Fishing Light

by | May 27, 2020 | 15 comments

You’ve probably been wading upstream on a favorite trout stream and seen another angler’s lost tackle. Maybe the whole mess was in the streamside trees, with split shot and bobber attached, or a misguided F13 Rapala with rusted hooks. Maybe you’ve snagged a pile of monofilament stuck in waterlogged branches and lodged against a rock. And when you’ve seen all that mess, maybe you were stunned by how heavy the tackle was. Are you with me?

At the popular access points around here, there’s plenty of fly tackle in the trees too. We joke around, saying that if you fish long enough you can find everything you need somewhere on the riverbank. Finders keepers . . .

But I also come upon bobbers the size of golf balls and nylon fishing line as thick as the stuff you might use to catch a small shark in the salt.

Smith showed me a wad of monofilament the other day that he’d found in some side water. He had it balled up in his hand, all wet, with cress bugs crawling through some intermingled mud that had started the centuries-long process of breaking everything apart. Smith commented on how heavy the tackle was — how he and I were fishing 5X tippet that was about one third the diameter of the stuff in his hand, and how we were all fishing for the same trout. That’s strange, indeed.

The same goes for the leaders, the flies, the indicators, even the hemostats/pliers that I find every season. Fishermen of all types use really big gear sometimes.

You know the best hatch-breaker for me this year? A #18 Sledgehammer. When the trout don’t eat what I think they’re eating, going real small has turned the trick, even in higher flows. But this isn’t news to anyone who’s worn out a few pairs of wading boots. Go smaller. Go lighter. These are fly fishing strategies that stand the test of time.

Photo by Austin Dando

What’s the best bug during the upcoming Green Drake hatch, even as the spinners fall? Quite often, it’s a Sulfur Comparadun. Most anglers will be fixated on the big bugs. (Why wouldn’t you? It’s the biggest fly most of us see all year.) And granted, it’s fun to feed trout the big, glow-in-the-dark flies that you just bought at Jonas’ fly shop. But if the fish get touchy, a Sulfur will likely save the night.

The same holds true with so many aspects of fly fishing. And it’s a good thing to remember. What you think of as light tackle may very well be what the next guy gawks at like it’s a golf-ball-bobber and some AA Gremlin shot. Light and small are relative, I suppose.


Are trout rejecting your big streamers and just playing with their food? Try going with a smaller streamer. No, really. Don’t just size down to a #6. How about a #10? Do you think the biggest trout in the river won’t eat it? I have a lot of pictures as proof that the sweetheart meal for a big trout is about one to two inches long.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Streamers


Having trouble with the drift of the dry fly? Maybe go lighter on the leader. And that’s not just for the tippet. Try using a George Harvey style leader — one that lightens the butt and mid sections of the leader as well.

Fish lighter. Fish with more finesse.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Dry Fly Fishing


Nymphing is the same, of course.

My friend, Nick Meloy, recently wrote a six-part series on Light Euro Nymphing. It’s a good read, and you can check out each article over at the Trutta Goods site. (Here’s the Link.)

Nick’s method is built around light leaders, light tippets and light flies. Reading through his thoughts was a great reminder to keep that kind of tight lining approach in my rotation. While my own system is built more for versatility and the turnover needed for many different methods, I also need the ultra-light options to succeed, some days.

Yesterday morning, my son and I had great fishing underneath, with my standard 4X to 5X terminal section. And when the sun hit the water, things changed. I tried to force it for a while and struggled. Then I thought of Nick’s article. And when I extended my sighter with 2X Rio Bi-Color, when I stashed away my standard tippet and went lighter, to all 6X, I was back into fish with smaller patterns and thinner fluoro that efficiently cut through the water and allowed for less drag and more precision — more finesse.

Thanks for the reminder, Nick.

Photo by Austin Dando

Not always, but . . .

Going lighter is no guarantee. What is? But it’s another thing to change, when times are tough. And if you’re stuck in a rut without a trout to your name, tying on smaller things might be a great place to start. Think not just about the flies, but the tippet as well. Think about the whole leader and fly rod. Fish lighter.

So if finesse fishing is such a great idea, why don’t we do it all the time? I suppose there are many reasons for that:

Fishing big streamers is fun. Pushing a #8 hopper through the air doesn’t work well with 6X tippet and an under-powered butt section. A light euro rig is a poor match for a Dorsey yarn indy, aggressive tuck casts or a quick switch to streamers. Lastly, a good night fisher would never leave home without some twelve pound rope for tippet. It’s used for taming the moonlit river beasts.

Fish hard, friends.


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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    • I liked the article on going light. I also have found and lost more stuff then I care to mention. What puzzled me was a big glob of braided line in trout stream you could jump across.
      Maybe you can do an article on how harmful it is to leave that stuff hanging in trees and be bushes

    • Hi Alex.

      Good stuff.

      So I think it’s really just as simple as sometimes this and sometimes that. In the nymphing example in the article, remember that I said I fished all morning with my normal 5X terminal tippet. I swapped out to 6X and a thinner sighter with even smaller flies, just to change something up. It worked. Great. But I went back to my normal 5X routine the next day, because it works and is more versatile.

      Know what I mean?


  1. As always Domenick, I totally eat up your posts. Your writing style is great because you offer a variety of perspectives; surely one of them will resonate, as they do with me.

  2. Nice shout out to ol’ Jonas and the Feathered Hook. Jonas is a good dude, makes a mean breakfast too.

  3. Good article. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  4. This is a great article and very relatable. About 4 years ago, a friend and I were fishing the lower fly zone on NY’s Salmon River. We walked upstream on the left side of the river. There is a point where a small offshoot of the river splits, joining the main stream only about 40 yards down.

    We took a seat at the point and noticed a huge ball of leader/tippet half submerged wrapped up in a piece of wood. We pulled it up and proceeded to pull out about 40-50 flies: nymphs, streamers, wets. It was impressive. We saved the flies and later made a framed ‘presentation’. I stuffed the ball of mono in my vest. I’m always on the lookout, now, for line in trees, bushes, rocks. Look hard and it’s there!

  5. A little humor. In St. Petersburg, FL, Carl Hansen, one of our early flyfishers/tiers had a quote that I still hear. “Will an elephant eat a peanut?” He was definitely a proponent of going smaller, even in the salt.

  6. Makes perfect sense to me Dom. Back when I spin fished I mainly used 4lb. test, now that I fly fish I mainly go with 5x and smaller. Don’t know why people use heavy tackle for trout, seems to be more spin fisherman than fly guys. See some guys with tackle more suited for bass that are fishing small creeks and streams, definitely overkill. As always I enjoy your articles whether I post a comment or not. Tight lines.


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