My Revised Euronymphing Leader

10/4/18 edit: I’ve started playing with thin Euronymphing leaders, which supposedly are better. Details here.

For your convenience, here are the formulas (and, links to materials):

Running line and leader butt

Sighter, part 1

Sighter, part 2

(five-turn blood knot every six inches, leave on 3/4" tags to create "bunny ears," and boil for five minutes to soften)





Part of the fun, and challenge, of tightline nymphing is that there are no standards. You ask two competition anglers about how they construct their leaders, for example, and you get two different answers. And, those answers will change over time.

I too fiddle with my Euro leaders. I’ve written about it in the past. Here’s my latest version, which is a variant of the Devin Olsen version in his “Modern Nymphing” video (see up top). My big difference is that I want zero fly line coming out of my reel to minimize sag and avoid a knot running through my guides when I’m fighting a big fish. The leader is tapered, and so, it can chuck dries, if needed.

Here is the formula that I use for my mono-only rig. It works well with either my Thomas and Thomas Contact 11’3″ #3 or my Syndicate 10′ #2. That’s right–I no longer use fly line:

  • Backing
  • Nail knot
  • 40′ Maxima Chameleon 20#
  • Blood knot
  • 3′ Sufix Elite 17#, Hi-Vis Yellow
  • Blood knot. I don’t clip off the tag ends completely and instead leave 1″ of the Sufix and 1″ of the Amnesia red (see below). These “whiskers” help with visibility, sensing soft takes and “floating the sighter”
  • For the sighter, 18″ of Amnesia mono: 9″ of red 12#, 9″ of green 10#. Blood knots every few inches; they help with flotation when I grease up the sighter to float it as a surface indicator. More on this technique later, but it thus far has been very effective at sensing soft takes
  • Tippet ring
  • 4′ to 6′ of 5x or 6x fluorocarbon, depending on the water’s depth, speed and clarity. I’ll add a dropper tag about 22″ above the anchor fly
  • Anchor fly: a nymph weighted with glass or tungsten beads, depending on the water’s depth. Most likely, a stonefly, Perdigón, Frenchie, or a Walt’s/Sexy Walt’s from a #8 to a #18
  • Dropper fly: usually, a larva, pupa, emerger, or soft hackle, from #16 to #22. If there’s a need for a dry fly, I can add one here and put a lightly-weighted nymph on the anchor point to have a dry-dropper rig

So, there you have it.


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40 thoughts on “My Revised Euronymphing Leader

  1. Interesting leader recipe. I have tried the 20# stren but didn't care for it on my 3wt ESN. Mostly use a very long tapered leader cut back to diameter of sighter, or a Camou leader when I can find one. One thing I hope you cover is how to "degrease" your sighter once you go back to tight line methods. Maybe you don't degrease cause the sighter is usually not in the water.

    1. After 30 minutes or so, the grease is largely off. As you wrote, at close range, my sighter is off the water. At longer ranges, I want the sighter floating, to minimize drag. All of this is a work in progress, of course!

    2. The opposite of grease for leaders is mud. Yes, mud, like from the banks of the river where the soil gets wet. You can run this over your line real quick and decrease it in seconds, or buy prepackaged containers of degreaser. Or it will come off with time.

    3. Also, I like better the 20# when I attach below it 3' of colored 15#, as Devin Olsen suggested. Improves casting, and, also, improves visibility on low-light days, which was the case yesterday for me during a very cold and windy day on the Farmington.

    1. The Contact? Zach St. Amand, noted Farmington guide, now fishes with it. He raves about it. The guys at UpCountry love it, too.

      With the new Sage ESN v.2 capping out at 10', the T&T Contact at 11' 3" will be in high demand, IMO.

  2. So with 40' of a 20lb butt end, why not just get rid of the fly line? Euronymphing lines add little to the balancing of the reel anyway and you no longer have to worry about the knot going through your guides. And if you feel comfortable throwing dries with the tapered leader you use then there's even less reason to use the fly line. I ask with particular interest because I have been wondering why I have even bothered with a fly line after putting on my 30'+ of 20lb butt end as well. I've been kicking around the idea of getting rid of it completely to avoid the knot though the guide issue but haven't yet experienced a run that confirmed I should get rid of it (and I really haven't been bothered to remove it yet).

    Happy New Year!

    1. I hear ya! That's very cool that you're using the tightline leader with shorter fly rods. I recently started using it on one of my non-Euro rods. Wasn't the best fit, but it worked pretty well. I love the reach of the 11', though, and that it really picks up the slightest takes, IMO.

    2. Great points.

      The "B" waters are completely under-fished (or, is that a tautology, and that's why they're rated "B"?).

      I usually fall because I'm wading aggressively into deep water with fast current. Boots and studs are in good shape. There are always some fishy-looking spots "just beyond" the reach of my fly rod. It has paid off, thankfully.

      If I'm targeting mostly dries, I will leave the ESN and bring the 9' #4 H2. That's what I did during the "dries and die" period this summer at the Farmington: water was low, bugs were prolific, and the fish were aggressive. I am hoping not to have another drought, however. Thinkin' of those fish.

    3. Ha! So, yeah, I pulled out the reel I use on my ESN rod last night and contemplated taking off the fly line. It took me all of about 5 seconds to put it back in the reel case as I just couldn't be bothered to do it either!
      I use tightline nymphing anywhere I fish these days when the situation calls for it. But it's not the rod that I use to accomplish it. I simply use a leader that is long enough, constructed with a sighter, that removes the fly line's weight from the equation. I use leaders like this on my 8ft 3wt, 9ft 4wt and 11ft 3wt. My 8 ft rod is for smaller rivers like the Swift and Squannacook, and the 9ft is my overall rod for the Millers, Farmington, Westfield, etc. However, if I know I will be fishing in high water or a lot of pocket water situations, then I use the 11ft rod. The leader is the key in my opinion and I use it on any rod when the situation calls for it.

    4. Indeed. It's all a compromise, isn't it? I love casting a fly line so I tend to position my fishing to use my fly line. The longer rod absolutely helps you cover much more water, but you compromise on dry fly fishing. But if you can live with your cast and presentation, that's all you need to worry about, right?
      Btw, speaking of reaching more water, I always get a good chuckle out of the fact that you write about how you fall in the water. I hope readers realize that it's an indication of how hard you have to work to get to the "B" water. I sometimes wonder if most people just see the fish pics and numbers and think that they'll do as well by simply switching to euro style nymphing. It's a deadly approach, but it's still not that easy. You still have to work for it.
      Ha! Or maybe you're falling in because you need new boots!

  3. I usually bring a two piece 7' 4wt IM6 along with me on the water and ditch it on the side of the river so I can fish dries if the need arises and the ESN for non-hatch time. Really not that much of a bother.

  4. Definitely excited to try this formula! One question: you write Sufix Elite 15#, but it looks like Elite comes only in 14# and 17#. Sufix Superior does come in 15#. Did you mean the Superior or one of those other weights in the Elite? Thanks!

    1. Well, at least I caught something this winter…. Only because I was shopping for the "ingredients," and discovered the discrepancy. One more question: when you talk about blood knots every few inches on the sighter, I'm (k)not sure what you mean. I only know the blood knot for joining two lines, not as a stopper-type knot. Is it like a double/triple overhand, or a double figure-eight, or what sailors call a barrel knot? Pardon my ignorance, but I just can't visualize it!

  5. I have been following your blog for a while and have a leader making question. I am a novice at fly fishing and a beginner at leader tying. There are so many different formulas and as many different mono your formula above would it be so terrible to use maxima chalemeon of the same diameter as the sufix elite or is it just a matter of preference?

    1. That’s a great question, Lyle. I think it is preference.

      The Maxima Chameleon is a very stiff piece of mono, much more so than the Sufix. So, it makes for a great leader butt that will help transfer power and turn over the fly. It also doesn’t retain much memory when put on the reel, which is why I use a 40′ section of it to start my tightlining rig.

      The Sufix Elite color I have in yellow is very bright. So, it’s easy to see in low-light conditions.

      For my tightline nymphing leader, I use both. The Maxima Chameleon is a key part of my all-mono rig. The Sufix Elite stretch is really easy to see, and, as I wrote in the post, I use it and the next segment (some red Amnesia) to create some “whiskers” to the leader for visibility and for when I am “floating the sighter” on shallow water.

      Just note that it is all about trying out what works best for you. Among competition anglers, for example, there is no one recipe. Some like the whiskers and others don’t. Some like fly line and others prefer all-mono.

      So, you over time find what works for you. I’ve tried all sorts of approaches over the few years I’ve been tightlining. I tweaked my leaders pretty regularly until I came upon the recipe above in the post. It really works well me and lets me fish a variety of water, even with dries.

      Have fun!

  6. Great post. Thanks. Could you tell me how you tie on your dropper tags? Also, have you tried the Cortland Bi-Color sighter material that Devin recommends?

  7. hi again
    On your leader can I use a coiled sighter and place tippet rings on either side to change to a straight line sighter or does the leader need to be of different formula to use the coiled method/ I am loving the posts on euro nymphing and fly recipes. thanks again

    1. I think you can. I ditched coiled sighters FYI when a friend told me that you can grease the regular sighter.

  8. I heard on an old internet radio broadcast featuring Devin Olsen that he uses a large arbor reel that is more then the rod weight. He says it offsets the longer rod and makes it balanced.

    Is this neccessary or just his preference? Can balance be achieved with a small arbor reel? I really don’t like the larger reel but will use one if needed. What are your opinions?


    1. Hey Lyle, I think balancing is over-rated. Some comp anglers balance, others do not. For me, I want less weight overall to preserve my shoulder. So, for me, I wouldn’t buy a larger reel just for the weight.

  9. I guess after reading all these posts about mono rigs. I’m thinking why not just use 150′ of 30# Amnesia, blood knot to sighter and hang your tippet from the sighter with a tippet ring for Euronymphing if you are not in competition?

    1. I’m sure it would work. Won’t be as sensitive as lighter rigs, but there’s a lot of be said for keeping things streamlined.

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