Know Your Weights and Measures

by | Dec 28, 2020 | 13 comments

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. Future articles in this Troutbitten Short Series will flush 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.

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, we’ll address the weights and measures of each of these in depth: distance, leaders, flies and weights.

Subscribe to Troutbitten and follow along. (It’s free.)

Fish hard, friends.


** Donate ** If you enjoy this article, please consider a donation. Your support is what keeps this Troutbitten project funded. Scroll below to find the Donate Button. And thank you.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 700+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

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.

More from this Category

The Tap and the Take — Was That a Fish?

The Tap and the Take — Was That a Fish?

Using the riverbed as a reference is the most common way to know about the unseen nymph below. Get the fly down. Tick the riverbed. Touch and lift. This time-honored strategy is used across fishing styles for just about every species I’ve ever cast to. Find the bottom, and find fish. Better yet, find the bottom and know where the fly is.

But how do we tell the difference between ticking the bottom and a trout strike? My friend, Smith, calls it the tap and the take . . .

Podcast — Ep. 5: Fly Fishing the Mono Rig — Versatility and the Tight Line Advantage Taken Further

Podcast — Ep. 5: Fly Fishing the Mono Rig — Versatility and the Tight Line Advantage Taken Further

After hundreds of Troutbitten articles featuring the versatility of the Mono Rig, now there’s a podcast. My friends Josh, Austin, Trevor and Bill join me to discuss how each of us fishes this hybrid rig as a complete fly fishing system, detailing the ultimate flexibility of this amazing tool.

The Troutbitten Mono Rig is a hybrid system for fishing all types of flies: nymphs (both tight line and indicator styles), streamers, dry-dropper, wets, and small dry flies. With twenty pound monofilament as a fly line substitute, better contact, control and strike detection are gained with the Mono Rig versus a traditional fly line approach. And yet, the casting here is still a fly line style cast. Ironically, it takes excellent fly casting skills to efficiently throw a Mono Rig.

Finding the (Almost) Invisible Potholes — Reading Water

Finding the (Almost) Invisible Potholes — Reading Water

Just as the taller rock creates a surface wave, the pothole, bucket or depression in the riverbed has a corresponding feature on the surface. It’s a flatter, calmer piece of water — smoother than the surrounding surface currents. Is it harder to recognize? Sure it is. It’s also not as reliable of a sign. But quite often, if you find a calm piece of water, surrounded by mixed currents and minor waves, a pothole lies below.

Be careful what you’re reading, though. The stall, or slower piece of water that lies just downstream of every rock, is not the same thing as a pothole — not at all . . .

#8. The Strike: Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

#8. The Strike: Nine Essential Skills for Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

The strike is the best part of fishing. It’s what we’re all out there waiting for, or rather, what we’re trying to make happen all day long. And the trout eats because we get so many things right.

We fool a fish, and we fulfill the wish of every angler.

When the fish strikes, we strike back. Short, swift and effective, the hook finds fish flesh. Then we try to keep the trout buttoned and get it to the net.

In the next article, this series concludes with the focus on putting it all together . . .

The Backing Barrel Might Be The Best Sighter Ever

The Backing Barrel Might Be The Best Sighter Ever

A simple piece of Dacron, tied in a barrel, is a visible and sensitive addition to your tight line and euro nymphing rig. The versatile Backing Barrel serves as a stand-alone sighter, especially when tied with a one-inch tag. Better yet, it draws your eyes to the colored monofilament of any sighter and enhances visibility threefold. The Backing Barrel adds a third dimension of strike detection, with the Dacron flag just stiff enough to stand away from the line, but just soft enough to twitch upon even the most subtle takes . . .

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?



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

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.

Pin It on Pinterest