Ditch the Tapered Leaders for Faster Action Nymphing

Fly fishermen could (and should) agree that most of what we know comes by learning from others, either through books, first-hand experiences or by simply asking questions from total strangers. I am no exception in my hunger to learn, and I make it a point to listen from others whenever possible to enrich my own experience. A couple of years ago, I was fishing with a long-time fishing buddy, guide and font of fly fishing knowledge greater than myself. We were drifting the Henry’s Fork during spring and deep-running rubber-legs and red worms with the explosion of the salmon fly hatch just around the corner. After several long drifts without a bite, my buddy glanced at my rig and wondered out loud why I was fishing a tapered leader when we were clearly targeting fish suspending five to ten feet deep? Not knowing any other way, I suddenly felt like that kid in elementary school sitting in the corner with the dunce cap on his noggin. This seemingly regular day completely changed the way I run my nymph rigs, and it will do the same for you.

My boat mate began to belittle me (in a way only good fishing buddies can) on how I could have fished for so long and not noticed how the first four or so feet of a tapered leader does not sink. He showed me his relatively simple rig and I changed up my own and hooked two fish in three straight drifts.

To begin with, he was right. Nearly the first half of a tapered leader really doesn’t sink at all, and getting down to the hot zone quickly and efficiently is extremely important. His simple solution was to lose the tapered leader altogether. I have since slightly modified his technique, but both work extremely well in getting down quickly and cleanly. His rig consisted of simply tying straight 2X or 3X fluorocarbon (like Orvis Mirage) directly to the butt section from the fly line. He runs roughly four to five feet to a blood knot which connects to 4X for the last three to five feet and your presentations. Remember, fluorocarbon is denser than mono and will sink just a bit faster. The strength of line chosen depends upon obvious conditions such as depth, size of your flies and the size of the potential fish you could encounter, but the main theme is simple to understand. Once I changed up my rig, I began to notice immediately that my flies were getting down to the lethal zone much quicker, and mending over became easier and more effective.

I took his method one step further and began tying my main leader directly to the fly line via a nail knot to completely remove any thick portion of leader material. I am fortunate to be able to donate a rod exclusively to nymphing on my outings, and changing this rig back and forth from tapered to non-tapered leaders can be time consuming. However, during those early and late months of the season, deeper nymphing is often times the name of the game, and I have also found that chucking streamers with this rig offers the same faster-sinking results.

I have just a few words to elaborate on two ways one can attach the indicator on these types of rigs. As you will find out, a standard bubble indicator will usually slide on leader material as thin as 2X to 4X in diameter. My buddy ties a loop knot with the butt section through the indicator, and then ties the main leader to the loop in the butt section with a standard clinch knot. As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to tie the main leader directly to the fly line itself. In this case, I merely attach my indicator and tie a square knot around the indicator to keep it from slipping. You can regulate the depth of the bugs by adding or subtracting lengths of leader with blood knots.

If I look back upon the many Ah-Hah moments of my fly fishing career, I would be hard-pressed to name one that has brought me more success than simply substituting a straight, fluorocarbon main leader for a tapered leader when throwing nymphs. Try this method and you will have that light bulb moment like I did!

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