Floating the Sighter

I’ve been playing with a technique that competition anglers use: “Floating the sighter.” It has been a game changer.

It doesn’t work in all situations. It is not a silver bullet. But, it has been a deadly technique. It recently helped generate nine takes on a cold day when things are normally pretty slow.

First up, as I’ve written before, I tightline nymph 90% of the time. It does not use split shot or surface indicators. The anchor fly itself is weighted, and you keep the line tight to keep in contact with the nymph(s). So, when there’s a subtle take, as happens during winter, you’ll see the line pause.

A surface indicator creates a slight hinge that delays your ability to sense soft takes. One video study showed how fly fishing guides missed about half of all takes when floating a bobber. With a floating mono sighter, you maintain contact with the nymphs in one straight line, and you supposedly can detect 80% to 90% of all takes.

You use an “in line” indicator, made of colored pieces of mono. I’ve been using Devin Olsen’s set-up, which calls for three pieces of colored mono. “Tags” and blood knots are incorporated. They help you see the line in low-light conditions and help with flotation.

Floating the sighter is pretty straight-forward. You grease up the colored indicator, so that it floats on the surface. Devin recommends a paste indicator, which clings better. I use Mucilin.

I use this approach when I target fish in shallow water and can approach them from below. I’ll use lighter nymphs, either ones with small tungsten, brass or glass beads. There’s no splash from a bobber or the nymphs, and it’s very stealthy.

You also make less of a disturbance when you pull to cast. A standard fly line, split shot, and a bobber will most definitely create a ripple when pulled out of the water–and, that will definitely alert trout, particularly if you’re on skinny and slow water.

Floating a mono sighter creates a more stealthy visual, too. I’ve read of one study that documented pressured fish sliding out of the way when they see a bobber coming at them.

You do need to mind your casting angles, though. You can cast from below and across and adjust for that angle with a downstream mend to keep the leader in one straight line to avoid drag.

This approach does not work for super-long distances, or when a seam is directly across or below from you. A surface-indicator set-up is best for those situations. So, when I need to, I just add a NZ-type indicator to my leader.

Give it a shot? It is one technique to have in the tool kit. When used properly, you’ll land more fish than anyone else.

I’ve become more convinced that the best approach is to fish flies no one else does, approach the fish at an angle that few can do, cover water most anglers skip, and maintain stealth for as long as possible.


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