This past week I met up with our Team’s newest youth member, Mason Simms, to fish the lower Nantahala and we had a discussion about fishing light tippets that I thought would make an informative post. He was fishing 5x tippet, which I’m not going to say is a bad thing, but he said that he couldn’t land fish on anything lighter than that. I’ve also heard Lance Egan, 2011 National Champion and creator of the Rainbow Warrior, make this same comment and after watching him land an 18 inch fish in 2.6 seconds I understand why. I think we narrowed part of Mason’s problem down to a spool of bad 6x tippet, but the truth is a lot of guys just won’t go any lower than 5x tippet. I used to be one of those guys and I never thought of it as much of an issue, because I always caught fish, until I actually made myself fish 7x for a month.
The one biggest thing that helped me to fish lighter tippet was to get control of my Bill Dance hook set, while that looks really good on TV with a bait caster and 20 pound test, it’s very ugly with 3 pound test on a fly rod. I would break off fish left and right and I still occasionally get excited and pop one off on the set. I alleviated this issue by shortening my stroke, I still set the hook fast, but I limit the movement of the rod tip. All but the fastest action rods that are made more for casting than fishing (Sage TCX) have enough give in the tip to protect light tippets. Keep in mind, the stiffer the tip is, the shorter the stroke needs to be. I’m now fishing an Echo Shadow 10 1/2′ 3 weight, which has the tip of a 3 weight and the butt section of a 5 weight. This is a really forgiving set up and allows me to fish 6 and 7x with virtually no problems thanks to the ultra soft tip. I now only fish 6 and 7x for the most part, unless I’m fishing streamers, and after gaining a little confidence in my setup I can and do regularly land trophy trout on light tippets. Of course larger fish will have their way with you for a bit and you might have to chase them up or down the river for a minute, but you can land them if you’re patient.
The second thing is to check your tippet frequently for frays. Big educated fish will always try to rub you off on rocks and logs not to mention the damage a toothy brown will do during a fight. Always retie after landing a big fish, especially browns.
Fishing a lighter tippet will put you on more fish, I am convinced of this. I’ve seen it many times, particularly on pressured fish, 7x will produce fish when 5x won’t get a look. I think this actually has more to do with the way flies drift on 7x than the fact that it’s harder for the trout to see. Smaller tippet, simply put, cuts through the water faster than thicker tippet, thus bugs not only drift more naturally, but they hit the zone faster as well, which can be a huge difference maker in shorter faster runs.
Not to say you have to always fish 7x, but next time you’re on the water and you can’t seem to get it dialed in after changing bugs, colors, depth, etc. try dropping down a size or two on that tippet. Often times it is a difference maker that many over look.