A Guide to Building the Best Fly Fishing Rigs

By Mark Sassi

Over recent years, education and technology have elevated productivity in the fly fishing arena. Anglers have more options now related to fly fishing rigs, upping the chances of hooking more fish. You can still keep your setup simple by fishing with just 1 fly, but to have the most rewarding day possible on the river, multiple fly rigs are a game changer, but these rewards lie in how we rig them up.

I’m referring to rigging related to where you are fishing, what you are targeting, and what is available to the fish for food sources, given the time of year and your experience level.

When it comes to the x-factor of leader and tippet, weight, fluoro vs. mono, and indicator placement, it can get complicated. This information will give you a snapshot of a few tricks that will help you move forward.

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The Best Tools for the Job

If you have a single rod in your quiver, you can make it work for most fly fishing, from dry flies to nymph and streamer setups but advances in materials and technology offer anglers better tools for each application.

You can ski powder with a narrow racing ski, and you can ski gates with a twin-tip powder ski, but it only kind of works ok. It’s the same with fly rods. If you want to fish smaller dry flies, my recommendation is the Scott G series. If casting a streamer or a nymph rig is more your preference, then Scott offers the Centric series that will cover all your bases here. When it comes to euro nymphing, I mentioned in a previous blog that you could get away with modifying your current nymphing rod, but Temple Fork and Redington both offer better rods for this. The TFO rod is the Stealth, and the Redington is the Strike II, and both are very price friendly with great warranties.

Reels tend to cover most bases also, meaning that 1 reel can be versatile. Granted, if you fish stillwater also, you may have another spool with a different fly line on it. Just make sure that the reels being used are large arbor for quicker retrieval and less line memory.

About drag systems, targeting smaller fish doesn’t need a heavy-duty drag system, but larger species do. Other than fish size, personal preference dictates whether you want a fully adjustable drag or a simple click-and-pawl drag that requires more hands-on drag control from the angler. I prefer the latter for most fishing situations currently. It engages my senses more. The Ross Colorado is a great click reel, and the Ross Animas and Evolution LTX are great general all-purpose reels with adjustable drags.

General-purpose fly lines will get the job done most of the time. Be sure to check out our blog on fly lines coming out soon.

From the end of the fly line forward is really what “rigging” is all about, and it’s very easy to make it complicated. The goal here is to keep each rig basic, so if you have lots of experience fly fishing, please disregard the simplicity as it’s geared towards beginners.

Dry Files

For your dry fly rig, use a 9 foot 5x leader connecting your fly with an improved clinch knot or similar. If you choose to fish with 2 or more flies, add roughly 15 inches of tippet, graduating down in X diameter from the diameter of the tippet your point or first fly is tied on with. In this case you would use 5.5x or 6x. Tie off your second fly using the same knot.

One thing to be mindful of is bug size also. With all fly fishing rigs, just like graduating down in tippet X diameter, graduate down with your fly size also. Your largest fly will be your point/first fly.

Dry/ Dropper or Hopper/Dropper

Use a 9 foot 5x leader connecting your point fly with an improved clinch knot or similar, then add roughly 15 inches of tippet, graduating down in X diameter from the diameter of the tippet your point or first fly is tied on with. Tie off your second fly using the same knot.


Use a 9 foot 5x leader connecting your point fly, your larger and /or heavier nymph with an improved clinch knot or similar, then add roughly 15 inches of tippet, graduating down in X diameter from the diameter of the tippet your point or first fly is tied on with. Tie off your second fly using the same knot.

Up to this point, the systems/rigs are similar, but with this fly fishing rig, you will want to incorporate some variation of an indicator and some extra weight.

About indicators, many options are available. The foam seems to be the most popular and offers the largest variety of sizes and colors. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to see the indicator and make sure that it is buoyant enough to support what is suspended below it. In some situations, like spooky, pressured fish or low, clear, and slow water, the less obtrusive the indicator, the better. Early season with faster and stained water, and while fishing to fish that are not indicator shy yet, anglers can get away with more prominent indicators.

Placement of the indicator is current speed and water depth dependent, but a good rule of thumb is to gauge what you think the water depth is, then add another 12-18 inches to that depth. If the water is 3 feet deep on average, place your indicator about 4 to 4.5 feet away from your point/first fly. In theory, you want that point/first fly to bounce around in the rocks.

Once your indicator is in place, make a few casts and watch it. If it never moves or slows down, then your indicator is set too low on your leader. If your indicator grabs many times during the drift, then it is set too high on the leader, so adjust it accordingly. Indicator placement is a constantly changing equation you must be ahead of.

Adding a split shot is the one piece of this system/rig that overrides everything else since more weight not only gets your flies into the feeding zone faster, but it also affects the speed of your drift, and most novice anglers have a harder time grasping this concept.

To simplify, you may have the right flies tied on and cast to the right spot, but the flies might not be getting down to the right depth. Watch the speed of your indicator. If it is moving as fast as the river, add weight. You want that indicator to be moving slower than the river. Don’t overthink this, just add a piece of weight and watch, and weight is added about 15 inches above the point/first fly.

Euro Nymph/Modern Nymph

The leader configuration for euro nymphing is very confusing, but recently, manufacturers have introduced their own pre-made leaders to take some of the guesswork out.

Indicators are not used with a Euro leader. Instead, the tippet material is multi-colored for visual awareness of strike detection.

In future posts, we will address advanced weighing alternatives and the mysteries behind fluorocarbon. We will also look into other ways to incorporate indicators into your fly fishing rigs, and we will peel back the next layer of the weight and silhouette importance with Euro flies.  If you need any more information or would like to take a guided trip with me – just reach out. And make sure to check out our online fly fishing store!

It’s time to nail down your 2024 fly fishing trip with Minturn Anglers.

About the Author

Tyler Banker

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