Quick Tips: See beyond the sighter

by | Feb 10, 2019 | 24 comments

New to tight lining? Then staring at the bright piece of colored line is a good place to start. But when you gain some skills for reading the angle and speed of the sighter, when you can quickly gauge contact with your nymphs by glancing at the sag of the sighter, then it’s time to look ahead. Get to the next level.

We do everything possible to improve the visibility of the sighter section in our leaders. We leave tag ends, add backing barrels and use super-bright opaque material. Good anglers also learn to fish from the best angles for visibility — usually with the sun or brightest light at their backs. So it’s easy to be mesmerized by those colors. And I think most nymph fishers catch themselves staring at the sighter too often, missing all the other available signals.

What are those signals? Most of them are beyond the sighter — past the last visible piece of yellow, red, orange, etc. and into the water.

READ: Troutbitten | Sighters: Seven Separate Tools

More Line — More Angle

Look for the tippet first. Most often the sighter is above the surface, so there may be a foot or two of tippet leading into the water (maybe more). And if you have the light angles in your favor, you can often track that tippet right down to where it touches the river.

Back in my minnow slingin’ days, that’s all I had to watch for. I had no sighter. Instead, I found the place where my 6 lb Berkley Trilene entered the water. Then I watched the angle of the my line above the water. And I used what I could see to estimate the position of things I couldn’t see (my line and minnow under the water).

It’s the same with a Mono Rig and flies, but now I have the distinct advantage of the sighter built into my rig. It leads my eyes, and it more clearly shows me that angle. And if I look past it, I will often see the rest of the line before it disappears into the water.

** Quick Side note ** I often add a simple Backing Barrel, with no tag, about twenty inches below my sighter and on the tippet. This tiny piece of orange backing is remarkably visible, and I use it to direct my eyes to the tippet. Sometimes it’s under the water, but most often I still see it. It’s an excellent addition.

Photo by Josh Darling

The Surface

Beyond the sighter is the water. And although we look deep below, the surface is the first stop. Judge the speed of the top water. And read the waves. Where are the peaks and valleys of the current? The rise and fall of the waves, especially in pocket water, mirrors the structure at the bottom of the river. Big rocks make big peaks on the surface, and if they’re big enough, the current breaks or swirls.

By reading the surface, beyond the sighter, you can estimate the nuances of the water where your nymphs are swimming — down at the bottom. Gather that data, and you’ll better understand what your next move should be. Lead the nymphs faster? Let them drop for a moment and settle into a bucket? Read the surface to discover the answer.

And Beyond

Everything under the surface may seem like the unknown, but good polarized lenses and some river sense allow the depths to open up to an experienced angler.

See into the water. Look below. Imagine the nymph on the bottom. Believe where it is, and direct it to the far side of a rock. Then expect the nymph to settle into a slight stall just behind that rock. See the subtle flash of golden brown and know that a trout has taken the nymph. By looking past the sighter, searching deep into the water for clues and signals, you will see strikes that are never apparent otherwise.

Trust Yourself

Why limit yourself by watching only the sighter? Take your eyes off it for a moment and notice how well you can still see the bright color. It’s still there, in your vision, even without being the focus. Look for other clues beyond the sighter and trust the river. Trust yourself. Read the water and set the hook.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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24 Comments

  1. In my spin and baitcaster times, visible mono was my go to as I echoed the successful anglers around me so I relate to your minnow fishing days. Waiting to feel the bite seems so yesterday.
    Where my education continues is the reading of water currents and adjusting–new level. Thanks, Dom.

    Reply
    • Right on. And I think it’s really, really valuable to have the experience with other styles.

      Reply
  2. Fishing some rivers in Northern California I’m having difficulties with tight line approach. My favorite river can be 80’ wide with boulders the size of cars and having a rock surface that’s comparable to ball bearings with grease. This puts me into a situation of casting at times to forty feet out and mending line. Reading currents is a challenge to me as the surface flow can be fast on top and drag on bottom. At 450 CFS currents can play a different game here. Water can go from two feet to ten feet and back to two feet in a short run with eddys from hell. Any ideas on this predicament. Thanks

    Reply
    • You might not like my answer but Centerpin the pockets. Using a jig hook pointing up you might be able to skip over shallow rocks and get down behind them where it is deeper. Of course I’m talking of casting flies on the Centerpin, not bait. I do maintain certain limitations of trout etiquette.
      Rick

      Reply
      • Rick, when you centerline, I assume that you’re using a bobber. Could you explain your strategy and describe your rig?
        Alex

        Reply
        • Domenick, describes it below better than I could. The Centerpin guys around here (South Shore Lake Erie) are the most consistent Steelhead setup so many people have switched from fly or spincast to Centerpins. Domenick’s method allows us to keep our fly reels in use with 90% of the same effectiveness. The Centerpin is the best method to catch steelhead where I live when water is 39 deg. F and below. Above 39 deg. The fly rod set up allows more options to catch fish. I will be adjusting my full sinking reel spool with the mono as Domenick describes for the rest of this Winter.

          Reply
  3. That barrel knot is a great idea. I’ll give it a try. I’m tying sulphurs for a trip to your area. Ours in ct are in the 16- 18 range. Will that work for your area. Bought that Keystone fishing guide. Worth every penny!

    Reply
    • Yeah, those will be fine. Throw some 14’s in as well.

      Reply
  4. Great suggestions Dom! Struggling to be a better tight liner and believe all these suggestions will help. Many thanks!

    Reply
    • Absolutely.

      Reply
  5. Another great article which I hope gets some practice soon. Rivers here are iced up again, but waiting for the Spring Steelhead to run, then trout season. Your tip to watch below, and notice a flash, or a rising shadow, can be the only indication you get of half your takes under water. Thank you Dom,

    Reply
    • Right on, buddy.

      Reply
  6. A small bright green weenie or hot pink weenie on the top tag is another “strike indicator” that can be visible several feet underwater…with the added bonus that it hooks plenty of fish itself.

    Also have lost count of the number of fish I have caught blind striking as my rig drifted through a prime lie even with no signal of a take on my sighter….just raise the rod tip quickly about 6 inches…if no fish on drop it right back down and continue the drift…but you will be surprised at how many you catch this way…and a great example of how the sighter often doesn’t tell the whole story of what is going on underwater.

    Reply
    • Great point! Blind striking is completely overlooked. There are more fish in the river than we think, and fish take our nymphs more often than we notice. One thing I will add, it’s important to be as tight to the nymph as possible so you’re able to feel the take. A trick I learnt from a European champion was to subtly jig the nymphs during the drift, with the intention of keeping in contact with the nymphs. Anyway, you won’t feel the take every time, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to introduce slack and disable the key mechanism to TIGHT LINE nymphing.

      Reply
  7. Thank you. As always, I really enjoy your writing and your tips

    Reply
  8. I’m terrible at tight lining and it’s never my first choice but there are times when it’s the only thing that works for me. My problem is that I don’t really know what the sighter is for. I mean I get the theory I’ve watched a ton of videos and read articles but when it comes to the fishing I just feel the takes. I’ve never really seen a take or I guess I don’t know what I’m looking for. Imagine how many fish I’m missing.

    Reply
    • That’s sad, Mark.

      Kidding.

      There are a lot of bad videos out there on tight lining. Lots of bad advice too, honestly.

      If you are feeling all of your takes then you are missing a lot more takes. The sighter has a few purposes: it shows contact with your weight underneath, be that split shot or weighted flies. Once you can see contact, then you can read and control other aspects of the nymphs underneath. The sighter points to your flies. If you are four feet to your lead fly, then you can estimate the position of your fly, four feet beyond the end of the sighter. It therefore shows you depth of your nymph, the position of your nymph and the position of the tippet in the water. Watch for the sighter to slow down — that indicates that your nymphs are in the strike zone near the bottom. Now glide the nymphs through that strike zone, maintainn the same sighter angle and depth. And all along . . . watch for the sighter to do anything unusual and SET the hook. It may pause, jiggle, twist or just slow down when a fish eats. I only feel about ten percent of takes. I see the takes most often and set. If you wait to feel the take, you are definitely missing a lot of trout.

      Hope that helps.

      Also, this article:

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/04/05/fly-fishing-strategies-sighters-seven-separate-tools/

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Dom

      Reply
      • Thanks Dom. I guess it just takes repetition too. I’ve fished for over 20 years and tight lining is extremely difficult for me. I’ve even had guides teach me who have taught winning competitive anglers and I can do it while fishing with them but honestly it just seems extremely complicated. And based on your response (that’s a lot of math, ha ha) it is confirmed complicated. After so many years fishing dead drifts its very counterintuitive and confounding. But as I said sometimes it produces for me when other techniques aren’t working. And when I said I only feel fish I lied a little bit. I do take fish when I see (not feel) the fish actually take the nymph, it’s really just a flash under the surface but this has nothing to do with the sighter. Alas, I’ll keep reading and working on it but nothing like time on the river to figure it out.

        Reply
        • Meh, I don’t feel like it’s actually complicated at all. But yes, I understand that it may seem that way in print. However, tight lining puts you in direct control of your flies, and therefore the outcome. Being in direct control/contact is more simple that trying to gain that control back through mending fly line, for example. So in my view, tight lining on a Mono Rig is more simple than other methods.

          You should give me a chance to show you this. I teach Mono Rig tactics almost every day. I think some guides and other people really, really love to complicate things. Ha! I do not. This is just fishing. Nothing more.

          Likewise, just because someone is a winning competitive angler, as you mentioned, doesn’t actually tell me much about their angling skill, when compared to the next guy. All due respect to those who compete, but those medals don’t mean much in my world. FIPS rules are quite limiting, and I think fishing under those rules and being surrounded by that culture skews and limits the views and opinions of almost every good comp angler I’ve met. I recognize that there are many very good comp anglers out there. But the best anglers I know are actually no where near the comp scene.

          That’s my reality.

          Cheers.

          Dom

          Reply
  9. I’m actually not into the comp scene at all. It’s kind of goes against the point of fishing in my view but they are super dialed in and there are times when I wish I had those skills.

    In theory it’s not difficult, super easy to cast and I feel the take but I don’t know how to see a take when the line is tight so I guess I’m only getting 10% of the fish. Plus, I just don’t ever feel like I know what I’m doing when I fish tight line even though I catch fish.

    I’d love to take you up on a lesson but I’m probably a little too far away. Thanks for your advice and BTW, I love your site. There is a crazy amount of good info and good vibes here.

    Cheers,
    Mark

    Reply
    • Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      My best piece of advice to to overweight your rig.

      https://troutbitten.com/2018/02/08/over-or-under-your-best-bet-on-weight-2/

      That will put you in excellent contact with your flies. You can focus on getting and keeping contact with the sighter. Watch the sighter and imagine it pointing to your nymphs. Pick just one lane and gt a ten foot drift through it over and over. Learn the contours of the bottom in those ten feet. Refine the drift until you get it where the fly enters, gets to the bottom and then glides through the strike zone without touching more than maybe one more time. If you do that, you will feel like you’re in control. I guarantee it.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply

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