Know Your Weights and Measures

by | Dec 28, 2020 | 21 comments

**NOTE** This is Part One in a Troutbitten Short Series about weights and measures. You can find the full series at the link below.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Know Your Weights and Measures

Fishermen are bad with numbers. We’re notorious for embellishing the size of our catch and the numbers of trout in the net. We overstate, exaggerate and overestimate everything. Okay, admit it — fishermen are a bunch of liars.

Now, a lot of this is in good fun, and it can be pretty harmless. But some of the stats and numbers about our fishing are important to get right. How far are you casting, and what’s the size of the dry fly? How do the line and leader diameters match with the weight of your nymph? These stats are critical for taking the next step in advanced angling, and we’ll get to all of that below. But first, let’s talk about your uncle . . .

Uncle Joe

What’s the downside of letting Uncle Joe believe that his biggest trout was two feet long? None, really. Lying about the length of a trout and the numbers in the net won’t hurt his fishing production. So Uncle Joe names a trout “Large Marge” and tells a story about the biggest trout he’s ever caught. (Troutbitten tradition is to give a name to all wild trout over two feet long.) Good for Uncle Joe.

I’ll mention that among my own fishing friends, we are strictly fact based — there’s no lying about numbers or size. Because real data shared in our fishing group is more important than bragging rights.

Regardless, the way you or Uncle Joe chooses to quantify what lands in your net doesn’t affect your future success. Being a poor judge of what twenty inches looks like on a trout doesn’t matter much. And rounding up the number of trout you caught then adding five doesn’t matter either.

But knowing the weights and measures of your rig does.

Photo by Bill Dell

Why Knowledge Matters

Good anglers aim to understand the rig in their hands.

Know the weights of your nymphs and streamers, the diameters of your tippet, the stiffness of your leader and the air resistance of your dry fly. Each of these qualities affects the others. Every part in your system directly influences the performance of the rest.

All anglers do this to some degree. Most know their fly size and terminal tippet diameter. And that’s a great start. But knowing your weights and measures in detail is a wonderful way to improve your understanding of the game.

Simply knowing that you are nymphing with fifty centigrams goes a long way toward understanding the performance of your tight line rig. Being aware of these stats and analyzing their performance helps us solve problems on the river. More importantly, it helps us develop a style, dialing in a system that is tailored toward our own strengths, goals and opportunities.

Stats Over Time

The longer I fish, the more I understand my own weights and measures. And I continue to learn how they interface with each other.

In truth, it takes seasons of experience to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and each of us is always learning. Point is, obsessing about exactly the weights of your nymphs vs the diameters of your Mono Rig, for example, may be a little much if you only have a few years under your belt.

So start by simply knowing your stats, and then pay attention to the performance of the rig. Most learning happens intuitively, with time on the water and attention to detail.

READ: Troutbitten | What to Trust

There are a few things to focus on. Some are leader based and some are weight based. The other articles in this Troutbitten Short Series flesh out all three of these categories in detail. But to start, here’s a rundown of the stats to focus on.

Josh, with Austin over his shoulder.

What Weights and Measures?


Accurately knowing your distances lies at the heart of everything.

Some anglers are enamored with long casts, and they might brag about fishing far away. Who cares? I value accuracy, efficiency, and effectiveness (trout in the net), so most of my fishing happens at fifteen to thirty feet. Like a good hunter, I know the effective range of my tools and my skills.

That said, I want to know exactly how far away I’m tight line nymphing, for example, so I can balance the natural sag in my leader (they all sag) with the weight at the end of the line. Likewise, I consider the distance at which I can effectively push a #12 Klinkhammer dry fly under a canopy, and I know how I need to build my leader to accomplish this at thirty feet.

READ: Troutbitten | Is a Soft Sighter Best? Not Always


The line and leader delivers the fly to the target. And in my estimation, the leader is the most important element in our system — it’s far more important than the fly itself. So, understanding the composition of the leader for dries, nymphs, wets or streamers is the key to effectively adjusting for the conditions and the situation at hand.

The frequent angler encounters daily challenges that require modification. And knowing the parts of the leader — the lengths, diameters and even the stiffness of each section, is critical to meeting challenges on the water.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing Leader Design

Flies and Weights

Beginning anglers think about the fly first. But experience teaches us that it usually matters least. And by understanding distance, knowing our effective range, and building a leader for the job, only then are we in a place to consider the fly.

What’s the most important element to consider about the fly? Often, it’s the size and weight. And knowing that your nymph weighs fifty centigrams goes a long way toward having repeated success on the water. Likewise, it’s good to know that a #14 Parachute Adams from your box pairs nicely with thirty inches of 5X as a terminal tippet with your Harvey dry leader.

Kels with the release. Photo by Josh Darling

Up Next . . .

Consider your fly size and weight. Know your tippet diameter. Understand the length, thickness and weight of your leader’s butt section. And learn to accurately judge the distance you are casting. All of these elements are intertwined. And advanced angling starts by being aware of the stats. Know your weights and measures.

In the companion articles of this Troutbitten Short Series, I address the weights and measures of each of these in depth: distance, leaders, flies and weights.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Know Your Weights and Measures

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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I don’t know another time when I approached a slot with so much confidence. Better. Slower. This was it. At the end of the fishless drift, my certainly wasn’t questioned, it was simply re-informed. “Need more weight,” I said. It was an unforgettable, prove-it kind of moment . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


  1. Nice. I like to think of my flies in terms of “sink rate” – this incorporates both weight, profile, and fly material. For example a full buggy hare’s ear and a thin body perdigon could both weigh the same on a scale, however one is going to sink much quicker and obtain depth faster. My nymph box is arranged in terms of sink rate – slow sinking bushy wet flies at the start all the way to large tungsten beaded perdigons at the other end.

    • Right on. Same here. Just like a #14 Wulff dry catches a lot more air than a #14 X-Caddis.

      That said, the next question is how does the weight of the nymph balance against the sag of the tight line leader, and at what distance?

  2. Totally. Plus not only leader material/thickness, but I also think entry angle of the leader into the water (which often reflects the distance away you are fishing) plays a role in how much a leader “pulls on” or influences a nymphs’s drift.

  3. Large Marge – Now that’s a girl I’d like to know…

  4. Perhaps this has been addressed before, but with respect to weights and measures when hand tying leaders, are the lengths of the individual sections comprising the leader measured before or after tying? In other words, it the leader formula includes a 12″ section of 12lb test Maxima, is that the length of the material before you tie it in or do you need to include some “knot length” material to get the section on the tied leader 12″ in length?

    • Hi Geno,

      I feel it’s safe to say that all sources list leader formulas for how they should end up. So, yes, as you said first, 12 inches means twelve inches when finished.

      This is because everyone ties knots with different lengths of material. For example, I waste about two inches on each side of a blood knot. But a friend of mine somehow cuts that down to less than an inch. I don’t like trying to form the tiny motions it takes to make that happen. Someone else may like to work with even more. Know what I mean?


  5. Seems like a drop shot rig would be a simpler study, i.e., how much weight do I need at the end of the line to effectively drift a unweighted nymph or two. And expand from there by trial and error?

    • Hi Elwood.

      Not at all. While drop shotting, the material resistance of the fly still matters. Where the weight is (in the fly or in split shot) doesn’t really change anything, in my opinion.

      But to be clear, the thrust of this article is much more broad than the material resistance issue. This is about knowing all your stats and how they interact — as much as possible anyway. The point is to know what we’re doing out there, so we can take the next step.

      And I’ll flush out the material resistance stuff a bit in the Flies and Weights part of this Troutbitten Short Series.


  6. I love this and totally agree. There’s so much we can’t control, why not control what we can to the best of our ability?
    Another piece of the puzzle is noting the flow rate of your local water during an outing and being mindful of the weights that were successful at those flows.
    It makes dialing in what weight to use much quicker on following outings.
    As always, looking forward to your next post!

  7. Is that a picture of a small scale? Duct taped no less. What is the scale and how the neck did you attach it? And how do you incorporate it in your day?

    • Hi there.

      Yes, it’s the AWS scale that I linked to above. Probably ten years old and still going strong. My kids broke the lid hinge, so I duct taped it.

      It never leaves my fly tying desk.

      Make sense?


  8. Rather than massing your nymphs have you considered measuring the drop rate through a water column like fly line manufacturers do (ips or mmps) for sink tips? Would actual sink rate not provide more useful information as mass does not account for the hydrodynamics of the sink/drift?

    • Hi Rick,

      I feel like I covered the sink rate discussion in the comments above. That said, I’ll add more thoughts here.

      No, I don’t believe that sink rate would provide more useful information. Here’s why.

      First, I believe focusing on sink rate is looking past the very obvious and more consequential factor — weight. Weight is also more accurately measurable.

      Remember, we don’t just know the weight of our rig for sinking purposes. How the rig casts, and how it will sag is just as important. And sink rate has nothing to do with those.

      Likewise, the weight of a fly or split shot also informs us about how well it will hold the bottom zone once it’s there, and how it will interact with the leader and the currents at hand. For example, light weights are very easily pulled off track.

      I do believe there’s too much focus on sink rate, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. I surely encourage anyone casting a fly under the water to give it great consideration.

      Using some metric such as IPS would not be all that valuable to me. All the factors of water conditions and currents complicate things WAY too much for IPS on a fly to be very relevant. So too, how much force I use with the tuck cast and what angle I cast and how much tension after entry — these things all matter more than IPS for a fly.

      Weight is the measurement that remains, regardless of the other factors, and it’s all around much more valuable information to me.

      Thanks for the question.


      • I’m trying to wrap my head around your argument for mass over sink rate. You obviously could have a lead spilt shot and a weighted squirmy worm with the same mass but drastically different sink rates which, with all other variables (cast, leader/tippet, water temp., current speeds, etc.) being equal, the squirmy worm would be more easily pulled off track than the split shot despite both having equal mass/weight.

        The sink rate of any body is determined by its density and surface area – not its weight, so the goal of maintaining control on a drift is a function of density and surface area – not weight. Sink rates would factor in both density and the resisting force of aquadynamic drag produced by surface area – the two factors that determine how a nymph would track.

        Maybe I’m just confused?

        • “the squirmy worm would be more easily pulled off track than the split shot despite both having equal mass/weight.”

          That’s not true. The squirmy will hold the seam better because of its material resistance.

          In my opinion, the sink rate is more effected by the currents and how I cast the rig, where I put the tippet than weight. Weight is a more predictable indicator for me. But of course I also care about sink rate and material resistance. I eyeball that and factor it in, as I mentioned above and in the other article.

          Across all fishing styles, anglers tend to care about weight. I care about it too. This is measurable. If you find a convenient way to measure density and sink rate and that works for you, then those might be better metrics for you, but it’s unlikely best for the rest of us.


  9. Dom, Really enjoy your articles and pod casts. I am am an 80 year old, always learning, obsessive MN fly fisher for 60 years. An issue I never solved is 8” tag leaders above the bottom nymph that keep wrapping around the main leader causing me to stop using that technique. I use 4 pound Seaguar leader with a double surgeon knot on a mono rig, 10′ 3 wt. rod. Any ideas please? Thanks , Dean

    • Hi Dean,

      Thanks for the question.

      For me, an 8 inch tag is way too long. It will tangle far too often.

      Couple other points on tags:

      — I often have people tell me they are tangling when in reality they are simply wrapping around the mainline. That’s completely fine. They will wrap and unwrap, then wrap the other way at times. As long as it’s not a whole bunch of wraps, that’s not a problem. If it’s KNOTTING, then that’s a problem, and it will happen too much with 8″. Try 4 or 5 inches.

      Lastly, thinner tippet diameters tangle a lot more.

      Make sense?


  10. Where can I buy one of those counters like the one in the photo?

    • I think they’re pretty commonly found. Probably got mine on Amazon


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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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