DON’T LET SINK TIP LEADERS GET YOU DOWN
by: Bob Shannon
As we head into the month of October with only a few weeks left of the regular trout season, Brookies, Browns and Rainbows are preparing to fatten up for the long winter ahead. Most anglers will be hanging up their fishing rods in preparation of hunting, trapping and Vermont’s winter activities. The underwater world of fishing is always a challenge, especially for fly fisherman, however by learning a few methods of fly fishing with sink tip leaders you can greatly increase your fall fishing success. At this time of the year, streamer fishing is one of the most effective ways to target the giants that lurk in the deep wintering holes. You can effectively target them using sink tip leaders. This article will cover one of the more technical methods of fly fishing. With this video and the text provided, you should be well on your way to emailing us pictures of the fall giants that this technique will yield.
One of the greatest frustrations fly anglers have when using sink tip leader systems is the frustration in casting them. My first, and most important, suggestion is NEVER false cast a sink tip line or a sink tip leader until you reach a level of confidence in casting them. Because of the high density in sink tip leaders, the sink tip leader will not false cast the same way as a floating line. The guides at The Fly Rod Shop spend countless hours each year teaching people to use either a roll cast or pick up and lay down cast for presenting a sink tip leader. When roll casting, strip the fly line back until the floating portion of the fly line is less than a rod length away from the rod tip. While the sink tip is in the water slowly raise the rod tip and then accelerate the rod tip forward by using the sink tip portion of the fly line to load the rod. Cast the fly either across or slightly down and across from your standing position in the river. If back casting is required, strip the line back the same distance as you would when using the roll casting method. Then back cast the line allowing the line to hit the water behind you. Use the friction of the sink tip line on the water behind you to load the rod as you accelerate the rod forward, releasing the fly line as the rod tip passes the twelve o’clock position. With a little practice you can accurately cast the line to various distances on your forward presentation.
When setting up your sink tip leader system, we recommend trying 3’, 5’, or 7 ½’ T-14 Express Sink Tip leaders that we assemble here at The Fly Rod Shop. We use a perfection loop on both ends of our sink tip leaders for easy fly line connection and for quick tippet connection to your leader. Anglers who are new to using sink tip leaders often connect a full length 9’ monofilament leader to their sink tip line. We realized, however, that the monofilament sinks more slowly than the dense T-14 sink tip fly line, preventing the fly from traveling at the desired depth. All fly fishermen need to do is attach a 24”-48” maximum length piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon tippet material to your T-14 sink tip leader which will allow the fly to travel at the same depth as your sink tip leader. We are often asked if this leader design puts the fly too close to the thicker section of T-14 sink tip leader and might spook fish. We do not find that to be the case, as the dark coloring of the T-14 material is less visible under water. In most Vermont rivers, during normal flow level conditions, the 3’ sink tip system seems to be the most effective and by far the easiest to cast. Some deep pools will require the use of 5’ and 7 ½’ leaders to carry the fly to deeper water levels and will require more line management to prevent the fly from snagging bottom.
When fishing with sink tip leaders in moving rivers, avoid casting the leader upstream of your standing position. Casting the leader upstream from your body position or standing position will cause the fly to sink very quickly and most times will snag the bottom before the fly drifts below you. The most effective method of swinging flies with sink tips is to fish only the lower quadrant of water downstream from your standing position.
Fly presentation and movement can be as simple as using the natural current speed to let the fly swing downriver. As you gain confidence you can strip the fly, or bounce the rod tip to create varying movements of the streamer pattern as it swings towards the fish. This is not only an effective method for catching fish, but also covers water at a very fast speed allowing you to find fish even on the slow days when most anglers come up empty.
Fall streamer fishing offers a huge array of patterns. My best suggestion would be if the fly is not working, then keep changing it. Some of the Fly Rod Shop’s deadly “go to” fall streamer suggestions include: Muddler Minnows, Wooly Buggers, Zonkers in various colors, and Hatchery Smolts. Never overlook the classic North-Eastern patterns such as the Black Nosed Dace, Mickey Finn, Golden Demon, and Joes Smelt. Your Streamer fly selection can have as wide a range in colors as the leaves around you. By learning how to utilize sink tip leaders or sink tip fly lines you will greatly increase your chances of hooking fish by adding another tool to your fly fishing tool box.