A Go-To Nymphing Rig for Trout (with Tweaks for the Swift River ‘Bows)

Edit, 9/30/17: I’ve developed a new Euro-style nymphing leader and no longer use the one about which I wrote below. Link here.

It was a strange time for me, but a happy one.

It was a bright October day on the Westfield River. I had just landed my 37th good-sized trout and had hooked over 50. I was elated.

However, things also seemed a bit strange: you see, no one else was landing fish. I could see anglers above and below me all day, and no one had a hook-up. It made me feel pretty self-conscious, so much so that I stopped fishing early

I credit my rig, honestly. I use it to Euro-nymph up stream, swing wets and streamers downstream, and also, fish dries

Most of the practical things I’ve learned about fly fishing have been from others. My rig is the byproduct of all this, and so, I in turn want to be an open book about what I do.

With my go-to rig, I’ve caught bigger and more savvy fish. The rig helped me catch recently a 19″ wild brown on a tough day. For the street-smart, big rainbows in the Swift C&R area, I’ve made some adjustments, which I share below. But, it has worked on them, too (some pics here).

For starters, know that there is much information out there about Euro-nymph style fishing. It’s easy to learn. There’s a really good post on it here for starters. And, if you’d like a thorough “how to” manual, read George Daniel’s Dynamic Nymphing.

Here’s what I like about Euro-nymphing:

  • Avoids vertical drag. Water at the bottom moves very slowly, due to friction with rocks and dirt. Water at the top moves faster. So, very quickly, an indicator will create drag, pulling the nymph at the bottom at an unnatural pace. Anything that doesn’t float naturally will give trout the willies, particularly in the C&R area of the Swift.
  • More hook-ups. A bobber actually breaks up the tension in the line and will lower hook-ups. I don’t remember the video study, but somebody had under-water cameras and showed how many strikes fly fishing guides missed when fishing with a bobber.
  • Saves time–no floating indicators. There are no bobbers to adjust, take on/off, and there’s no ensuing crimp on the leader. No adjusting for depth with New Zealand wool indicators. So, I fish more.
  • Saves more time–no split shot. I don’t mess around with weights. I hated how shots weaken tippets with crimping, and the time spent adjusting the split shot. The weights also often tangled with my net or the fish. Ugh.

After some trial and error, here is my rig:

Rio’s Euro-Nymph fly line -> nail knot -> 18′ of 20 lb. mono -> blood knot -> 9′ of 0x leader cut back to 7′ -> tippet ring -> 18″ of an inline sighter (12″ of 15 lb. yellow mono and 6″ of 8 lb. orange mono connected via a blood knot to which UV Knot Sense is applied for extra strength) -> tippet ring -> 2′ of 6x fluorocarbon -> tippet ring -> 1′ to 3′ of fluorocarbon (6x to 9x, depending on conditions) -> anchor nymph


Here are my set-ups:

  • If the water is shallow, I attach a lightly-weighted nymph as the anchor fly in a tandem. To its hook, I add some tippet and attach a smaller nymph 8″ to 12″ back. I’ve found that in the quieter and shallow parts of the Swift, it’s all about stealth. I don’t use flies with much weight, as a “splash” puts trout on high alert.
  • If the water is deep, like at the Y-Pool or my favorite parts of the Millers and the Westfield, I attach a heavy tungsten bead nymph to the end point as an anchor fly. 22″ above, I add a 6″ to 8″ tag via a triple surgeon’s knot, to which I add a smaller nymph. It’s usually a 5x or 6x tag, but I will use lighter tippet when needed at the Swift. This set-up lets me fish two levels in the water column.

Here are my flies:

  • Anchor flies. I tie some derivations of Pheasant Tails and Hare’s Ears. Both patterns mimic a lot of bugs, and so, they’re all-around solid flies. “Match the hatch” is over-hyped, IMO.
  • Trailing flies. If there’s a hatch brewing, my 2nd fly can be a wet fly or emerger–and, I’ll swing them at the end of the drift. If there’s no hatch, I’ll use: a nymph that should be in the water (e.g., it’s stonefly season right now), an unweighted and small streamer, an Antron egg, a scud, a soft hackle, or something weird. As I’ve written in the past, Swift ‘bows in the winter are vulnerable to small midges, sizes #28 to #32.

When I run into a situation for a dry fly, I just clip off the tag. I grease my leader and indicator and fish on the surface. I add some light tippet, if needed. It isn’t the most elegant way to fish dries, but it works

Then, when I’m ready to go sub-surface again, I just tie on another tag. And, I’m ready to roll, either with dead-drifting up stream and/or swinging flies downstream.

I hate changing leaders on the river, and I’ve found this rig works in just about every situation. I want to max out my time fishing and not fiddling with rigs.

If you liked this post, please share on social media and email a few friends?

Good luck, and see you at the Swift!


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23 thoughts on “A Go-To Nymphing Rig for Trout (with Tweaks for the Swift River ‘Bows)

  1. Great post, thanks for sharing this rig. I've never used something like it before. But I definitely will!

    Quick question regarding it… can it be used just as effectively without a Czech Nymphing rod?

    Also, do you ever get any strikes on your anchor on the Swift? Seems like those picky trout would want nothing to do with a big fly like that. Again, I know it's for weight, but I'm just wondering if it ever gets hit.


    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      1. You don't need a specialized rod, IMO. I've used this rig on regular rods, and it works fine. Just shorten the total rig to about the size of the rod, maybe a bit longer. Know that there are no hard and fast rules: every Euro-nympher has his/her own "go-to rig." So, experiment and have fun.

      2. At the Swift, I do get strikes on the anchor fly, but only about 20% of the time. On normal freestones, like the EB and Millers, strikes on the anchor are about 50%. It's tough to outdo a PT or Hare's Ear on normal days at freestones. I think this difference exists because the Swift C&R trout have been hooked often on regular-sized flies, and given the midge hatches there, they decide that small flies are safer. Also, given the abundance of food at a tailwater, trout are more picky; the freestone trout have to be more opportunistic.

      The Swift C&R trout truly are tough to hook, but that's why it's such a fun challenge!

  2. Have you tried this on wild fish? I haven't tried true euro-nymphing, but I have done some high sticking, and I find it hard to get close enough without spooking the fish. One of the things I like about indicator nymphing is that while the drift isn't perfect, it's easier to get a decent drift at distance.

    The Swift fish are definitely picky about what they eat, but they don't get spooked by your presence until you get within about 10 feet. In my experience wild fish are far less picky about what they eat, but they rarely let you get that close without spooking.

    Either way I'll have to give this a try next time at the Swift.

    P.S. The temperatures in that small stream are looking very good – it hit 46 yesterday, and bottomed out at about 40 over night – should lead to some great fishing in the next few days if you have a chance to get out.

    1. Great points, Colie. I have not. New to small streams and am eager to learn/adapt to them. With Euro-Nymph, you also can use very, very long leaders and cast from afar. It's called "French nymphing," but I don't enjoy casting such long leaders such great distances.

    2. And, thank you for the heads up on water temps. Might be tough to get out, given work and family stuff, but, my goodness, am I itchin' to get back on some open Massachusetts water!

  3. Jo, could you do a post sometime about the basics of using an in line indicator? I have always been confused on how they work… Floating or sinking, detecting strikes, how to attach them, when to use, etc.

    It would be great if you could explain the basics of them in a post, as you clearly have success with them.

    Troy (not Troy Holt lol – a different Troy)

    1. Hi Troy, the short answer is the in-line indicator can be on the water or above it. You're watching it for a pause or twitch. It's a lot more sensitive than a Thingamabobber. Attaching it to a rig requires a triple surgeon's or tippet rings.

      The Euro-nymph style takes a bit getting used to, but there's a great post here on it. The author wrote a 3-part post on the topic, and I think it's a really good overview. I'll also add this link to the blog post above.

      But, the best "how to" manual is the George Daniel book I referenced. It's really good and extremely practical.

  4. Jo, good idea to Check out George Daniel's book. I'm interested in setting up a euro rig as well but surprised by the length of your rig. If my math is right the leader set-up is 29 feet long before you get to the terminal tippet (including 3 tippet rings). If you're using a 9' rod most of the leader would be on the reel unless I'm missing something? The last 4' of the rig includes the sighter so that is not on the reel but curious why such a long leader?

    1. You want mono to better feel takes and minimize drag. A fly line is heavy and creates sag. The GD book explains it well, but you essentially want a very direct connection to the anchor fly.

    2. Also, as posted in "Preparing for Spring," I've been playing with a new Euro set-up: Rio's Euro fly line -> 9' of 15 lb. Maxima -> tippet ring -> in-line sighter -> tippet ring -> tippet.

      Wanted to see if it could throw dries as well. So far? Meh. Adequate but not great.

  5. Just ordered GD's book, cant wait to get into it. I've been looking at 3wt and have it down to these options: Cabelas CZN 11-4wt, Cortland 10'6"-3wt and Syndicate 11-3wt.Do you have any experience with these rods? Best value?

  6. Syndicate rods are horrible. If you are considering buying it, spend the extra money for a ESN. You will waste your money and immediately handicap yourself.

    Let me explain, first of all, the whole premise of this style of fishing is to maintain contact, but with the least amount of tension; low tension contact.

    The Syndicate blanks are as floppy as an al dente noodle, tip to cork. As you lead the flies the flex in the rod creates slack (while you are tracking the flies the rod is flexing constantly, every action reaction type deal). The ESN is stiff with a soft TIP. The stiffer rod also can withstand the kinetic friction without flexing because its "stiff."

    Don't even get me started about hook sets. And, its for the same reason. You will increase by 100% with the ESN.

    I have extensivly used, multiple models, Syndicate, Redingtons, Douglas, Echo, some are better than others, but the ESN smokes them all.

    That being said, George Daniel is hardly the "guru" of this technique. That would be Aaron Jasper.

    He is a local boy, so you can easily book guide trips with him.

    George doesn't even like nymphing. In one of his streamer articles, he stated it was his least favorite method.

    1. I have the Sage ESN 11' #3. Has been my go-to fly rod for 3+ years. Also, bought afterwards the Syndicate 10' #2. I like it, though it is better for smaller streams as, to your point, it is a bit noodle-like and doesn't cast as well as the Sage.

  7. Aaron has two European Nymphing DVD's available…

    1.European Nymphing – Techniques & Fly Tying
    2.European Nymphing- A Strategic Approach

    If you watch closely, you will see him hooking fish non-stop, in every segment, at every location, without the camera man cutting the shot.

    …Steve Parrots Euro DVD's are weak at best…….He fishes private water in them = lame.

    1. Jon, that would be great. I'd buy both streams.

      I ask this for selfish reasons, but, also, I am running into more millennials on the rivers. I think that's a good thing. Aaron can extend his reach to them via Vimeo streams.

      Also, I recently wrote about one of his podcasts, ICYMI: http://www.blogflyfishma.com/2016/11/podcast-on-montana-and-aaron-jasper.html.

      I also wrote about one of his clinics: http://www.blogflyfishma.com/2016/09/euro-nymphing-clinic.html

      I've seen quite a few of his YouTube videos, which I realized after I visited the channel that you had mentioned. Great stuff!

    2. FYI, Devin Olsen and Lance Egan just launched their "Modern Nymphing" video on Vimeo. It's really good. They offer a DVD, too, but, at a later date. The Vimeo quality was quite good.

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