Slack, “not taut or held tightly in position; loose.”
Over the past few months, I’ve taken a couple dozen people fishing, some with experience, but most with no experience whatsoever. One of the most common themes I keep seeing with every angler when nymphing or fishing streamers is how often slack line piles up. Slack is not inherently bad, in fact, sometimes it’s desired. For example:
- Slack in dry flies is good and most times, in controlled amounts, necessary to ensure a natural drift.
- Slack when swinging a fly is desired when you want the fly to drop in the water column, but it’s all managed slack. This controlled amount typically removes itself out of the system as the fly progresses down river.
- Slack in nymphing can be beneficial at times, primarily when fishing farther distances.
- Slack in streamer fishing is rarely beneficial.
There may be a time and place for controlled slack in every technique of fly fishing. What I have witnessed, and what I’m referring to here is not intentional but excessive, unmanaged slack. Yards of un-held line coiled up around people’s feet without a hand managing it, a long drooping bend of line between some of the rod guides, or just a coiled up pile of line drifting downstream between the rod tip and the fly.
There are two major problems that occur with excessive slack:
I often tell people that one of the first parts to an effective cast is removing slack. Here’s why:
The reason why bending or “loading” of the rod is necessary is because it creates and stores energy. As you finish your cast and release the line, that energy from the rod will transfer from the rod to the line then eventually to the fly.
The only way your fly goes across the river is if the energy stored and created by the rod can travel through the line and to the fly. With too much slack line your rod may load as you want it to, but the energy created and sent down the line toward the bug will not have enough force. This means the fly won’t go where you want it to. Basically, the energy from the rod that should go to the fly is stolen and eaten up by slack line.
The result, a flopping roll cast that doesn’t have enough power to pull the streamer, nymphing rig, or dry fly from the water let alone cast to the other side of the stream. This poor cast will result in even more slack in your system and more frustration.
The solution - remove slack!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a fish hit a dry fly, the indicator drowning from a tugging fish, or a streamer get smashed and watch as the angler lifts the rod tip to set the hook, but the fly doesn’t even move.
The problem - too much slack.
When they go to set the hook, they lift the rod tip, but all they’re doing is moving line that has piled up. The result is that they’re unable to set the hook properly, which leads to a dazed, confused, hungry fish and a frustrated angler.
The solution, remove slack!
HOW TO FIX IT:
It’s easy to fix this problem once you know it exists. Here are a few ways you can:
- Pull in the fly line with your off hand as the fly drifts downstream towards you.
- Make shorter casts.
- Don’t strip out the entire spool of line to start casting.
- Keep your rod tip in the water (if you’re streamer fishing).
COMMON QUESTION: HOW MUCH SLACK IS TOO MUCH SLACK?
Well, there’s a lot of different factors that go into this question: 1) How long is the rod, 2) how long is your arm, 3) how much force can you put and maintain on the rod when you set the hook, 4) your reflexes, 5) the depth/weight of the flies, 6) how far you’re casting, 7) how fast the water’s moving, 8) what type of rod you’re fishing, and many other factors.
Because so many things are involved I would simply say this is how you know - If you lift the rod and the fly doesn’t move at all; you have too much slack. That could be a few inches or a few feet, but if the fly doesn't move you need to reel in some line!
Slack is not always a bad thing. It can prove helpful in some situations, primarily when you want to ensuring your flies are drifting as naturally as possible, or to slow them down when swinging the fly. Keep in mind though, it’s always managed slack. Overall, for the vast majority of nymph and streamer angling slack is bad or unnecessary.
The biggest key to maintaining just the right amount is to make sure you are constantly in control of your fly line.
At first, it will be an annoying task, and I’ve seen first-hand the frustrated looks on people’s faces when I have to keep reminding them, “Pull in the slack line.” Then three casts later I say again, “Pull in the slack line.” Then 4 casts later I politely change it up and say, “Make sure you’re removing the extra slack.” The reason I constantly bring it up is because with slack in the system, when it’s not intentionally there, it will not help you catch fish, and when one does eat you won’t be able to hook her properly.
Training your mind to constantly manage your fly line and remove slack is one of the ways that you can very easily achieve a higher level of angling and catch more fish. Honestly, it’s an easy fix.