Written by: George Daniel, Livin On The Fly
We all have opinions about our fly-fishing tools and how we use them. Anglers develop confidence in certain tools that have produced positive results on the stream and often stick with those tools for some time. In some ways, we become creatures of habit, operating on a philosophy of “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”
But with all things fly fishing, I’m a tinkerer. Much of my enjoyment comes from experimenting with tactics and equipment and trying to better understand why some tools and tactics work better than others. I, too, occasionally get stuck in a rut and continue to use older methods and tools that worked for me in the past, but I like to experiment, believing that I can always get a little better with my technique and better match my tools with the task at hand.
For instance, I have tinkered quite a bit with sighter material, a colored section of monofilament placed within the leader to aid in strike detection. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that any material on the market today will work. What I’m going to do is advocate using a softer monofilament sighter when drifting lighter weight nymph rigs.
By drifting, I’m referring to using a lightweight nymphing rig, which essentially drifts in the water column by itself (without the angler needing to pull it down stream) while the angler stays ahead of the drift with the rod tip. You’re leading the drift-not pulling it. I feel one of the biggest misconceptions about tight-line nymphing is that you need to keep a “tight line” for strike detection by placing heavy weights on the nymphing rig, dragging it through the drift, and looking to feel the strike. Often a heavily weighted rig under tension is a good idea (see Tightline-Nymphing Tips: When in Doubt, Drag ‘Em), but there are situations where drifting a nymph is more effective than dragging. And a softer monofilament sighter may aid in detecting strikes while drifting light weight rigs.
For example, while excellent fishing opportunities can be had year round in central Pennsylvania, April through mid-June is peak hatch season—when most anglers travel to our area to chase the bugs. When trout are looking upward for food, drifting a lighter-weight nymph rig may produce better results. A trout strike is going to be softer with such a light rig, so what I’m looking for is a sighter material that allows me to see (not feel) these softer strikes. Enter softer sighter material.
During the drift, softer monofilament will twitch nervously–going in and out of tension. When the twitching stops, which indicates the rig has encountered resistance, it’s time to set the hook. You can stretch this softer material with a light pull and see how it flexes like a rubber band; it’s this quality that offers an advantage when seeing soft strikes on light weigh rigs. This lesson has proven successful for catching species other than trout, as well.
I have a quarter-acre pond on my property, which holds small perch and blue gill. Every day, my kids and I spend about an hour fishing with Tenkara rods and micro perch jigs (i.e. lightly weighted) on a level nymphing leader. At first our leaders were 6 feet of level 8-pound Gold Stren ( stiffer sighter material) attached to a 4-foot section of 5X tippet. But I would often see a perch inhale my jig with a strike that barely registered anything on the Gold Stren sighter material. Stren is highly visible but not limp. My kids were catching fish, but I wanted to see if a softer material could allow them to see the strike better. So I switched from using Gold Stren to using a 6-foot level section of soft sighter material, and the difference was immediate. Both my kids and I were able to see the soft perch takes by simply waiting for the nervous twitch to stop, and our catch rates increased.
I’ve experimented with my clients over the last two years by changing sighter material throughout the day while pursuing trout, and I’ve found that most anglers are quicker to register strikes when fishing lighter weight nymphing rigs by watching for the softer sighter to tighten. Remember that you’re more likely to see the strike rather than feel it when fishing with lighter weight rigs.
You can create a softer sighter material by boiling short sections of sighter material in pot for 5 or 6 minutes. Recently, I’ve been boiling 30-inch sections of Orvis Tactical Sighter material for 6 minutes. This drastically softens the material and creates a rubber-band-like stretch, which I feel is helpful for drifting light nymph rigs. Then I tie in the 30-inch sighter section into my favorite nymphing leader for drifting lighter nymph rigs. So give it a shot, and happy drifting!
George Daniel operates Livin On The Fly, a guide service in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of Strip-Set: Fly-Fishing Techniques, Tactics, & Patterns for Streamers, as well as Dynamic Nymphing.