Tightline fishing, Euronymphing, contact nymphing. Call it what you will. Whatever name you give to this approach to catching fish, the straight up fact is that it is crazy effective!
I’m sure the last thing you all need is another blogger on the internet writing about this topic. There are many resources available to gain more knowledge into the world of tightlining, and surely most of those resources are provided by people with much more wisdom and experience than me.
However, seeing as how this approach has kept trout in my net all winter, I wanted to share some of my own insights from my time on the water, my current setup and my reasons for it. Now keep in mind when I’m talking about tightlining, I’m not just talking about nymphing, but rather an approach to fly fishing that involves fishing streamers, dries and wets as well! There are certain opportunities afforded to the tightline angler when it comes to fly presentation. Hopefully this helps some of you in your own fishing journey.
This can be a really confusing part of getting into euro-style fishing simply because there are just so many opinions about it and so much differing information out there. It can get very overwhelming before you even start. Part of the reason there are so many differing recipes for this is that it’s an entirely customizable system that you can tweak to fit your own preference and style. Jo has provided some of the best info you can find online about leader-building combinations, right on this blog. I owe much of what I’ve learned to his articles and time on the water with him.
My personal style incorporates what would be called a “micro” leader. Unlike traditional Euro leader setups that usually involve a thicker butt section in the 20-25 lb. range, a micro setup runs anywhere from 5-12 lb. butt sections. Thicker leaders are easier to cast, as they are very similar to thin fly lines in diameter. However I personally find myself very restricted by them in how I’m able to fish. The heavier the leader, the closer you’ll have to fish due to the line sagging. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but I like having the option to fish further away if needed (and it’s often needed).
A micro leader has the ability to keep you tight to the fly, even at 30 or more feet. Much more versatile in my opinion. I also find that I am able to feel takes much more with a thinner setup. Strike detection should primarily be relied on through visibility, but it really makes a difference when you can feel what’s going on as well.
After diving down the Euro leader building rabbit hole, and spending way too much money on different materials, I’ve actually settled on a really simple setup. At the current moment I’m using about 40′ of 8 lb. green Sunset Amnesia for my running line. I do have a Euro fly line behind all of this which I will use on occasion, but I find that a mono rig gives me more sensitivity and ability to fish further away.
The Amnesia really does stay memory free, which is crucial, and has great turnover power for casting nymphs, even at small diameters. I was using 6 lb. Amnesia for a bit, but switched to the 8 lb. as I find it much easier to handle during slack retrieval.
From the Amnesia I go right to my sighter. Lots of days on the water have taught me that I would personally rather have a hi-vis running line as opposed to a clear or camo mono option. I don’t find that I spook fish with the fluorescent green mono, and I can always locate my line visually even if light conditions are making it hard to find your sighter.
I then use a blood knot to connect to 5 ft. of Rio 3x Two Tone Indicator Tippet. I’ve tried a bunch of different sighter tippets, but this one is my favorite. Instead of tying multiple blood knots in my sighter in order to get “bunny ear” tags, I have started using a dacron backing barrel. The reason for this is because with a micro setup, I’ve found that I want as few breaking points in my leader as possible. The more knots you tie, the more places it can break. I find that to be an unnecessary waste of my time if I have to keep tying on new leaders.
Instead, not only is the leader and connection to the fly stronger and less interrupted, but the backing barrel is a far more visible means of strike detection than the mono tags. A backing barrel is simply a half an inch piece of 20 lb. orange dacron that is uni-knotted to the sighter. I learned about this killer sighter hack from Domenick Swentosky of Troutbitten.
You can add one or several to your indicator tippet, and it shows up in any light condition. Many people shy away from backing barrels as they think they will add sag to your line, but I haven’t found that to be true at all. In the video below, Domenick goes over these backing barrels along with other great insights. Troutbitten as a whole is just an absolute goldmine of knowledge and information.
Next I tie a 1mm tippet ring to the end of my sighter with a clinch knot. I will leave a 1 inch tag on this for added visibility. It also is a good marker to tell me where my tippet begins. Next I tie on about 7 ft. of 6x Orvis Mirage Tippet. You can use whatever size tippet you like, but I find 6x to be the sweet spot. I even fish heavy jig streamers on the 6x with no trouble or breakoffs. I like using a longer section of tippet because I find it allows me to not only fish varying depths with ease, but I feel like I’m able to be slightly more stealthy by keeping my sighter further from the surface.
So to recap, here’s my leader formula:
40′ of Green Amnesia 8lb
5′ of Rio Two Tone Indicator Tippet 3x with 1 Backing Barrel
(clinch knot to tippet ring)
6-7′ of 6x Fluorocarbon Tippet to Fly
I will occasionally fish two flies by adding a dropper to my tippet section, but I find myself usually fishing single nymphs/flies. Droppers can be very effective no doubt, but I have more direct contact and less snags with one fly. I also find it easier to be more accurate in a tuck cast. Having said that, it’s much easier to cast a 2mm tungsten bead nymph on a two fly rig, with a heavier point fly, like a 3.8mm tungsten bead pattern at the bottom. Also, it’s easy to throw a dry fly or emerger on the upper tag if needed. Tightline dry droppers are a really cool way to adapt to a sudden caddis, mayfly or midge hatch. There’s a time and a place for everything.
I should note that I am using an 11′ 3 wt. designed specifically for tightlining. Euro rods are ideal for casting these rigs and also protecting thin tippet sections. That being said, I have used this setup on a 9′ 5 wt. as well, and while it is harder to cast and not break off fish, it works very well. My main point is that a euro rod is a huge advantage, but it is not necessarily needed.
So there it is. My current tightline setup, which has lead to hundreds of trout being caught this winter. Again, the great thing about euro/tightline setups is that it’s entirely up to the angler how they wanna rig up. Customize however you like based on what works for you and go catch some trout!