May 2021.