Stop the Split-Shot-Slide

Why so much hate for the split shot? Guys grumble about putting it on; they have trouble taking it off, and they snarl when it slides. There’s too much hate for such a timeless and effective tool.

Here are a few simple tricks about split shot. Learn them. Then go fishing and love your life.


I prefer fishing weighted flies rather than split shot for one reason — strike detection is better. That’s the bottom line. All the other reasons anglers avoid using split shot are bad ones, because the troubles are easily overcome. Loss of strike detection is valid, though, and there’s not much you can do about it other than keeping the split shot close to the point fly. I like 4-6 inches. (You can drop-shot to improve strike detection, but that’s a topic for another post.)

With that said, sometimes using split shot makes the most sense. In a variety of situations, I use shot for both nymph rigs and streamer rigs. What’s the main reason? Some patterns really fish better when they’re unweighted. Shhhhhh. It’s true.

Split shot is an outstanding tool, and I have two main tips for using shot: one to stop the split-shot-slide and another for applying and removing it. Let’s start with the simpler one.

Put it on | Take it off

Don’t use too much pressure when applying split shot. Just don’t. The shot shouldn’t be mashed down onto the line because it causes line damage, and it’s too hard to get back off. All it takes is enough pressure to close the crack … and then a little more.

I use my teeth. Yes, I do. And no, it’s not a bad thing. I’m not using much pressure — that’s my point. I’ve been using the same two teeth to close split shot for about thirty years. They look the same as the other teeth. I once asked my dentist if I was damaging those teeth. He said he saw no difference. True story.

Recap: it only takes a small amount of pressure to tighten the shot on your line.

Split shot marketed for fly fishing is way smaller than the Gremlin lead shot commonly used with spinning tackle. When the rest of your rig and presentation are dialed, you don’t need much weight to get a pair of nymphs down. I carry #1, #4, #6 and #8. Quickly and easily changing split shot weights is very important to me, so I choose split shot that have a small divot in the top to aid in removal.

Small shot can be hard to take on and off with crude, blunt tools. So I use these:


These are the antithesis of crude and blunt. They are Spring Creek Clamps from Dr. Slick. You can find them of similar design from other manufacturers as well. The fine tips are what make these the perfect tool for grabbing one side of the split shot (next to that divot) and grabbing the other side with your thumbnail. The shot opens right up by prying it open (if you haven’t distorted the shape by squeezing it on too hard). I also like the sturdy arms, secure lock, and wide finger holes of these clamps.

There’s another popular processs for removing split shot: squeeze the sides and the middle will open. That sucks. It never works easily for me, and the shot gets distorted while removing. Done the other way (by prying it open) the shot can be reused a few times before it gets bent out of shape.

Recap: you need fine-tipped hemostats, not your workbench pliers.

Stop the Split-Shot-Slide

To some, the split-shot-slide isn’t a big deal. They simply tie a knot in the leader where they want the shot to stay put and let the shot slide down to there. If that’s you, I envy your cavalier approach to life.

I’m a little different. I tend to get hung up on the little, inefficient things that rob me of productive fishing time and cost me fish. So I fix them.

Using a split shot knot works. But there are some problems.

— First, the knot catches up to the fly after a few changes. Meaning, after changing the nymph, the split shot is too close to the fly. I usually want my shot about five inches from the nymph — not three and not seven. After a couple fly changes, my nymph is way too close to the shot. Then I have to start tying more knots and adding more tippet. It wastes time.

— Second, the knot weakens the line. Yeah you can wet it, (and you should wet every knot). I’ve used a split shot knot a lot, and too often the line breaks at the knot. I can’t tell you why it breaks. I can just tell you that I don’t like it.

These troubles would be acceptable if they had to be. Making concessions and handling imperfections is part of fishing — and part of life. But there’s a better way. Here are two alternatives for stopping the split-shot-slide.

Dinsmore Round Shot — The Best Split Shot in the World ™ (OK, I’m adding the phrase and the trademark myself.)


This is it. The savior split shot. It’s tin shot that holds to the line, applies easily, is quickly removed, and can be reused a few times. This shot does not slide when pinched on properly. (If you reposition or reuse it, the shot will occasionally slide a bit, but still not very much.)

Dinsmore makes a number of different options. This is the red container round shot. It’s not the egg shot. The egg shaped shot in the blue tub is much harder to remove in the smaller sizes and doesn’t stay put as well (I don’t know why). The egg shaped shot in the green container holds very well, but it’s much harder material and doesn’t open up as easily.

The red container round shot is hard to find. That’s too bad because it is, in fact, The Best Split Shot in the World ™. I’ll give a shout-out here to the round Boss Tin shot also. It holds the line well, but it’s a little too shiny for my preference.

I’m pretty convinced that shiny split shot is a problem. I think it spooks fish sometimes. Conversely, I think trout are often attracted to shiny split shot rather than spooked by it; they try to eat the shot instead of the fly. I swear I’ve seen this happen at least a dozen times. So I want my split shot very dull, or I want it black.

In the last year, some of the red container Dinsmore has been bright and silvery. Nooooooo! Why? If anyone out there knows Johnathon J. Dinsmore (I’m making that up), please ask him to keep all the split shot black; the silver stuff screws with my confidence.

Seriously, the red container shot can be very hard to find. Please ask your local fly shop to carry these split shot. Fly Fisher’s Paradise sells them. If you do see them elsewhere, please drop me a line.

Oh, and should you use tin or lead? You decide. I don’t want to. I use both. I like Anchor split shot for lead — the ones with the divot on top.

If you are concerned that tin shot is larger than lead, and you want to use lead to keep your shot as small as possible, then use a small Dinsmore shot as a firm placeholder and mount the lead shot above. That way, none of it slides. I do this sometimes. But I prefer to just use all Dinsmore shot.

Recap: use round Dinsmore shot. Stop the split-shot-slide and love your life.

Dinsmore Shot Stop

Another use for the Backing Barrel

The Backing Barrel has become one of the most handy and useful tools in my system. It’s a problem solver. You can read about other uses, and how to tie it here.

I sometimes use a small, black backing barrel as a slide-able stopper knot for my split shot. The backing barrel only takes a few seconds more to tie than the overhand knot that most guys use for stopping the split-shot-slide. The advantage? I only have to tie it once, and I can move it to wherever I want on the tippet. When I want to change flies, I slide the shot and stopper barrel up; then I add the fly. With that, I can easily maintain my preferred five-inch distance.

Backing Barrel Shot Stop (w Label)

Last thing. I’ve also used 3X nylon tippet for a backing barrel. It works when mounted on fluorocarbon. But be warned, if mounted on nylon monofilament a nylon barrel will tear up the tippet after a few slides. When you want to change flies, slide the shot and stopper barrel up, then add the fly.

Recap: use a slideable stopper knot (Backing Barrel) to hold the split shot.

Anything to keep the fly in the water is a good thing, and being efficient with split shot can really save time. Developing a system for applying and changing split shot pays dividends on the stream. Just work on it for a bit.

If you fish flies under the water, the weight to carry them beneath the surface has to come from somewhere. Split shot can be a great tool. Sometimes it’s the best tool.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

More Troutbitten articles on nymphs:
The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks
Tight Line Nymph Rig
Sighters: Seven Separate Tools
Learn the Nymph
Tags and Trailers
The Backing Barrel
Take Five
The Add-On Line
One Great Nymphing Trick
The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It
It’s a Suspender — Not Just and Indicator

100 Tips from the Comp Scene via Trout Legend


Dejon Hamann, from Trout Legend, is on a fishing-tips bender right now. Day after day, he’s delivering tactics and ideas from the competition circuit with his series, 100 Tips and Tricks, on the Trout Legend site.

Nearly a decade ago, I learned about long leader presentations from a few guys I knew who were into the fly fishing competition scene. Over the next couple years I dug in hard and learned everything I could about euro nymphing. I combined it with the fishing styles I already used and worked it into a hybrid system that fits me.  I’ve learned more than I’ll ever have a chance to process in this lifetime. And I’m still learning.

To be candid, when the competition scene took off, I wasn’t a big fan. As my friend put it the other day, “I don’t want to add stress to something that I do for relaxation.”

Good point. But I’ve learned too much from competition fishing not to have tremendous respect for it. These guys fish hard. The comp scene will never be my thing, but competition fishermen keep innovating. They come up with new ways to catch trout, and that’s helpful to us all.

Here’s an excerpt from #6: Junk Flies about Continue reading

The Shallows Below


— This is the companion chapter to The Shallows Above, published a few days ago.

… I’ve done this nighttime thunderstorm thing before. Two summers ago, on a dark night in July, I was surprised by another thunderstorm. And once again, it was one of the most memorable nights I’ve had.

Everywhere, the fish were moving. The network of river life seemed to be in motion: minnows, sculpins and crayfish scattered through the shallows when I scanned with my light; I saw a pair of muskrats scamper off as the light hit the bank, and something large and living bumped my ankle in the dark, shallow water. Everything alive was moving during the thunderstorm.

The wind pushed through the treetops with enough force that Continue reading

It’s a Suspender — Not Just an Indicator

Bobber, foam, cork, yarn, dry fly. Those are my categories, but who cares? If you’ve been fly fishing for a while, you’ve probably tried all of the above. You have your own categories and your own preferences. That’s great.

I don’t want to argue about which one is better. Instead, let’s talk about what all of these really are. They are suspenders. Does it matter? Maybe. I’m not trying to change the world here. Use the words you want, but I do think that defining a simple difference can be helpful.

“Strike Indicator” is the common term. But in his book, “Dynamic Nymphing,George Daniel introduces the term “suspender.” It’s a brilliant distinction that eliminates confusion and defines the purpose of these small items that we attach to our line.


Indicator or suspender? The meanings of these terms help identify the jobs they are doing and clear up some confusion. Wait … something is confusing in fly fishing? Yup. All too common, isn’t it? Try this: “As the indy rig floated downstream, the bobber slowed, indicating that the nymphs were now suspended.” See what I mean? It’s a complicated world out there. Continue reading

The Shallows Above

The thunderstorm came from nowhere.

I’m not much for weather reports, and I hadn’t checked. I’d simply walked out of my garage and looked at some clouds in the sky at dusk. No moon, either. So it would be a dark night with only patches of starlight between the clouds: my favorite kind of sky for night fishing.

I hopped the guardrail. I was through the woods and down in the water just a few minutes later. My objective was to walk all the way to the bottom of the long pool, keep walking to below the next run, and then fish my way up through the pockets. So I walked. This part of the river is remote enough that there’s no path. The surrounding forest was too dense for a night hike, so I walked through the skinny shallows. Places that are usually knee deep had just a trickle of water bordering the dry stones. Summer drought can be devastating.

Twenty minutes later I was in position and rigged up. Then the thunder started.

I’m not afraid of thunderstorms. In fact, I kind of enjoy violent weather, and I have some lasting, burned-in memories from summer rains and winter blizzards. Violent weather reminds us that Continue reading

Calculated Fun


The other day, my friend, Austin, mentioned something about me being a calculated fisherman. I guess I come off that way. The real truth is that my planning and plotting and theory building mostly happens while I’m not fishing. When I’m on the water, a lot of that calculation gets tossed away. It’s left on the bank, still packed away with the gear in the truck or I don’t really know where it is.

… I make a plan to fish the left-side rocks, no more than ten feet off the edge because that’s how far both the shade line and the weed line extend. I’m going to methodically fish the whole stretch, all the way up to the bend. Then I get about thirty yards upstream and cannot stand the allure of the big oak logjam off the opposite bank. There’s a soft slick among the backside branches with some deep green holding water. It’s perfect over there. Why not try? Just twenty feet further into the midcurrent, and I can reach it. So I wade. And I cast. God knows if I turn a fish in that water my whole left-side bank plan is shot.

It’s tough for me to stick with a strategy while fishing. If I did, I think I’d do better.

During the day I am, by no honest measure, a Hip-to-the-Strip guy. Sure, I have my experimental phases where I try to force-feed the trout a streamer dinner. But by and large, the good fishermen in my area are nymphers — meat and potatoes are Hare’s Ear’s and Pheasant Tails, not Zoo Cougars and Circus Peanuts.

At night I turn into somebody else, though. The nucleus of my night fishing strategy is built around swinging flies on the surface or in the top third of the water column (yes, the top third. I’m a calculated man, after all). Why have I committed to that strategy? Continue reading

Wait For It

The pivotal moment when everything changes. The event that makes the trip. The defining instance that separates all the memories that come before from the ones that come after. It’s what I wait for — what I look for every time I’m out there — and it’s why I keep fishing.

These moments happen in sports too. And watching for the one play, one shift, one slice of time that changes the momentum, is the best thing about following a team through a full season. In every memorable win — in each campaign — there’s a low point, and then there’s an event that acts as the hinge between all that happened before and ultimate victory.

A few weeks ago the pivotal moment snuck up on two tired fishermen and left a lasting memory.

Pat Burke and I have floated down rivers together in his two-man pontoon for about five years now. He’s a good friend, and a good fisherman with the ambition to fish long enough and hard enough to get to the next defining moment — it’s hard to find sometimes and easy to miss if you give up too early. Burke and I each have two tenacious young boys, yet we still find the time and the right water conditions to float pretty often.

Anything you do a lot becomes commonplace. It can start to seem plain — boring even. For floating, though, I think that’s part of the charm. Burke and I often drift long stretches of water without saying a word. I know the best lanes on our favorite river, and I know the kinds of bank structure where Burke wants extra time to present a streamer — so I backrow. He knows what kinds of conditions prompt me to change rigs and how long it takes me to tie the knots — so he drifts for a while and lets me adjust. No words. Just experience and a longtime friendship dictating the next move. We know each other well enough that by mid-morning we’ve usually shared all of our new stories; we’re all talked out and caught up. Nothing left then but to fish. So we do. Yes, it can seem common, and that’s a good thing.

Burke called me a few days earlier: Continue reading

Posted | Club Fish | 2065

The small freestone stream where I learned to trout fish in Indiana county, Pennsylvania is posted against trespass. It has been for a couple decades now. So too is the wooded hollow with the broken splash dam where I chased brook trout as a young teenager. In fact, nearly all the water I fished as a child is now posted or privatized.

My move to central Pennsylvania in 2003 opened up new waters and opportunities for wild trout fishing that seemed endless at the time. But there is an end, and I realize that now. I’ve seen the privatization and posting of trout streams grow by miles every year. And the recent transformation of my favorite small wild trout stream into club waters with fake, stocked brutes is hard to watch.

Sometimes, the end of public access around here seems inevitable, just like it was back home.

The current issue of Trout Magazine includes an article by Greg McReynolds titled, “2065.” McReynolds well captures the feeling of desperation suffered when we lose access to water that we once called our own. Continue reading

PSA – It’s Hot Out There


It’s really, really hot this summer, and it’s very dry in most areas. I haven’t mowed my grass in about three weeks, and it crunches when I step on it.

As I backed into my driveway the other night, I glanced at the outside temperature reading on the rearview mirror. 81 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 11:45 pm.

For trout streams, perhaps the worst part of this heat wave is the high overnight temperatures. When the mercury dips only into the low eighties after dark, the water doesn’t get a chance to release much of the accumulated daytime heat.

If you’ve been in the trout game long enough, you’ve probably already gotten the message about what high temps do for trout fishing. You’ve either read it somewhere, someone told you about it or you caught some lethargic trout and they delivered the message to you first hand. Anything over 69° is really too hot for safely catching and releasing trout. That’s my number, but with a little research you can find it supported through scientific studies. Trout in warmer water may swim away when released, but they don’t always live.

In many parts of the region, your best choice for keeping your rod bent is to target different species. Try picking on some smallmouth bass for a change or read up on the Rocket School of Carpin’, and take on that challenge.

But if you are a die-hard trout fisherman, you’ve probably learned how to find cold enough water to keep fishing for trout even in the hottest summers. Opportunities for safe trout fishing are available Continue reading

Night Shift — This River and the Other River


I think I’ve night fished often enough now to make some conclusions — not many, but a few basic determinations that allow me to have confidence in laying out a few principles.

Here’s one: night fishing around here is hard. It takes dogged persistence over many seasons to get anywhere with it. If you get thirty hits on a top-water pattern one night, go out and try it again the next night — you’ll see what I mean. The night game is so inconsistent it’ll drive you mad — and then it will draw you in.

Here’s another: night fishing is drastically different from one river to the next. The extent to which this is a fact has surprised me.

Last one: slow night fishing on a river doesn’t have to make any sense.

I stubbornly resisted these truths through many years of night fishing one favorite lonely river, in particular. It’s far more stingy than the rest. Over and over, I’ve waded the cold dark waters that produce for me in the daylight, and yet I cannot crack the code in the darkness. Sure, I do catch fish there, and I’ve caught some large ones, but over half of my 50+ night trips there have been a shutout. Maybe there is no code. That’s what it’s really coming down to. Maybe night fishing there will simply be a low reward proposition. And maybe that’s good enough.



Sunday — 9:45 pm | This River

I drove down the narrow lane and turned into the parking lot so slowly that I left no dust cloud above the parched, summer dirt road. I was in no hurry.

I love that about night fishing — I don’t feel rushed. Continue reading

The Rocket School Of Carpin’ | When it’s too hot for trout …

Water temps are climbing around here, and projected forecasts show no relief in sight from the hell-hot summer heat. Trout fishing the long summer months means deeply shortened hours and far fewer opportunities.  Finding cold enough water can be tough, and a stream thermometer becomes the most valuable tool in your pack.

Even on my night trips, lately, I’ve had to wait until well after dark (toward midnight, on some of my favorite rivers) before I felt that I could fish for trout with a clear conscience.

69°f is the water temperature I look for. When the mercury climbs above that , I don’t fish for trout. Every angler needs to make his own decision, but it should be an educated one. A quick search through legitimate scientific studies will show that temps in the seventies are known to be a stress point for trout. In my younger, dumber days, I fished for trout in higher temps, and the response from the fish provided me a clear signal to stop it. Fish landed in the seventies are lethargic — they just seem tired.

When you do fish the summer waters, please play a trout fast and release them quickly.

Summer trout fishing is difficult and often disappointing, in large part, because of the warm water. Even the cool, spring fed, limestone waters of PA have some trouble holding water cold enough in drought conditions, and the best, coldest spring creek trout still don’t feed much after mid morning. Another species, though, usually found in the same waters we trout fish, provides an excellent, exciting fly fishing opportunity all summer long. The carp.

My friend, Chris Rocketship has recently shed new light on what I previously considered to be a trash fish. Carp are a wary, difficult fish to catch, and more fishermen are starting to realize that targeting carp with flies will make you better at every other type of fly fishing.

Think carpin’ is easy? Think carp are dumb? Think carp are no fun? I dare you to give it a try.

Here’s Chris Rocketship Kehres to tell you how …

— — — — — —

The Rocket School of Carpin’

Sooo, carp. Some of this is just logical stuff, but some of the techniques should be helpful to those with no prior carpin’ experience. I’m just gonna go over the whole deal.

The Rig

Nothing special. You’re rarely going to be making normal casts. I wouldn’t go lighter than a 5 weight if you’re being serious about it Continue reading

I’ve lived, and I’ve left some good things here … that is enough.


Photo by Austin Dando

His mother called him “Will,” because “William” was far too big of a name for a small boy, but when his father needed to make a strong point, he was called “William.”

On a large tract of farmland, stretched along a rocky shelf, high above the river, Will and his brother roamed through hundreds of acres, across unkept wheat fields and into the wooded hills. They made forts from fallen tree branches and swung on grapevines across the valleys.

The eastern flank of the property held a canyon of limestone and dolomite, smoothly carved by the cool and clear waters of time, originating from underground springs in marshy headwaters long miles upstream. And the deep, mid-sized river was blessed with wild brook trout.

When Will was eight, his grandfather came to stay with them, and three of the four sunroom walls in their small family home were made solid. A bed and a chair were added, and Grandfather placed an old wooden desk by the remaining windowed wall where he sat and tied flies for what seemed like days at a time to Will. In between each fly, the old man raised his head to scan the landscape.

Grandfather brought along chickens: ten hens and one rooster. And he promised Will and his brother that if they helped him build the chicken coop, he would teach the boys to catch brook trout at the bottom of the canyon using the feathered, hooked creations from his desk.

They built a fine chicken coop with scrap lumber, and on one late June evening, Grandfather told the boys, “We’ll walk down to the river in the morning and go fishing when the rooster crows.”

Will tossed in his bed that night, Continue reading

Net Fix


If I had a million dollars I would still approach fly fishing with a low budget mindset. I guess it comes from my fishing roots as a boy: cheap spinning tackle, rubber hip boots (big enough that I would “grow into ’em”), minnows and some Berkley Trilene.  We used 6lb test, though — we weren’t savages!

However, I suppose my ownership of a Sage rod and Patagonia waders drives a wedge of hypocrisy right through my opening statement.  Some things are worth investing in, I believe, and some deals (like the one I got on the Sage) are just too good to pass up.

I hate the look of brand new, creased waders. I like my old things, and I hold on to gear with rips and tears, cracks and stains and fraying, faded cloth.  It reminds me that I fish a lot, and it somehow reminds me to go fish more.

So, I guess everyone draws their own lines in the sand. The same guy who will never drop $500 on a pair of high-end waders may have no problem spending two bills on a custom net.

My own lines are drawn inversely. I won’t spend big money on a net.

I carry a $28 dollar wooden net with a rubber mesh bag.  The bag is deep enough and the hoop is wide enough to land the next namer and maybe even the next thirty-incher. That’s important.

Remarkably, this net is into it’s third season — and I fish hard.  Here’s how I’ve kept it going.

When the laminated frame pieces start to separate, I use Zap-a-Gap and Continue reading

The Trouble With Tenkara — And Why You Don’t Need It


The advantages of a Tenkara presentation are not exclusive or unique to Tenkara itself, and in fact, the same benefits are achieved just as well — and often better — with a long fly rod and (gasp) a reel.

I bought a Tenakara rod for my young boys about a year ago, because the longer a rod is, the more control the boys have over a drift. And the lighter a rod is, the easier it is for their small arms to cast. As George Daniel recently wrote in the Mid-Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, “The long/limp rod requires little power to load, and it is easy for a young child to make the short casting stroke required.” Exactly.

The same benefits apply to adults.  I’ve used the boys’ Tenkara rod extensively — long enough to understand exactly what I don’t like about Tenkara and to understand that a fisherman can achieve the same things with a standard, long leader (long mono-rig) setup.

Present the fly, not the line …

The main asset of Tenkara is the ability to present the fly and only the fly — there’s no fly line or leader laying on the water complicating or destroying a good drift. But is that exclusively a Tenkara advantage? Certainly not. Long leader tactics and all-mono rigs are now commonly seen on many streams, and not just in fly fishing competitions. I fish with a system that keeps all fly line completely out of the equation while fishing wets, nymphs and streamers, and I usually incorporate fly line only when I’m casting dry flies at a distance.

My primary rod is a four weight, 9’6” Sage Z-Axis, and the only advantage that the Tenkara rod gives me over the Sage is length. Make no mistake, the extra length of the Tenkara rod is significant, Continue reading

The Tactical Fly Fisher

Tactical Fly Fisher. No doubt, Devin Olsen chose the correct name for his operation.

Every week, I  receive a few emails asking for more details on nymphing rigs and other technical fly fishing topics (keep them coming), and while I usually have some answers and ideas to share, I often find myself redirecting friends to the sources that have answered my own questions and inspired my own ideas for catching more trout. Devin Olsen is one of those sources.

Fishing is something you can enjoy at any level. Throwing a simple bobber and worm into a summer pond can bring as much satisfaction and happiness as competing in the World Fly Fishing Championship in Bosnia. Pretty sure Devin’s done both.

There’s something to be said for fishing simply. Throwing a few casts just to get on the water with friends or making the solo trip to clear your head is a good thing. But simple fishing doesn’t always put fish in the net, Continue reading

Hell-Hot Sun and the Strawberry Moon


Photo: NASA

I’m not a big fan of summer.

It’s the heat. Thing is, you can’t really get away from it. If you want to be outside in all seasons (and I do) you have to somehow make friends with or tolerate the weather. Against the cold of winter, you can add layers to fend off most discomfort, but in the summer heat, once the shirt is off and the flip flops are on, your done — that’s as cool as you’re gonna get. So there’s no option but to mow the grass, play baseball and have the family picnic in a thick, wet blanket of summer heat. People still tell me that I’ll get used to it. I doubt it.

The same people also tell me how much they love summers. I don’t believe them. I think they like the idea of it, and they like the parties, the parades, the fireworks, the longer daylight hours and the lax work schedules. But the actual season? The weather? Nah. Bitching about the heat (like I’m doing here) seems like another common summer recreation from the list, and I see a clear majority looking for the next air conditioner, cold lake or swimming pool.

I don’t like pools much either. Seems like a waste of time, swimming back and forth just to be wet. Maybe if you’re a lapper, doing it for the mental and physical health benefits or something, but bobbing around aimlessly in a pool with a big happy grin seems about as pointless as floating down a river without a fishing rod. The former does seem like a nice, lazy way to spend an afternoon forgetting that there’s work to be done, but the latter misses one hell of an opportunity.

For the despondent fisherman toiling through summer days, wet wading through cool water is another way to deal with the heat. But there are good reasons why most trout fishermen hang up the rod by this time; the trouble is, trout don’t seem to like summer much more than I do.

Most days, though, there’s a generous window of opportunity for good fishing, lasting from dawn to about four hours later, give or take. Then there’s a short period before dark; that can be forty-five minutes if you’re lucky, but it’s usually a half-hour where you can just barely see your fly on the water followed by another fifteen minutes where you can’t see your fly at all. You then curse a few times at the still-rising fish and walk back to the truck. Continue reading

Fish With a Camera


A few month ago, Burke and I were watching our four young boys run circles through the kitchen as we visited and caught up on recent fishing and fatherhood stories.

“I’m gonna loan you my extra Nikon,” he said through the chaos.

I’d considered buying a DSLR for some time but hadn’t yet made the commitment. I thought the camera on my smartphone was good enough to capture the moments that I wanted to keep. I now know how wrong I was.

Burke loaning me his camera was the first step into a new passion that’s more enjoyable than anything I expected. Pictures tell a story in ways that I can’t with these words, and a good camera is a creative tool with no end.

Any time I’ve given advice on this blog, it’s been about something I’ve experienced, tested and developed for years. But with this camera thing, I’m making an exception. I don’t yet know much about cameras or the art of taking photos, but I already know a lot more than I used to. I’m only a few months into a hands-on education that I’m certain will take years to get where I’d like to be, and photography is another journey, like fishing and music, that (thankfully) has no finish line.

Here’s my simple advice: find a decent camera and find a friend who knows photography. Then dig in. Continue reading

Thirty-Inch Liars


My story, Thirty-Inch Liars, is over at Hatch Magazine today. Here are a few excerpts…..

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… I once read through a publication that printed, “Thirty-inch wild trout are common in this stretch of water.” Now, I don’t care what river in the continental United States you want to put up as an example. None of them have thirty-inch wild trout as a regular thing and certainly not in my home state of Pennsylvania. And yet, every fisherman in the parking lot seems to have a thirty-inch fish story, don’t they?

… And thirty inches seems to be the benchmark where fantasy replaces reality.

… You know what I hear when someone says a fish was “about two feet long?” I hear: “I didn’t measure the fish.”

… The magnificent brown trout of my dreams suspended aloft, just between the rise and fall of a leaping trout, only ten feet away. I could have reached out and touched him with my rod tip. It was the biggest wild brown trout I’ve ever seen, and it was hooked to my line.

… I did everything I could to hold on, running parallel to him in shallow water, rod tip high, keeping the line tight until he turned at the tailout. One hundred and eighty degrees. And then he faced the current.

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Find the full article at Hatch Magazine.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

Back to Basics — Back to Buggers


Bill texted me around 2:00 pm.

“How’s the fishing, and where should we meet?” he asked.

The day was changing from perfectly cloudy, cool and drizzly to a pure washout. Patches of heavy rain dumped buckets throughout the region, and in a couple hours, parts of the river were muddied completely while others were still very fishable (though not for long).

Under the shadow of the rear hatch, I stashed wet gear in the truck and changed into a drier shirt as another SUV arrived from upstream and turned into the dirt pull-off. The windows slid down and three fishermen were inside.

“How’d you make out?” they asked. “Is it muddy down there too?” The driver gestured in the direction of the river, just out of site, beyond the trees and over the bank.

“No.” I shook my head. “Fishing was pretty solid. Water is cloudy but fine.” I spotted the wet and dripping undercarriage of their truck. “Is it all mud upstream?” I asked.

“Yeah.” The passenger in the backseat nodded. “It’s coming down hard.”

Strange. I had begun fishing the morning on the lower river, but I moved to this middle piece when the heavy rains sent brown lines into the river from every ditch and driveway in the valley. Those mud lines mixed quickly, and I’d assumed the whole river would be a hopeless mess as I packed up and flipped on the windshield wipers. That is, until I found dry roads and sunlight about five miles upstream, and I parked right here.

Apparently, I had lucked into the perfect choice of locations, with muddy conditions both above and below this early afternoon stretch. With the intel from the three fishermen, though, I knew the entire river was about to be chocolate soup.

I texted back to Bill as I started the truck and nodded to the guys in the SUV.

“Don’t come here. It’ll be blown out in a half-hour.” Continue reading

One Great Nymphing Trick


Whether tight lining, fishing dry-dropper or nymphing with an indicator, the most critical element for getting a good dead drift on the nymph is to lead it through a single current seam.

Remember, the nymph is always being pulled along by a fishing line. Even on the best dead drifts, the attached tippet, leader, rod tip (and indicator, if used) is guiding the nymph downstream, and the most natural drifts happen when a nymph is kept in one single lane of flowing water.

If it wasn’t attached to a tippet, the nymph would sink to the stream bottom in no time at all and stay there. Go ahead — throw any of your favorite nymphs into the current and test this out — they’ll all end up on the bottom of the river just a short distance from where they entered it. Even an unweighted nymph will find the bottom quickly when it’s not tethered to monofilament. We usually try to minimize the pull of tippet and leader on the nymph, and good nymph fishermen are experts at finding the fine line between pulling a nymph downstream and letting it drop to the bottom. Once you understand that the attached line is pulling the nymph, then it’s time to learn how to keep the direction of that pull in-line with one current seam.


I hooked this Whiskey a few days ago. After multiple presentations, adjusting my cast each time, I finally got a drift where everything lined up in one current seam. Fish on.

Trying to lead nymphs through just one lane of current highlights a major difference between tight line nymphing and fishing with indicators …

Indy and Dry Dropper

Fishing indicators can actually make it easier to facilitate a good drift through one seam. Given an average, straight current and a relatively short distance between indicator and nymph (three to four feet, for example), it’s easy to understand how the the indy drifts downstream, floating in the path of one current seam — one lane. If the current flows left around a small rock, the indy will drift left around the rock, and finally the nymph too will drift left around the rock. The indy is carried by the current, and the nymph (on its leash) will drift along the same path.

Tight Line

When tight lining, the nymph essentially follows the rod tip — Continue reading