Learn to Love Rigging

by | Mar 10, 2019 | 27 comments

I know. You’re standing in the middle of a feeding frenzy. You see trout slashing under the water. They’re darting across the river bottom to intercept nymphs two feet away. And you’re watching golden brown streaks race through rays of sunlight as you stand there dumbfounded.

Just as many trout are gulping at the surface, and some of them are no further away than your rod tip. You fished from bottom to top in the last two hours, and you changed flies a few times. Maybe you felt rushed by the eagerness of the trout, so you took some shortcuts just to get your line back in the water. With that many feeding fish, you figured, the presentation doesn’t have to be perfect. But the trout are winning . . . again. Alone in a gorgeous canyon valley, surrounded by newly budding leaves and breathing a spring breeze twisting across the water’s surface, you aren’t enjoying any of this. Because the trout just aren’t coming to hand.

Yeah, wild browns are picky. But do you know what the problem is? Really. Mind if I take a guess?

You aren’t taking time to adapt.

It’s really that simple. You have the skills and the knowledge. And God knows you have enough fly boxes and all the necessary gear to catch the trout in front of you. So what don’t you have? Time. Patience. Or more accurately, you aren’t patient enough to take the time and make the adjustments that the trout are calling for.

When you fished nymphs earlier, you knew you weren’t near enough to the bottom, but you didn’t adjust right away. Later, you added some weight, but did you lengthen the tippet? And at the bend fifty yards back, you knew the current swirled too swiftly for your pair of nymphs to reach the bottom before being swept toward the lip and into the next level. But you fished it anyway, without changing, because it was just a small area and you planned to throw only a few casts.

And when you finally arrived at the flat water you’re standing in now, you saw enough trout rising so you were eager to switch to dry flies. Good. But you cut the corner by leaving your nymphing leader attached, thinking you’d save time by just tying a dry to the end of your tippet.

Sometimes these kinds of shortcuts work, but not usually. And you know it.

Photo by Josh Darling

I believe the number one thing that holds anglers back from taking the next step, from catching a lot more trout, is an aversion to tying a few knots in some leader material.

There are very few situations where one leader setup does the trick all day long. And a (good) do-it-all style of leader doesn’t really exist. Taking the middle of the road approach leaves you average at both ends.

My best advice — truly, my most earnest message — is to enjoy tying your knots. Learn to love the process of standing in the river and creating loops and twists in monofilament, tethering lines and connecting flies in preparation for their downstream course.

I do everything possible to be efficient on the water. The way I carry full leaders with pre-rigged sections ready to swap out saves me a lot of time. And maybe that’s how I eventually made peace with the time it does take to change. I guess because I’m not wasting any unnecessary time, then I’m okay with spending the right amount of time required to adjust.

READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency

READ: Troutbitten | All the Things

I fought it for years. I think everyone does. All of us just want to fish. And everything else gets in the way. The time I spend back at the truck stringing up rods and getting underneath my wader straps used to bother me — I saw it as time wasted. Likewise, I saw the downtime while re-rigging my leader for dry flies or streamers as similar time wasted. But it isn’t.

Use the moments while tying knots for breathing a little deeper — for reflecting a little on where you are. Because trout take us into some amazing places. Look up at the swaying hemlock boughs as you make those five turns in a blood knot. See things and enjoy them. That kind of time is not wasted.

Now, let go of the nippers and let the cork of the rod grip slide back into your hand. Your leader is perfectly designed for the number sixteen X-Caddis attached to the end. It will fall to the water with slack behind it. Aim upstream of the trout that’s been gulping at the surface as you tied those knots. You know his position well now. So hit the mark. Drop the fly in front and just to the side of him, close enough to give him a good look.


Now get ready to set the hook . . .



Take them fishing

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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  1. Ah, so true.
    Surely one of the hardest lessons to stay true to in fly fishing! Well it truly is for me!

  2. Holy cow… you were inside my head and you don’t even know me. I can be persistent but I have no patience. Maybe I can learn if it means catching more fish. Maybe there is hope for me…you think???

      • You are so right. beat me with a fly rod and maybe (doubt it) it will sink in. going fishing in an hour.

  3. I have learned that the patience for rigging, changing/adding tippet, checking hook points, etc. is much easier when I make a point to slow down and relax, to observe, and think, and to leave the every day sense of urgency back at the workplace/home. Even during the small window of a good hatch, rushing usually becomes counter-productive. Preparation and organization make for efficiency even when I slow down.

    • I need to learn from you Rick

      • The mindset described above took decades of fishing experience to arrive at and fully understand. I found that the key to slowing down and relaxing and to decrease the sense of urgency was to spend A LOT of TIME on the water AND to concentrate on very specific stream or river sections in order to use familiarity to my advantage; to learn the idiosyncrasies of the trout, their locations, their habits, and their rhythms – maybe even their names. When you fish relaxed and slow you will also blend into their environment better and become less threatening (think of a blue heron). Habituating is the ultimate form of stealth.

        • Mentally, an approach that works for me is to view the rigging time as proactively resting the water. Typically, I’ve already used my less-than-ideal rig unsuccessfully, so now I’m intentionally resting the fish as I dial-in the more appropriate rig. This way, My brain now considers the rigging time as a productive way to catch more fish.

  4. Hey Dom, yep I’m mostly guilty of that stuff so it would be cool to see more detail on how you carry full leaders with pre-rigged sections ready to swap out, TIA.

  5. I love your efficiency articles. Have tended to be one of those stick with it until forced to change. Have fished where rock eating jigs made me change. Adding 2nd streamer or nymph with barrel knot dropper vs triple surgeon to create dropper makes so much sense. Wish I could carry a portable chair to sit down and think.
    Been inside too long this winter.

    • I once saw an angler sitting in a chair tying knots in a foot deep riffle. No joke. It looked like a Hank Patterson video.

  6. I am 100% guilty of this. So from now on;”Love tying knots, love tying knots, love tying knots…”

      • Love your stuff. But I am 85 and my fingers don’t work well so I know I should tie but i don’t.

  7. The name of this game is flexibility.
    Joe Humphreys

  8. On advice from George Daniels, I’ve been using a 9′ 0X leader as an all around leader for a few years. It’s worked pretty well, with adjusting the tippet to fish dries. For example, last summer I landed a nice wild brown on a trico doing this, and have found this leader pretty useful as an all around (though I also carry a spare spool with an attached 9′ 4X dry fly leader in my vest and prefer that for most of my dry fly fishing). To fish streamers I remove the sighter from the 0X leader and add 0X to 2X tippet This year I’ve been using a mono rig some, but I seem to recall that Loren Williams used a mono rig even for dry flies. While I’m sure Domenick is correct about the need to make adjustments, it will be hard for me to give up the 9′ leader for at least some of my fishing when I need to switch from nymph to dry to streamer. I do note that George is now advocating a 9′ 2X as an all around in his new book, and may give that a try as well.

    • Hi Lous,

      so, I’d argue that you ARE making the adjustments. I’m not suggesting that you have to swap out full leaders (although sometimes you do). Sounds like you are using the 9′ leader as your base and making adjustments. Good stuff.


      • Sounds good. I sometimes fear I’m a bit too lazy when I see what some others do. But I do realize we all have to find what works for us in our own way ultimately. Still, I want to be open to learning. I’m liking the mono rig, and your tips on rigging have paid off for me already this season with a couple of fish I might not have caught without your advice. One was a 17″ wild brown today. Thanks!!

  9. Domenick, you provide fantastic advice. I follow and recommend your site to everyone who will listen. I recently echoed your “walking/wading” and “pre-rigged leaders” articles. Started with a longish walk (hike) into some previously scouted water with a backpack with my boots and waders, etc. Then fished a series of pre-rigged leaders. Started with my “long nymphing” leader, later switched to the “mono rig” leader with streamers, and finally to my “dry fly” leader. Caught several dozen cutthroat, rainbows and two bull trout – which is a really good day for me. My largest fish were a 21.5″ cutty, and 35″bull trout, all on a 4 wt Euro rod. I use “foam sandwiches” to store my pre-built leaders: 6″ round sections of 1/8″ craft foam sandwiched into layers, glued together leaving 1/2″ bands of not-glued foam along the edges. Then wrap the leaders within the not-glued gaps. Very similar to your recommended Loon Rigging foams. BTW, I have used your mono rig and had great days fishing nymphs and dry flies. Thanks for all your advice. I plan to keep fishing hard (in B.C., Canada).


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