Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Featured Photo: Northern Lights in Tennessee

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

When You Just Need More Weight

As a fly fishing guide, there are lots of little tips and tricks I get to pass on to my clients. It would be nearly impossible to compile those into one resource unfortunately. Okay, so maybe not impossible, but it would take me a while to think about it while I'm sitting at home writing. Most of these things have a way of coming up during the natural flow of a day on the water. That is what guides should do, offer advice on how to improve, or at least on different ways to do things. A guided trip should be as much a chance to improve as an angler as it is a chance to catch lots of fish. Those two things generally go hand in hand. 

Anyway, these little tips often come up in the natural flow of a guided trip. One that comes up quite often is the idea of getting your flies down to the fish. One of my favorite guiding moments happens when teaching nymphing strategies, either for the Nymphing Class at Little River Outfitters, or just on a regular guided trip. What usually happens is something like this. 

We are fishing nymphs, either under a strike indicator or high sticking (tight lining/euro nymphing) and not catching any fish. At some point, I suggest that we add some split shot. Sometimes there is even already some shot on the line. However, it sometimes just isn't enough. The split shot needs to be heavy enough to get the flies down. Depending on stream flow, depth, flies used, and technique, you might need anywhere from one #8 split shot to a string of #1 or even heavier shot. Sometimes just one addition works. Other times it can take two or three. Either way, the best part happens when the first cast is made after the correct amount of shot is added. Almost invariably, the angler will catch a fish. That is a much more effective lesson than simply telling someone they should add more shot if they aren't catching fish. 

Of course, if you add too much shot, you'll be hanging on the bottom continually. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to add shot until you're constantly hanging the bottom. Then, take one off and you should be about right. You want to be ticking the bottom some but not losing flies.

The funny thing about tips and tricks is that sometimes you have to remind yourself about them. Yesterday, after a morning guided trip, I had a little time to kill before heading back home. Last week, on a guided trip, I had come across a couple of nice brown trout that seemed willing to eat dry flies. In fact, we missed one of them on a dry fly that day. I had been wanting to see those fish up close and had already devoted one quick stop to try and catch one to no avail. Yesterday seemed like a good opportunity. 

I got to the chosen spot and waded right in. Drifting a dry fly through the run produced exactly zero takes, so I changed tactics and tied on a nymph rig involving a small pheasant tail nymph and a small hare's ear nymph on 6x tippet. To this, I added two #4 split shot. For the depth and current, that seemed about right since I had small flies and fine tippet. A New Zealand Indicator finished the rig. 

For the next five minutes, I got many drifts through what I thought was the sweet spot. There were exactly zero strikes. Knowing how many fish this pool typically contains, I was a bit shocked. Surely something would want to eat my nymphs! I was just about to give up when it occurred to me that I might not be as deep as I had assumed. Deciding to get to the bottom of things so to speak, I added a #1 shot and now felt confident of getting down. 

On the very next cast, I had a quick hit from an eight inch rainbow that just as quickly released itself. That was enough, however, to convince me to try another five minutes of casts. In fact, it only took about three more casts before the indicator dove convincingly yet again. This time, I could tell there was some heft to the fish. In fact, it didn't want to move where I wanted it to at all!

Babying the 6x tippet, I took plenty of time fighting this beautiful brown trout. Every time I thought it was about whipped, it surged back into the depths. Finally, after a couple of downstream runs that prompted me to follow, I got it close and with the head up, quickly scooped with my net. 

Large Great Smoky Mountains National Park brown trout

This was probably one of the larger brown trout I will catch this year in the Smokies, possibly even the largest. I've had plenty of years where this would be my best Great Smoky Mountain brown trout. Not bad for fifteen minutes or so of fishing and just about as much time fiddling with my rigging. Sometimes you just need more weight. I shouldn't be surprised anymore, but for some reason this lesson always gets me. Anyway, next time you aren't finding success with nymphs, try adding some weight. You just might be surprised...

Some Other Blog Posts You Might Enjoy

Caney Fork Scouting Trip [VIDEO]

A Quick Getaway - Another Smoky Mountain Adventure

Hiking to Gunsight Lake - A Glacier National Park Adventure


  1. David
    A great story and a lesson learned, when it comes to using weights to get your flies in the feeding zone. I hope I get try my new Euro Nymphing comvbo out soon on the Sipsey. I am still in the process of learning the technique.
    I watched a video the other day on how to fish pressured streams and tailraces-----the number one fishing method mentioned in the video was to learn how Euro Nymphing and get your flies down where the trout feed. It may take me awhile to learned this method but I figure the Euro technique will enable me to land more trout on the Sipsey now that it is fish daily when generators are not running. Thanks for sharing

    1. Bill, glad you enjoyed it. What euro nymphing rod did you end up with? I always greatly enjoy high sticking or euro nymphing. It is definitely a good technique to learn.

    2. I bought a 10ft. 3 wt. from one of my gym buddies back in Dec. 2020. He said he bought it a couple of years ago and used it a few times. He dicided he didn't like the length. I bought it from him for 65 bucks. There was no name on the fly rod or rod case, it had an extra tip section, which would was a plus. I didn't want to invest a great deal of money in this type fly rod becasue I didn't know how I would like the Euro Nymphing. I paired it with one of my old Orvis Battenill reels and spooled the reel with green 15lb.test shooting line. I am using a sighter line attached to the shooting line with a 5X or 6X tippet in different lengths depended on the water depth. I hope make a trip on the Sipsy as soon as the water recends in Smith.

    3. Bill, that sounds like a good setup. I do a lot of "high sticking" which is a Southern Appalachian version of euro nymphing that has been done for the past 100 years around here. There are some slight differences, but overall the techniques are similar. That said, I usually use a normal fly line although not always. The nice thing about our fast mountain streams is that you really just need a regular leader to high stick effectively. On flatter water, you would either need a much longer leader OR a setup like you just described. I like having a regular fly line so I can quickly transition to dry fly fishing if the opportunity arises.

    4. I don't want to give myself a chance to use any method but the Euro Nymphing as long as I am trying to learn the technique. I will consider the trip a success when I land my first trout using the 10 ft. combo. It could be weeks before I get to fish on the Sipsey, because of high water. We crossed the Elk Tuesday on our way to our daughter's house in Springhill and saw that it is out of its banks. I can only imagine what the Caney looks like.

    5. Bill, the Caney has been featuring some low water during the day, but very high water during the night. With the rain coming in the next couple of days, we'll probably see water levels going back up higher I'm afraid.

  2. Excellent advice! Another skill/art is adjusting the depth of the drift with your rod. It’s tough to explain, but something to be thinking about as you work your nymphs by likely holds. Also, casts need to be further upstream from the target area to compensate for faster & deeper water.

    1. Thanks for reading Jim! I agree that it is a true art to adjust the depth of the drift with your rod tip. That is something that is difficult to teach how to do it well. The basics are quite logical, but the only way to master that technique is to practice practice practice! That casting farther upstream piece is also more of an advanced technique I'd say. Lots of people have a hard time managing all that fly line. That said, it is a goal everyone should definitely be working towards!