The Dead Drift

@dpnoll I will not pretend to be an expert. I have friends who are much better tenkara anglers than I, then there are fellas in Japan that will put us all to shame.

Like I noted…I sort of jumble up anything sub surface as nymphing. Please share your definition and flies you use.

I can try to share what I have learned and my philosophy. I do not expect anyone to adopt my approach but I offer it as food for thought.

When I made the statement about drag free drifts. One benefit of tenkara is the potential a drag free drift and tenkara really makes it easy to do. That said, a dead drift is just one presentation. If we watch an underwater insect hatch we find swimming insects. They have propulsion and motion and can overcome current. Also forage like small bait fish will move contrary to current.

If fish are actively feeding they will take anything. If there is a lot of forage in the water, they may take a dead drift. Sometime even if fish are not feeding a dead drift will work if you pass the fly close enough to the trout. A dead drift is a highly productive in fact many tenkara anglers will start with that.

So what do we do when they do not respond to dead drift? Sometimes changing the fly makes a difference, but i have found what magically can make the difference is not the fly but the presentation.

Folks often refer drawing a strike with a fish to teasing a cat with a string. You have to mix up the presentations until you find the one that draws a pounce!

Drag on a fly can read as living and as food. When I say tenkara is about fly control. I have control over when it is dead drift and when it does something else.

In these colder water temps. This season I have doing a intermittent of subtle micro pulses. I only do two or three and then let it dead drift 3-4 feet…then repeat. I have converted a ton of fish that did not respond to dead drift. I am fishing futsu kebari. The movement signals I am alive but struggling. The stiff hackle sends out a vibration signature. So it is felt(lateral line) and it is visual.

Sometimes it is full on textbook rhythmic kebari-sasoi (pulsing).

Sometimes it is dead drift and vertical swing (rise)

Sometimes it is dead drift and horizontal(cross current) swing (rise)

Sometimes it is dead drift, rise, and skate.

Sometimes it is just holding in one spot in current…sub surface.

All these have times that will magically convert fish. Sometimes when you find the right one, you will catch fish instantly on every stop. It can be fun!

I am in the camp. we can draw a reaction strike. If it moves like forage, the presentation can overcome many things related to the fly. Its size and even things like if it represents a bait fish or an insect. Sometimes trout may strike from just being annoyed.

Some of these fly manipulation techniques can be considered in your drift.


Gressak, I nymph with rods anywhere from 320cm - 400cm usually using a 2.0 - 3.0 level line that is slightly longer than the rod. I don’t need anything longer in the Driftless Area. I usually have 2.5’ - 3’ of 5x tippet. I almost always use one of three different nymphs. A purple perdigon in a size 16 or 18, a pink squirrel 2.0 in the same sizes or a size 12 red neck pheasant tail with a soft hackle. They all have tungsten beads. At the end of my drift I do a lift and sometimes I will tap my rod to give the fly a little bounce.

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@dpnoll , Excellent. I had to look them up.

purple perdigon

pink squirrel

red neck pheasant tail with a soft hackle

To disclose, beyond some experiments with prince nymphs, pheasant tails, and zebra midges I do not fish small flies (under 14) and rarely fish anything without some sort of hackle. Sometimes when I target wild brookies that can be just 3" long, I will use a 16 but almost always are a futsu pattern these days.

I have run into many skilled traditional flyrodders nymphing midge hatches and are extremely productive. 50-100 fish outing sort of boasting, and I believe them. My eyesight prevents me from exploring small flies further. I look it as a challenge to convert fish with 12 -14s during a midge event…really, I have no choice but to embrace my handicap!!!

If you want to try something new that injects some extra utility, try adding a collar of dry fly hackle to the collar of each of those or just one. I personally would opt for a fly in the 12 or a 14 size.

I spent a couple years just fishing the weightless and lightly weighed futsu patterns, but the last three I started experimenting with a bead headed version for use in really deep runs and deep pools. Dredgin!

Why Stiff hackle?
Stiff hackle without weight generates a lot of surface area and can be used to present deep really fast if we play the current. Consider the stiff hackle like velcro for current. It sticks to current like wind to a sail. Combine it with a weighed head, it will go even faster.

When you consider hyrdo dynamics, water moves around obstacles. I have found that I snag less with futsu style flies in either beaded or weightless. Once on the current, it tends to just follow it an because it has so much grip on it, it even can overcome the drag of the tippet, when fishing deeper. If you try it, you will have more tactile feedback. You can feel it in the current’s tractor beam.

Current is like this van gogh painting but in 3 dimensions. Natural presentations can present forage upstream in some cases, but a fly without drag(surface area) in current will continue to be pulled downstream by the force/surface area on the tippet. Really small nymphs have almost no surface area.

This thread discusses the idea but with a video.

It is alive loudspeaker!!!

In addition to adding some utility in natural presentation in current, it also acts as a loud speaker when we put counter current action on it.

If we consider skating flies and flies that are typically skated. The are often palmered hackle fly patterns as the futsu is. If we skate a typical nymph pattern on top, the wake will not be as significant. Palmered hackle is bristled and will also vibrate. Think about running a finger across a hair brush. Skating flies is deadly so adding them to our patterns allows us to fish deep then skate.

Why skating works on top is the same reason why it works deep too.
Look at the v-wake on that fly when dragged cross current. It drives all predatory fish nuts. That wave we see is the displacement in the water. It is visualized on the surface but sub surface it is the same, just not visible. All fish pick this up on their lateral line.

When we pulse a fly it also sends out this signal. A palmered pattern will send out a stronger signal. I would think with the extra vibration it probably reads as super buggy.

With great power comes great responsibility

I will always start with dead drift. Too much signal may over stimulate(spook the fish. I suspect it could turn them off. In a section of river, I will slowly crank the signal up to 11 using different techniques.

Dead drift == no signal
Dead drift + sparse pulse == some signal
Dead drift + swing rise or swing cross current == some signal
rhythmic pulse == more signal
rhythmic pulse + swing rise or swing cross current == mega signal
surface or sub surface skate == mega signal

I will meticulously fish a section going from 0 -11, but once I find the pattern that they are responding to, I use that to start in the next section of river and often get an instant response. It is not always true but often enough. To play it safe, i will start with dead drift an then pick the presentation that worked last.

Trout feed on different things, so how their forage is moving factors in. Sometime the movement is match the hatch, sometimes to stand out you want to do something different than the forage. What the forage is actually doing is almost irrelevant. My eyesight prevents me to see what they are feeding on most of the time. I also have found that the rulebook is not helpful. I am an improvisational fisherman. I try to treat every moment as a potential que to change what I am doing.

I hope you or others find this helpful. Also, if you dont tie your own flies, you should learn. It opens the gamut of possibility. Message me if you dont tie, I can tie some for you to try.


Gressak, I don’t tie so these are the places I get my flies from. They are all barbless with tungsten beads.

This year I am also trying out killer kebari, both regular and with a bead.


Not squirrel but jameson shetland in wren color. A futsu variation of the pink squirrel pattern.


I’ve got to try that pattern! Looks good!


That will fish.

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Following your lead. I didn’t have any Wren wool, but I’ve ordered some.


Beautiful. My tying sucks in comparison, but thankfully trout are not critics.

You are an artist. Exhibit A.


Not a big surprise, but that pattern works. Put six on the leash this morning before one wiggled off and sent it into a tree. Had fish take on other presentations, but the conversions were strictly dead drift this morning.


@tvdavisid Is that grizzly hackle or something else? The color looks slightly different from the several grizzly that I have and really like what it looks like.

I like your variation better than the original.

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I wonder if fish ever have a preference of hackle free nymph patterns. Like refusals because of hackle. I just tend to add it no matter what. My box no longer has any free of hackle so it is hard for me to judge.

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I went out this morning and used a size 16 purple perdigon and probably landed well over 30 in about 3 hours.


Yes, Grizzly hackle. It is a more pronounced version with darker striations, however.


I tied some up with Wren using a jig hook for fun. I need to go try it out.


Oh yeah, that will work a treat!

If you fish for bluegill or other panfish, you might try something silly. Make the bead and yarn body super chunky. My youngest did that while learning to tie, and that accident has resulted in numerous hits so hard they broke 5x tippet, even on a 12’ Tenkara rod.


“Children shall show us the way.” I know this is out of context but it was the first thing that came to my mind. Please keep encouraging your child to continue fly tying. Awesome.


Here is an article on a Blog where the author is a big advocate of mono rig fly fishing…so not Tenkara but in the case of this topic in some ways related.

Some interesting points…first that drag free or dead drift in its perfect form is unobtainable…but when you strive for it the small parts of drag do micro movements to imitate life…that is why it works…it is not truly “dead”. Having said that he admits as @Gressak noted he will then do manipulations…sometimes that is the ticket!


Yeah. Deadish or deader might be better decriptors but more confusing. From a boat, dead drift is very animated by waves. Dead drift in general might be the most naturalistic movement, but embellishinng can sometimes seal the deal or convert staging fish.