Shop Orvis Today!

11. How to set up an indicator rig. (11 of 21)

How to attach your flies, tippet, and indicator for successful nymph fishing from start to finish.

Video Transcript:

- [Tom] Most people fish two nymphs at a time where it is legal to use two flies. I'm going to rig up an indicator rig the way I normally do it with an indicator from start to finish. So I had a 12-foot leader on here, a 4X leader, and I put in a knot, and I tied on a piece of 5X fluorocarbon. Most people like fluorocarbon for nymphs.
It sinks a little bit better, a little more abrasion resistant when it goes along the bottom. And I like a long tippet, longer than most people because this 5X cuts through the water better than a heavier diameter tippet so I go with a very... as light a tippet as I think I can get away with given the amount of snags and the size of the fish and everything.
So I got a 5X on here. First thing I do is tie on my two flies, okay? So I'm going to put a big nymph on top. I use a rubber legs, commonly known to guides as a turd because it's brown and kind of plain, but it's a good subsurface fly. So I'll put that on first.
You have to be careful to get those rubber legs out of the way when you tie it on. All right, test my knot. So I have my first fly tied on there, and then I'll put a second fly on. And I'll go for my fluorocarbon here, and I'll use 5X there too, eight inches or so just to start.
So I've got another piece of 5X, and I'm just going to tie that around the bend of the rubber legs. So I've got, yeah, about eight inches there, and then I'll put on a smaller nymph. We'll see whether the fish are going to prefer a bigger nymph or a smaller nymph. And, you know, it's 50/50 which one they take. They'll take the upper one just as readily as I'll take the lower one, depending on what they like.
So I'll get kind of a Hendrixiny-looking jig fly, and I'll tie that to the lower piece. Jig hooks are great because it's a lot harder to snag them on the bottom because the ride hook point up. All right, so now I got my nymphs on there. Hopefully, I can get away with not having to put split shot on my leader.
If I were to put split shot on my leader, I would put it about double the distance between those two flies. So I'd probably put the split shot about right here. Here's the first fly, there's the second fly in the middle, and then I put my shot here. I'm going to try to get away without shot. So the next thing I'm going to do is going to look at the water and try to figure out how deep it is.
And it looks like it's about three feet deep. So I'm going to do one and a half to two times the water depth with my indicator because your rig is always going at an angle. So I'm going to come up, you know, somewhere around six feet, and then I'm going to put an indicator on the leader. And I try to get as small an indicator as I get away with, and I also where fish are spooky, like a white indicator because it looks like bubbles on the water, less tend to shy away from pink and orange indicators in certain streams.
So this one's an airlock indicator and you just unscrew the top of it. You put your leader through the slot and you tighten this down. You'll probably lose about a dozen of these tops over the course of season. Luckily, when you buy them, they give you extra tops. So now I'm ready.
Typically, when tying two flies in line, the larger, heavier nymph is tied to the tippet, and then the smaller nymph is tied to the bend of the larger fly with a piece of tippet that is about the same size as the tippet or one size finer. The upper fly tied down to your tippet is usually the biggest and heaviest you think you can get away with and is often considered merely an anchor to get the smaller fly down.
You can make the dropper length anywhere from 4 inches to 20 inches, and there's really no rule of thumb on exactly how long to make it. I have an experiment with different dropper links. I find that if I make my dropper too short, fish often take the upper fly and spit it out and then get foul-hooked on the lower fly. So if I foul-hook a fish, I'll tie in a longer dropper.
Blake put a longer dropper on here. We thought we weren't quite getting deep enough and, wham, fish just started taking the bugs. Pretty heavy tippet on here in the waters.
The water's not super clean, so we can get away with 4X leader. So, we can put some pressure on these fish and get them in pretty quickly, especially since they're going to get all full of weeds.
- [Man] Yeah, a little grass heads to it for sure.
- A little grass on there. You know, what I find is when the grass goes down and gets over their eyes, they stop fighting.
- Yeah, I have noticed that.
- In spring creeks and stuff. Hey, wow. That healthy fish. On the other hand, if the water is fast and deep and I need to get that smaller, lower fly as close to the bottom as possible, I'll use a shorter six to eight-inch dropper.
- Holy, that thing just stopped.
- Well, you know, I thought that indicator was a little deep because I kept hanging up so I just shallowed it up for this little spot in here. Wow, that's a nice rainbow.
- Whoo. Woo.
- Which fly did he eat?
- Caddis again, I think.
- The Caddis, the purple Caddis. Another way that is less likely to tangle is to tie the second fly to the eye of the first so you have two nuts in one eye. This typically lessens the chances of foul hook fish and is also the best solution if your upper fly is barbless. You can also add a dropper above your heavier fly by leaving one tag end of your surgeon's knot or blood knot long, then using that as a dropper.
Or you can tie a tippet ring to the end of your leader and then tie two pieces of tippet to the ring. Usually, when fishing two flies on separate pieces of material, the bigger fly is tied to the end of the tippet and the smaller fly to the dropper. But you should experiment.
There are no firm rules in this game. The best and cleanest way to fish below an indicator is to use one or two flies with enough weight to get the flyer flies down quickly below the indicator without adding weight to the leader. The faster and deeper the water, the heavier the nymphs you'll have to use. For instance, in a small stream that is maybe three feet deep at the most, the size 14 bead head nymph with perhaps a size 16 unweighted nymph tied as a dropper may be enough weight.
However, in a fast, deep river, you might need a big weighted stonefly nymph in size 8 with a heavier size 12 bead head on the dropper in order to sink down through that fast current. Of course, you have to balance the size of nymphs you use, not only to the water type, but also on what you think may appeal to the fish. So if you are in a fast, deep river, but everyone says the fish are taking little size 18 mayfly nymphs or midge larvae, you'll need to add weight to your leader.
You won't find nymphs in that size heavy enough to sink down in fast water. That's where you either need to get that tiny fly down deep behind a heavily-weighted fly or else use split shot or other weights on your leader.