The important role of a fly fishing leader for nymph fishing

Nymphing rules to live by:
– On bottom
– Detect strike
– Right speed
– Best fly

euro leader with sighter

To catch trout successfully using a nymph you must adhere to the above rules. Much of this is solved by using the correct leader combined with the appropriate tactic. My first lesson came from reading Joe Humprey’s “Trout Tactics” where he explains that a “flat leader” is the ultimate leader for nymph fishing.

Does this mean using a four pound test length of leader is all we need for nymphing? Yes, actually that is correct. In fact this or some variation is what I use for high-sticking, and Czech nymphing. This approach works fine when you have enough weight to reach your casting distance and get down to the strike zone effectively. Getting down is often solved by adding weight to the leader in the form of split shot or using a heavier fly. Where this fails is when heavier weight cannot be utilized. Maybe you are following FIPs Mouche competitive rules, or cannot add an a heavier weighted fly, or believe split shot is not an effective nymphing tactic. Maybe the flat leader is not turned-over easily.

So what do you do when for example casting a 1.5mm, #16 beaded head nymph to a distance of 25 feet to a 3 feet deep strike zone in fast water without adding any additional weight? Most often you will need to introduce a tapered leader. A tapered leader provides the way for transferring the energy from the fly line through the leader and to the fly. It is done by using a larger diameter leader butt section and stepping down to thinner diameters as it nears the fly. It also, helps drive the fly into the water with greater velocity. The trade-off is the larger diameter butt and mid-sections of leader do not sink as fast due to water friction.

If we use the example #16 nymph from above and use a tapered leader, we now have a way to get the fly out to the target but have yet to solve the sinking of the fly quickly. Many times you can simply cast further beyond the target to allow the fly enough time to sink to depth required to reach the strike zone. For the above example that means casting to a distance of approximately 35 – 40 feet. Therefore allowing ample time for the fly to sink so by the time it reaches the 25 feet distance it is down into the strike zone.

Also when building nymph leaders you can dial in the length of leader sections and length of tippet so when using you remain with only the single “flat” length of tippet that is beneath the water. The larger diameter sections are on or above the water therefore eliminating the issue related to poor sinking of larger diameter leader material. For example, if you are able to stand over the fishing zone and high stick with a 4 feet length of flat leader then you could add a 4 – 6 foot length of tippet to the end of a tapered leader and stand at a further distance to accomplish nearly the same thing. Realize that this gets tricky. You cannot just add a length of tippet to a tapered leader. You have to dial it in to get the leader to turn over properly. This is done by adjusting the lengths of tapered sections with length of tippet. This goes beyond the scope of nymph fishing. This is the knowledge of leader design, casting, and general fishing skills. Just as other aspects of nymphing, this goes way beyond simply knowing how to tie on a leader and add some weight.

The best euro leader in the world won’t buy you successful nymph fishing

You will be disappointed if you are looking for a magic bullet leader to solve the complexities associated with nymph fishing. There is much more that goes into successful nymph fishing but the correct leader for the situation at hand is a critical component. Learning, practicing, and experimenting are most important to this game so keep on keeping on.

Leader formulas:
Note: The formulas below are starting points and require adjustments for each situation specifically.

2’ to 20’ of .011” to .006” fluorocarbon material
Used when nymphing with heavily weighted nymphs or split shot

Tapered Nymph
7 ½’ to 9’ 3X knotless tapered leader next a 10″ sighter, and 3’ to 6’ tippet (usually 4x or 5x)
This rig utilizes a knotless tapered leader straight from the package combined with additional tippet material.

Aggressive EURO Tapered Nymph
18′ to 30′ of 20 lb., 12″ 15 lb., 10″ 12 lb, 8″ 8 lb sighter material (gold stren or similar), 6″ 6 lb. sighter material (gold stren or similar), 3′ to 6′ tippet (usually 4x or 5x) attached using surgeon’s knot or tippet ring


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