Dangling is an important Chironomid method if you're targeting trout in deep water. I was first introduced to it several years ago, when I was indicator fishing off a steep drop-off. My leader was inexcusably set at a length I can only remember as being annoyingly long to cast.
My friend, who clearly saw me struggling said with a grin, "Nice cast! You're never going to catch fish that way."
With a frustrated yet determined look on my face, I ignored his comment the best I could and attempted to turnover my entire presentation. Strike indicator and all, it didn't take long before it became a wind tangled mess. He was right. This wasn't going to work.
Defeated. "What do you suggest?"
Dangling is a fly fishing method consisting of a full sinking line. Typically a type 5 or 6 will work the best, but you can get away with using a type 3 or 4 (you just have to be a little more patient while you wait for the line to sink). As the name suggests, the line is vertically dangled from your rod tip down in a straight line to the desired depth. There isn't any slack in your line; in other words, the fish hit hard.
I'll be honest and say this isn't my preferred method. This system lacks that special fly fishing touch or sensation, but as mentioned above, it serves its purpose. Over the years, I've gained confidence in dangling and without question it's brought success on the water. It's another weapon to add to your arsenal and the condition in which to use it will present itself to you. And you'll be ready.
Let's start with the basics. Why do we dangle? Well, if we're tracking trout on the fish finder at depths greater than 30+ ft, we'll decide that constructing a leader of that length is total overkill. It's awkward, difficult to cast and has a tendency to become tangle prone, especially in windy conditions. And if you're indicator fishing, you might even miss a few takes caused by the delay in setting the hook. So we switch to what's known as the dangling method.
The line setup is simple. Take your full sinking line and add a 2-3 ft section of a heavy gauge fluorocarbon tippet, 2X or 3X will suffice. You can do so by means of a loop to loop connection or nail knot. Next, we add another 2-3 ft of a slightly lesser diameter tippet section, in this case, 3X or 4X fluorocarbon via a double surgeon's knot or blood knot. This is a relatively standard setup to have on your sinking line reel, but a tad shorter than normal. There's no reason to have a 9 ft leader when dangling, we want to keep things tight and in control. From here, we can attach our fly by either a non-slip loop knot or improved clinch knot.
The key to dangling is, well, the dangle itself. We want our fly and presentation to vertically dangle below the rod tip. First we need to determine the depth we are fishing at. How do we accurately measure the depth? The old fashioned way, with trusty pair of forceps.
Attach the forceps to your fly and begin to slowly descend your fly into the water. Your rod tip will bend and the line will be taut until it reaches the bottom (it's important to note, when we are actually fishing the dangling method, the rod tip is touching the water's surface. So as we determine the depth we want to ensure our rod tip is in the same position to get an accurate reading). At this point, there shouldn't be any slack in your line. The fly and forceps are resting on the bottom and there isn't any excess line outside of the reel.
Next, strip in 1-2 ft of the fly line. You will feel the weight of the forceps again as they're now suspended 1-2 ft from the bottom. Reel in this excess 1-2 ft line you have just stripped in. Your presentation is now set to hang 1-2 ft from the bottom. Strip in the remainder of the line and remove the forceps from the fly (do not reel in any of this new stripped line, otherwise you have just defeated the purpose of setting the depth). Now you can make your cast and allow time for the fly to settle into position. Your fly is now suspended 1-2 ft from the bottom and you're dangling!
Now that you're in position and you've just cracked a cold beer, we wait. Enjoy the beer, check out the scenery. If you're not into fish yet, strip in a slow retrieve to work the fly up through the water column, imitating the hatch. The nice thing about dangling is that you never have to reset your line (until you catch a fish and your reel starts screaming). Once the fly has been slowly retrieved to the surface, simply re-cast all of the stripped line, let the fly dangle and start the retrieve again. You may want to work different areas and play around with your retrieve speeds. Fish tend to hit the fly on the pause during the retrieve.
The last point that needs mentioning is the trout's take. When a trout, no matter the size, gets a hold of the fly during a dangle you need to hang onto your rod, otherwise it may be ripped from your hands. The takes can seem surprisingly violent, aggressive and powerful. Imagine this, you're working your fly up through the water column, approximately 3 ft from the bottom. A fish inhales the fly and takes off with it, instantly travelling either straight up or straight down. Either way, you're going for a ride. Try and keep the rod away from the edge of the boat or from going underneath you in a float tube. Hang on tight and make sure your rod is either secure in hand or a rod holder - speaking from experience here.
You may find other ways to reach deeper depths, but we suggest giving this method a try. You may quickly see the advantage and fall in love with a new Chironomid tactic that helps you solve problems on the water. FISH ON!