Thank you for your interest in this blog! I hope it is helpful to many people interested in getting into and improving their stillwater fly fishing skills. I was happy to recently receive an email from a reader containing some questions regarding floating vs. sink tip lines. I think topic would useful to many others, so I am posting questions and answers inspired by that email.
Question: How do you approach fishing when fish are sipping midge pupae from the surface? Do you really need an intermediate sink tip?
Answer: When trout are feeding near the surface, they are focused on either the adult or pupae stage of the insect. When I observe a head-dorsal tail rise on the surface, it is a clear indication that fish are feeding on the pupae stage of the insects that are trapped in or suspended just below the surface film. This is easily observed when the water is calm and flat.
When fish are feeding on pupae, my go-to line is the 7-foot camo sink tip (available from Denny Rickards). This line maintains the fly in the top few feet. Trolling this line maintains the fly in the top 8-10 inches, exactly where the trout will be feeding on emerging pupae or midges dangling in the surface film. This is important because if the fly is not presented at the depth the trout are feeding, it will likely be ignored. The line that you use determines the sink rate of the fly, and the intermediate sink tip line is perfect for this application.
Question: Why can’t you use a floating line in this case?
Answer: In my experience, floating lines are best suited for dry flies and indicator fishing with small nymphs or chironomids.
A floating line leaves a shadow and causes surface disturbance when retrieved. In addition, in windy conditions, fish face into the wind which requires a cast across the wind resulting in line bow and drag. This will result in trout refusals of the fly as the presentation does not effectively mimic the insects’ natural movement.
Additionally, research conducted by John Goddard and Brian Clark has found that light colored floating fly lines can also be a significant handicap as they may spook fish due to the reflection of light off the line. The light is reflected as a flash of light across the field of view of the fish. To counter this effect, some anglers have resorted to long leaders. Goddard and Clark’s research found that the drag of the line and leader created visual disturbance when viewed below the surface of the water. The amount of disturbance was proportional to the speed of the retrieve. Anything other than the very slowest rate of retrieve will cause surface ripple in the surface film, which flashed as light spooking the trout. A sink tip line maintains the line and leader below the surface, reducing or eliminating the surface disturbance during the retrieve.
Not only does the floating line and leader disturb the surface when it is retrieved, it also casts a shadow when fished during period of high sun. The 7-foot intermediate camo sink tip has reduced these issues as it has a dark green colored floating line that is married with a transparent intermediate 7-foot intermediate sinking tip.
This line is also ideal for probing shallow shorelines or weedy areas where you want to avoid hanging up on the bottom. I also add 3-5 feet of fluorocarbon tippet (Sightfree) to a 9-foot monofilament leader. The fluorocarbon has the same density of water so that it visually disappears, avoiding spooking the trout.
Question: Isn’t there an issue with picking up and recasting a sink tip line?
Answer: I can easily pick up the line and recast any time during the retrieve. I have not found this to be true with other sink tip lines that I have used. If I am sight fishing, and not immediately hit after the cast, I usually pick up the line after the first 5 feet of the retrieve and easily recast.
Question: If you guess wrong on line selection, why not take all lines to begin with rather than going back to base to get another rod and line?
Answer: Since 90% of the time fish focus on aquatic stage of insects that feed below the surface of the water, I primarily use two lines: the 7-foot camo intermediate sink tip and the camo intermediate full sink line (both available from Denny Rickards). Only 10% of the time do I use a floating line: to either fish dry flies or chironomids.
Most of the time I take the rods with the appropriate line in my pontoon boat. However, when conditions do change and I for some reason did not have the line that I want, I will adapt by changing the rate and speed of the retrieve to adjust the depth of the fly in the water column.
For example, if I want to fish deeper with the 7-foot sink tip line, after casting it out, I can start retrieving immediately, or count to 10, 20, or 30 before I start retrieving. This line sinks a foot every 10 seconds. Longer pauses and slower retrieves will allow the line to slowly sink presenting the fly lower in the water column. This presentation technique is effective when fish are still feeding in the top few feet but are focused on intercepting the emerging stage of pupae as they are slowly making their way to the surface.
It is all about having the right tools in your tool box and knowing how to use them. The 7-foot intermediate sink tip has increased my productivity and has well been worth the investment as seen in the picture of this brown trout was taken on the shoreline in between the weeds.
Here is the link to Denny Rickard’s web site if you want more information.