Euro Nymphing: The Micro-Thin Leader

When first getting your feet wet euro nymphing, you are faced with several options for your leader. There are many pre-made euro leaders available, as well as a variety of materials to build your own based on a formula. Like most aspects of fishing, decisions regarding terminal tackle should be made based upon the variables of the scenario. Things like size of fly, size of fish, water type, etc. all play a role in deciding what your rig should look like. In this article I will cover some pros and cons of different leader options, and what fishing scenarios might benefit from one leader over another.

Dissecting pocket water with a euro-rig.

For Starters

With a strong butt section and a supple & sensitive tip, rods meant for euro nymphing are dynamic and quite enjoyable to fight fish with. That being said, you may find yourself using your euro rod in situations you might not have initially considered. Fishing it with an indicator, casting a dry dropper setup, or even jigging a streamer are all possible (and extremely effective) methods on thicker leaders.

A densely spotted wild rainbow with some hefty shoulders.

When you begin, it will be easiest to use a pre-made euro leader, or simply add a section of sighter material and a tippet ring to a tapered leader you already have in your possession.

From there, you may want to venture into designing and building your own leader entirely. Some of the more popular DIY formulas include the ones featured in the Modern Nymphing instructional video series by Lance Egan, Devin Olsen & Gilbert Rowley. These formulas lend themselves to ease of use and versatility. Additionally, a leader with a more gradual taper and thicker butt section will assist with the wrist-centric casting stroke used for euro nymphing.

Here is an example of an all-purpose leader utilizing a relatively thick butt section tapered down to roughly 0.012 diameter (11.8lb) sighter material.

A very dynamic and effective tapered-leader formula

This leader can be tapered even more gradually by adding incrementally lighter sections of maxima moving from 20lb -> 15lb -> 12lb -> 8lb -> sighter material.

The strength of a leader such as the one above lies within its versatility. You can fish multiple nymphs, dry-dropper, streamer and nymph, or even a double streamer rig efficiently and effectively. For most situations, an all-purpose leader will allow you to present a variety of patterns in many various water types.

For example, in a single beat of a river you may find yourself wanting to float the sighter on a slow, slick run with a dry-dropper rig. Then, you might encounter a deep plunge pool with fast moving surface current; a lot of tippet and a heavy jigged streamer will allow you to present to those deeper holding piscivorous trout. Transitioning back to pocket water and moderate runs, you can switch back to a tandem nymph rig.

However, as you progress with the technique, you may discover some limitations with the thicker, more gradual starter formulas.

A thick rainbow that ate a black thread frenchie

Thin to Win

Although the versatility of a beginner leader is a strong case to stick to a thicker formula, there are some benefits to going thin. While there is no be-all end-all to leaders, consider this option as a very strong tool in your kit.

Below is an example of a leader beginning with 8lb Maxima Chameleon, going to RIO Black & White 3x 2-Tone Indicator Tippet, Then to Scientific Anglers 4x tri-color sighter and a tippet ring.

A light and sensitive level-leader formula

So, why make the switch? Here are some of the benefits you stand to gain from fishing with a formula like the one outlined above:

Increased sensitivity: A lighter leader will allow for more direct feedback from the flies to the angler. After experimenting with a micro-thin leader for a number of months now, I have found that my ability to detect bottom and a strike (and the difference between the two) has improved dramatically.

This healthy rainbow was pulled from a back-flowing eddy.

Ability to fish lighter flies: When fishing with larger, heavier flies you don’t tend to worry about keeping tension. Big patterns can accommodate large tungsten beads, which will sink fast and allow you to feel your flies. But what about when you need to fish small nymphs to selective tailwater trout? You could certainly use a heavier pattern as somewhat of a sacrificial lamb to get your smaller pattern deep, but a big old mop fly or euro-style jig streamer isn’t always ideal. Not to mention, repeatedly drifting those larger patterns across a fish’s face can sometimes turn them off or even spook them. A micro-thin leader will allow you to fish smaller flies while still maintaining the necessary amount of contact and achieving depth.

When fishing small flies on a tailwater during the winter, a thin leader will allow you to still maintain contact and detect strikes from fish like this brown trout.

Ability to fish further away: Due to reduced line sag, you can fish far seams and pockets effectively without the weight of the leader drawing the rig back towards your rod. Thus, expanding your range of fishable water on larger & wider rivers.

A high rod angle and light leader (as well as an extended arm) can greatly increase your range while combing through a section of river.

Less affected by the “W”: When the river gets gusty, it becomes challenging to control your drifts and detect strikes. Cutting down the surface area of the leader can help a great deal. The thinner diameter your leader is, the less of a sail the wind has to push against.

Other ways to mitigate wind drag include; Lessening the amount of line out of your rod tip, using heavier flies, and keeping a low rod angle.

Additional Thin Leader Tips

When building your own leader, there are a couple things that will improve its performance on the water.

Blood Knots: When adding your sighter/indicator section, it is helpful to trim at each color change and tie a blood knot, leaving the tags about an inch long to help improve visibility while fishing.

UV: Another trick to improve your ability to see your sighter section is to add a drop of Loon UV Knot Sense to your blood knots. This will not only strengthen the connection, but will also form a spherical glob of coating around the knot, making it slightly larger and easier to see against a backdrop of rushing water and riverbank.

Other Hi-Vis Options: If you’re still having trouble seeing your thin leader, (which can be challenging in certain light conditions) there are a few ways to improve visibility. Adding a backing barrel is a simple way to add visibility without much weight. A section of 20lb orange dacron (or any bright color of your choice) can be tied around your sighter with or without tag ends as an additional source of visual feedback on your rig. It is lightweight and effective and has a minimal affect on line sag, even when wet. One possible setback is that it can be pushed around by wind, but in most cases this is negligible.

Boiling: By boiling your leader building materials for just a couple minutes, you can soften the leader and make it more supple. This offers even more sensitivity and also allows for improved tippet protection, which is especially helpful when playing large fish on fine tippet.


While it may prove more challenging to cast initially, proficiency with a micro-thin leader will prove to be a valuable arrow in your quiver. I have found it to be very effective, and have even managed other techniques on it; floating the sighter and jigging streamers. Give it a try and let us know what you think.

About the Author

Steve Beaulieu @stevenbeaulieu

Photographer & Angler in pursuit of wild things & places.

2 thoughts on “Euro Nymphing: The Micro-Thin Leader

  1. When attaching my sighter to the amnesia, the materials don’t seem to like each other much. My blood knot cinches down correctly on one side, but not the other. I’m using rio sighter, and just ordered some SA to see if I like that any better. Any tips?

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