Nymphin' Ain't Easy

Your nymph rigging rethought

It is often said that the difference between a great day and a bad is one split shot. And it isn’t wrong. Often the success or lack of success that nymph anglers have is very closely related to their ability to properly rig for each fishing situation. Creating the proper nymph rig involves compensating for the river speed, depth, and length of drift you will be allowed based on the substrate and structure.

Whether you are rolling an indicator, tight lining, or employing a type or euro nymphing the end goal of your rig is the same. To get your flies into the strike zone and keep them their.

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Leader Selection

In most instances anglers will look at the length of their leader to match water depth as the first step in their rigging process. But the thickness or your leader is really the first thing you should focus on. The thicker your leader material the more drag it will have in the water. This not only affects the way your flies drift but also plays a major factor in how deep your flies will get. Without getting into the fluid dynamics, what we need to know is thinner is better.

So the first step in your rigging equation should be how light of tippet can I use. In many cases you will be able to step down to 4x or 5x material. A vital part of this process is making sure that all of your leader below  the surface of the water is this smaller diameter. This means you may be ditching your traditional tapered leader. Often I will use the but section of a 4x leader stepped down quickly to 5x at about the 5’ mark. If I am indicator fishing (with a thingamabobber style) I will tie the shortened 4x leader directly the the indicator. Then tie my tippet to the indicator creating a 90° hinge.

Fly Selection

With the optimum leader material chosen, your fly selection should be the next thought. Not necessarily what specific pattern, but how different fly designs react in the water. The sink rate of your flies plays a vital role in how your whole rig performs. The obvious place to start is how much weight is on each fly. What we don't often think about is the density of fly patterns. Given the same amount of weight a very slim profile pattern like a Perdigon will sink much faster than a bushey hares ear.

Neither slim or bushey patterns are better than one another. Each have their attributes, but it important that you recognize them to adjust the rest of your leader properly.

Fly Placement

There are two schools of thought when deciding where flies should be placed on your rig. Some anglers prefer to use the heaviest fly first, in the point position, with smaller flies a droppers. Others will do the exact opposite using the smaller flies first with the heaviest fly acting as the anchor at the very end of the leader. This is really a matter a personal preference and successful anglers can be found using both methods.

Using a heavy point fly with smaller droppers is my preferred rigging style. The thought process behind this is that the first fly should carry the droppers into the strike zone but not impede their movement as much once in the drift.

By using your largest fly as an anchor at the end of your rig you are bringing your flies into the strike zone, but your smaller flies are being fished on a tight line which may impede some of the natural movement in the drift. Many anglers will tie their smaller flies as droppers off of the main leader to combat this.

Adding Weight and Leader Length

Adding weight and leader length go hand in hand. The longer your leader the less weight you should need to sink your flies to the appropriate depth. Often the section of river will dictate how long of a leader you can fish. Larger open areas will be conducive to less weight and long leaders; while tight pocket water will call for a shorter leader and more weight to get down quickly.

Either way your goal is to keep the flies in the softer water near the river bottom. If you are fishing an area and are unsure if you have the proper amount of weight I suggest adding more until it's too much. In small increments increase the amount of weight until you begin to hang up on the bottom. At this point remove one shot and you should be in the ballpark.

Pro tip

Many of the rivers we fish have very diverse layouts with depth and water speed changes around every bend. When you set out to nymph a section of river you might spend half the day re-rigging for each section. To limit the amount of rigging, tie your weights on dropper tags. Using a double surgeon's knot tie a tag where you would normally attach your shot. Instead of pinching it on the mainline use the tag end of the knot. This will allow you to add and remove weight without touching your flies.