I have been lucky to have trained with some of the best competition fly anglers, and even a world champion fly angler. The nymphing leader setups that I’ll discuss here are the same nymphing leader steups that these experts use and that I use when I’m fishing and guiding.
A good nymphing leader setup can be used for multiple types of nymphing. A nymphing leader is the long clear thin portion at the end of your fly line where you attach your flies, weights, and maybe an indicator. A good nymphing leader setup will be required to maximize your success.
The nymphing leader setups are very effective for trout and steelhead. In my nymphing classes, I have taught 7 different nymphing methods but in this post, I will show you the most affecting nymphing leader setups that I use the most.
Nymphing Leader Setup Materials
To build all 3 nymphing leader setups you will need the following materials.
- 7 to 9-foot tapered leader
- Fluorocarbon tippets from 8lb to 2lb (depends on the species you plan to target)
- Tippet rings
- Splits shots (weights)
- Sighter ( indicator tippet )
I will discuss some of these below but for everything on this list and everything you need for fly fishing check out my page Fly Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Fly Fish
There are two ways to make your nymphing leaders.
For most anglers, the easiest way is to start building the nymphing leader is with a standard tapered fly fishing leader like the Rio Powerflex leader, and then start adding the materials like weights, tippets, flies, and indicators. Get the 7.5 foot Rio Power Flex Leaders at Bass Pro Shops – HERE or at FishUSA.com – HERE
The other way to build a nymphing leader is to build it from scratch using many different tippet sizes all strategically connected together. I will show you both ways.
Standard Nymphing Leader Setup
This is a common nymphing leader setup for indicator fishing for trout.
You can use the exact same nymphing leader setup for great lakes steelhead by increasing the leader bottom section to 10 or 14-pound test and the tippet to 8lb to 12lb test.
FYI – The tippet should always be slightly lighter than the leader.
This nymphing leader setup is 10 feet long and is ideal for fishing spots 7 feet or less. Just slide the indicator up or down the leader to get the right depth needed to get your fly into the strike zone. Your fly should be 6 to 20 inches off the bottom at all times when nymphing.
See the nymphing leader formula below.
For deeper rivers, you can always use a 9 -foot leader by adding 12″ to 24 inches to the middle section for a total of 13 to 14 feet long. I use longer leaders when I fish rivers with a lot of pools that are 6 to 10 feet deep.
I’ll also use longer leaders for bigger rivers or when steelhead fishing. You can see more on steelhead fishing on my page Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style.
Shorter nymphing leaders around 9 to 10 feet will mend much easier due to the weight of the thicker upper section of the leader and the weight of the fly line. I use shorter leaders when teaching new fly anglers.
GUIDE TIP: If I can’t get 7-foot fly leaders in the local store I just cut into a 9-foot leader about where the leader looks slightly thicker than the tippet.
Example – If I’m using a 6lb tippet and I will likely use a 6-pound leader but I will either just cut it 2 feet up the leader which will make it around 8 to 10pounds, or I will just visually compare the two lines and keep working my way up the leader until I see that the leader starts to get thicker than the tippet and then I cut the leader there and attach the tippet.
For nymphing leaders, my tippet section which is the section below the indicator or a sighter is between 3 and 6 feet most of the time. You always want to use fluorocarbon tippets because they are abrasion resistant and more invisible to the fish.
The upper tapered part of the leader is best to be a co-polymer or mono leader because those leaders float better than fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon sinks and we don’t want the upper part of the leader to sink.
GUIDE TIP – For mending purposes, it’s much better to have the upper leader and the fly line float high.
I’ll even add Loon Payette Paste or Mucilin to the upper part of the leader above the indicator and on the fly line to make sure they both float high.
Note: I prefer to use the Mucilin over the Payette Paste but unfortunately, Mucilin goes rock hard in the winter so you can’t use it. That is when I will switch and use Payette Paste.
Mucilin can also liquefy in the summer and leak all over your pack or vest, especially if you leave it in your car on a hot sunny day. Therefore I store my Mucilin in a zip lock bag just in case it leaks.
Payette Paste is more user-friendly and stays at the same consistency in hot or cold so it may be better suited for most anglers.
Make Your Own Nymphing Leader
Some anglers believe a custom made leader casts and turns over better than store-bought tapered leaders.
If you are into building your own nymphing leaders it’s much easier than you think and you can make them as long as you need.
The picture above shows my custom made nymphing leader setup. If you added 6 inches to each of the 4 upper sections you would turn this 10-foot leader into a 12-foot leader or add 12 inches to each section and now you are set up with a 14-foot leader which is a great length for steelhead fishing.
For my steelhead leaders, I just upsize all the parts by about 2 pounds. I don’t normally change the leader lengths on the bottom section below the indicator unless the river I fish is mostly deeper than 6 feet in which case I will add a foot or 2 to the section just below the indicator.
2 Fly Nymphing Leader Setup
If I am legally allowed to use 2 flies at a time I almost always will.
Some states and provinces and some rivers will not allow 2 flies so check your fishing rules before you try this.
I use a Triple Surgeons knot to attach a 6 to 8-inch tag where I will add a second fly. 6-inch tags have fewer problems with tangles.
If I feel that my flies are not getting down to the fish I will sometimes add a weight halfway between the tag knot and the bottom fly.
If that weight keeps sliding down to the bottom fly I will simply cut the tippet at that spot I want the weight and tie in a Triple Surgeon’s knot and add the weight above the knot. The knot will prevent the weight from sliding down to the bottom fly.
Make sure you use the right weights because some weights will spook the fish and some are just not good for river fishing. For the best weights and some tips on using the weights check out my page Weights For Fly Fishing: Everything You Need To Know
Nymphing Leader Length
Your nymphing leader length will depend on the average depth of the spots that you are going to fish and the type of fish that you fish for and the type of nymphing that you are doing. For most trout sized rivers I will use a leader between 10 and 14 feet long.
If you fish a lot of deeper water that is between 8 and 12 feet deep you will want a longer leader that is 14 to 18 feet long. The longer leader allows you to get deeper if you need to, and it allows you to slide the indicator further up the leader for more depth.
If you are fishing rivers where most of the spots are 2 to 4 feet deep you will want a shorter nymphing leader of 10 to 12 feet. A leader of this length is easier to mend but also keeps your fly line far enough away from wary trout so they don’t see it.
For a traditional high stick nymphing leader, the normal size would be 10 to 12 feet.
If you are interested in competition-style nymphing or euro nymphing it’s not uncommon to use a nymphing leader that is double the length of the rod or as long as 40 feet. FYI, competition anglers tend to use rods that are 10 to 11 feet long.
I teach Euro Nymphing students with nymphing leaders that are around 2 feet longer than the rod since it takes time to get good with a very long leader. As my clients get better I recommend increasing the length of the leader about 2 feet at a time until it’s around 16 to 18 feet.
For more information on Euro Nymphing check out my page Euro Nymphing: An Expert Euro Guide Explains or Euro Nymphing Steelhead: Everything You Need To Know.
Bottom Bouncing Nymph Leader
This is the nymphing leader setup that I use for high stick nymphing or for Euro nymphing with non-weighted flies.
In spots of 2 to 5 feet deep, this is a very effective method and one that I use more than the indicator method.
This nymphing leader setup uses a Sighter which is a colored piece of tippet. The Sighter helps you gauge your fly’s depth and speed better than without it.
This nymphing leader can be used with or without the sighter but I highly suggest using the sighter whenever possible. Done right it will be more effective.
You can also add an indicator to this nymphing rig as seen in the picture and you can do it even with the sighter still on it.
14 foot Bottom Bouncing Leader Formula
This is the same nymphing leader setup as above but you can use the formula to make your own. This nymphing leader at the maximum of all the lengths indicated is 14.5 feet long with a 5-foot tippet section.
Adjust each section length to match your overall desired nymphing length. For most trout rivers I prefer the tippet section below the sighter to be 4 to 6 feet long.
Got A Question About Nymphing Leaders
I use many variations of nymphing leader setups but these are my go-to Nymphing leaders. If you have a question, comment, or an idea about the nymphing leader setup let me and other readers know in the comments section below.