This is part three of my conversation with George Daniel, author and guide at Livin’ on the Fly. We had lunch to talk about his new book, Nymph Fishing. If you haven’t yet read part one and part two of this short series, back up and give them a read.
. . . During our lunch, I asked George when and why he chooses to float the sighter.
“I use it for suspending light flies, when I have to cast far enough to lay line on the water,” said George. “At those times, I float the sighter, usually in shallow water.”
But there’s a common misunderstanding of the tactic, so I asked George this: “Do you agree that a floating sighter cannot support a #12 tungsten beadhead fly?”
“Right,” said George. “A greased sighter can really only suspend a light nymph, like a #16 or #18.”
George and I then addressed a mistaken perception about floating the sighter. An angler may think he’s able to suspend a heavier fly with a greased sighter, just because it doesn’t sink under the surface. But the sighter may simply not be in touch with the flies. It’s an easy mistake to make.
What’s really happening?
With every cast, whether short or long, the leader either lays out straight to the flies or is delivered with some slack. Many good nymphing casts incorporate a bit of slack (on purpose). I employ a tuck cast on the majority of my own nymphing casts. And I adjust the power of that tuck. How much do I want to fire the nymphs into the water, and how much slack do I want to give them? None of that necessarily changes when I intend to float the sighter. And if mid or heavy weighted nymphs are delivered with some slack in the leader, the sighter will not sink — not until it’s actually in touch with the nymphs.
That’s the simple point, here. The sighter cannot suspend heavy flies. In my experience, a greased sighter of 1X diameter can only suspend about twenty centigrams of weight. That is about the weight of a #16 tungsten beaded fly with a few lead wraps. Beyond that, the sighter sinks.
While guiding, I often have clients who misunderstand the tactic of floating the sighter. They think that if the sighter isn’t sinking, then it must be suspending the weight at the end of the leader. But they’ve forgotten a key point — contact.
The sighter won’t sink until something pulls it down. A #16 might never pull the sighter under. But a #12 will. And understanding what amount of weight is required to pull your sighter under is just as important as knowing what amount of weight sinks your indicator.
If your floating sighter isn’t sinking, and you are using mid or heavily weighted flies (or split shot), then there is slack between the sighter and the flies, and you’re not in touch. In essence, the sighter is floating the slack in the tippet, not the weight of the fly.
For good nymphing, it’s important to recognize slack in the system. As I’ve written before, it’s not always crucial to be in constant, tight contact. But it’s certainly helpful to understand when we are out of contact and when our sighter or indy is out of touch with the flies.
The Curly is King?
“It’s a lot like the way guys were trying to use the curly at first,” said George.
Exactly. Over a decade ago, I walked into TCO fly shop and asked George Daniel about coiled sighters. A curly (colored monofilament wrapped around a shaft and boiled for a few minutes to set the coil) was all the rage at the time. I remember listening to correspondences between other anglers where it was emphatically agreed, “The Curly is King!” But I hated those coils. The curly was a problem in the wind, it held back a cast and added slack to a hook set. It was also a storage problem and was inconvenient at best. Everything the curly was supposed to do, I knew I could do better with other materials and other tools.
I remember asking George about this all those years ago at TCO: “George, I hate the the curly. What am I missing?”
“Nothing,” he said. “So don’t use it if you don’t like it.”
And I didn’t. But I ran into a lot of anglers back then who were adamant that the curly was king, in large part because it could also be used as a flotation device for nymphs.
But neither a floating curly nor a floating straight sighter can suspend much weight at all, no matter how much grease you pack around it.
Floating the sighter is an excellent tactic on the water. I use it often. But like everything else, it has its limitations. And it’s important to recognize when and how the tactic is working for you or against you.
For more about when and how George float’s the sighter, check out page 139 of his latest book, Nymph Fishing.
In a future article I’ll revisit the tactic of floating the sighter here on Troutbitten in full depth. For now, remember that it’s a specialized tactic. It is not the standard approach for tight line nymphing. Float the sighter sometimes, but do it for a reason. Always understand how much weight your sighter can suspend and how much slack is under the water.
Fish hard, friends.
You can buy George Daniel’s trio of books here and support Troutbitten.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N