Good nymphing requires a few adjustments to the leader. And failing to make these adjustments results in mediocre fishing, at best. The basics of leader design change when delivering flies underneath, especially if the goal is a natural dead drift. So what else travels along with the flies? The tippet, of course. And the best nymphing leaders incorporate a key principle: Limit the diameters of leader material under the surface. That’s a great rule of thumb. But sometimes, two is better than one. Here’s how and why . . .
By placing only 5X tippet under the water, the mixed currents of a river push on that 5X evenly and predictably. By contrast, if part of a leader taper is fished under the water, the angler might have 0X, 1X, 2X, 3X, 4X and 5X below the surface, and all are being pushed around at different rates. 0X is almost twice as thick as 5X. And it takes on twice as much force from the currents.
We don’t need a physics lesson to understand the difference. A big kite gathers more wind. And a Mack truck doesn’t slice through the wind like a motorcycle.
Thing is, when most of us compare 2X and 5X, turning them around in our fingers and handling them, we think both are pretty thin. How much difference in drag can a thousandths of an inch make, right? A lot! And it only takes fifteen minutes of first-hand testing to see and feel the results. I encourage you to do it some time. Directly compare the sink rates of the same nymph on 3X vs 5X. The results are startling. (Excellent fishing comes from many small refinements.)
So, the various forces of drag taken on by multiple diameters under the water is a contact killer — and contact is where strike detection begins. Multiple tippet diameters in the current are pushed at unequal rates, destroying any decent drift and resulting in loss of contact. Sure, you can make it work — adding extra weight helps force a tight line from sighter or indy to the fly. But that creates its own set of problems.
The easy solution is to limit the diameters of tippet under the water. Best case? Use just one tippet size.
Look around, and you’ll see this principle used in many good nymphing rigs. I first encountered this concept a couple of decades ago, with a right-angle nymphing rig. Now I take that same idea to the Mono Rig, with a tight-line-to-the-indicator approach and a slidable indy. I always mount the suspender on the upper part of the tippet section (below the sighter). So the tippet slices evenly through the water, keeping contact with my flies.
From the beginning of my writings about tight line and euro nymphing on a Mono Rig, I’ve stressed this important concept: Limit the diameters under the water. And for many years the Mono Rig formula I listed here showed just one diameter of either 4X or 5x beyond the tippet. But I did that for simplicity of explanation. Truth is, I’ve fished two diameters under the water from the beginning. Here’s how and why . . .
To What Advantage?
Fact number one: nymphing anglers snag the bottom and bust off flies.
Fact number two: nobody likes it.
In our efforts to ride the nymph through a narrow strike zone near the riverbed, hooking up with rocks and waterlogged tree parts is inevitable.
Personally, I do whatever I can to get the nymph back and recover the line. I choose to fish fluorocarbon, and the fact that it never biodegrades (essentially) is an ethical conundrum. But the half-life of nylon tippet is thousands of years too, so I choose fluoro for its strength and abrasion resistance — because I leave a lot less tippet in and near the river. And one of the ways I recover most of my tippet during a break-off is by fishing two diameters — two different strengths — of tippet.
Not only do I leave far less fluorocarbon on the river by rigging with two diameters of tippet, I also save a lot of time and material cost. But what’s the negative effect on my dead drift? Very minimal . . .
In What Way?
Below my sighter (or indicator), I run 4X to my first fly and 5X to my point fly.
Looking at it in reverse, it’s like this:
— Point fly
— 20” 5X
— Tag fly
— 36” 4X
Most hang-ups happen at the point fly. Riding lower, it finds more things to snag into. And if I cannot wade over to recover the fly — if I must break off — most times I lose only the point fly. Sometimes, I lose the whole twenty inches of 5X. But I almost never lose the piece of 4X.
This makes break-offs much more tolerable (environmentally and for my own sanity).
By contrast, if everything below the sighter or the indy is 5X, then the rig may break anywhere. And it often fails at the top — right by the sighter — leaving yards of material behind.
By using two diameters (two strengths), we’re in control of where the line breaks — and if you spend any time nymphing, you will most certainly break off and re-rig a few times.
The downside of all this is what I detailed in the beginning — multiple diameters take on the force of currents at unequal rates. In the extreme case, with 0X through 5X under the water, a decent drift is virtually destroyed. But by making this small concession, by running 4X for all but the last twenty inches of 5X, the effect on the drift is marginal.
I’ve done this for so many years that I can promise you, with confidence, that this two diameter solution is a good one. I either run 3X to 4X, 4X to 5X, or 5X to 6X. Never more than two diameters under the water, with the longest stretch being the stronger of the two.
However, angler confidence is a fragile thing. And I have friends who cannot bring themselves to nymph with two diameters under the water. In that case, the easy solution is staring you right in the face . . .
My buddy, Smith, is a linebacker-sized human with super-strength like Bruce Banner. I know other dudes who are just as large, but none are nearly as strong. Same thing with tippet. The diameter of 5X comes in many different strengths. So use this to your advantage.
These days, every major fly fishing company offer a quality fluorocarbon tippet. And yet, the breaking strengths vary widely.
Often, I run all 5X below my sighter, but from two different brands. The first three feet is stronger and the last twenty inches is weaker. The result is the same as discussed above — you control where the break-off happens (usually).
And there’s your two-strength solution.
Just one more tip here: Don’t rely on the stated breaking strengths printed on tippet spools, because they are famously inaccurate. Instead, test for yourself. Tie a piece of each tippet to the eye of a fly and pull evenly on both ends. Repeat the process a dozen times, and you’ll have a clear winner in strength. Put the strong one up top as your main tippet, and the weaker one leading twenty more inches to your point fly.
It’s Your System
There are, of course, a bunch of variations for rigging nymphs. And I simplified things above by referring to lengths and diameters that I most often use.
Take these concepts and work them into your own system. Decide where you want the line to break when the inevitable happens. And I think you’ll enjoy yourself out there even more.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N