Give Your Fly Rod a Lift

Some of the most effective fly fishing techniques are so obvious that we overlook them.

Maybe we practice them instinctively. Or maybe we don’t. But if we thought about them a bit more, perhaps we would practice them more strategically.

One such practice (and there’s no need for a drum roll because this may seem patently obvious) is giving your fly rod a lift. There’s no mystery here. Just lift up the tip of your fly rod. Yes, that’s it!

It can make a big difference. Here are four reasons to give your rod a lift:

1. To pick up slack line on a close, short drift

On smaller streams, I frequently fish runs that are only three or four feet in front of me as I stand on the bank. These runs are typically short, so it’s easy to let out too much line when I make my cast.

Since the fly reaches the “hot zone” almost instantly, I need to retrieve slack immediately. Otherwise, I can miss a strike (too much slack to remove before the actual hook set happens) or risk drag (too much line on the surface for a swift current to pull). In either instance, a simple rod lift solves the potential problem.

2. To pick up my line at the end of a long drift

At the end of a long drift, a fly fisher needs to do one of two things.

Ideally, you will need to set the hook on the trout that has taken your fly on the swing at the end of the drift. Or, you will need to pick up the line to make another cast. In either scenario, you will have to reduce the surface tension. Otherwise, your hook set will be too slow or you will make a scene on the surface of the river.

The simple solution in each case is a quick, deliberate rod lift. Then continue your hook set or your back cast.

If you’re not sure why this is effective, give it a try the next time you’re nymph fishing and using a strike indicator. Let your nymph drift forty or fifty feet downstream from where you are standing. Then, give your rod tip a deliberate (but not violent!) lift. Make sure the lift is straight up and not to the side. You’ll be surprised to see your strike indicator shoot towards you!

It’s when you pull your rod to the side that surface tension messes with your hoot set or back cast.

3. To give your fly some movement during the drift

My podcast partner, Dave, and I watched our friend, Dave Kumlien out-fish us last fall on a beautiful tailwater creek in Montana. Our friend caught two or three fish to every one we caught. We were all using the same streamers. But it dawned on us later that he was lifting and lowering his rod tip to give his streamer a twitch and to make it move up and down in the current — even as he retrieved it.

This technique works well with nymphs, too. Lift and lower your rod during the drift, and you may be surprised at how it entices a trout to strike.

4. To keep you line from breaking when fighting a fish

When you are fighting a fish, you rely on both your reel and your rod to absorb the force created by the fish’s sudden lunge or race for cover. Too much force results in a snapped line.

This is where the drag on your reel comes into play.

When set properly, it provides some resistance – but not so much that the force of a running fish exceeds the strength of your line (or the knot which ties your tippet to your line or your fly to your tippet). Your rod can play an important role too. The lower your rod tip is to the surface, the more the pressure point on your rod moves from tip to butt.

When I’m trying to move a big fish, I lower my rod to a 40 or 45 degree angle (in relationship to surface of the water) so that the pressure goes to the mid-section. I also pull the rod to the side. But if the fish suddenly darts, I lift my rod tip. This moves the pressure point closer to the rod tip where there is greater flex. This means less force on my line However, you need to do this with caution. Lifting your rod tip too high (at a 90 degree angle to the surface) too quickly can result in a broken rod tip!

There are so many little things to remember during the cast, drift, retrieval, repeat cast, and (hopefully) fight with a fish. I know, it can seem maddening. But do your best to think about your rod tip. You may get better results if you give it a lift.