Committing time to unweighted flies

Today was one of those days, not an unsuccessful day of fishing but one of those where the usual doesn’t work and you’re left in a bit of a puzzle… Water is clear and lower than average. Fish were freely rising and looking up but no array of manipulation or size / colour variance led to only 3 fish in an hour. Tying on an small 2.5mm tungsten nymph and suddenly it becomes 3+ fish from a pool.

While I don’t set out to catch lots of fish on a trip, having visual tells that there are more fish actively feeding than you’re persuading onto the end of your line can be somewhat frustrating. Does anyone have any thoughts / suggestions around committing to unweighted flies other than the obvious don’t ever switch to something weighted!


Hi Duncan,

Whilst I can’t claim to be an expert here are my thoughts based on the functional aspects of the changes you made. Sorry for not really answering your question…

I have observed that adding weight does 3 main things.

Helps you manage wind (if it’s excessive, but up. And downstream), perhaps your resulting shot placement was better?

Adds disturbance to the fly landing. Perhaps the fish were generally needing a bit more of a trigger. Despite the clarity, was the water noisy?

Heavier flies hold deeper, even if you’re holding them up in the water they may be a couple of inches deeper than an unweighted. Perhaps the fish were particularly enjoying something emerging subsurface?

I’m sure @Paul_Gaskell will be along to set me straight if I’m way off!

Trust all is well otherwise!?


Were you fishing wets or dries before switching to the nymph? Were you getting refusals/follows from the rising fish or were they just ignoring you?

As for me, I haven’t yet caught enough fish in my life to be any kind of purist. I go out there to catch 'em and if a nymph is working better than an unweighted fly, I’m not going to stand on ceremony…I’m going to switch.

Could you see what they were rising on?

Sometimes size needs to match. and…Sometimes you can offer something different that stands out as being a lot different to get their attention.

If they were striking emergers than they could be keyed on a specific silhouette. Size…shape. But presenting in front of them…they may more readily gobble what ever is in there path.

Not sure how sound these thoughts are.

What I usually do is vary my presentations until I get some sort of reaction and see if I can repeat it. Then try to hone from there. Sometimes its the weirdest thing that can be the trigger.

What manipulations did you try?

Water clarity can sometimes get the fish picky.

My suggestion is don’t commit to unweighted flies unless you are not bothered by not catching fish. Sure, you can catch some fish with unweighted flies, and if you fished only unweighted flies you would get better with practice. However, you would almost certainly catch more fish if you didn’t limit yourself. So, which is more important, catching fish or fishing unweighted flies?

I can understand committing to unweighted flies if the reason is because you prefer the smooth, delicate casting you can only get with an unweighted fly. I cannot understand committing to unweighted flies based on the assumption that anglers in another country in another century used unweighted flies.


More thoughts.

Sometimes on high sun I feel that the fish do not linger much at the surface. They get more skittish and anything that does not seem right might not be worth the risk. Predation…and potentially your presence.

When I fished with Peder I noted that I do things that seem like unnatural motions on a fly and get a response. He told me to look at footage of insects swimming around.

so I dug these up.

Motion an pause…

These bugs can move in ways that are closer to fish than what I would have guessed. Sort of explains why swinging flies can work so well.

One of my buddies does a swing and hold just barely sub surface. He destroys me with his technique. I have had the most luck with a swing and skate.

Trout can be irritated to strike…if you can find the right button to push. It seems like it is different every outing.

Weightless or lightly weighed flies can be much more versatile than beads. Beads get down…but they also can sink un-naturally.

I understand the sentiment, but would also like to note that the motivation to use an un-weighed fly is much more complicated. I noticed in your recent blog you note how effective spoons are. I wholeheartedly agree. I spent years of my youth riling trout with spoons. Its the vibration…in my opinion and not so much the flash.

So why, flyfish???

They are different disciplines…requiring different tactics and skill to master.

As is fishing a beadhead, a un-weighed kebari, or a dry fly.

All fun to learn and perhaps each one progressively more challenging. That is the fun part.

Can I fool this fish with my skill?


Can I fool this fish with bait?


Can I fool this fish with something that is easy to master and easy to convert fish with?

If I had to put food on the table…sure as shine…I will reach for bait or a spoon. Probably a spoon.
But for entertainment. I will goof off with the feathers and hooks.

I wanted to add. I am getting better as a flyfisherman every year and really enjoy it. I also enjoy the challenge of fishing unweighed flies. Sometimes they out produce beads…sometimes its a draw. I cannot say I am unaffected by tenkara purists. I am, and I embrace the learning as it improves me as an angler. The more tools in the toolbox, the more fish I can catch when I really want to.


“tenkara-kebari” is neither dry fly nor wet fly

“Sakasa-kebari” is not just a soft hackle fly

Deliver to the place where the fish by using the flow of the river
(Water flowing from the water surface to the bottom of the water)

Because it is simple, it mimics various things

Of course, I will also use the GB head when delivering it to a place with a deep flow

Translation is not good so please do not misunderstand





If you want to commit to that limitation then I say go for it. The challenge will teach you things no doubt. There is though nothing about tenkara that says you cannot use heavier hooks, bead heads or other tying tricks to make the fly heavier or sink faster. There is also nothing about a weighted fly that prevents you from doing manipulations or “luring” techniques…in fact that added connection to the fly from the weight in a very visible big hackle pattern can help you learn by seeing and feeling your manipulations more. You can hold a bead head on the surface and even grip a pocket and have it hold there; downstream surface stuff too. One of my favorite bead head concepts is a stiff hackle bead head. The weight gets you deeper and helps the fly sink faster on a pause in a pulse… Beads or weight do not mean you are “nymphing” in a European sense or match the hatch sense.

I agree with your rational, for me it is more of a learning process, knowing that it may (or may not) have been possible at the time… I have spent the majority of my time fishing with nymphs, unweighted flies are quite a new world for me.

@gressak There were multiple hatches LDOs and then the smaller grannom too. Manipulations wise, all sorts including downstream holding and vibrating the fly.

I find instances where the fish will not touch a bead, they will often take an unweighed.
Sometimes they will take both or only one.

It is more difficult to feel takes on the un weighed flies. Sometimes the fish are taking…you just cant feel it and they drop the fly before you even realize what happened. With bead there tends to be more immediate feedback as the line has some tension and it is easy to feel the connection.

I too am just starting to really dig into manipulations. I have fished unweighed a ton prior to this season, with a fair amount of success but far more success recently that I have been experimenting more. It is fascinating that one can drift through a pool a dozen times…then suddenly you work the fly near the surface…either on or sub…and the fish just go wild for it. In a pool that seemed dead.

I have had a case similar to yours where fish were rising and it took a bit of goofing around to figure what they will take. That is part of the fun.

Good luck!!!