Tight Line Nymph Rig

January 13, 2016

Almost eight years ago, I made some adaptations to my nymph rig that completely changed the game for me, tripling my catch rate and adding a new spark to my passion for fly fishing. Suddenly, a whole new set of techniques and achievements were possible on the water, and I was catching enough fish to feel like it wasn’t just luck anymore — I had some control over the outcome. My casts, my drifts, my fly selection, and (most importantly) my ability to focus and adapt became the reason that I caught fish or I didn’t. I soon realized that the old excuse of “the fish just weren’t on” was usually a cover-up.

I like to give credit where it’s due, so I’ll mention that it was the long talks with both Loren Williams and George Daniel that helped me come to understand these few simple principles. Their knowledge came from the competition fly fishing circuit, but since I’m not all that competitive when it comes to fishing, I borrowed the main elements and eventually eschewed a few of the restrictions like continuous leader taper, no split shot, and no suspenders (indicators) — I bend all of those rules whenever I believe doing so will catch more fish.

These three elements of my nymphing rig changed: I took fly line out of the mix, I allowed only one diameter of tippet under the water, and I added a sighter. Two of these elements are about eliminating drag — and when it comes to nymphing, getting true drag-free drifts while being in enough contact to detect strikes is where the real fun begins.

No Fly Line

For upstream, tight line nymphing, fly line is a real handicap; it adds weight and causes drag by sagging off the rod tip and pulling back on the nymphs. That subtle drag may seem slight, but the difference between a great drift and a lousy drift is in the fine details. By using a very long butt section in the leader, the nymphs can be presented relatively drag free. When casting without fly line, it’s the weight of the nymphs and the leader itself that are carrying the flies to their target. In essence, the weight of the flies (or split shot) pulls the leader to the target, while with a traditional setup, it’s the weight of the fly line that pushes the leader and the flies to their destination. After casting nymphs without fly line for a while, you realize that you never really needed it.

One Diameter Under the Surface

Another place where traditional nymphing rigs create drag is in the tippet section. Tapered leaders (whether hand tied or manufactured) most commonly start their taper a couple feet from the tippet end, so while fishing all but the skinniest of water, part of the taper is under the surface. That’s a problem.

I tied my old style of nymphing leaders in a way that resulted in the diameters of 4x, 3x, 2x, 1x, and sometimes even part of my butt section being submerged in some of the deepest pockets. To me, the big revelation was how the thicker diameters were being pushed by the currents more than the thin diameters. It’s one of those things that I never gave much thought to back then, but it makes perfect sense. The upper part of the taper in a leader is more than twice the diameter of 4x tippet.

Now consider two kites in a strong wind: a large kite that is double the size of a small kite will offer a lot more resistance — you can feel it as you hold the string. Likewise, the thicker diameters of a leader under the water offer more resistance in the current — and that equals drag. Is it really that much drag? Again, the difference between a great drift and a lousy drift is in the fine details. Add a few small details together and you get big results.

A tippet of any diameter will incur some drag. That can be managed, but the real problem with my old nymphing rig was in having multiple diameters under the water. My tippet section was being pushed around at different rates, creating various degrees of drag and slack while making it difficult to stay in touch with a tight line method. Having only one diameter of tippet under the water solves that problem.


A third element to an effective tight line nymph rig is the sighter — a colored piece of material tied into your leader to help visually track your line. It not only aids in strike detection, but also helps judge the depth and location of your nymphs. There are many options for sighter material, and I carry a number of them. Sometimes, when fishing is tough, I find that simply changing the type of sighter that I’m using improves my catch rate. I carry sighters made from fly line backing, braided running line, furled monofilament, coiled monofilament, and straight monofilament. I carry the mono sighters in different colors, and it often helps to use a couple of contrasting colors built into one sighter. The point is to see the sighter, and if I can’t see it immediately after my cast, then I change the color or type.


Tight line nymphing rigs can be very basic in design. I’ve tried leaders with elaborate tapers built from a half dozen diameters of various materials (I’m a leader junkie), but I keep coming back to a very simple formula that works for me: a long butt section, a transitional piece, a sighter, and then the tippet.

A Simple Mono Rig Formula

24 feet — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 12lb Maxima Chameleon
Tippet Ring (2mm)
6” — 15lb Red Amnesia
8” — 12lb Red Amnesia
10” — 10lb Gold Stren
20″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material
Tippet Ring (2mm)
4-6’ — 4X or 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet

(The 15lb Red Amnesia above is not a typo. It closely matches the diameter and flexibility of 12lb Chameleon.)

I originally made these key changes only to my tight line nymphing leader, but a decade later I now find myself rarely taking this long leader off my spool. Instead, I use the long leader for almost everything — suspender fishing, streamer fishing, and most dry-dropper fishing. The only times I use a shorter, traditional leader are when I’m dry fly fishing at distance and sometimes for swinging wets at night.

The other day, a friend asked me what nymphing books he should own.

“Do you have Trout Tactics from Joe Humphreys?” I asked.


“Do you have Dynamic Nymphing from George Daniel?” I asked.


“Well, that’s all you need.”

I really believe that. All my other fishing books gather dust after a thorough reading, but I refer to this pair constantly, learning something new every time I turn the pages. Together, they are a comprehensive resource, and everything else you need can probably be learned by fishing a lot and just thinking about it — think hard.

For more details on long mono rigs and what you can do with them, read this Troutbitten article:

READ: Troutbitten | The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks

Also, if you are looking for a good primer on tight line techniques, or if you would like to improve your game by understanding the basics completely, I often recommend Devin Olsen’s three part series on his blog:

Euro Nymphing 101: Part 1

Euro Nymphing 101: Part 2

Euro Nymphing 101: Part 3


** Find all Troutbitten articles about the Mono Rig here **


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Nymphing Tips

Read all Troutbitten Nymphing Tips

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Outstanding post and I truly appreciate the links to the resources. I’m a frustrated fly fisherman when the fish aren’t on.

Don Smith

A good read, especially for a fisherman who NEEDS to nymph fish or he’s never gonna catch fish he dreams about!

I use Rio euro nymph fly line instead of straight mono now. Line, sighter with a tippet ring on one end and a perfection loop on the other then fluorocarbon tippet. So simple and effective and I can switch to throwing dries in about two minutes. That being said, I tightline about 99% of the time now!

Don Norman

Well done; appreciate the leader formula too. Have studied both Humphries and Daniel’s books; Humphries was way ahead of his time with the flat mono approach and Daniels put it all together. Good stuff on your site, please keep it coming.

Thanks for your post! I am always trying to refine the nymphing craft! I have always thought about the principles you are describing. Good post!


Nice work Dom!!! Need to plan a trip up your way!


Just what the good doctor ordered. Thank you Dom. Are you in agreement with George Daniel that a stiffer than average long rod improves the tight line game?


Great post. I’m trying to think hard… It seems like the gains you get from less drag would be offset by the number of knots you’re tying and the extra drag that they incur. Is this not the case? Why not use a sighter like the Rio yellow/red two tone indicator and have no knots or just a single knot from your indicator to your tippet? Thanks.

Domenick, Out of curiosity, what depth range of water do you use this leader design? Is this rig geared towards medium to large river type environments? For example, i can see this being quite useful for consistent 3 feet or deeper water depth – with the sighter material being a benefit. I can also see this design being quite beneficial for larger rivers with deep pockets and runs. How do you address fishing upper column with emerger type of flies? For example, if I know that trout are targeting the upper 1 to 2 feet of the water column for… Read more »


Question for you Domenick, so I’ve rigged up one of these Tight Line Leaders using the formula you posted and I wanted to ask about how you detect when a fish strikes. It’s probably a dumb question, but when you have your line at a 90 degree angle in the water and the sighter stops moving, is this when you set the hook? I usually have my anchor fly connected directly to my tippet, and then the smaller dropper nymph tied onto the hook bend of the heavy fly. Any feedback would be great! Thanks!


Quick question on the rig. What knots do you use for the 2′ 12lbs Maxima section?

Quick question on the rig. What knots do you use for the 2′ 12lbs Maxima section?


Hello Domenick., I enjoyed reading your article. 1) You suggest for the final last section of the leader to be 4-6’ — 4X fluorocarbon tippet! This is correct but not a rule. The length of the 4X section is always relative to the depth of the pool or the stream we are fishing. When fishing in skimpy water, here in the Italian Alps, we often use the two nymphs but we vary the length of the tippet. When fishing the shallow depth, then have to shorten the distance from the sighter to intermediate to as little as 30 cm. From… Read more »

Alex Argyros

I’m kind of late to this thread, but I was wondering if you know how Joe Humphreys rigged his nymph leaders. Did he fish more than one nymph? If so, did he use droppers? I know that he used lead, but I’m not sure exactly where he placed the lead in relation to his flies. I ask because I just want to know, but also because I think that one of Humphrey’s main innovations was his insistence on the importance of the tuck cast. It would be interesting to evaluate nymph rigs on how well they allow you to execute… Read more »

Tim Hough

Domenick, This was an interesting article. However, if I am reading things correctly, you are actually fishing with a mono leader that in it’s entirety, is approximately 50 feet long. A leader of that length will definitely be breaking PA fishing regulations, at least in Catch and Release fly-fishing waters: 058 PA Code § 65.14. Catch and release fly-fishing only. (b) It is unlawful to fish in waters designated and posted as catch and release fly-fishing only except in compliance with the following requirements: (2) Fishing shall be done with tackle which is limited to fly rods, fly reels and… Read more »


Hi Domenick,
I really appreciate you sharing your mono rig formula. I have a goal to improve my nymph game this season after focusing too much on drys and swinging soft hackles. I have looked but I can’t find Amnesia in less than 15lb…even at TCO. It appears they don’t make it anymore. Do you have a recommendation for a substitute?


Hi Domenick,
I have the Daniels book and tried his techniques for the first time last summer. Quick question, do you remove the fly line completely from the reel? Thanks,

Gregor DeAngelis

I enjoyed your article very much thanks! However the links at the end don’t work…
Euro Nymphing 101: Part 1
Euro Nymphing 101: Part 2
Euro Nymphing 101: Part 3


Hi. Late to the discussion, but can you clarify exactly where all the tippet rings are in your mono rig? Thanks.


A few questions about backing barrels: 1. With this rig, do you usually use two backing barrels with the mono rig- an orange one on the two tone 1X as a sighter, and a (black or orange?) one on the upper section of your tippet for a slideable dry-dropper setup? 2. Since you are only using a single piece of 4x or 5x for the tippet, doesn’t the backing barrel holding the dry dropper slide down the tippet when you take a fish on the dry? 3. Have you come to any conclusions about whether an orange barrel on the… Read more »

Andrew Gross

Great website! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I have a question about the leader formula. Why do you stop down from the 20# Maxima Chameleon to to a 12# Maxima Chameleon and then go back up again to 15# Red Amnesia? I’m used to leader formulas always tapering from higher to lower. Is this a typo?

Daryll Kuhn

The “simple” mono rig seems to have many segments when it should probably be only 2-4 segments at most (including a sighter). Is it really necessary to have a 2′, 6″,8″, 10″, and 20″ segments? Why not a more simplified rig?

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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