Euro-Nymphing: Floating the Sighter
An effective tactic that can be easily intermixed with your current nymph game is Floating the Sighter. I'll describe how I effectively incorporate this method into my arsenal, and why I do it.
What is floating the sighter? It's an upstream contact nymphing approach with your leader & sighter suspending your nymphs. This method, when applicable, extends your drifts longer than a traditional tight-line approach, makes windy days more feasible, and creates a real nice drift, as it is my favorite upstream nymphing tactic to employ.
While you may not convert your entire system to floating the sighter, having it in your arsenal may be very valuable.
I wanted to learn this style after watching Team USA member, Pat Weiss's style of fishing. He employs a similar approach, and while I can't speak for him or how he likes to fish, he is extremely successful with it.
Let's get into incorporating this into your game. For the most part, there are two general ways to float your sighter:
- Build a rig specific to floating your sighter
- Incorporate it into your existing tight-lining arsenal
We'll focus on building a rig specific to floating your sighter and how to use it, as that will most directly correlate to incorporation.
Build a rig specific to floating your sighter
A lot of anglers like to find a one-size fits all method or rig that they can use for any situation. If you can find that and have confidence in it, all the power to you. Although, in my experience, a one-sized fits all solution is not a master of one situation, whereas a specific rig built to certain situations will give better results and increase your catch rate. Think of it like: streamer rig, dry fly rig, nymph rig, and so on.
The reason a certain rig is fitting for floating the sighter is a simple one: Casting. While I touched on the importance of casting in my previous article, floating the sighter requires a similar casting technique, but at a generally greater distance.
This cast is similar to a dry-fly cast, but instead of the leader touching the water first, the flies should land first at an angle to start your drift appropriately.
To do this at maximum efficiency and effectiveness, I use a rod, line and leader build specifically for floating the sighter.
The rod: A 10'-10'6" 4w is what I use, but you can get away with using any stiffer 9-10' 4-5w rods. Stiffness is important here, because turning over a leader and achieving the desired fly entry and accuracy just isn't as easy on a softer rod. Here are my rod recommendations that I've personally fished with success:
The fly line: I use a DT .022 Competition Nymph Line, and thats mainly because of cast-ability, sensitivity, and the least amount of drag possible. You can easily use a 3-4w regular DT or WF fly line, but I like the thinner lines for the most effective drifts.
The leader: contrary to my thin leader for tight-lining, a substantially thicker leader is more effective for floating the sighter. A thicker leader will float better, and most important cast your nymphs better at a distance. Being that it is thicker, it is a little heavier which creates more sag. Sag isn't a huge factor in floating the sighter, as most of your leader will be on the water, but this is not a good leader for a tight-lining. The leader I use is Pat Weiss's formula:
- Fly Line to leader connection (stripped core with blood knot, splice, or nail knot)
- 8' 20lb Maxima Chameleon
- 3' 14lb Suffix Yellow Mono
- 2' 10lb Suffix Yellow Mono
- 1' 3x Mono
- Tippet Ring
This leader casts like a nice tapered leader, but the inclusion of the sighter pieces make strikes a lot more visible. I often cast single dries on this leader super effectively as well, and without the drag of a larger fly line, it is nice for getting a longer dry fly drift.
It is also extremely important to stretch your leader before every use, as any coils will really hinder your casting stroke.
The last important factor to this rig: Floatant Paste. Coating your sighter & leader in a floatant paste is crucial to keeping your sighter on top of the water, for the most visible strike identification and best drifts. If your sighter is sinking, your flies are probably going to be drifting improperly. I like to use Loon Payette Paste or Mucilin Wax. While you won't need to reapply as much as you would floatant on a dry fly, it is important to apply every time you notice a difference in the way your sighter is floating. We call this "greasing the sighter."
Why float the sighter?
Floating the sighter is very effective in the following situations:
- Windy days - when you have no sighter out of the water, the wind won't effect your drift as much. It's also a little easier to cast a heavier leader.
- Long, skinny riffle water. Need to cover a lot of water? Floating the sighter drastically extends the natural drift because of the extended, controlled cast.
- Long flat water (with some current) - same goes as above.
- Spooky trout that need to be fished from a distance. A soft sighter landing will most likely not spook a trout.
- Any mostly equal current water you feel you can extend your drift with a longer cast without having much drag.
But why not dry-drop? You certainly can dry-drop in those situations, but floating the sighter is a bit more effective in water types mentioned above. Why? Your nymphs rely on that dry to show them the way of the drift, and it is not as in-contact as floating sighter. Try both, and you'll see what I mean.
How to float the sighter
Floating the sighter is a very active style of nymphing, because the least amount of slack is necessary. Being an upstream approach, the angler needs to be stripping slack continuously and in one motion, but not enough to drag your drift.
To start, fly weight is extremely important, as your sighter will most likely not float heavy flies. I stick with 2.0-2.5mm flies, sometimes a single 3.0mm fly can float nicely too. While a two-fly rig is mostly always suggested, a single-fly rig will also work effectively.
Next, as I've mentioned, this tactic is primarily fished directly upstream for best results. The following diagram reflects a range of desirable and undesirable angles to approach the drift.
- A: The straight upstream approach is ideal, because you'll have the least amount of drag possible, which will give you the best drift.
- B: This angle is great too, but your line control will have to be up to snuff to finish the drift properly, meaning that your flies will probably catch a little bit of drag at the end of the drift. Not a huge deal.
- C: This is where it gets tricky. At this point, you'll want to pick up your sighter off the water the closer it gets to perpendicular to you. This isn't very opportune for just floating your sighter, but works a hybrid approach with your current tight-line technique. I'll touch on that in the next part of this article.
- D: At this angle, if you're trying to float your sighter, it will probably become infested with drag and pull your flies. Not ideal at all, maybe switch to dry dropper so you have more slack to mend your line.
Line control is crucial to success with floating your sighter. To remain in contact with your flies, you must be continuously retrieving line/slack as your flies drift towards you. Just like you'd do if you are fishing a dry fly upstream, you'll need to be even more controlled with this. While you want your line on the water, any unnecessary slack will hinder your drift, sensitivity, and strike detection. Keeping a low-to-medium-height rod angle while taking long strips to pick up slack, matching the current speed is ideal. Too high of a rod angle will restrict your range of motion when trying to set the hook, and too fast or rapid strips will pull your flies instead of allowing them to drift naturally. A lower rod angle while drifting is also ideal in windy conditions.
Strike detection: Seems like it might be rather difficult? I feel that this method is an extremely sensitive way to detect strikes, as the little bit of slack used is easily used to your visual advantage. Seeing your leader/sighter on the water is sometimes easier than seeing it off the water, maybe in weird glare situations too. There are some easy ways to detect strikes while floating the sighter:
- Sighter twitches, even the smallest bit.
- Sudden sighter dip.
- Leader/sighter straightens out.
Lastly, the hookset, if upstream, should mimic a "lift" like you would for dry fly fishing. Effectively getting line off the water quickly and without any sudden "jerks" that will compromise your knots.
With all that in-depth stuff description covered, we can transition into a simple solution to incorporate floating the sighter into your already tight-line arsenal.
Incorporating Floating the Sighter into tight-line nymphing
Adding to my series about fishing lighter, an advanced, effective way to help not only your flies sink, but to extend your reach with tight-line nymphing is to start your drift with a floating sighter. The only thing you'll need other than light flies is some leader floatant paste, everything else in your rig can stay the same.
This is a little contrast from the aforementioned technique, as we won't be floating the sighter the entire time, but rather just the first 2-5' of your drift. (You can certainly float longer, that's cool too)
The following variables can determine whether or not you might want to float the sighter at the beginning of your drift:
- You need an upstream approach
- You'd like to extend your drift by a few more feet without losing driftability
- You want your flies to sink a little faster at the start (less tension will allow flies to sink faster)
To do this effectively, it's as simple as performing a nice tuck cast, where your flies enter the water first, keeping that rod tip high, and allowing your sighter to lay down gently, all in one motion. (Most of your leader, if not all of your leader that isn't sighter should be off the water) You'll then want to continuously retrieve that slack to pick your sighter off the water, without negatively effecting your drift. It is a lot easier said than done, because retrieving your line takes a little practice, but this should then transition you into proper tight-line form. Once you've pulled the desired amount of sighter off the water, you're then tight-lining.
Don't be afraid to grease your sighter at all times, even if you're using your everyday euro leader. You can always drop your rod tip and float your sighter if the wind picks up.
To conclude on this, the essential end result of floating the sighter is to be in contact with your flies, while fishing upstream.
I am really excited to share those tidbits on this topic with you. It has helped me in a lot of situations, I hope it can help you on your next outing. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, questions or ideas below in the comments.
Bonus points if you can send me a count of how many times I typed "Floating the sighter"