How to Set Up Basic Fly Fishing Rigs

As better weather sweeps across the country, anglers are rushing to the water to partake in spring fishing. To prepare you for any situation out on the water, here are the essentials for setting up the most basic rigs for nymphs, streamers, dries and dry-droppers.


Currently, there are two predominant methods of nymphing — with an indicator and euro style (that’s a subject for another time). Regardless of whichever technique you choose, nymphing is all about depth. If you find yourself nymphing, that most likely means that there aren’t bugs hatching on the surface and the fish are deeper in the water column. To catch these fish, you must present the fly in the right section of the water column and nymphing is an effective way to do this.

Indicator rigs

One of the most common mistakes people commit when nymphing is having rigs that are too short . More often than not, the flies trail behind the indicator being dragged at an angle. As a result, the optimal indicator rig will include a rig of 6-8 feet (depending on the depth of your body of water) because you actually want your flies to drift at the appropriate depth.

A typical set up for the rig would include a 9 foot leader (preferably 3X-5X fluorocarbon) with about 12 inches cut off the end. Retying this 12 inch section to the leader creates the perfect spot for split shot above the knot. At the end of that section of tippet you can attach your larger lead fly and then, however many dropper flies your heart desires with a tippet about 1X lighter than your leader size.

Attaching a Dropper

There are typically two ways to approach tying a dropper to the bend or the eye of the lead fly. With both methods, use an improved clinch knot to tie your tippet to your preferred anchor point.

  1. To the eye: some say it offers the fly better action, but it has a tendency to produce line tangles.
  2. To the bend: has “less action” but keeps all elements of your rig orderly and is the common method.
The key to nymphing can be a mere shift in inches, so, take time to dial in your setup.


Streamers are some anglers’ favorite ways to fish and who blames them, watching fish attack big flies is awesome. However, there are a few basic rigging rules that you should follow to ensure you’re fishing the technique effectively.

A lot of people ask if it is necessary to use a sink tip, full sink or intermediate line. While there are many situations that warrant these special lines, to start out, you won’t need anything more than your regular floating line and a modified leader. The two most important pieces of a streamer rig are the size/length of the leader and the knot. When streamer fishing, since you are throwing a fly with more weight, both a stronger and shorter leader (0X-2X, ~7.5ft) are important to ensure that you don’t break off your fly and have more control over the fly while casting.

If you find yourself in a situation where you will need some additional weight to help keep your fly down, add some weight to the leader anywhere from 6 to 8 inches above the fly. This distance makes sure that the weight does not sit so close that it will disrupt the fly’s action, but it’s not too far away so that it sits lower than your fly in the water column.

An additional tip that is perfect for the beginner angler who doesn’t have access to a sinking line is the sinking leader. Sinking leaders, like the Scientific Anglers SONAR leader, are excellent tools — you can turn any floating line into a sink tip and put your fly right where the fish are without hurting your wallet.

The other suggestion, is the type of knot you use. While the clinch knot will work, I’ve seen streamers fly off from the knot slipping or snapping. The non-slip loop knot is an excellent alternative that’s stronger but also allows for more action (especially with non-articulating streamers). The loop knot also gives a streamer with weight on its head some wiggle room that will allow it to sink better as it will adopt a nose down position after each strip.

Dry Flies:

Coveted for its adrenaline inducing rises — both elegant and aggressive — dry fly fishing is a staple for every angler. While there are many purists out there that emphasize you must have every aspect of your set up dialed to a hair, these are the basics that will help you get by just fine.

Your leader is the most important part of dry fly fishing and will allow you to properly present your fly. Typicalling, you will use monofilament leaders on the longer side (9 feet to 12 + feet) that are anywhere from 4X-7X. Leader size is highly dependent on the type of dry fly fishing. For a salmon fly hatch, a thicker leader in the 3X-4X range will be just fine. However, once you get to mountain streams, or head hunting in branches of larger waters you should venture towards 5X-7X.

Equally important for your dry fly fishing setup is, well, actually keeping your fly dry and floating. Floatant and dry shake are essential tools for dry fly fishing and applying them in the proper order is key. People often use dry shake and floatant interchangeably; this can result in terrible dry fly fishing because your fly will most likely be sinking.

Step 1: Apply floatant to your dry dry fly. Never apply floatant to an already wet fly; if you do this, you are trapping moisture in the fly with a waterproof liquid. There is no need to drench your fly in floatant, a little goes a long way.

Step 2: Once you have been slaying fish and see your fly starting to sink then use your dry shake.

Step 3: After your fly can’t take the beating it anymore, move onto a new fly and repeat the process.


One of the most effective summer and fall time rigs is the dry-dropper, which features a dry fly with a nymph (or even multiple) “dropped” off the lead dry fly. It is an extremely effective rig because it can cover multiple water columns, but many anglers don’t reap its benefits because they don’t allow enough distance between the dry and the dropper. Make sure to measure anywhere from 3-5 feet of tippet to ensure your nymph is in the strike zone.

These basic setups will get you catching fish in no time. And, once you’ve mastered these, moving onto the nuances of each technique will make you an even more effective angler.

Check back every month for a new Fly Fishing Basics Article.

Article and photos from Flylords Media Intern, Matteo Moretti. Give him a follow on Instagram at



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  1. It’s interesting to know that the wetness or the dryness of the fly can also be a factor for fly fishing. I want to be able to go on a guided fly fishing trip soon because I haven’t been out of town in a long while. Being able to unwind away form the city would be a good use of my short vacation from work.

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