How to Set Up a Simple 90-Degree Nymph Rig (and Why You Should Try It)

Written By: Vincent Renda, 5280 Angler

The indicator moving freely within the loop helps to reduce drag.
All photos by Vincent Renda

Using a standard 9-foot leader with an indicator never made much sense to me. I want to know the moment the fish inhales my fly, and not have to wonder where 7 feet of leader is drifting under the surface. That’s why I often use a more compact 90-degree rig instead, especially when I’m sight-nymphing. It provides several key advantages over using a tapered leader, and it is easy to set up. 

To make a 90-degree nymph rig, take an old tapered leader and cut it down to the last 1 to 2 feet of butt section. Next, run the end of the leader through your indicator, then tie a loop knot at the end of the leader, so that the indicator is trapped inside the loop [as shown above]. Finally, take a length of 3x-4x tippet that’s roughly equal to the depth of the water you’re fishing, and tie it to the loop using a simple clinch knot. You can add flies from there.

The completed rig, using heavily-weighted flies in place of split shot.

Because the 90-degree rig is so much shorter than a conventional tapered leader, the flies land a lot closer to the indicator, making it easier to know when you’ve made a good cast. It also cuts through the water faster because of the thinner-diameter tippet–resulting in less drag–and allowing you to use significantly less weight to sink your flies (a heavy point fly is often enough). And because your flies tend to sit directly under your indicator, you not only get nearly-instant feedback, but your hookset angle is improved as well, both of which help to put more fish in the net.

Your overall success rate will almost surely improve when using the 90-degree rig over a standard version.

It’s worth noting that the 90-degree rig isn’t great when you’re targeting wary fish, since the splash made by this admittedly-clunky setup will often spook them on the first cast. I’ve actually grown to like that aspect, however, because it helps me to avoid wasting time casting to fish that were too skittish to eat, no matter what setup I used. 

Vincent Renda guides for 5280 Angler in Arvada, Colorado.

13 thoughts on “How to Set Up a Simple 90-Degree Nymph Rig (and Why You Should Try It)”

  1. I have used a clear bobbers float with two an eye hook on both ends. This gives me enough weight to make a cast with my ultralight rod. I am thinking about putting a small strike indicator on the bobber to make it a little more visible.

  2. Well some of us enjoy casting a fly and catching fish.One of the lakes I fish the biologists say has 11 tons of feed to the acre . If you can’t get your fly on the bottom you don’t catch fish .if you don’t use a thingamabber you can’t fish the weeds . We have Browns up to ten pounds that are picky eaters . So you adapt or don’t catch fish .Some purists think if you don’t fish dry’s only your not fly fishing .not me ,adapt or don’t catch fish

    1. Totally agree with you. Decades of experience with surf, kayak and spin fishing. Backed my way into fly fishing after tying a chartreuse clouser to my heavy metal lure while surf casting for stripers in New England. Quess what?
      Despite my terminal tackle matching the bait fish, I get multiple catches on the clouser teaser, largest being 32 inches.
      I do alot of fly fishing now but let the purists watch while I catch on any hybrid rig that works.

  3. Yeah. Until the water depth changes. Not to mention you are gonna have to change your tippet every 2 fly changes because it is only 2 feet long. I can simply move my indicator up or down as needed throughout the day. I change depths on my rigs probably 50 times every float, especially in the winter when you gotta be right on the bottom.

    1. How do you keep your indicator from moving down while casting using 5x or the like? My experience is indicators don’t hold well on finer leaders or tippets

  4. I really like your set up. I fish for trout alot in lakes with a strike indicator. Your method makes a lot of sense. Can’t wait to try it out.

  5. Tie a nymph directly to the hook bend of a dry fly. Use the dry fly as a bobber….uh…strike indicator. Works great and multiple baits!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *