Pro Tip: How to Set-Up Rigs for Nymphs, Streamers, and Dry-Droppers


If your nymph isn’t at the right depth, the fish won’t eat it.
Photo by Sandy Hays
The most common questions I get in the shop are about how to set up a rig properly. I will go through how I like to set up my rigs, whether I’m nymphing, throwing streamers, or running a dry-dropper tandem.

Nymph Rig
Nymphing is all about depth. If you are nymphing, it’s usually because trout are not looking up at the surface or there aren’t any bugs out for the trout to rise to. This alone should tell you where the trout are: deep. In order to catch these fish, you have to present the fly where they are. I see a lot of people throwing nymph rigs that are just two or three feet long from the indicator to the second fly. Fish are usually not looking for a size 10 stonefly just below the surface. Though the Madison is fairly shallow, a nymph rig must be between 6 and 8 feet, at a minimum. From there, you can add or subtract weight to adjust the depth at which the flies drift.

I like to take a 9-foot leader and cut off 12 to 14 inches of the tippet, and then re-attach that tippet with a surgeons knot. This creates a perfect place to clamp split shot so they don’t slide down to the point fly. SInce I’m 6 feet tall, I can use my wingspan (which is about 6 feet) to measure the length of my rig, and I attach my strike indictor above the 6-foot mark. Fly fishing is a game of inches, and while you may be using the right flies, if your rig is just inches off the target, the fish won’t eat.

Check out this video, made by our friends at Blackfoot River Anglers, detailing how to set up a nymph rig:

Throwing steamers is by far my favorite style of fly fishing. There is nothing like watching a big trout chase your fly and absolutely demolish it. That said, if you’re going to streamer-fish, you need to set up your rig properly in order to be effective. Some folks prefer sinking-tip lines  or poly leaders, and those work fine. However, since I mainly fish the Madison, there is no need for these measures. The river is very shallow and sinking tips tend to get snagged pretty easily. I throw my streamers on a floating line with a 7.5-foot 0X leader. The shortened leader gives me more control over my fly, but it is still long enough to let my streamer get down.

If you are using a bulky streamer that is having a hard time staying down in the water column, throw some lead on about 6 or 8 inches above the streamer, using the same surgeons knot technique described above. The positioning of the lead is important; you don’t want your weight too close to the streamer, as it will affect the movement of the fly in the water. But you don’t want it too far away because the lead will then sit lower in the water than your streamer.

Another thing I do with my streamers (and most of my larger flies) is use a non-slip mono loop instead of the classic clinch knot. The non-slip mono loop allows the flies to move and swing better in the water. This is a great knot for non-articulated streamers because it will give them some extra movement. I also believe that the non-slip knot is stronger than the regular clinch knot, which also helps when throwing large meat. Here is a link to a video explaining how to tie the non-slip knot:

The dry-and-dropper technique is a very effective way of picking up fish in the summer and fall months. Many of you have heard of the “hopper dropper” (or as Hank Patterson has taught us, a “hopper, hopper dropper with a dropper hopper”). The idea of this technique is to combine dry-fly fishing with nymphing. I find that a lot of anglers struggle with this set up, again because of the depth they are fishing their nymph. The dropper (the nymph) needs to be at least two feet behind your dry fly. I see a lot of guys dropping their nymph just inches below their dry.

Like nymphing, if you’re not presenting the fly to the fish they aren’t going to eat it.

The classic “hopper-dropper” is a summertime staple on the Madison.
Photo by Phil Monahan

I like dropping my nymph an arm’s length from my dry fly, about three feet. This allows me to effectively fish both a dry and a nymph because I am presenting both flies to the fish. If you want, you can even drop two nymphs, but make sure you are in compliance with your local regulations. Here in Montana, you are only allowed to fish two hooks. Sometimes, I will cut the hook off my dry fly so I am only fishing two hooks, making the dry just an indicator.

Written by: Luke Lowery

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