You approach a piece of water with a plan. You start trying things, and when the fishing is really tough you start digging in your box and experimenting. The method of experimenting was diametric – if something wasn’t working, try something radically different. Keep fishing and eventually you will learn something. Experience is the teacher. That is the way of the common man.

Gary Lafontaine, in Foreward to Bergman’s “Trout: 2nd Ed.”, 2000

In tactical nymphing, we formulate a personal strategy by applying the five tactics to every aspect of fly fishing. Each tactic is considered in the context of the conditions at hand. The goal is to arrive at a strategy that maximizes our probability of catching fish under those conditions. 

Generally, that means maximizing each tactical element. But there are no absolutes in fly fishing. Sometimes, the best chance of tricking fish comes with increasing one element to the detriment of another. For example, we might encounter a set of conditions where strike detection is very difficult. To improve strike detection, we might decide to increase visual contact by using a brightly colored line, even though that same line might be more visible to fish as well. We sacrifice a little stealth in order to improve contact.  

The important part in tactical nymphing is that decisions like this are arrived at, not just ignorantly accepted. Any compromise is purposeful. To formulate a tactical nymphing strategy, each of us has to think about our own fly fishing. The five tactics give us the means to organize our thoughts so no fish-catching detail goes missed. 

Before we explore how lightweight, low profile, dense, stealth, contact tactics influence each part of fishing – rod, line, fly, the way we choose to rig, even the angler – we have to emphasize two critical things about strategy. First, no single strategy rules them all. Each strategy is specific to one set of conditions. Conditions constantly evolve. Today’s strategy might not apply tomorrow, or even around the next bend. Our strategy must constantly evolve as well.

Second, we must always remember that we are one of those evolving conditions. Our angling skills and abilities (casting skill, knowledge of trout, water, and bugs, physical attributes such as eyesight, etc.) change with time. My strategy may not be your strategy. If we want to improve our odds of tricking fish, we have to resist the urge to copy the angler next to us, and instead come up with our own strategy. 

The Rod

The Line

The Fly


The Angler

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