Jun 15, 2012

Guide to Successful Nymph Fishing - The Setup

Trout spend the majority of their time feeding below the surface of the river. Sure, we hit it right sometimes – when fish are willing to rise up to a dry - but occurrences like these are relatively infrequent. If we want to spend the day hooking more fish, then we better get used to nymph fishing. It’s true, that it may not be quite as fun as fishing a dry. Yes, we all love the way a dry fly casts, or the visually stunning attempts to hook a rising fish. It’s really fun. But so is the reward of nymph fishing when you take into account the number of fish you prick while doing it effectively.

Nymph fishing adds that extra element of depth to the drift -that extra dimension that necessitates a little more perception on the part of the angler. For the most part, just like dry flies, we are looking for a drag-free drift. But since we can’t see the fly, this becomes a little more difficult to keep tabs on. Furthermore, we must work on our hunches about where that fish is hanging out and at what depth to be presenting.

In this multi-part series, I will be talking about setup, casting, presentations and the flies to help you become a better nymph angler.


I like a medium-fast style rod, but any will do, especially the one in your hands at the time! Medium action rods are nice for the cast, but you don’t want to go too soft, because a real gummy rod tip translates into a slow hook set and less line control on the drift. A rod that flexes down into the midway point of the rod (Mid-Flex) will keep tangles to a minimum. Furthermore, these rods are easier to load in tighter casting quarters. To learn more about a fly rod that was designed especially for these purposes, check out the Sage 99.

The best fly lines for nymph fishing are those that have a long body and rear taper. Most weight forward lines will perform well enough at short distances. Lines like the SA GPX or the Rio Grande are fine when working in close, but they lack ample back tapers for mending and managing longer presentations. The Rio Gold would be a better all-purpose line, but if you want to set up a rod strictly for nymph fishing I would recommend either the Rio Indicator or SA’s Nymph/Indicator

As far as the leader is concerned, I like Flurocarbon Tippet Material. Flurocarbon is much slimmer in profile than conventional monofilament, which means it sinks a lot faster. And unlike mono that may be visible to fish if the light strikes it just so, Fluro completely disappears as it cuts through the water. Most leaders are tapered and, really, the only reason for this is to help the cast. So the leader starts out quite thick up near the junction with the fly line and then it gradually shrinks in diameter until its thinnest point at the fly. I like tapered leaders when fishing dries, but when it comes to nymphing, I prefer to fish just straight Fluro of uniform thickness. Why? Well, tapered leaders do not like to sink quickly. They help the cast, but when it comes to getting your fly patterns down into the water column, they linger too long at the surface for my liking.

So, looped or nail-knotted to the end of my fly line I have a sturdy 2-2 ½ foot butt-section of monofilament. This could be 30 lb Maxima or just the remnants of an old monofilament trout leader like a Rio Powerflex Leader. This stuff is relatively thick, so in order to attach my fluorocarbon tippet, I’ll want to do a loop to loop connection. Additionally, you can’t really use a blood knot or double surgeon’s knot to do a fluro to mono connection because fluro will cut through the mono under any sort of pressure!

Then I cut a length of 3x Rio Fluroflex Plus tippet and tie a loop in one end. Concerning length, the saying goes that you want to go one and a half times the depth of the water you will be fishing. So, if I’m fishing in 4 feet of water, then I’ll want 6 feet of tippet from my indicator to my first fly. But unless I’m fishing really deep and/or in stiff river current, then I pay little attention to this rule. Currents are always different so typically, I think about the water I’ll be starting out in and fishing shallow at the start. If I need to go deeper, I can always knot in more tippet later. One could always start with a long length of leader, but if you want to fish shallow you’ll need to loop your indicator on the skinny Fluro portion to the setup but doing this may help to fudge the cast and over-all line control. So it really comes down to the water that you will be fishing first. That said, I usually start out with between 4-5 feet of Fluro. I connect the two loops and pull it tight to the butt section. Then, using an improved clinch knot, I tie on my first nymph (This first fly is usually bigger and/or heavier than the trailer). Next, I’ll take between 12-16 inches of 4x Rio Fluroflex Plus tippet and tie it to the bend of the hook using an improved clinch knot. I then tie on my second fly to the end of this short length of tippet.

I’m almost good to go, but I’ll want the option of adding weight to the leader without them sliding down to the flies, so I’ll need a knot. I come up about 14 inches from my first fly and clip the tippet. I then retie the two ends back together using a blood knot (Note: this can be done before tying on the fly which will be easier for those who prefer the double surgeons knot). On the uphill side of this knot is where I can now crimp on my weight. I like to use split shot in sizes b and bb. When using small shot like this it is really easy to fine tune the depth of your patterns. Also, consider using tin instead of lead shot. Although lead is easier to use, too much of it can really damage an ecosystem!

The last part of the setup involves the Strike indicator. There are many types of indicators out there but I like to use Idylwilde's ¾ inch Sindicator. Although they are not the easiest indicators to cast, they float really well – which is invaluable when you are trying to manage depth in shallow areas of the river. Affix this to the sturdier butt-section of the leader (above the junction with the Fluro) and go fishing! 

I do realize that this may not be the most user friendly setup. You could just buy a regular 3x 9-foot tapered mono leader and an indicator that would slide up and down freely along the entire length of line. It would be simple, cast well and you would probably catch fish. But, if you don’t mind tailoring a setup using Fluroflex tippet, you will hook way more fish. The first time I tried this, I was amazed at how quickly my flies disappeared down into those swirly slots. Not to mention, fluro is very abrasion resistant, so it tends to hold up after repeated run-ins with boulders and logs. As far as casting this setup goes, it’s really not all that bad. In the next series I’ll dive deeper into the casting techniques used to get it out there.

Have a good time,


  1. You're right on the money. I use fluro too but I don't even bother with any thicker butt material. I just loop about 7/8' of 6/8/10 lb. fluro straight onto the flyline. I then tie on a titanium micro ring to which I add a short length of fluro, say 1', which is 2lb lighter than the main leader. If I want a 2 fly rig I just tie one on the bend of the first as you do. The advantage with the micro ring is twofold. 1/ It is easy to add too and it where you'll break off given that the fluro on the fly side is 2lb lighter. 2/ It provides a stopper for adding split shot.

    Kelvin Gilder
    Albury NSW

  2. Nice description..I have never been a big fan of flourocarbon for trout fishing, but I'm beginning to believe that changing over to it for fishing nymphs and streamers, might result in more hookups. Thanks for the info. PD

  3. Kelvin, thanks for the insight. The ring sounds like a nice idea! Do you use an indicator or do you fish without?

  4. PD, yeah, definately play around with it for nymphing. As far as streamer fishing goes, there is one drawback.. in that fluro doesn't like to stretch much. so fluro can bust on the initial grab. but if it is stout stuff then it might be ok. umpqua big game fluro tippet might be a good bet

  5. Didn't know the bit about fluro and tying it to mono..no wonder I see my knots cut/break at that connection. Sounds close to what I use on the Deschutes with a 7'-8' overall leader length. I use fairly heavy tippets since the redsides arent really leader shy. So less break offs but they(fish) like scrubbing the tippet on the rocks. Good info thanks.

  6. scubbing tippet.. ha, don't they! another mind dump on leader length: It is certainly a main concern of mine. you can always fish a longer run of tippet and play around with weight and casting angle to get the right depth in the zone you want to fish - as well as location of your indicator. this works, but for these setups, i like to actualy change the leader length if the difference in current speed or depth is too drastic. takes a minute or two, but heck, you know they're in there and you might have all day. two quick blood knots and boom, you got it. want to shorten? take it out (one quick blood knot)- wrap it up and stuff it in your waders to reuse later.. Not as quick as affixing the indicator lower down on the FLuro.. but putting an indicator here is rough on the cast and line control. one thing that nymphing has taught me is to slow down - take a harder look at the water and make the small adjustments needed to get just the right drift. Regarding depth - it is a whole other element that demands thorough respect. you know they're in there and it might just be a matter of inches to change their mind.


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