Tight Line Nymphing: Sighter Diameter

As I stated in a previous article discussing knots on the sighter section of a tight line nymphing leader…

There are many materials and methods for building a sighter into a tight line nymphing leader. A sighter, or section of hi-vis line in a leader, serves as a reference point for anglers to detect strikes. In addition to detecting strikes, it aids anglers with the ability to visualize where their flies are underwater, and how they are drifting. Since strike detection and drift awareness are two of the most important concepts in fly fishing, it makes sense to me that the sighter in a tight line nymphing leader is equally important.

Sighter diameter is yet another element of a tight line nymphing leader to consider. There are many different types of material that could be used to construct a sighter giving anglers many different options regarding diameter, or line size. For example, Rio 2-Tone Indicator Tippet is available is sizes ranging from 1x-4x.  So what diameter, or size, should you choose? Well, that depends.

Incase you are unfamiliar with Rio 2-Tone Indicator Tippet, here is a video from the RIO Products Vimeo with more information about the product.

I think that the biggest deciding factor while choosing sighter diameter is dependent on the size of tippet you fish most often. If you frequently fished 3 or 4x tippet sizes then you would probably want a larger sighter diameter such as 1 or 2x. On the other hand if you frequently fish 5 or 6x tippet sizes you may want a smaller sighter diameter such as 3 or 4x. For example, I almost always fish Rio 2-Tone Indicator 3x Tippet as my sigher material. Most days on the water I fish with 5x tippet, but I truly want the option to be able to fish 4, 5, or 6x at any given moment. By using a 3x diameter sighter I am able to easily make minor adjustments to accommodate my preferred range of tippet sizes.

Another factor to consider when choosing sighter diameter is water conditions. On larger rivers with heavy riffles, the extra thickness from a larger diameter sighter will be a little easier to see. On smaller streams or in low, clear water a smaller diameter sighter will spook less fish. I know it might sound crazy that a sighter could spook a fish, but on some of the more technical trout streams I’ve watched it happen. I fish a variety of larger rivers and smaller streams, by choosing a 3x diameter sighter I feel as though I am well prepared to fish about anywhere.

Consider tippet size and water conditions while choosing a diameter for the sighter in a tight line nymphing leader. Basing your decision upon these two factors will help you construct a sighter that is based upon your own specific needs.

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Fly Fishing Cumberland Valley: Letort Spring Run

I was recently invited to fly fish Letort Spring Run located in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania. Even being a Pennsylvania angler that fishes hundreds of days each year, I never casted a line in any of the historic trout streams of Cumber Valley before.

Letort Spring Run, or “The Letort”, is a famous 9.4 mile long limestone spring creek that flows throw Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Placed on Trout Unlimited’s list of 100 Best Trout Streams, The Letort is known for being a challenging fishery full of technical wild brown trout. It would be impossible to mention Letort Spring Run without noting anglers that fished there such as Ed Shenk, Charlie Fox, and Vincent Marinaro.

Because of anglers such as Shenk, Fox, and Marinaro, Letort Spring Run is a historic chalk stream here in the East. I could feel the presence of that history as I was stringing up my rod, walking down the nature trail to water, and preparing to make my first cast. Since Letort Spring Run is so well-known as a tough place to fish for wild brown trout, it can sort of serve as a proving ground for fly fisherman. Being able to catch a wild brown trout is one thing, but being able to fool a wild brown on The Letort proves skill as a fly fisherman. At the same time, there is no shame in being humbled on the banks of Letort Spring Run.

Looking upstream toward a nice “Glide” that produced several fish on a BWO dry fly pattern.

I was pleasantly surpised at how rural, or wild, it felt while fishing along the banks of The Letort, especially considering it flows through the town of Carlisle. A 2 mile Letort Spring Run Nature Trails runs along the stream from Bonny Brook down to Letort Park. This trail travels through marshes and woods serving as a great little escape from the “town” feel of Carlise. Not only is the trail great for hiking, it provides an excellent way for fly fisherman to access Letort Spring Run.

There are a number of signs, such as the one above, placed along the Letort Spring Run Nature Trail that provide information about the area.

Near the nature trail, The Letort is regulated as Heritage Trophy Angling by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. This section is a catch and release, fly fishing only section that is approximately a mile and a half in length upstream from Letort Park. If you are new to the area this is a great place to start due to ease of access, although there are many other sections of water to fish within the 9.4 miles of Letort Spring Run.

If you are looking for a place to grab some food and a beer after a day of fishing, I would recommend the Market Cross Pub in Carlisle. The food was excellent and the selection of beer was almost overwhelming.

Even a wild trout the size of this must be earned on Letort Spring Run.

The day that I fly fished the Letort the dreary, overcast weather was perfect for fishing. Thanks to cloud cover and relatively mild march air temperatures, Blue Winged Olives hatched through the afternoon. I fished at a very slow pace, and was able to catch fish on dries, nymphs, and even a streamer. I won’t bore you with all the sappy details of the beautiful wild brown trout I caught, or the nesting goose that tried to viciously to flog me…

Below are a couple more pictures from the day, and 6 tips that I think will help fly fisherman visiting Letort Spring Run.

6 Tips for Fly Fishing Letort Spring Run:

  1. Patience & A Slow Approach- The Letort is a stream where you first have to hunt fish before you can catch them. Approaching the water slowly, and having the patience to wait until the right opportunity to cast toward a rising fish can make all the difference.
  2. Wear Dull Colors- Colors such as dark brown, olive, or even camouflage will help you get closer to fish without spooking them. A bright color on a stream such as The Letort is like waving a warning flag for the fish.
  3. Focus on Casting- The first cast towards a fish is the best chance to fool him into eating your fly. Focus on making the best cast you can on the first cast, otherwise a smart, large wild brown on the Letort may not give you another chance.
  4. Fish Light Tippet- Smaller tippet sizes like 5x or 6x are suited to fishing small flies, and get cleaner drifts overall. While landing fish on light tippet can be a challenge itself, I believe it will help improve the number opportunities for hook ups.
  5. Fish Structure- Cunning wild brown trout love structure as it gives them a place to hide from anglers and other forms of prey. Structure such as weed edges, logs, or rocks are sure to hold fish. Don’t let the small size of the stream fool you, there could be a very large brown hidden by structure.
  6. Look for “Glides”- I refer to a glide as a section of water that slightly speeds up compared to an overall low gradient stream such as The Letort. In spring creeks such as The Letort, Glides often hold fish and are much more common than riffles.

Letort Spring Run is a limestone stream that I will certainly revisit in the future. I would never tell anyone that fly fishing The Letort will be easy, but I definitely think it will be worth it.

For more information about fly fishing in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania visit the Cumberland Valley Visitor Bureau.

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A Wind Advisory & Small Streamers

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Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer using Fish-Skull Articulated Fish-Spines and Minnow Grey Chocklett’s Body Wrap. I tied this “mini” version on a Gamakatsu B10s #4.

Last week the weather temperatures were pleasantly mild, so we hit the water with hopes of correctly timing a Blue Winged Olive hatch. While we did see a few BWO’s popping off shortly after we entered the water, it was pretty obvious that the wind would be problem.

In fact, the gusts of wind were so strong at times that it felt near impossible to nymph. Tight line nymphing methods were out of the question. The gusts of wind were so strong, that even indicator rigs were being blown across the water.

For awhile I suffered through the wind, and was able to pick up a couple fish on nymphs. But I’ll admit, dealing with the wind was not fun. There’s not much worse than the wind forcing drag into a drift. Rather than fight the wind any longer, I decided it would be much more enjoyable to fish small streamers.

On very windy days, I will often switch to stripping, or swinging streamers. Even the strongest gusts of winds have minimal impact on presentation while fishing streamers, comparatively. The streamers I swam were small, so casting in the wind was not really an issue either.

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A small, articulated sculpin inspired by Rich Strolis’s Headbanger Sculpin. Tied with a Mini Fish-Skull Sculpin Helmet, Gamakatsu B10s Size #4 up front, and Gamakatsu B10s #6 in the rear. (Rear hook is out of focus.)

Problem solved, no more miserably fighting strong gusts of wind. Even better, the fish were on it. Fish were diving all over the place to eat the small sculpin, and minnow pattern that I offered. This creek is not known for large fish, but there are more than enough small fish to keep it exciting.

A lot of the anglers that I guide say that I refuse to take no for answer from the trout. It’s true, as I always believe there is a way. The next time you are struggling to fish in gusts of wind, give small streamers a shot. It just might save the day.

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Tight Line Nymphing: Sighter Knots

There are many materials and methods for building a sighter into a tight line nymphing leader. A sighter, or section of hi-vis line in a leader, serves as a reference point for anglers to detect strikes. In addition to detecting strikes, it aids anglers with the ability to visualize where their flies are underwater, and how they are drifting. Since strike detection and drift awareness are two of the most important concepts in fly fishing, it makes sense to me that the sighter in a tight line nymphing leader is equally important.

It’s no secret that using a colored section of line for a sighter improves visibility. However, aspects of a sighter that I feel help me easily visualize strike detection and drift awareness are knots. The knots on a sighter create contrast points between different colors of material. These contrast points are the part of a sighter that standout the most to my eye.

For that reasoning I prefer to use a sighter that consists of three different sections of line alternating in color. This provides four different knots, or contrast points that stand out to the eye. By having multiple sections of line knotted together, it would also be possible to use a sigher tapered in diameter to improve cast-ability on a long tight line nymphing leader.

Somewhere I saw an angler leave the tag end of the knots on a sighter untrimmed in order to improve visibility. If necessary, untrimmed knots do tend to make a sighter stand out more. I was worried that these untrimmed tag ends would be more prone to tangling, but that does not seem to be the case. If you have trouble seeing your sighter, try leaving the tag ends on knots that join colors.

There are many two-toned indicator materials available from companies such as Rio, Umpqua, or Cortland. Even when using one of these two-toned indicator materials that naturally transition from one color to another, I prefer to cut the colors apart and knot them together creating a contrast point. My preferred knot for sighters is usually a blood knot.

The next time you are tying up a sighter, consider incorporating knots as contrast points that will help strike detection and improve drift awareness.

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Fly Fishing: Fish Smarter, Then Harder

“Ours is the grandest sport. It is an intriguing battle of wits between an angler and a trout; and in addition to appreciating the tradition and grace of the game, we play it in the magnificent out-of-doors.”
~ Ernest G. Schwiebert, Jr.


If there is one angler I would have loved to fish with, it would have been Ernie Schwiebert. I couldn’t agree more that fly fishing “is an intriguing battle of wits between an angler and a trout”. Which is why I think when the fishing is tough, and angler needs to focus on fishing smarter.

Lets think about at casting for example. Casting harder, or overpowering a rod, will usually create way more problems than solutions. If an angler wishes to cast farther, they need to cast smarter, not harder. Catching fish can the exact same way.

As anglers, no matter how hard we try we cannot force feed the fish at will. Simply fishing harder will not make the wrong technique, or fly, work better.

When faced with adversity on the water, I fall back on an analytical approach. At times it’s been said that I over-analyze. There could be some truth to that, but I am passionate about trying to completely understand WHAT the fish are doing and WHY they are doing it. This helps to drive me as a fly fisherman, and keeps fly fishing a never-ending journey.

There are many things anglers can control such as location, water type, technique, fly selection, weight distribution, depth, tippet size, indicator type, etc. When you do find success on the water, it’s helpful to consider all the details that came together to create that success. From time to time, I record some of my experiences on the water in a journal to reflect on at a later time.

Being a detail oriented angler will never hurt. Analyzing details, recalling prior experiences, and recognizing situations are key factors in figuring fish out. The next time you are on the water and the fishing is tough, try fishing smarter. After you have the fish figured out, then fish harder.

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