The Competitive Edge – Nymphing Equipment

Additional information from the article The Competitive Edge from FlyLife Issue #93

European nymphing techniques have been refined by top competition anglers across the world over the past couple of decades. Over this time, the gear and setups used have become more specialised to make this style of nymphing extremely efficient. It is, however, always important to remember that the principals, gear, and setups used in European nymphing can be applied to all of your river fishing. When it comes down to it, we are all just trying to achieve better drifts to get more fish to eat our fly. In my experience competing at the elite level of the sport, having a simple system that you are comfortable with is the most efficient approach to your equipment. 

Leader Construction

Having a good leader setup you can use each time you go out nymphing is important. This is so that each time you fish, you fish the same thing. Imagine trying to fish with a different rod each time you went out for a fish… leaders are the same. 

I would recommend the following as a starting leader:

  • 10 feet of .20mm coloured monofilament – orange or yellow for example
  • 50 cm of .18mm clear monofilament
  • 40cm of .18mm bicolour indicator

These sections of leader material are connected by blood knots. At the end of the bicolour indicator I would recommend tying on a 2mm tippet ring with a half blood knot. From here you can connect your tippet.

Tom Jarman’s nymphing indicator leader
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Bi-colour indicator provides a highly visible sighter to judge depth and follow your drift | Photo: David Anderson

Tippet Lengths

From the tippet ring you tie your tippet sections on with a half blood knot. For the tippet section I like 1 metre to my first fly, and then 60-70cm to my point fly. To construct, I attach 170cm of tippet to the tippet ring, and then tie a 15 cm dropper 70 cm from the bottom of the tippet.


It is important to use droppers for multi-fly rigs rather than tying to the shank of the hook. This allows the fly to fish freely from the main line resulting in more takes from fish. 

The simplest and best dropper knot is a three turn surgeons knot, using the bottom tag as the dropper. Your dropper length will shorten as you change flies, so I like to start with a 15cm dropper to allow for some fly changes. 

Tippet Diameters

Using fine diameter tippet is so important. It helps get your fly down through the current, lets the fly behave more freely, and gives you better contact to the flies. 6X and 7X are perfect. It does take some getting used but you will find you get better results with it. If you can’t bring yourself to fish this light, just try to fish as light as you possibly can. Finer tippet gives you better drifts, equalling more takes. 

Pre-Tied Commercial Leaders

If you aren’t ready to dive head first into the European nymphing and wish to just give it a quick go whilst you are on the river, there are plenty of pre-made leaders you can attach to your standard fly line. There are many on the market such as Rio, Hanak, Scientific Angler, Hends and Cortland. These all come with tippet rings attached. From the tippet ring you can attach your tippet as discussed above. 

Fly Choice

Choosing what flies to tie on can be confusing, so remember to think about the type of water you are catching your fish in. Fish get a split second to decide whether to eat the fly or not. Therefore, if you get the fly in front of a fish, they should eat it. 

I would recommend starting with three core patterns:

  • A pheasant tail nymph (slim profiled fly)
  • A hare’s ear nymph (bushy/ larger profiled fly)
  • A tag nymph (attractor nymph). These are flies with a fluorescent tag tied at the butt of a fly. We all know and love a red tag as a dry fly pattern, so why aren’t more of us using a fly like this for a nymph? I use a pink tag or an orange tag nymph on my dropper frequently. 
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Three core patterns in different bead colours, and in different weights

If you have three core patterns and carry them with different bead colours, and in different weights then suddenly you have a lot of options. You could have a size 16 hotspot pheasant tail nymph, with a silver bead in a 2.5mm, 3mm and 3.5mm in diameter. Then also have the same pattern with a copper bead (which changes the look of the pattern a lot), you now have 6 different flies. Hook size wise, I use mainly 18s, 16s and 14s. I like to keep my flies small so they will sink faster. 

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Hotspot pheasant tail nymph – six different options with variations in bead size and bead colour alone

Choosing the right bead size is one of the most important decisions when nymphing – the bead is what gets the fly down to the fish. In typical Australian waters, a 3mm bead is my most commonly used weight. When the water gets faster or deeper, you will need to increase your bead size to get your fly to the bottom. Or if it gets shallower, and your nymph is bouncing on the bottom, you will need to decrease your bead size to a 2.5mm (for example).

As far as where-to-put-which, it is totally up to you. I do, however, like my heavier fly and favourite pattern on the point (bottom) to anchor my rig. Typically, I would use a hotspot pheasant tail, or hares ear style fly on the point, and then on the top I would put something on that is a bit brighter as more of an attractor, such as a pink tag nymph. 

Here is an example of how you create your own nymph selection:

HOTSPOT PHEASANT TAILSilver Bead – #18 hookSilver Bead – #16 hookSilver Bead – #16 hook
HOTSPOT PHEASANT TAILCopper Bead – #18 hookCopper Bead – #16 hookCopper Bead – #16 hook
SOFT HACKLE HARES EARGold Bead – #16 hookGold Bead – #14 hookGold Bead- #14 hook
SOFT HACKLE HARES EARNickle Bead – #16 hookNickle Bead- #14 hookNickle Bead- #14 hook
ORANGE TAG NYMPHCopper Bead – #16 hookCopper Bead – #16 hookCopper Bead – #16 hook
ORANGE TAG NYMPHPink Bead – #16 hookPink Bead- #16 hookPink Bead- #16 hook

Another style of nymph that is worth carrying is a ‘Perdigon’. This is a Spanish nymph that is characterised by its UV resin finish so it has an entirely slicked body. This allows the fly to sink faster than any other nymph. I like them in fast currents or when I want to get a tiny fly deep. There are so many patterns that you can turn into a perdigon. One of my favourites in a ‘Peacock Perdigon’ with an orange collar. This was a fly the Australian team used in Colorado at the 2016 World Championships. It was brilliant for me there and it has served me very well ever since.

Rod Selection

The reason people use 2, 3 and 4 weight rods for nymphing is it allows them to use light tippet (to get better drifts and get the flies down) and not break fish off on the strike. Long rods such as 10 foot are common as they allow the angler to fish over and across currents, and further away from themselves whilst keeping their line and leader off the water. 

A 9’6, 10’ or 10’ 6 3 weight is a great nymphing rod to start with. You could try this style of fishing with your classic 9’ 6 weight or 9’ 5 weight, however, you will find it heavy and it won’t protect your tippet, or play small fish as well as a lighter rod.

People often fear light rods believing that they can’t land big fish on a three weight, for example. This is not true. The strength of a rod lies in the butt section, so you cacan handleig fish on light tippet with this gear.

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Most major brands provide specialised nymphing equipment | Photo: David Anderson


Reels don’t play a huge role in this form of fishing, so something that you like and feels comfortable on the rod will be the best for you. 

Fly Lines

You can try European nymphing with a conventional WF or DT fly line, however, you will find it sags a lot in the air, is more difficult to cast, and when fishing close to you, the weight of it will slide back down the guides and ruin your drift. For these reasons, fly line manufacturers have developed dedicated nymphing lines to overcome these problems. Rio, Hanak, Cortland, SA and many other brands all produce nymphing lines specialised for this form of fishing, that can be used on any weight rod.