The Dorsey Yarn Indicator — Everything you need to know and a little more

by | Mar 30, 2017 | 56 comments

When tight line nymphing doesn’t get the job done, it’s time to hang the nymphs below a suspender. A dry fly, Thingamabobber or cork style indicator all have their moments. But my first choice of suspender is usually Pat Dorsey’s yarn indicator, a.k.a. The Dorsey.

The Dorsey is lighter, more sensitive, more subtle and more adjustable than anything else you can attach to the line. The smallest Dorsey weighs less than a dry fly and suspends more weight. Even the largest Dorsey touches down on the water like a feather. It doesn’t kink or damage the line and doesn’t move until you want it to, whereby it easily slides on any diameter of line. The crinkled, polypropylene macrame yarn traps more air than cork or styrofoam, so it floats better. The Dorsey also costs next to nothing, and you can fish it in any color you like.

Here’s everything you need to know …


I like to fish suspenders as an extension of tight line nymphing on a Mono Rig. Without fly line on the water I can deliver more subtle presentations, staying tight to the suspender or placing only a bit of leader on the water. That delicacy and refinement of presentation is maximized by using the Dorsey. In the clearest waters over the wariest trout, I’ve never seen the yarn spook fish. The splash of the nymph scares a trout before the Dorsey ever does. There’s virtually no disturbance on the water when the yarn lands (it weighs nothing and holds no water). Experienced trout that move from the path of a drifting Thingamabobber are not alarmed by the Dorsey.


A good suspender can tell you a lot about the drifting nymphs below. The Dorsey takes a sort of upright, alert stance when it’s in contact with the nymphs and takes a resting position when there’s slack, often laying on it’s side.

Some trout grab a nymph and quickly turn back to their position, making any type of suspender dunk under the surface. But trout often hold their position and simply inhale the fly, causing very little motion in the tippet and suspender. The Dorsey excels at signaling these slight takes. The nimble Dorsey jiggles, dips, twitches or twists at even the slightest motion.

Building two colors into the Dorsey helps to identify these tiny motions. I usually use two contrasting colors of yarn.

Photo by Chase Howard

Size Matters

To make the most of the Dorsey, it’s best to carry them in a few different sizes. I pre-build my Dorseys at the tying bench, but you can just take chunks of yarn out on the water and slip them into the small rubber band. I think of my Dorseys as 2, 5, and 7 strand versions, and I always use the smallest that’s needed to float the nymphs.

Smaller Dorseys are the most sensitive. More importantly, because they have less wind resistance, they’re easier to cast with lighter flies. And that matters a lot when using the Mono Rig.

The ability to go extremely small with a Dorsey is one of its greatest assets. At times when I know my local trout aren’t coming up for a dry fly, I choose a two strand Dorsey for the suspender. It floats better than a dry, with less maintenance, and it adjusts for depth by easily sliding up or down the leader.

The Stuff

Fly fisherman are an innovative lot, taking pride in a creative, DIY ingenuity. That’s a character trait that’ll take you far through most of this life, but sometimes … it’ll get you in trouble.

Don’t substitute materials for the Dorsey. The magic of this little puff of yarn is in two simple materials. Change either of them, just a little, and you’ll have something different — and less effective.

Polypropylene Macrame Yarn. That’s the stuff. 6mm Bonnie Braid, to be specific. It sheds water and doesn’t mat together like some Hi-Vis yarns and other things you might find in your favorite fly shop.

Don’t walk into your local JoAnn Fabrics or Michael’s craft store and ask for the Bonnie Braid isle either. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you probably won’t find what you want. The internet, the postal service and I will make this real easy . . .

Go HERE and buy a yard of whatever colors you want for $1 each. Pay a few bucks to the postman, and in couple days you’ll have enough macrame yarn to last a lifetime, even if you  start using the yarn for parachute posts on dry flies too. (I do.)

The rubber bands are orthodontic elastics. Use either 5/16″ or 1/4' medium gauge. The longer I use the Dorsey, the more I prefer the 1/4″ size, because they work better with small Dorseys. I fish light nymphs a lot, and I don’t need much yarn to hold them up. The 1/4″ bands also work fine with larger Dorseys.

Buy 1/4' medium gauge orthodontic rubber bands for the Dorsey here

Again, I urge you not to substitute whatever elastics bands you have laying around from the time your daughter wore braces. Try to rein in the Macgyver tendencies this time.

Photo by Austin Dando

What About NZ?

The New Zealand Strike Indicator system is very similar, and it’s a good solution, but I prefer the Dorsey. Macrame yarn is more buoyant than wool, and I like that I can fish a wider range of sizes with the Dorsey than I can with the NZ system. No tools other than your hands are required for the Dorsey, and the materials are dirt cheap.

On and Off

Some pieces of water just beg for a suspender, and with how easily the Dorsey attaches and slides to adjust for depth, it’s a very efficient solution. Often, I only use it for a handful of casts and then remove the Dorsey to get back to tight lining.

Most often, I fish the Dorsey on the Mono Rig. I attach it just below my sighter on a piece of 4x fluorocarbon. But the Dorsey will mount wherever you want it on the leader.

Grab the line in a loop. Open the rubber band. Then pass the loop through the hole of the band and wrap it around the top side of the rubber band 5-6 times. Let go of the band, and it clings tight to the loop in the line. Before inserting the yarn, release the loop and allow and twists below the band to unravel. Then pass the yarn through the loop, and slide the band up to the yarn (It helps to wet the band before sliding). Pull both sides of the line snug to seat the rubber band.

It helps to fluff the Dorsey with a piece of Velcro, bringing both sides together into one piece, but it’s not necessary.

To remove the Dorsey, grab the yarn and slide the rubber band down. Take the yarn out and pull the band off the leader.

I now prefer 1/4″ bands over the 5/16″ because they are better for small Dorseys.

Treat ’em right

The macrame yarn sheds water very well, but a little extra help doesn’t hurt. I apply a drop of Rain-X to the yarn after making the Dorseys at my tying desk (I do the same with my dry flies). Once I’m on the water, I usually work a bit of green Musclin into the yarn. It stays on the fibers for a very long time.

It can also help to touch the rubber band with a bit of floatant too, making sliding even easier.

Don’t force it

If the Dorsey doesn’t slide easily, then something is twisted. Just take it off and reattach. Forcing it against any tension will burn the line and cause damage (especially in fine tippets). With just a bit of practice, attaching the Dorsey becomes second nature — like tying a knot.


I make the Dorseys at my tying bench. I find it easier to carry them pre-bunched and combed out, ready to go. They don’t really wear out — they just get more crinkly and float even better. So building a half dozen Dorseys goes a long way.

Cut the cord into three-inch strips and separate the strands. Comb out the strands for each color, then stack them. Compress the bunch tightly in the middle and take three wraps of 8/0 Uni Thread. Move the tag end of thread across the wraps and bind it down with three more wraps. Break off the tag end. Throw two half hitches over the yarn and seat them at the wraps. Break or cut off the thread.

Keep the thread wraps as thin as possible. Too many wraps (or thread thicker than 8/0), and your Dorsey will always look like a bow tie. With minimal wraps, the bunch stays bound but can still hinge together when attached to the line.

Pinch the Dorsey in the center to bring the two sides together. Use scissors to trim to about a half-inch for small Dorseys and an inch for larger ones.

Now go fish ’em.

The Truth

The dark truth is that upgrading your fly fishing gear rarely catches you more fish. Rods, reels, fly lines, expensive tippet and overpriced hooks hardly improve your catch rate. And the marginal improvement you might see is probably a result of confidence and concentration rather than the performance of new gear.

The Dorsey will catch you more fish.

Fish hard, friends.


Photo by Chris Kehres


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Hi Domenick,
    I guess you knew this questions was coming, which colors are most visible to you? I’m going to give it a go. I like trying new things. that’s part of the fun to me.
    Thanks for the article, Bruce

    • Hey Bruce!

      On the site linked in the article, I like Kelly Green, Baby Yellow and Orange. I use the green and yellow most often. I think you’ll find that you can see almost any color of a Dorsey. Something about the strands sticking up at all angles makes it very visible. I rarely find it necessary to use bright colors to see it. I used orange in the video because it showed up well.

      • I’m sorry, Domenick. I read through it twice and didn’t see that. Reading comprehension grade, (F).

        • HA! Well, the damn thing is 1600 words on a simple topic like macrame yarn and rubber bands. Easy to miss stuff.

  2. Thank you Domenick for all your insightful articles.
    I have been using green balloons as an indy beyond standard dry-dropper. Using a overhand knot over leader to attach, it has most of the attributes you mention, except it is not reusable…. I will give the Dorsey a try.

    • Thanks Dan.

      I used the balloons for a while too. Good stuff.

      Eventually I moved to only using the Dorsey or a Thingamabobber. Just my preference.

    • The balloons have a ton of wind resistance compared to these.

      • Yeah, they really do.

        • Dom,
          tip : if you leave the thread attached until you trim the yarn to length, it helps you to pull the yarn tight for the trimming. Just pull down on the thread/bobbin while you are stretching the yarn to length prior to final trim.
          Thanks for all your great instruction articles.
          Strong tippet, Mark

  3. Fantastic post, Dom.

    As it turns out, I was fishing yesterday on our tailwater (the Guadalupe). The river was flowing at over 400 cfs., so I used a drop shot rig to get the flies down quickly (btw, the drop shot really works well, and, as an added benefit, I only lost one nymph to a snag in a long day of fishing).

    I was using a thingamabobber, but I decided to experiment with a Dorsey indicator I had with me. To make a long story short, the Dorsey was better in every way. It cast better, floated better, was more visible, had many subtle behaviors to help me identify strikes and, what is most important when bouncing nymphing, held up a lot of split shot and “bounced” beautifully. BTW, it floated all day with just a single application of dry fly foatant.

    I should add that only had yarn in a kind of sand color, but it was very visible and looked natural floating down the swollen stream.

    • Good to hear from you, Alex.

      That’s awesome. Yeah, the Dorsey is my first choice for about 75% of the water. If the water is really choppy I go to a TB if I want a suspender, however I usually tight line that stuff. Also, when I want to fish the suspender BELOW my position (let the drift extend downstream) I go to a TB because it sort of suctions to the water surface better and holds its position. More on that in a future post I suppose.

      Cheers, Alex.

  4. I’ve seen you write about “dorseys” a few times, so I’ve been patiently waiting this tutorial. I’ve been chasing the right indicator for a while now and I’ve never found one that does everything I need it to.

    I ordered the materials and made a few of these. While I haven’t fished them yet, I’m a little disappointed after the “water glass test.”

    Once I finished making them, I dressed one with Rain-X and some green mucilin. I dropped it in the glass of water and it became waterlogged almost immediately. While it still floated, instead of sitting on top of the water, it sat just under the water, essentially, “in the film.” From the looks of it, a small beadhead nymph may be enough to drag it under. Worrying that maybe the Rain-X and mucilin had messed with it, I tried a plain one. Same result.

    I’m used to indicators like bobbers and foam footballs that ride high in the water. Are these indicators not intended to ride on top of the water? Should I make them thicker? I used the same amount of strands that you did in the video and followed it to a T, so I’m a little confused.

    • Hi Mick, I’m glad you got in touch. Let’s figure this out.

      You can be sure the Dorsey works. I use it (or write about it) otherwise. The Dorsey has been part of my daily fishing for many years, and it’s the tried and true indicator for many other fishermen.

      It rides high and floats a lot of weight. Yes, it rides on the surface and not in or underneath it — that’s one of the things that makes it so sensitive.

      I have a number of thoughts for what might be giving you trouble:

      The Dorsey floats well without any treatment, but I do like to add Rain-X at the tying desk and Mucilin once I get on the water. Did you let the Rain-X dry completely before you applied Mucilin? If not, you may have trapped moisture in the Dorsey so it’s quickly waterlogged. Let the Rain-X dry completely.

      When you do the water test, are you mounting the Dorsey on the rubber band? Just laying the Dorsey flat in a glass of water probably won’t work. The Dorsey gets pushed up into a cone or V shape with the rubber band. That’s how it works. It should ride with the tips up.

      Do you have the correct material? Bonnie Braid 6mm? I’ve tried many other materials (some were poly) and many of them waterlogged quickly.

      The Dorsey I made in the video was five strand. It will easily float a couple #12 tungsten beadhead nymphs, which is much more weight than I usually need.

      The last thing I can think is that any yarn sitting in a glass for a while will probably get some water in between the fibers and become waterlogged. How long are you letting it in the glass? On the stream, even long drifts are only ten or fifteen seconds long. And then the Dorsey sheds any accumulated water on the back cast.

      That’s all I got. Did any of those ideas solve the problem?

  5. As I wrote above, I used my Dorsey last time I fished to support a lot of split shot on a drop-shot rig and it floated beautifully all day.

    However, I did use 8 strands. Which leads to my question. I’ve been building my Dorseys with 8 strands and just trimming them to size. The logic behind that is a dense Dorsey always floats best and, even with 8 strands, a tiny Dorsey lands light as a feather. Dom, could you explain why you use fewer strands (2, for example) on your smaller Dorseys?

    • Alex, two things:

      First, wind resistance. More material makes it harder to punch out a cast with the Mono Rig.

      Second, real dense Dorseys trimmed short feel heavier to me (probably because they are, especially if they get a little water in them). So they don’t land as lightly and with as much finesse.

      However, those are very slight points that I’m making, and I’d imagine that the Dorseys you are fishing are quite similar to my own. It’s probably a matter of personal preference.

  6. Good points, Dom. Thanks.

    Actually, I’ve never used a really small Dorsey. I think that an 8 strand small Dorsey wouldn’t work, so I’ll try it your way.

    Finally, do you have trout rise to a small Dorsey? I’m beginning to get an idea . . .

    • Hey Alex,

      No, they hardly ever come up for the Dorsey on my waters. And the ones that look just turn away.

      I fish dry/dropper a lot too, so yeah, I’ve tried making dry flies that are basically a Dorsey with a hook on it. I’ve tried some other styles too, some with rubber legs and things. Basically, after a lot of testing and messing around, I feel like the best flies for dry dropper are ones that I would fish anyway. Klinks, Parachutes, CDC and Elk, X-Caddis and others like that.

  7. Hey Domenick,
    I counted 5 strands i the video, is that correct? Would you say that that is the average number for you?

  8. Dom,

    I too love a Dorsey. I’ve previously used them on tapered leaders and never had a problem attaching them to the thicker diameter butt section.

    I switched over to the mono rig to give it a try and I’m having a lot of problems with using the Dorsey on the finer tippet below the sighter.. The rubber band does not come up onto the bottom of the Dorsey making it very difficult to adjust without burning the line. I’m using 2 and 3 strand so I didn’t expect to have this problem. I’ve tried any where from 3-5 wraps of the rubber band and no difference. I’m using mostly 5X so I don’t know if I need to use a larger size. I’m not sure if I have medium or heavy rubber bands, I just have whatever came in the kit from Blue Quill.

    Any suggestions?

    • Hi Robert,

      A few things that will help …

      If I want to run 5X as my tippet sections, then I make the first two feet of the tippet section 4X and THAT is where I add the Dorsey and adjust it. So I have two feet of room for adjusting up and down. That’s usually enough for me. I don’t like mounting and sliding the Dorsey on 5X or smaller because it can cause the problem you’re mentioning if you aren’t really careful. I don’t want to be that careful, so I just use 4X or even 3X for that first two feet of my tippet section (below my sighter).

      The rubber bands in the Blue Quill kit are Heavy size, I believe. At least, they were in the kit that I received. When I’m using small Dorseys or mounting the Dorsey on thin lines, I like Medium bands.

      Also, add up to 7 wraps when mounting on thin lines.

      Also, be sure to use fluorocarbon.

      I think those adjustments should solve your problem, but shoot me an email if not.

    • Dom,
      tip : if you leave the thread attached until you trim the yarn to length, it helps you to pull the yarn tight for the trimming. Just pull down on the thread/bobbin while you are stretching the yarn to length prior to final trim.
      Thanks for all your great instruction articles.
      Strong tippet, Mark

  9. I know Rain-X is good for windshields, but is good for for trout streams?

    • Holy cow! Yes, it’s fine. First, by the time the Dorsey Indy hits the water, the Rain-X is totally dry. It’s a PRE treatment done at the tying table. Second, there are MANY other things that we use and things we do that impact our trout streams which are much more important to think about.

      I’m a strong advocate for wild trout and clean water. But I will not be worrying about a single drop of Rain-X used for PRE treating my flies or the Dorsey indy. Again, it’s dry before you put the fly or the indy in your vest.

      I’m glad people out there are thinking about this stuff, though. Let’s start by asking our DCNR and EPA to follow through with clean water policies, responsible fracking waste disposable, more stringent sewage treatment, more responsible farming fertilizing practices, construction runoff awareness, and water extraction for Nestle plants. Yikes.

      • Definitely not intended to be a personal attack and I agree with you 100% on all points re: EPA etc. But looking at who is the head of the EPA and the fact they just rolled back clean water protections we have a much bigger fight on our hands then ever. The fact our government in not in favor of clean water is beyond comprehension. I just saw the product and thought I would ask a question.

        • 🙂 Right on, Scott. And I hope I didn’t come across as rude in my first reply. Like you, I’m startled and saddened by what’s going on with something as basic an inarguable as clean water. It’s one of those topics that I just cannot see another side of. Peace.

  10. Great help. Can you please clarify how you attach the rig to the leader, I couldn’t follow the instruction about wrapping the leader several times over the top issue f the band, then pulling to tighten. Thanks!

    • Hi there. Did you check out the video link above? It should show you what to do.

    • I watched the video but still ended up having a couple questions about attaching the indicator to the leader as well-

      1) Is the orthodontic band supposed to be rolled down onto the actual yarn indicator or merely “snugged up” against it? In other words is the band supposed to end up wrapped around the base/stem of the indicator?

      2) Is it okay for the indicator to end up looking like 2 separate tufts on the line? Or is it supposed to end up pinched together so the two ends appear as 1 single tuft on the line? Love this blog. Thanks!

      • Hi Randy,

        Those are both good questions.

        First, the rubber band should be snugged up against the bottom of the yarn and not actually up on the yarn.

        Second. It is fine for the two sides to remain apart like a bow tie. However, I don’t like that very much. I like to fluff the indicator with a piece of velcro to sort of bring the two sides together into a pyramid shape rather than a bow tie. But I’ll mention this: if you use too much yarn, too big of tying thread or too much tying thread, then it will be hard to get rid of the bow tie effect.

        Again, small Dorseys are the best. You’ll be amazed how little yarn is needed to float our flies.

        Cheers. Hope that helps.


        • Ok I am confused. I thought the rubber band was supposed to roll up onto the yarn and allow your Tippett to stay straight/flat. I have had trouble getting these to attach properly on 4x and I’ve found that fewer wraps ease the problem someone mentioned earlier with the light tippet twisting up in the ortho band and not seating up on the Dorsey. If it just snugs up against the Dorsey doesn’t that kink your tippet and ride poorly in the water?

          • Good thoughts,

            But no, I do not want the rubber band to ride up on the yarn. Not at all. I want it sitting just below the yarn, snug against it. I do not want the tippet to lay flat, actually. I prefer the forced angle that happens when the band is mounted as mentioned above and pictured in the video and images here.

            Also, if you use fewer wraps you’ll have trouble. It won’t stay on or stay snug.

            Lastly, no the Dorsey doesn’t kink the leader at all. That’s one of the things that’s so great about it. And it rides perfectly on the water, if attached as shown. Mounted that way it really is the most sensitive indy I’ve ever found. It tilts, twists and twitches when other indys don’t show anything.

            Give it a try some more. I think you’ll find it works exceptionally well.



  11. Is that an electrical alligator clip on you vest?

  12. Tell the history of the Dorsey and who Pat is, he more than deserves the recognition.

    • First paragraph! I linked to his shop and acknowledged the reference, Tim. I also constantly refer to the thing as the DORSEY!

      But I’m not in the business of giving biographies. And I don’t know where Pat found the idea. I’ll leave it to Pat to document his own history.



  13. I’m assuming this system won’t work with tungeston bead nymphs

    • Sure it will, Mark! I constantly use the Dorsey with tungsten beaded nymphs. If you are wondering if it supports much weight, yes, it will support a LOT of weight. But again, I use only as much yarn as I really need. I like to keep them light and sensitive. I think you’d be surprised how much weight just a couple strands of yarn can support, though. The macrame yarn is really buoyant!

      In my world, I don’t have some indys for tungsten beads and some for split shot. I just think about the amount of weight below, in whatever form, and choose and indy.



  14. I’ve had an indicator fly off on a back cast before. Six wraps on 5x fluorocarbon with a 5/16″ medium band. You ever have this happen?

    • Sure. It happens.

      So, something sliced the rubber band. It could be that you slid the band when there was a twist or a loop over the indy that developed during casting. If there’s ANY unusual tension when sliding, don’t force it. Just back it off and redo the band. Also, if you were pulling hard on a snag, imagine how much force is on that band. That can slice it too. Always check the band after a major snag.

      It was probably one of those two things.


      • Makes sense. Thanks Dom!

  15. I was ready to purchase yarn but the found out that bands on e-bay.

  16. Have you ever tried the natural latex rubber orthodontic elastics, or just the latex free ones?

  17. I tie similar poly yarn indicators for all the reasons mentioned in your article, they are inexpensive,land soft and super sensitive. Usually attach to butt section of tapered leader with a clove hitch. Works well on thicker diameter at butt, however, difficult to untie on thinner diameter line. The use of the dental rubber bands is a definite improvement, easily adjustable and no kinks to the line. Excellent tip. Thanks for sharing.

  18. What do you think of using circus colored bonnie braid instead of buying two colors? It’s a red, green, blue and white braid.

    • Hi Mike,

      I think that would be fine.

      Honestly, I can’t say I’ve ever had trouble seeing even a very small Dorsey. They gather so many point of light that they are extremely visible, no matter the color. Early on, I thought I would need bright colors, but I eventually learned that they weren’t necessary. Green with yellow is my standard.

      I do like using two colors, because it provides distinct contrast, allowing you to read when the Dorsey just twists a tiny bit — and set the hook!



      • Just got the circus cord. It will work great as I can make any combination of white, yellow, green, blue and red. So I only had to buy one.

  19. I saw that you use anywhere from 2 to 7 strands, usually using 5. How long do you cut the strands? It looks like they are about 2″. Also, would it be good enough to just rub some Gink on it before you use it. Thanks for your time and great articles.

    • Hi Eddie,

      The answers are in the article, my friend. See above:

      “Use scissors to trim to about a half-inch for small Dorseys and an inch for larger ones.”

      also . . .

      “The macrame yarn sheds water very well, but a little extra help doesn’t hurt. I apply a drop of Rain-X to the yarn after making the Dorseys at my tying desk (I do the same with my dry flies). Once I’m on the water, I usually work a bit of green Musclin into the yarn. It stays on the fibers for a very long time.”

      Read the surrounding material from those quotes too. Because if you change much about this system at all, it doesn’t work well. But if you do everything as described above, it’s perfect.



  20. I recently compared this technique to the NZ strike indicator, while impressed I simply wasnt getting the same “height” during use as I was the NZ. I also found it necessary to dry and recoat much more often…Am I missing something or is this accurate in others findings?

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the input. I’ve used the NZ rig a lot, and I don’t find that it rides higher at all. Buoyancy is simply a function of trapped air and nothing more. I actually find the crinkled fibers of the macrame yarn to trap more air than the wool of the NZ system. Also the rubber tube of the NZ tends to hold a bit of water as well. So, for me the Dorsey rides higher.

      That said, it sounds to me like you are likely lobbing the yarn indy instead of casting it. Small yarn indys need to expel any gathered water on the backcast. The macrame yarn does that easily, because it’s hydrophobic. But you must give it a chance to do so, with a crisp, swift backcast. If you simply lob the next cast forward, the water will hold in the Dorsey. From your description, my guess is that’s what’s happening.

      Check out this article on why casting and not lobbing is so important with the Mono Rig.

      Feel free to email me if you like.



  21. I have not yet figured out how to get my leader reasonably straight after tying in a Dorsey. The leader kinks around the band and resembles a “7” rather than a straight leader. Am I supposed to somehow coax the rubber band above the leader and around the bonny braid? If so, how?


    • Hi Richard. I’m glad you asked. No, the Dorsey doesn’t damage the line at all. That’s the beauty of it. If I may ask, what diameter of tippet are you using?



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