Despite what you may think, fly fishing naked has nothing to do with the amount of clothes you're wearing. In fact, we highly recommend wearing clothes as you fly fish, for the sake of others, but hey, to each their own.
Lets forget about Chironomids for half a second. The naked technique is an 'OG' (original gangster) method to fly fishing and it deserves some quick recognition. Casting a floating line in a stillwater setting, with a long enough leader to account for the leader's arc (which will be addressed later) and reach bottom. Patience accompanied with a painfully slow retrieve, the sounds of the surrounding wilderness and the feeling of working a fly within a high percentage zone of cruising trout. Okay, now lets add Chironomids back into the mix - I've got goosebumps.
Fishing naked, in this sense, means fishing without the use of an indicator. The only thing responsible for keeping your fly in the zone is you. I typically use the naked technique in 10-25 ft of water, mainly because anything over that depth requires a long leader, which can be tricky to cast, especially when the conditions are windy.
When it comes to fly lines, the naked technique demands a floating line. There are many great options out there, something that will work for everyone. I've put my trust in the RIO Perception. It's a smooth cast, well built taper. Durable, yet sensitive. It has a short shooting head making it versatile for many patterns and presentations for both rivers and lakes.
The key to fishing naked is comprised of two foundations, well three if you include the set up. Patience and contact are essentials to effectively master this technique. The patience needed to allow your fly and leader to sink into position can be agonizing at times and we're all guilty of starting the retrieve before the fly is at the proper depth. There is a solution, wear a watch and monitor the countdown. Knowing when you've hit bottom and readjusting your count. On the contrary, knowing when you've hit fish and repeating the same count. Patience is also required in the retrieve itself. Painstakingly slow strips of line, I'm talking about half an inch at a time, as you slowly pull the fly up through the water column.
Contact is everything. You need to be in touch with the fly to detect subtle takes. Aggressive takes are easy to detect. Contact starts with the cast and is translated through the line into the leader/ tippet section and ends at the fly. Stay in control. Although we can't feel the fly, we know it's there through contact. We lose contact with certain conditions such as wind, which can cause slack in the line. During the retrieve, we need to manage the slack in the line in order to have a clean hook set. You can do so by recovering the slack as the conditions or surface current feeds it back to you. If our reaction is delayed from mismanaging contact, it's going to result in missed takes. Contact is everything.
The setup is simple; floating line, leader, tippet section and fly. Attach a standard 9 ft monofilament tapered leader to the fly line by means of a loop to loop connection or nail knot. The size will ultimately be your decision as it depends on the size of the trout you're chasing but a 4X, 6.4 lb or a 5X, 5 lb are generally the standards. The tippet section should be fluorocarbon. As a general rule, the tippet section should be of equal or lesser diameter than your tapered leader. In this case, 4X or 5X. (we will get to the length of the tippet section shortly). As for the fly, attach it with an improved clinched knot or the non-slip loop knot.
The interesting part to this method is the length of your leader setup (tippet section included) in relation to the depth we are fishing in. The way tapered leaders are designed, the thick butt section will sink at a slower rate than the thin tippet section. This causes an arc shape to form as the leader hangs with a droop in the water column. This arc becomes an obstacle. We are going to compensate for this arc, but if we didn't, the fly would hang short of our expected depth. For example, if our leader and tippet section were a combined 12 ft, our fly would only reach 9 ft. This is because of the different sink rates within our tapered leader and tippet section. In order to compensate for this, we need to add an additional 25% of either leader or tippet so that our fly can target our required depth. Surface currents can also effect the arc.
This setup will require some quick math to determine how much leader or tippet length you'll need to add. Using the example from the diagram above, we are fishing in 12 ft of water. In order to get our fly close to the bottom we will have to add 25%.
12 ft + 25% = 15 ft
In deeper water, it will take a longer period of time for a fly to reach the bottom. You might have to add additional weight to the leader such as; split shot or swivels to get your fly in the zone faster. Consider using tungsten over brass beads to assist with the sinking rate of your fly.
A definite must try - the naked technique.