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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A Wind Advisory & Small Streamers

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.

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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Unlimited Strikes


It never fails to amaze me how many anglers hesitate to set the hook. Often while guiding I’ll yell “Set!” and an angler will turn around without setting and say “I think that was bottom”, or “I’m not sure that was a fish”. I will immediately reply, “Well you could be right, but the only way to make sure is if you set the hook”.

I understand that there are times when getting a strike is not as obvious as usual. Really though, what does it hurt to set the hook and find out? The only way to ever catch a fish is to set the hook (I realize that sometimes other acts of luck happen, however, I am referring to an anglers own doing). Why not be aggressive about setting the hook? The more aggressive an angler is by setting the hook without hesitation, even when they aren’t exactly sure if it was a strike, the more hook ups an angler will have. I am aware that not everyone has quite the same level of a “trained eye” for detecting strikes. Part of this could be from not getting to spend as much time on the water, but another reason could be because an angler is just not sure what to look for. Not only will setting the hook at every little inclination allow an angler to catch more fish, it will also help “train” his eye towards what subtle strikes look like. I’ll admit, sometimes I set the hook just because I refuse to believe that a fish did not eat my fly while drifting in a particular spot. You would be surprised how many times you will be rewarded with a fish for setting when you just think you have to. I also understand that sometimes a strike can be mistaken for catching the bottom. Getting hooked on the bottom is a huge part of nymph fishing. For some reason anglers perceive getting hooked on the bottom as a bad thing, I think it is just the opposite (within reason). If you are not hooking the bottom odds are you are not getting your flies deep enough. In my mind hooking the bottom once or twice every ten casts is a good thing. It tells you that you are achieving depth and therefore fishing your flies in front of the fish. To maximize catch rates an angler needs to overcome these doubts by setting the hook without hesitation.

I realize that while setting the hook more frequently there will times you are not rewarded with a fish, there will be times you catch the bottom, there will be times you end up in the tree that is above you, BUT there will also be times you catch fish that otherwise you wouldn’t have. There’s nothing wrong with “striking out” or setting the hook when the result is not a fish. I am here to inform you that fly fishing is in no way related to being in the batters box of a baseball game. Unlike baseball, as anglers we have an unlimited amount of strikes. Anglers who set the hook aggressively without hesitation catch more fish. The next time you are on the water, “SET THE HOOK!”.


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One Less Split-Shot?

“The difference between a good angler and a great angler is often one piece of split-shot.” This is a quote that is often recited to me by clients while I am guiding, however, it is only ever mentioned when an angler is referring to adding more weight to a nymphing rig. You never hear this statement being made when an angler has the intention of removing weight. I think a lot of anglers have fallen into the trap of fishing rigs as much split-shot as they can get away. This is a sure way to make sure flies are always getting down, but at what cost? When trying to fish as much split-shot as a piece of water will allow, you are sacrificing one vital part of what we do as anglers, DRIFT!

Everyone is always bantering “Presentation is Key”. That is one part of fly fishing I will never argue. I also agree that in some types of water adding one more piece of split-shot could be the difference between catching fish or not. The difference is, I have a completely different approach towards getting that result. Instead of fishing as much split-shot on a rig as a piece of water will allow, I fish rigs with the least amount of split-shot as a piece of water will allow. So what does that mean? I use the least amount of weight I possibly can to still achieve the required depth. Why? DRIFT, more weight than necessary on the line increases resistance and friction. Think of a dry fly, it is much easier to get a natural drift with a dry fly because there is no weight involved. The difference between a good angler and a great angler could also be one less split shot. Think about this. If two anglers are both fishing the same run that is the same depth and getting there flies down. One angler is accomplishing depth with 3 split shot, the second angler is accomplish depth with 2 split shot of the same size. Wouldn’t you agree that the angler with less weight at the same depth is probably getting a better drift? And wouldn’t a better drift lead to catching more fish. Now I bet you are wondering how they could both be achieving the same depth, without the same amount of split shot.

There are three major ways to achieve more depth, without actually changing the amount of weight you are fishing on your rig:

1. Cast farther upstream. Casting farther upstream from yourself allows the flies more time to get down by the time they reach the area you are fishing.

2. Adjust tippet. I know it sounds minimal, but you would be amazed how much of a difference there is in the sink rate of tippet between just one size. For example, 5x sinks faster than 4x because of the smaller diameter.

3. Perform a “tuck cast”. A “tuck cast” is achieved when an angler elevates the rod tip back towards himself after completing the casting stroke, and before allowing the flies to land. This tucks the flies under the leader and rod tip with allows them to hit the water first and lead the line towards the bottom.

I have been focusing on achieving depth with the least amount of weight as possible in order to get the best drift possible. The next time you are setting up your nymphing rig, think about how you can achieve the desired depth with the least amount of split-shot. Fuel for thought, enjoy! Feel free to leave comments with any questions!