Fly Fishing Tailwaters - Part 2 - Drag


The key to successfully fishing this water is to be drag free. Everything that is free in the drift moves at a very predictable speed and the fish have spent a lifetime becoming accustomed to that speed. Dragging your flies, even micro drag, will stand out like Madonna at an Amish barn-raising.

Drag is when your flies, nymphs or dries, move at a speed that doesn't match that of the natural insects or current. It doesn't matter if the flies are going faster or slower than the current, it's still drag and drag is bad. On a freestone river, there is normally lots of structure, and the currents and eddies are pulling the natural food different directions. So, a quick shift in direction isn't all that alarming for the fish. On the Missouri, most of the current moves along at a predictable pace, and drag can't be forgiven. If you're dragging your flies you're just working out your casting arm and mostly catching whitefish.

When nymphing, eliminating drag starts with your equipment. The most neglected piece of equipment is usually the fly line. A generation or two ago, men took meticulous care with their fly lines because they were very expensive. Made of silk, they required daily maintenance. Today, fly line is mostly some sort of hollow tube of polymer-plastic. And most of us see plastic as something very durable, long lasting and low maintenance. Small particles of decomposed vegetation and stream detritus cling to the fly line. After it dries it becomes an added layer and the next time the line is used it accumulates more dirt. This adds weight to the line and friction against the guides. A clean fly line floats well but also moves through the rod guides with much less effort, and this is the key to good mending techniques (see below). If the line hangs in the guides, mending technique goes down the toilet. Instead of fighting the dirty fly line for nine or ten hours each day, a five-minute cleaning is a good investment.

The cure for drag while nymphing is called "mending." Mending is when you lift the fly line up and throw it upstream of the indicator. This helps to eliminate drag because the velocity of the water on the surface is greater than the velocity of the water on or near the bottom. The reason is because the substrate (bottom of the river) has rocks, grasses, etc., that offer resistance to the current. The fly line that you have out on the water is forming a downstream belly and, as the line tightens, the indicator accelerates and moves downstream faster than your flies. When this happens your flies are dragging, and an upstream mend is needed. Then as the indicator and flies continue to drift downstream, you can feed some slack line to extend how long your flies are near the bottom. When the fly line tightens, the flies will lift off the bottom and it's time to cast again.

All photos and text Trapper Badovinac. Any use without written permission from the author is illegal.
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