Pro Tip: How to Make a “Slinky” Sighter for Light Nymph Fishing

Written by: Tyler Befus

Fifteen-year-old Tyler Befus is already an astonishingly accomplished angler.
All photos courtesy Tyler Befus

The competitive anglers on the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team, along with our coaches, are always trying to develop new ways to fish more effectively and to catch more fish during our time on the water. While each of us has our own unique approach, we do often incorporate many of the same ideas and techniques into our arsenal. The “Slinky” is just one of our many tools I use and has been around for a number of years. Although this is a style of nymphing used by competitive anglers, it is not limited to the competitive scene. For everyday angling, the slinky method incorporates a long leader set up of twelve to fifteen feet in length, a unique style of sighter (which is basically the competition term for an indicator), and one or two lightweight nymph patterns. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at how to rig this extremely effective method for spooky trout.

Creating the Slinky
Slinky sighters are quick and easy to make, and the increased sensitivity they provide, makes the process well worth the effort. The idea behind this sighter is to create tight, closely placed coils that, when greased thoroughly, will float on the surface of the water suspending your favorite nymph pattern. If you keep all of the slack line out of the rig as it floats down the river, the slinky will stretch out slightly. And when a fish strikes or your flies become snagged, the sighter will completely straighten out.

The few materials you will need when making a slinky are:

  • A small dowel or the case of a ball-point pen
  • Small pot
  • Duct tape or even better, very small rubber bands
  • Fluorescent fishing line such as P-Line in Optic Green, Stren in a bright orange or yellow shades, or any of the fluorescent sighter materials made by fly fishing brands in a 6-8 pound breaking strength. (You will want to purchase multiple colors and make sighters with all of them because some show up better than others in different light conditions and although radar and forecast can tell us a lot about the kind of lighting we may face on the river, you will not know for certain the conditions until you are actually on the river and experiencing them.)

Step 1: Cut off a 2 foot section of the hi-vis material and attach the filament to the pen casing using either a rubber band or tape. Make sure that when you do this, you leave 3 to 4 inches of material hanging out one side and the rest of the filament in the opposite direction.

Tightly wrap the fluorescent material around the pen case.

Step 2: Now you can wrap the long section of filament along the case, making sure to place the wraps as closely together as possible. This will make the slinky’s coils even tighter and therefore will make it float and detect strikes more effectively. Once you have wrapped all the material, leave another 3 inch section of the filament unwrapped and then using another rubber band or the tape, tie down the end of the filament so it does not unwind off of the casing.

Boil the wrapped sighter for two minutes.

Step 3: Heat water in a small pot until it is boiling. Set a timer for 2 minutes and drop the pen case into the pot. If the case does not sink on its own, use a fork or tongs (or any other kitchen utensil you feel fits the task) and submerge the tube until the two minutes have elapsed.

Put the whole deal in the freezer overnight.

Step 4: Remove your sighter from the water and place it in the freezer overnight. This will make sure that the coils will be permanently set into the filament. When you are ready to go fishing the next day, simply remove the sighter from the freezer and put it in your pack or vest. On the river, you can undo the tape or rubber band, pull your slinky off the case, tie it on, and fish!

And here’s what you’ll get when you take the material off the pen case: a slinky sighter.

The Leader Set Up:
Because you’ll be using a long leader, it is important to build in a taper. As we progress through these rigging steps, you will see how the sizes of the material being used gradually decreases in diameter and breaking strength in order to allow for a smooth turnover of the leader. With lightweight flies, this is especially important because they tend to pile up or tangle easily while casting a leader that is not properly tapered.

Step 1: Unwind a standard 9-foot, 4X leader (either fluorocarbon or monofilament works well, although I prefer fluorocarbon due to its abrasion resistance), and using a blood knot, connect it to the end of your fly line.

Step 2: Using a blood knot, attach your leader to one end of the slinky. The 3-inch piece of extra material you left on the end of the slinky will make tying this knot much easier.

Step 3: We are almost to the end of the leader now. Cut off a piece of 5X tippet and tie it to the other end of your sighter. If you wish to fish a single fly, make this section of 5X 5 feet long, then tie on your fly, and hit the river. Depending on conditions, you may also have to step the size of this tippet down to a 6X section. If you wish to fish more than one fly, continue reading.

Step 4: Tie in the 3-foot section of 5X to the end of the slinky, and then select another 2- to 3-foot section of 5X or 6X, depending on water conditions and fish size as well as the degree of selectivity the fish are displaying. You will then use a double surgeons knot to create a connection between the two pieces of material. The tag of material that is shooting up in the direction of your fly line needs to be 4 to 6 inches long. When tying the knot, make sure that you include enough material to accommodate for this factor.

Step 5: Now you are ready to tie on your favorite nymph patterns —one to the tag end of the double surgeons knot and one to the end of the tippet—and hit the river. Since the slinky is not extremely buoyant, it is important to select flies that won’t pull it right under the water. Even though it is greased up, there is still a chance for it to break right through the surface tension and sink which will defeat some of its effectiveness.

The best way I have found to fish this set up is to either fish directly upstream and just keep my line tight with the sighter or to fish it up and across stream like a standard nymphing rig. The latter is a little more difficult to master and to detect strikes with, but with some practice and patience you will become proficient in no time.

This method works great for finicky or pressured trout.

So next time you are faced with a picky group of trout or a highly pressured river, drop down in tippet size, lengthen out that leader, and add in the slinky for extra sensitivity, and I am certain that you will be able to put more fish in you net.

Tyler Befus is an accomplished young man, who has already been in the fly fishing world for almost fifteen years. He has published two books on fly fishing and fly tying, holds two IGFA world records, is a signature fly tier with Umpqua Feather Merchants, and is a member of the USA Youth Fly Fishing Team.

13 thoughts on “Pro Tip: How to Make a “Slinky” Sighter for Light Nymph Fishing”

  1. Outstanding information Tyler! Thank you for all the detail you included in making the slinkys. I’ve read about competition anglers using them and was curious as to how to make them and then correctly implement them in my rig. I can’t wait to give this a try this summer!

  2. I promised myself I would try these this year and now I know exactly how to make one. It seems so much more elegant and easy to cast as compared to a big bobber.

    1. These are great for unweighted or very lightly weighted nymphs in shallow, slow water. Beyond that, they don’t work very well. They sink when using all but the smallest tungsten weighted flies, and they are washed under by any broken water. This technique is definitely not a replacement for a thingamabobber in most situations. However, for those low ans slow water conditions where you can’t exactly sight-fish, they’re a deadly tool.

      1. You obviously never used them in fast water, grease them up, fish them with two 3mm tungsten beads and you’ll catch fish..

        Who needs a big splash from thingamabobber!!

  3. I looked into these a while back but could not find any information worth a damn on the web. Thanks for posting this article on the Orvisnews site. My wife is now wondering why I’m disassembling pens in our kitchen?

  4. Very well written Tyler – we’ll have to get some of these out this spring. Great to see you on the Orvis blog too!

  5. Pingback: In the news…
  6. Pingback: Strike Indicators .... the good the bad and the ugly ! - The North American Fly Fishing Forum
  7. What is your opinion as to whether the sliky delays your reaction time to the take by absorbing and weakening your strike.

  8. Isn’t the use of a slinky really the same as Not have a tight line? A fish strike has to extend all of the slinky to set the hook, no?

    1. (Charles hit the nail on the head!) Slinky’s are best used when you grease them and use ONLY lightly or unweighted nymphs. Slinky’s are meant for flat water and to be cast directly upstream, or up and across. The slinky will straighten out when a fish takes the fly, prompting you to set the hook.

      If you are using moderately to heavily weighted nymphs, the slinky will straighten out, shrink up, and bounce along as you drift your flies–you’ll never know when you have a strike because you’ll never feel the fish take.

      It is different from not tight line nymphing because you are using the slinky as a suspension device for your light flies. But you are still in contact with them. Not tight-lining is losing contact with your flies.

      The slinkies I prefer are not more than 10-12 inches long (straight sighter material before wrapping and boiling). This helps with reaction to connection time.

      Very well done Tyler! Nicely written article.

Leave a Reply

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