How to tie a basic nymph indicator rig

How to Tie and Fish a Basic Nymph Indicator Rig

In “Nymph Fishing Styles Explained,” we touched on the benefits of fishing nymphs with an indicator which include exceptional depth control, strike indication, and drag detection. Now it’s time to learn how to tie and fish the ever-effective nymph indicator rig to start catching fish.

The instructions that follow are for tying a two-fly nymph rig, which is what most nymph anglers use. However, this basic rig can easily be modified to fish a single fly or three or more flies it’s up to you.

Step 1: Attach and Prepare Your Leader

A 9-foot nylon tapered leader in 3X size is the perfect foundation for an all-purpose nymph indicator rig. Read about the best leader and tippet here.

Start assembling your rig by attaching your leader to your fly line with a loop-to-loop connection.

Next, cut off the last 12 to 24 inches of tippet and retie it to the leader using a blood knot or double surgeon’s knot. Later, you’ll crimp your split shot to the leader above this knot to keep it from sliding down toward the flies.

Step 2: Tie on the First Fly

The first fly of a two-fly nymph rig is known as the “point fly.” You can use any combination of flies you like, but aim to have your point fly be the heavier of the two say, a weighted stonefly nymph.

If you’re not sure which nymph flies to use on the stream you’re fishing, don’t worry, we have an entire article dedicated to nymph selection to help you stock your fly box.

Use an improved clinch knot (or your favorite line-to-hook knot) to tie the point fly to the tippet.

Step 3: Tie on the Dropper Tippet and Second Fly

Your second fly the one that trails behind the point fly is known as the “dropper fly” and is attached to the point fly with a length of tippet.

The dropper tippet should be approximately 12 to 18 inches long and 1X lighter than the tippet used to tie on the point fly. So with a 3X leader, you’ll use 4X tippet for the dropper.

Setup Fly Fishing for Dry Fly with Dropper
Setup Fly Fishing for Dry Fly with Dropper

There are two main methods used to attach the dropper tippet to the point fly:

  1. Tied to the bend of the hook Keeps all elements of the rig aligned for fewer tangles, but limits the action of the fly slightly.
  2. Tied to the eye of the hook Offers better fly action, but has a tendency to produce more line tangles.

Tie on your dropper tippet to the point fly using an improved clinch knot with your connection method of choice.

As you get more comfortable tying nymph rigs, experiment with the different ways to tie on the dropper to find which works best for you. There’s a third way to tie on your dropper fly using a “dropper loop” but we’ll save that for a later article.

Step 4: Add Weight

Unless you’re using heavily weighted flies, you’ll need to add additional weight to your nymph rig in the form of either split shot or weighted putty.

Lead split shot is most common and least expensive but isn’t legal in some streams due to its environmental impact. Some of the best split shot for fly fishing is made of tin and some varieties are even painted muted colors to blend in with the stream bottom. Tungsten weighted putty is also a good option for getting your nymph rigs to sink and is applied by pressing it onto your leader. ?

Now we come to the question that never ceases to puzzle: How much weight to add? ?

Basically, you need enough weight sink your nymph rig as close to the bottom as possible without hanging it up on every cast. The easiest way to figure out the right amount of weight is to start with a little ? say, a single BB-sized split shot ? then add more until you feel the weight tick the bottom occasionally.

Crimp your split shot above the first blood knot you tied in your leader and you’re almost ready to start fishing.

Step 5: Attach the Strike Indicator

indicators for fly fishing

There are many styles of strike indicators available on the market, but all serve the same role. When you’re just getting started, experiment with as many different strike indicators as you can until you find your favorite.


But when in doubt, use a Thingamabobber. (Link to Amazon to check price)

The strike indicator goes on the butt section of your leader somewhere between the fly line and split shot. How far up the leader you place the indicator determines how deep your flies will drift.

As a general rule, you want the distance between your indicator and split shot to be 1 1/2 times the depth of the water. So if you’re fishing in 4 feet of water, your indicator should be 6 feet above the split shot.

Indicator position is something you’ll be changing constantly while you’re on the water. Take some time to get it dialed in and don’t forget to slide the indicator up or down when you move to a shallower or deeper spot. This level of adjustability is one of the greatest attributes of a nymph indicator rig ? take full advantage of it.

How to Fish an Indicator Nymph Rig

When fishing nymphs with an indicator, you’ll want to focus the bulk of your efforts on upstream dead-drift presentations.

Fly Fishing with Indicator
Fly Fishing with Indicator

Make your casts either directly upstream or upstream-and-across at a 45-degree angle. As soon as your flies hit the water, throw a nice mend into your line to introduce slack and set your flies up for a drag-free drift.

Throughout the drift, keep your rod tip high to keep as much line as possible off the water. Watch your strike indicator closely and if it twitches, pauses, zigs, zags, or makes a full plunge, set the hook!

To cover a run systematically, a good strategy is to start casting close and with each subsequent cast fish your flies a little further across the stream. Then, take a few steps upstream and make another series of casts. By thoroughly covering the water in this way, you’ll drift your flies past every fish in the run and boost your odds of hooking up.

Set the Hook, Set the Hook, Set the Hook!

You really can’t set the hook too often when nymphing. Your strike indicator may have bobbed because your weight ticked the bottom or because the biggest trout of your life gulped in your Copper John. The only way to find out is to raise that rod high and hope for a battle!

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Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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