8 Ways to More Effectively Fish a Fly in Deep Water
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Many years ago when we were kids, me and a buddy went on a bottom-fishing trip off the California coast where the day was spent doing drifts in about 300 feet of water.
For some weird reason I was actually pretty hyped for that trip, but let me tell you...that feeling ended really quick. Turns out, reeling in 1-pound sinkers and sometimes multiple fish at once from those depths is not all that enjoyable, especially for a scrawny kid with twiggy arms.
Us fly anglers are much more limited as to what depths we can achieve, but we can still efficiently fish our flies in some fairly deep water. While in conventional fishing all you really need to do is tie on a heavier lure or weight, in the fly fishing world we often have to utilize a few added tricks or even change up our gear entirely to achieve the desired result. Fly fishing deep water can be a bit of a chore no matter what, but it's also highly effective and can be tons of fun. Let's run through a few ideas to help you get more depth out of each presentation...
Fish With Sinking Line
One of the most obvious ways to get your fly down and keep it there is with a....*drumroll please*.....sinking line! A sinking line is a great tool for when you are swinging or stripping various types of wet flies/streamers. For many saltwater and lake anglers, a sinking line is basically a must since the fish may often be found far below the surface. However, even something like an intermediate sinking line which may only keep the fly down a foot or two can make all the difference. For some basic info on sinking lines, check out our Fly Lines & Backing section.
Use Weighted Flies
Another way to help take your fly into the dark depths is by simply adding weight to the fly. This can range from adorning the hook with some type of bead, wrapping lead around the bare shank while tying, or tying on weighted eyes like bead chain or dumbbell eyes. Unlike a heavy lure that can simply be tossed out or dropped down and allowed to sink rapidly, flies can only be so heavy before they become uncastable. While adding weight to the fly alone is not enough to efficiently take it extremely deep, this can be very effective when used in conjunction with a sinking line and a few of our other listed tricks. Our past blog post touches on a few of the ways to add some heft to your flies here.
Add Split Shot
Adding split shot to the leader above the fly is a fast and effective way to make your patterns plummet. This method is mainly used when drifting flies like nymphs in a river and is great because you can add or remove shot for different currents and depths. Using split shot also allows you to efficiently fish deeper while still using a floating line for easy mending and line control. While split shot has most commonly been made of lead, environmentally-friendly options like the Loon Tin Weights also exist. As an alternative, different types of sinking putties like Loon Deep Soft Weight are also available which can be applied to the leader and custom-shaped to your liking.
Fine-Tune Your Leader Construction
Using the thinnest possible leader material is another way to let your flies sink just a bit more freely. Thicker line has more resistance which will not cut through the water as well, but a thinner line offers less resistance for a better sink rate. Leader length is another aspect you must consider, especially with sinking lines. When fishing a sinking line, I often like to use the shortest leader possible according to the depth and water clarity. A shorter leader will allow the fly to get pulled down by the tip of the sinking fly line faster. This can make a big difference in moving water when you want your fly to get down into a small, specific zone without delay!
Try a Fluorocarbon Leader
Fluorocarbon line is not only touted as being less visible, but it sinks a little quicker than standard monofilament so it's worth mentioning as yet another way to help keep your fly down.
Use the Current/Wind
Presenting your fly in the direction of the wind or current gives your fly/line additional time to sink freely with the flow of the water. This is not just a tactic to use on rivers. Even while fly fishing from a boat on a lake or open ocean, I'll often cast into the direction of the drift if I need a lot more depth.
I've even taken a more drastic approach while offshore fly fishing for species like king mackerel or false albacore that are down deep in 30+ feet of water. I'll make a long cast into the direction of the drift, let the boat drift past the sinking line/fly (while bringing my rod around the bow or stern to follow the line and feeding out line if needed), then begin my retrieve in a nearly vertical fashion from the opposite side of the boat. It takes patience, but it's an effective way to get super deep and cover a huge piece of the water column on a single retrieve.
Feed Slack Line
For a rapid sink rate, give your line added slack. By feeding out some loose line through mending or simply shaking excess line out of the guides, the line will be free to sink without interference and the fly won't pendulum back towards you as it would while sinking under tension. The one downside here is that you may not detect a strike if a fish eats the fly as it sinks.
Put the Tip Underwater
With a full-sinking line, sticking your rod tip under the surface while you retrieve the fly can help keep everything deeper for a longer time. I typically don't like dropping the tip too far below the surface, but that is fully up to you for the given situation. For you conventional bass anglers out there, this is similar to sticking the rod tip way underwater while reeling in a deep-diving crankbait (aka "kneeling and reeling"), but to a lesser degree.
Sight-fishing or just fishing shallow water in general is a blast, but I also love the mystery of blind casting out in the open and drawing a surprise strike from the depths. Hopefully at least one of these tips is new to you and will help you catch more fish!