Is a soft sighter best? Not always

by | Apr 9, 2019 | 7 comments

I field a lot of questions about the Mono Rig. It’s a little different than a standard euro nymphing setup, because the Mono Rig is intended to handle every tactic and every type of fly that you might cast on a fly rod. For me, instant versatility on the water is a necessary feature. And anything less is a deal breaker. So I’ve adapted the Mono Rig through the years, modifying it slightly (and sometimes dramatically) to meet new challenges and handle new objectives. And many of those modifications are in the sighter section of the long leader.

I don’t like trying to force a one-size-fits-all approach into leader design. So, long ago, I resigned myself to the couple of extra minutes it takes to swap out full leaders or leader sections. Efficiency on the river is about keeping your flies in the water, and unnecessary rigging is time wasted. I change what I must — but only when the performance of the flies would suffer if I didn’t make those change.

READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency Part 2 — Leader and Tippet Changes

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my choice for a Mono Rig butt section. Specifically, I made the point that thinner leader butts do sag less, but they lose the ability to push anything to a target — a concept generally thought of as turnover. And if we think of the Mono Rig as a fly line substitute, if we want a performance similar to fly line with far less sag, then 20# Maxima Chameleon is an excellent choice. (There are others.) The Mono Rig, as I like to tie it, can push small or wind resistant flies to a target, but it can also be pulled by heavier flies during the cast. It’s really the perfect middle ground.

But here’s something that many anglers overlook: The material used for the sighter can enhance the Mono Rig’s ability to function like a fly line — or it can strip all of that away. Let’s talk about it.



Years ago, no fishing companies manufactured the type of sighter material that is now commonplace. So we all bought whatever colored line we could find. We learned that every mono had subtly different properties, and we kept buying and sharing these lengths of leader.

My first experience with modern sighter material was an opaque line from a Czech company. I paid more in shipping than I paid for the line, and I waited a couple weeks, wondering if the package would ever arrive.

It did. And I immediately noticed how different it was. The material was extremely limp when compared to the same diameter of the Gold Stren and Amnesia that I favored. And at the tying desk, where I’d opened the package and inspected the line, I loved how visible the new bi-color was —  it was opaque, not translucent. So I was eager to fish with the new line, assuming it would become my new favorite sighter material.

It didn’t. Instead, just a few casts in, I realized what I’d given up by using the new material — turnover.

Certainly, there was no problem while tight lining nymphs. But as soon as I added a Dorsey Yarn Indicator (one of my favorite Mono Rig variations) or even a Parachute Adams for a tight line dry dropper style, the leader’s anemic response was a hindrance. The extra-limp line simply didn’t have the backbone to comfortably push those rigs to the target.

READ: Troutbitten | Sighters: Seven Separate Tools

The Good and Bad

Rio, Cortland, Umpqua, and others now offer their own bi-color sighter material. And for better or worse, it’s all quite similar in design to that first line I bought from the Czechs. It’s opaque (great). And it’s limp (great only sometimes.)

I find all this extra-limp sighter material to be beneficial while tight lining nymphs. Soft, flexible mono shows contact a little better than the stiffer stuff. Hell, that’s why I loved my first sighter so much — a ten inch backing sighter constructed from orange and yellow Dacron backing, tied together with a blood knot and black barred with a permanent marker. But for the same reasons that I eventually moved away from the backing sighter, I don’t find modern sighter material (bi-color) to be a good, all-around, versatile choice. It’s just too limp for me.

Photo by Austin Dando

And so it remains

My favorite Mono Rig formula still has Amnesia and Gold Stren for the main sighter, because I don’t like trading away turnover for soft mono material. I do use the modern bi-color material, but not all the time.

When I plan to do more tight lining than anything else, I often add 12-16 inches of Rio Bi-Color, because for tight lining nymphs, I like the softness. I like its extra ability to jiggle and show a little more sag in the sighter.

When I add the Dorsey or a dry dropper, I might clip the bi-color portion away and store it for later. And yes, sometimes I leave it attached — that’s why I keep it fairly short.

And when I plan to change tactics a lot, when I know my day on the water will include multiple changes from the sighter down, swapping between tight line, dry dropper, indy rigs and streamers, then I often leave the bi-color material out of my leader altogether.

Yours and Mine

Much of this comes down to personal preference. Sure, this all might seem a lot easier if you could simply copy someone else’s design and expect it to suit your own needs. And yeah, building a Mono Rig to the specs here on Troutbitten, or using a leader formula that your buddy really likes, is a great place to start. But your casting style, your rod choice, your rivers and your own objectives should push you toward your own adjustments and leader design.

Just be aware that super soft mono is not the only choice for a sighter. And sometimes, it may not be your best choice.

Fish hard, friends.

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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. Excellent discussion.

    Last Sunday, I was fishing an unweighted fly, some weight (split shot and putty) above it, and a midge larva imitation trailed about a foot or so behind the main nymph. This rigging works very well on the Guadalupe, a fairly large tailwater. However, last week, something happened that doesn’t normally happen. I was fishing relatively slow water, and I got a lot of trout at the end of my drift (not when the flies had begun to swing, just when the sighter was pretty much across from me) by just striking. I saw no untoward behavior of the sighter. I just struck and. fish was on. I assume that the reason for this was that the trailer had been pushed downstream of the main nymph, so there was a lot of slack in my systems, or, for some reason, the trout were taking the fly and swimming downstream.

    I still caught my share of trout, but it rankled me that some were just guesses. So, at the end of the day, I put on a coiled sighter below my normal sighter. And, I still caught fish, but this time I saw the sighter open up with every one of them. My conclusion was that when a sighter doesn’t move upstream, but is just pulled straight down, toward the bottom of the stream, a coiled sighter might be.a better choice than a straight one.

    What do you think, Dom?


    • Yeah detecting takes in slow water is often almost impossible with line off the water as an indication device. Overall Alex I’d say the points in this post cover how a non-coiled sighter can best signal the takes you mention.
      It would also probably fall into another advantage of fishing across-stream; the ability to more finely manipulate slack.
      I don’t think it’s only the take detection that’s important but also reducing the tension a fish feels when taking the fly.

  2. Is it the sighters stiffness that’s important or could it be avoiding large changes in mass between sighter and leader material that’s important to maintaining energy on the cast?
    Maybe a bit of both – I’m not sure!
    I don’t like sighters that are separate from my leader, but I excepted I’m in the minority.

  3. Agree fully. Was surprised a while back when you edited the original mono rig article and changed your sighter formula. Even if only tightline nymphing sometimes I think too loose/flexible of a sighter can sometimes be a hindrance…almost too much sensitivity if you will. I wish amnesia made a colored monofilament that was opaque, not clear.

  4. For the Amnesia and Gold Stren sighter. Instead of a two piece (1 amnesia and one gold stren) have you ever run a 4 piece (alternating between the two), to just have a little more variation and visibility?

  5. As I experiment with micro leaders I am looking for the right balance of thin to win vs turnover vs versatility to throw a dry dropper. Settling on 2x SA or Cortland 7 pound sighter off of 10 pound Amnesia or Cortland camouflage.

    • Good stuff, glad you are experimenting.

      “Settling on 2x SA or Cortland 7 pound sighter off of 10 pound Amnesia or Cortland camouflage.”

      It’s too thin.

      Try dialing leaders in by standing there and casting ONLY the leader. That’s the way to truly understand if you have great turnover, or how much power is actually in that leader. Every leader can turn over when the weight of the nymph or shot does the job. That’s not a problem. The real challenge happens when you try to cast a #18 at thirty feet without a water haul. Then try pushing a dry dropper or a yarn indy on a tight line rig out there. Then you’ll know what you have.



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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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