Observations on Weighted Flies


Casting weighted flies requires some adjustment in technique.  An observation by a friend is that one should imagine that an apple is tied to the end of your fly line. If you start your forward cast too soon, your line will lose line tension on the apple and it will fall to the ground. But if you allow the backcast to roll completely out and load the rod, on the forward cast the rod propels the line and apple smoothly. For most people this is accomplished easily by slowing down the cast and allowing a longer pause between the casting strokes. With a little practice you should be able to cast weight nearly as easily as you would cast a dry fly.


How much weight to use? If you buy your flies, you are limited to the amount of weight (if any) that your fly contains. You must add small split-shot to the leader. If you tie flies, you can simply weight the underbody by using lead wire. There has been much discussion on whether weighting the fly affects its action, thus reducing its productivity. My experience shows that the opposite is true. When used properly, weight usually increases a fly's effectiveness.

Unweighted flies seldom get you into the "strike zone," the cushion of water near the stream bottom in which trout prefer to feed. The amount of lead you add to the business end of your tackle varies considerably depending on water depth, natural drift lanes, retrieve speed, fly size, leader diameter, and the buoyancy of the fly's materials. When you are tying in weight, good rules of thumb are: Use lead wire about the same diameter as the wire of the hook, and cover from ½ to 2/3 of the length of the hook shank.  As you might expect, these rules need to be altered according to circumstances and conditions. For example, if you know that you are going to fish a channel that is six to ten feet deep and mostly fast water, then you can use larger-diameter lead and cover more of the hook. Some tiers even go to the extreme of using two layers of lead wire as an underbody on a nymph or streamer. But if you plan on shallow-water nymphing or fishing emerger patterns, use a minimum of underbody lead. Often wire used as ribbing is enough if you fish in water 18 inches or shallower.

When I must add weight to the leader to achieve proper depth, I like to use a small split-shot, size 3/0, BB, B, or smaller. Micro-shot works well when the water is too shallow for removable splits.  You can also incorporate weight as part of the leader specialty sinking leaders (see insert) or sections of lead-core.

Whichever system you use, the weight should be sufficient to get your fly down near the bottom. Although you don't want to drag bottom, you should tic it occasionally to assure you are in the strike zone. If you do not reach bottom in several drifts, add more weight or cast farther upstream to allow more time for the nymph to sink.

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