Fly fishing is an incredibly complex sport. It’s hard to argue this point, at its core the simplicity is what makes this sport so beautiful and natural. But it has grown into a technical, precision based beast. Rods, rods and more rods are combined with lines, lines, and more lines. The combinations are as endless as the list of gear available to the modern fisherman. I believe at the head of this complexity are the fly fishing lines, specifically sinking lines.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no complaint. Sinking fly lines have brought fish to the boat previously only caught in dreams. Sink tips, moderate, intermediate, outcast, loadable, blah blah blah; what in the world. Do we really need this seemingly “overkill” like list of line types?
Of course we do, we’re fly fisherman. How many flies are in your box? I know I personally fish maybe ten on average but I love to look at the other seventy. Sinking lines take fly fishing to an entirely new level, pun intended. But you have to
fish them right. Depth is obviously the most critical aspect of fishing sinking lines and if you’re in the wrong depth then you’re just casting to cast. Which, we all need our practice.
Depth is always crucial to fishing anything below the water surface. Whether you’re drifting nymphs or fishing a subsurface spider, if you’re in the wrong level of the water column once again you’re just casting to cast. To put a fly in front of just about any fish you need to know the depth of the fish. This will take some patience, experimentation, and time.
I always start with a floating line. Because let's all be honest with ourselves, who likes to cast a sinking line all day? I’d venture a guess that not too many of us do, I’m eighteen and even I don’t. Typically, if I have some indication (time of year, cloud cover, lack of cloud cover, temperature, etc.), I try a fly with weight pertaining to the depth I naturally feel the fish are sitting at. For example; on a day late in the summer, 90 degrees plus, and a bit of a chop on the water I’ll definitely be going to a pattern with some weight.
This is where the title of this article comes into play “countdown”. Know you’re flies and how they sink, some sink faster than others, and knowing the sink rates of the flies you use often is a must. Imagine the fly you’re fishing with generally sinks about two feet in ten seconds (floating line). But, you’d like to fish the three to four-foot range. Simple math, count out fifteen to twenty seconds after your fly hits the water before you begin to strip it back in. This allows you to at least ballpark the depth you’re fishing. When searching for fish, vary your counts to test different depths within the water column.
Floating lines are actually more difficult to judge depths with than sinking lines. Though the massive list of sinking lines on the market may spook you they’re typically all designed with the same general purpose in mind, to sink. An intermediate line is a good place to start if you’re just getting into the world of subsurface fly fishing lines.
The “countdown” system works all the same with sinking lines as it does floating lines. Though it is made easier by the manufactures of the line itself. Any weighted fly line you buy will have a set sink rates related to it. For example, a Rio In Touch Deep 5 has a sink rate of 5 to 6 inches per second. To fish six-foot-deep, simple math, you’d need to count twelve seconds from the time your fly hits the water to your first strip.
As you’d expect fishing a sink tip line or just adding one to a floating line is a mix between the two methods. Knowing both the general sink rate of your fly and the sink rate of the sink tip is important to success. Sink tips are great for flies that don’t have much weight but need to be fished two foot or below. I typically through big gnarly Double Deceivers or Beef Jerky streamers with a sink tip. Crushing bass and trout with large articulated groceries is simplified and much easier with sink tip lines.
For the most part the “countdown” rate or weight of line I use is largely influenced by the depth of the water and type of cover I’m fishing. This being said you must know the water you’re fishing. For example, many lakes and ponds have parts of them with thick moss bottoms. Fish love to hunt and live in these environments. When fishing thick moss, it is crucial that your fly rides just above the moss; within striking distance for the fish but without the risk of being gobbled up by the thick grass-ish muck. Knowing the depth of the structure often equates to knowing the depth of the fish and success versus failure.
The accuracy of the depth you’re fishing is often just as important as the accuracy of your cast.