Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #6 — Learn by using visible flies

September 3, 2017
Watching a trout take your fly — it’s one of the most exciting aspects of this game. All fly anglers talk about it. Streamer guys love watching the transient swirl just before a hulking brown crushes the fly. Dry fly guys patiently tie strands of visible flash into upright wings and bright colors into their parachutes. Nymph fishers walk miles to spot a good wild brown trout in the shallows before setting up to sight fish to it.

Vision is our primary sense, so no wonder anglers go to great lengths to use it. At some point though, we resign ourselves to the facts: fishing is often better when the flies aren’t seen by the angler — when the streamer or nymph gets deeper, and when the dry fly is small and natural enough to get lost in the surface. Visible flies, though, should never be forgotten. They’re effective as a learning tool, and they catch fish at the same time.

Let’s go through the styles.


Every fly fisher I know loves some good dry fly action. We’re attracted to the surface game because we get to see it all go down. After some time with larger and more visible patterns, we learn the unfortunate truth — that the best choice might be a tiny little fly that we’ll never see on the water.

Patterns for solving that visibility issue abound, and my dry box is filled with them. I like parachutes and hi-vis wings. Even my comparaduns are mostly tied with bleached deer hair for visibility — same with my elk hair caddis and those related styles.

When fish won’t take any of the above, I remember the advice of a seasoned fly shop owner: “Don’t get hung up on wanting to see your fly. Just set the hook on maybes.”

I do that sometimes. And I accept that I won’t see the fly much. But just as often, I use a tandem dry rig. I add a second fly as a trailer or tag dropper about 8-20 inches away. Usually, I make the first fly the visible one, but you can do it the other way too.

It’s fun, and it brings sight back into the dry fly game.

Photo by Matt Grobe


Most of my nymph fishing happens with the nymphs well out of site. To sense the take, I either feel the line through the rod, watch the sighter or follow a suspender.

Around here, I rarely encounter sight fishing opportunities. So when I go underneath with nymphs, I rely on experienced estimates about where my nymphs are.

However, I regularly tie on a visible nymph and watch it drift in the current. I use Green Weenies or pink Squirmy Wormies, and they catch fish. Sometimes, I choose a visible fly just to see how the currents are flowing on the bottom. Given the right water conditions, I can peer through about three feet of depth.

Many times, the motion and the course of my nymph is much different than what I expect.

So by watching the visible nymphs, I learn how to better read what my sighter or suspender is showing me. I learn to manipulate the line and rod for better drifts, and I learn what the surface currents may signal about the river below.

Also, just like the visible dry fly, adding a second, more natural fly paired with the visible nymph often results in a lot of hookups.


I’ve found that I catch more fish on streamers when I don’t see the fly. But I love watching a streamer. I used to strip too fast, keeping my streamer high in the water column, just so I could watch it dance in concert with my strips and jerks. Many anglers have the same habit.

Decades ago I read Joe Humphreys’ book Trout Tactics and found his tip for trailing a dark, natural streamer behind a more visible one. Problem solved. I’ve been doing it ever since. I like a white or tan upper fly, sometimes flashy, usually small, and tie it about 24-30 inches above the lower fly. I watch the upper fly in the water, but I have a very good idea about where my lower fly is and how it’s moving.

READ: Troutbitten | Pat Burke on the Sighter Streamer

The added benefit of course, is that some days, trout are all over the upper fly too.

Fish on.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Read All of the Fifty Tips Series

What do you think?

4 Comment threads
3 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
3 Comment authors
  Follow the comments on this article.  
Notify of

Just did the hopper dropper rig today, and I was catching all kinds of fish once I did that.


A sighter streamer. Never heard of it, but it makes sense. This older dog is going to try a new trick.


Would you post a few sighter streamer patterns?


Wouldn’t sink enough for me.

Domenick Swentosky

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.

summertime fishing Fly Casting Fly Fishing Oakiewear hiking front ended patience fighting fish Euro-Nymphing skunked History fishing tips Presentations Night Tippet Rings walking tracks Fish Hard tenkara nymphs BadMoFo Rich silence leaders time gear knots Pennsylvania fishing with kids wet fly fishing last cast come on man home-stream nymphing tips waders fly patterns family Industry Stuff PA Gold etiquette wet flies Press streamside Stockies comp fishing mud Night Fishing brookies brown trout spawning Namer DJS tight lining Galloup tippet spot burning the Mono Rig Weather suspender fishing Dry-Dropper cookout summer dog Float Fishing winter fly fishing ice float wading poetry DHALO big fish backcountry Mystery regulations friendship Sawyer Little Juniata River musician Big Trout Grobe Central PA Orvis George Harvey wading boots Fifty Tips How it Started friends dorsey yarn indicator Aiden Wild Mushrooms bite windows Ask an Expert dry fly fishing small streams bar boots tight line nymphing Quote indicator fishing Troutbitten Fly Box big brown trout net fly box Burke mono rig Bad Mother Whiskey Drinker casting TU Baseball science matters Trout Unlimited winter fishing fly tying beadhead dry flies Joey Streamer fishing Grandfather Peace One Great Tip dead drift conservation wild trout stocked trout Fly rods night-sighter Davy Wotten Memories reading water stinky bass simplicity PFBC fly line Discovery It's just fishing Trust philosophy angler types split shot Buggers indicator nymphing explore public land DIY mistakes winter favorite giveaway Floating Boat Wild Brown Trout PSA mayfly carp brush fishing rookies boys rigs fall mousing Camping Resources thunderstorm Whiskey Jeff droppers Christmas Lights tiny flies rules photography camera nymphing tightline trout bum Spring Creek Headbanger Sculpin travel flies wildlife BES catch and release Gierach efficiency Streamers Dylan Wild vs Stocked solitude marginal water Backing Barrel George Daniel tips Sighter backcast club fishing montana Dad