How Do I Nymph With an Indicator, Split Shot, and Multiple Flies?

There’s no doubt indicator nymphing is one of the most productive ways to catch trout. Unfortunately, there’s also no doubt it’s one of the least fun.

Casting a leader that’s rigged with a bulbous indicator, several split shot, and a couple flies can be just plain arduous. If you’ve fished rigs like this, you’ve probably wondered if there are ways you could make them easier to handle. Here they are.


Some anglers believe there’s no need for you to use a tapered leader while indicator nymphing. Not true. Untapered leaders do not transfer energy as well as tapered ones. So a stout, tapered leader will help a ton when you’re casting an indicator rig.

For trout, start your tapered leader with a 2X—4X butt section. Thicker is always better. A beefy butt section and a hearty taper will transfer energy more efficiently and make your entire rig easier to cast. They will also improve the precision of your casts and help keep your leader free from tangles.


Spend any time on nymphing waters and you’ll see them: Guys fishing with those high floating, ping-pong-ball sized indicators. Do you need something that big to see strikes? No. In fact, the smaller your indicator is the better.

When you keep your indicator as small as possible, you’ll notice less wind resistance and have less difficulty turning over your casts. That’s why yarn indicators and stick-on foam indicators are so much easier to fish with.

But those plastic bubbles do have their benefits:

  • They sit high in the water, so they’re easy to see.
  • They’re unsinkable.
  • And they stay unsinkable, cast after cast, all day long.

So sometimes, you may want to use one. When you do, remember to go as small as you can. Bubble floats come in a variety of sizes (1/2", 3/4", 1” and 1¼".) Typically, the ½” size is all you need for most trout fishing.

About the only people who benefit from the biggest sizes are steelheaders. They like the large, 1 ¼” size because when they’re nymphing, their casts are usually short and their flies are heavy. A big, bobbing indicator can suspend a heavy fly just off the bottom of the river--which is right where you want to be when nymphing for those fish.

Weight Placement

Split shots and indicator nymphing go together like cork handles and fly rods. But if you moved that cork handle, everything about the rod would change.

The same is true with how you place split shot on your leader. To see how weight placement impacts things, try this experiment:

  • Start with a 9’, 3X tapered leader.
  • Tie on 16” of 3X tippet.
  • Add a nymph. At the bend, tie on 16” of 4X tippet.
  • Add your second nymph.
  • Then add an indicator to the stout part of the leader, 6”—12” below the line.

Once your leader is ready, add some weight. Here are two setups to try:

  • Put 2 BB sized split shot right next to each other at the end of leader-to-tippet connection. Make a cast. Notice how the entire leader hinges and flops at the split shot? Not good.
  • Move the shot. Put one in front of the leader-to-tippet knot. Put the other 6 inches above the first fly. Make a cast. Notice a difference? No more hinge and no more flopping. When the weight is more distributed, the whole rig is less cumbersome and your leader turns over easier.

You’ll have to experiment with weight placement when you’re on the river. While you need to get your flies down to the fish, you also need to make the entire rig as easy to cast as possible. By playing with the placement of your split shot, you can do both.


When it comes to getting your indicator rig and nymphs out to the fish, tight loops are the enemy. Unless you’re a skilled enough caster to toss open loops, avoid false casts. Whipping your line back and forth will increases the chances you’ll wrap the leader on itself and create a tangle that will make you crazy.

Instead, try an easy cast every indicator nympher should know. It’s called the “Water Haul”.

  • At the end of your drift, let the current straighten out your line below you.
  • Slowly raise your rod tip to get the leader off the bottom your line off the water. Wait until your rod is loaded up and ready to cast.
  • Lob your rig upstream like you’re throwing a ball, making sure to point your rod tip at where you want the flies go.

With the Water Haul, the tension from the current works as your back cast. Once you learn to work with this tension, you can use it to flick you flies right where they need to be—and to to keep your leader tangle free. 

Like most worth doing, learning how to cast an indicator rig takes time and isn’t easy. But because this style of fly fishing is so effective, it’s time and effort well spent. The rewards of mastering it benefit you through the rest of your history as a fly fisherman.

Remember to let the river help you out. Use strong currents to straighten out your leader. Always keep in mind slack is evil when casting indicators. And remember to focus on what being on the water is really about: Getting close to nature and the fish we love to catch.

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