Five tactics form the core of tactical nymphing. Each of these five tactics represents an element that, when considered carefully, increases the probability of tricking fish. Our job is to carefully consider each element in every aspect of our fly fishing:
Lightweight. A lightweight rig allows us to maintain ideal presentation with minimal effort. A lightweight line can be held off the water at greater distance. This feeds stealth and contact tactics. The result is improved fly control, strike detection, and hook set. Lightweight flies are animated by the current in a natural manner, further improving presentation. A lightweight rig allows complex casting without fatigue. A lightweight angler, carrying only those items that fit the day’s strategy, is also more efficient on the water.
The advantages of the second part of the maxim to throw a light line, it is impossible to over-estimate.W.C. Stewart, The Practical Angler, 3rd Ed, 1857
Low Profile. A low profile rig has less surface area to create drag. A low profile rig is less prone to being pushed around by a breeze or varying currents. Low profile rigs pierce surface tension with minimal disturbance and invade the water column with minimal resistance. Low profile rigs allow lighter flies to reach a desired depth faster. This feeds lightweight, stealth, and contact tactics. The result is improved casting, fly control, strike detection, and hook set. An angler who maintains a low profile on the water also greatly enhances stealth.
Dense. Density ensures sufficient mass is maintained in a low profile rig to effect the desired presentation throughout the entire water column. A certain amount of mass is necessary to cast lines and sink flies. Thoughtful application of density provides the necessary mass without compromising lightweight, low profile tactics. Our time on the water should also be dense. The best anglers maintain focus. Every cast counts, and every action has a purpose. The best anglers make the most of their time on the water.
Stealth. Stealth is the soul of the five tactics. To trick fish, we have to interact with the underwater world without being recognized as a threat. The more we can do to improve stealth, the more fish we stand to catch. Stealth makes us better anglers in other ways as well. Stealth rolls into Leave No Trace conservation ethics, and is a good way to approach streamside manners, too. We don’t want the fish to know we’ve been there, and we don’t want anybody else to know either. Stealth is how we preserve the game of fly fishing.
Contact. Contact is the heart of the five tactics. Maximizing contact between ourselves and the fly ensures effective fly fishing. In general, contact involves eliminating anything that might interfere with our ability to sense what is happening with our fly. The best anglers use all their senses to maximize contact – physical touch, visual contact, sound, even taste and smell come into play at times. Contact results in improved casting, optimized fly control, strike detection, hook set, and more. Contact also reminds us to remain close to the world of fly fishing. We learn by engaging with the natural world. The more we maintain contact, the more we learn about the world, the better we become at tricking fish, and the more fun we have doing it.