Note: This article was also published at Gink and Gasoline back on May 28th. Thanks to them for supporting me sharing it here as well.
I often get asked what I do when I come to water or situations that call for a presentation other than what a straight Euro-nymphing rig executes well. I tend to be a splitter rather than a lumper so I often bring several rods or an extra reel if I want to change rigs. However, there is one way to cover a lot of bases by designing a modular Euro-nymphing leader. With a couple simple changes, this leader can fish one nymph, two or three nymphs, dry dropper, dry double dropper, and streamers.
A basic Euro-nymphing leader formula is one I’ve shared in the first film Gilbert Rowley, Lance Egan and I produced titled Modern Nymphing: European Inspired Techniques. The one change to the leader that will let you fish additional rigs is a simple 12” section of 3x tippet between the sighter and the tippet ring. From there you can change tippet configurations to create multiple rigs. In our second film, Modern Nymphing Elevated: Beyond the Basics, I talk about the modular nymphing leader and we show segments on how to fish the different rigs with it. Let me walk you through each way to rig.
Starting with the basic nymphing leader, I can fish one fly through shallow or complex water where maximum accuracy or a lighter rig is needed. If I need to go to a two-fly rig for deeper water, it is as simple as adding a nymph to the dropper tag.
In Modern Nymphing Elevated, we also talk about fishing streamers on a Euro-Nymphing leader, which is a deadly way to work streamers accurately and thoroughly through trout lies. To switch to streamers, I simply cut the nymph tippet off at the tippet ring and store it on a Loon Rigging Foam. Then I rebuild the same rig but with 3x tippet for larger flies and hopefully fish. It is easy to swap back and forth between nymphs and streamers using this system.
A bull trout I caught on a “Euro-streamer” rig during the filming of Confluentus now showing in the IF4.
Other times I come upon water that is too slow and flat for me to fish effectively with a Euro-nymphing rig, even by floating the sighter upstream. Or maybe I’m seeing the occasional rise or I want to imitate egg laying caddis by bouncing a caddis dry fly. In these situations, it is easy to turn the modular leader into a dry-dropper rig. Simply remove the nymph from the dropper tag if you are fishing one and replace it with a dry fly that has enough buoyancy to suspend the nymph you are fishing. My Front-End Loader Caddis is a personal favorite for this application but I have also caught a lot of fish on shuttlecock emergers and small parachute patterns during baetis hatches this spring when fishing this rig. Stonefly and hopper dries are great options for summer situations as well.
When fishing this rig, be sure to grease the Amnesia and Cortland Indicator Mono with a paste floatant like Payette Paste. While in many situations you may be able to hold the leader off of the water to within inches of the dry fly, in others you will make long enough casts to require you to float the sighter. When it’s greased, you can mend it easily or lift it off the water cleanly as the rig gets closer to you.
Casting a dry dropper on the modular leader will take some practice at first. Try fishing it with a nymph featuring a 2.8 mm tungsten bead or larger to begin with to help turn it over. As you become more comfortable you can fish lighter nymphs in situations that call for it and still get your leader to turn over. Also ensure your cast follows the oval shape we’ve demonstrated in both Modern Nymphing films and use more wrist and less shoulder and torso movement in your cast. Short, quick, wrist dominated casting strokes with appropriate pauses for turnover are the best way to cast this rig.
My Fly Fishing Team USA mate Glade Gunther hooked up on a brown trout in a pool we fished with a dry dropper rig the day before writing this article. By swapping between dry dropper and Euro-nymphing rigs and presentations we consistently caught fish throughout the day.
The last way I fish a modular leader is with a dry double dropper rig. When I fish deep flatter water, this is often the rig I turn to. The reason for adding the 12” section of 3x before the tippet ring on the modular leader is to be able to fish this rig. If you connect a dropper tag to a tippet ring that is attached to the sighter, it is pretty hard to convince fish to eat that dry fly when it is adjacent to fluorescent dyed monofilament. However, by inserting the 3x tippet spacer, the dry fly can be placed far enough away from the sighter that fish will still eat it, especially when the sighter is held off the water. This rig is tangle prone if you aren’t used to casting it so get used to casting a dry and single dropper on this leader first before switching to a double dropper.
To create a dry double dropper rig with the modular leader, simply add a 6” dropper tag to the tippet ring and tie on a dry fly. When you want to go back to a straight nymphing rig, it is easy to cut the dropper tag off and place the dry fly with tag on a drying patch. Then if you encounter water where you want it again, simply tie it back on.
There is a myriad of different water that holds fish on most trout streams. Being able to cover the majority of it well with one rig can certainly be a big benefit. A modular Euro-nymphing leader is a great way to go to accomplish this task. If you want to learn more, check out our films Modern Nymphing: European Inspired Techniques and Modern Nymphing Elevated: Beyond the Basics as digital downloads or streaming on vimeo or on DVD at this link. DVDs for Modern Nymphing Elevated will be available by the end of May.
Thanks to David Dwyer for the flies featured in the leader diagrams.