What Fly Line Setups For Trout Should You Use?

When it comes to fly fishing flies for trout, few things matter more than your line setups. Here at Drifthook Fly Fishing, we've put together a near-comprehensive guide on everything you need to know on fly line setups for trout.

As for the answer to the question "what fly line setups for trout should you use," your answer is going to change based on the size of the fish, how pressured the fish is, and, most importantly, the pattern that you're using.

What Fly Line Setups For Trout Should You Use?

Here, we're going to look at a variety of setups, finding out which is best for trout, but we're also going to look at a few alternatives to help you figure out which rig and fly line setups you should use and when. The Fly Fishing Kits available from Drifthook can help you perfect any of these combinations with the right fly fishing flies for trout.

The thing that's going to matter the most is the appropriate poundage, measured as the "X" size in fishing, of the fish you're going after. The chart before shows the X size is determined primarily by the fish species that you're after. Since Drifthook Fly Fishing specializes in trout, we're going to be focusing primarily on fly line setups for trout.

X Factor

As you can see, you typically want a diameter of .008" and lower, and an approximate breaking strength of 8.25 lbs and lower when it comes to fishing trout, depending on the size of trout you're going for. Anything from 3x to 8x should do the trick. 

As well as the X size (or poundage) appropriate to the fish, you should also choose your fly line setups for trout fishing based on your preferred type of fly fishing as well. The various setups below are going to primarily talk about styles suited to catching monster trout since that's what we are all about here at Drifthook. Just bear in mind that a setup that works well in one kind of environment for a particular type of fly fishing might not work as well in a different style or a different environment.

Fly Fishing

Fly Line Setups For Trout In Moving Water 

More isn't always more when it comes to fishing in moving water. My favorite setup is a two fly nymph right on a 9-foot leader. Here are some moving water setups to keep in mind:

Multiple Nymph Rig Fly Fishing Fly Line Setup

Multiple Nymph Rig For General Fly Fishing 

  • 9ft 4x leader
  • Clear bobber indicator
  • Splitshot – 2 to 3 size 4
  • Fly #1
  • 12" to 14" 5x or 6x tippet
  • Fly #2

Still waters are perfect for single fly fishing, but moving water gives more of a challenge, so it's a good idea to use more than one fly on the end of the line, using different nymphs to multiply your chances. You can add or reduce weight depending on how deep your feeding line is. The different patterns, sizes, and colors of each nymph will help you quickly determine what the trout prefer for the day. 

90 Degree Nymph Fly Fishing Fly Line Setup

90-degree Rig for Heavily Pressured Trout

  • 2ft to 15ft 0X or 1X leader or 40lb Mono if you're building your own leader
  • Clear bobber indicator with a perfection loop
  • #14 Swivel
  • 6ft to 7ft of 6x or 5x tippet to the first fly. Tie fly on with the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Split shot 12" to 16" above the first fly (add as needed depending on depth)
  • 12" to 14" of 5x or 6x tippet to next fly
  • The second fly tied with Non-Slip Loop Knot

If you got some monster trout and they're heavily pressured, then you're going to want to keep in mind this setup that was taught to me at the last Fly Fishing Expo in Denver. This setup, courtesy of Matt McCannel, a highly respected fly designed and fly fishing guide from Ridgeway, Colorado, is extra successful because the line at the bobber is on a 90-degree turn.

As such, the flies swing directly down into the water, placing them right before the trout's mouth when it hits the water. It's important to let the flies angle all the way down to make sure that they grab the monster trout's attention.

Drop shot nymph rig fly fishing fly line setup

Drop Shot Fly Line Setup For Trout

  • 8ft Leader 4x or 5x
  • Clear indicator
  • Weight on the bottom
  • Overhand Knot, connect fly with a dropper loop
  • Overhand Knot, connect fly with a dropper loop
  • Continue as needed. Keep Flies 8" to 12" apart 

Sometimes, two flies aren't going to be enough. For deep pools or runs where you have multiple levels of water column to take advantage of, you can add a third or even a fourth fly to a drop shot rig, so long as you're not breaking any local fly fishing laws. Suitable for fishing tight lined or with an indicator, this technique also works great for fishing in dirty water since you might need a broader approach to make sure you're able to find the right type of fly for the moment.

Though typically used for bass fishing, you can adjust it for trout, especially big trout, with just a few changes, like a heavy tackle and larger patterns. The rig comprises a line with a hook tied on and a trailer leader with the weight on the end. The weight drops in, leading both the hook and pattern above it, hence the name "drop shot."

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To perfect this setup, you want to try and keep the line out of the water as best as you can. A tight connection from the rod's tip to the weight can keep it bouncing, allowing you to set the hook more quickly when a fish takes.

Some good drop shot pattern setups for trout include darker colored pattern at the bottom and lighter at the top. This mimics the color profiles of flies as they move higher up the water column. Some examples of great pattern for this style are pink worms, mouse tails, and small jerk patterns.

Man Fly Fishing in Still Water

Fly Line Setups For Trout In Still Water

Fishing in still water is an entirely different ballgame compared to fishing in rivers, streams, and dirty waters. There are a few advantages and disadvantages to each. Many of the setups I'll recommend for still water fishing use a single fly, which some fine allows you more control over their movement, allowing you to show your still. However, that also means that you don't have the movements of the water to rely on, meaning it can be a challenge.

As such, you want to make sure that you know the movement of the particular type of flies you are using. Trout will latch much more quickly to flies that move in the style that they're accustomed to.

As the majority of still water fish are going to in the shallows, shoals, and drop-offs, you're going to want to fish with leaders from between 4ft up to 25ft. Typically, you will want to consider the depth you're fishing at and then add a fifth of that depth to determine your leader's length. This can change depending on what flies you're using.

Since still water mostly behaves the same, the setups we recommend below are mainly going to change depending on the fly you're using. The lengths all recommended are based on how you would adjust for a 15ft feeding depth. For that reason, consider what changes need to be made if you're fishing at a different depth.

Mayfly Nymph Stillwater Fly Fishing Lines Setup

Mayfly 18ft Line Setup

  • 13ft monofilament
  • #12 barrel swivel (to add more weight)
  • 5ft fluorocarbon tippet
  • Weighted Mayfly Nymph such as Copper John or Flashback Hare's Ear
  • Slow hand roll retrieve

Mayfly nymphs tend to be both heavier and larger than other flies typically used for stillwater fishing. As such, they can be tougher to turn over, so you want to use a bigger tippet than usual to make sure that you can turn them over a little more easily. I've recommended a 5ft tippet, but you can go as big as 8ft if you're having trouble. A smaller rod can also help you in more easily correcting twisty tippets.

Caddis Fly Lines Setup for Trout

Caddis 16ft Line Setup

  • 11ft monofilament
  • 5ft fluorocarbon tippet tied together using the Double Surgeon's Knot
  • Weighted Caddis Nymph such as a Holy Grail-Tungsten or a Hot Wire Caddis Bead-Head
  • Slow 12-inch retrieve, pause, 12-inch retrieve, pause, continue

Much like mayflies, caddis nymphs are relatively large in size. Again, you're going to want a bigger tippet to allow for better control for that reason. A stimulator on the top dropper can help. Allow the team to settle down to working depth to make sure you're not spooking the trout, then twitch it gently towards you while lifting the buzzers bit by bit. 

Midge Pupa fly line setup for trout

Midge 18-20ft Setup

  • 18ft to a 20ft leader
  • Bobber pegged at one foot above the bottom of the lake
  • #12 barrel swivel (to add more weight)
  • 3ft fluorocarbon tippet
  • Tie on a Midge Chironomid flies, such as a Pure Midge Larva or a Zebra Midge
  • Retrieve – slow hand twist

A good midge pupa fishing setup depends on knowing both the species of midge you're using, as well as how to perform a decent hand twist. It would be best if you had a good low rod position, as well as a slack free connection to the fly. Ensure the fly line is under the forefinger of the road hand against the rod or between thumb and forefinger. From there, you pinch and pull from behind below the rod hand with the other.

You need to know the right length of the pull, keep it slow, making sure that you have a tempo that allows for pauses. Rhythmic pauses are crucial. Trout are sight feeders, after all, it's the pauses that they will pounce for.

Midge Pupa Fly Lines Setup for Trout over 20ft deep

Midge Setup For Deeper than 20ft

  • Use full sinking line
  • 4ft leader monofilament or fluorocarbon tippet
  • Tie on a Midge Chironomid flies, such as a Pure Midge Larva or a Zebra Midge

If you don't have a depth finder, you can clip your hemostats to the end of your line and lower it slowly into the water to find the depth. Then, when you feel the hemostats reach the bottom of the lake, you can mark the line and then pull it back up to measure the length, which is what the depth will be. 

Once you set the appropriate length, you're going to want to sink the line straight up and down, following the same slow hand twist retrieve tips as mentioned above.

Leech pattern setup for trout

Leech Patterns Setup For Stillwater

  • 18ft to a 20ft leader
  • Bobber pegged at one foot above the bottom of the lake (So, for the 15ft depth, peg the bobber at 5' from the fly line)
  • #12 barrel swivel (to add more weight)
  • 3ft of fluorocarbon tippet
  • Leech Pattern fly
  • Slow retrieve. Every 4 or 5 pulls, do a couple of quick short retrieves.

It's essential to mimic the leech's motion moving along the bottom of the lake, following the slow up and down motion they make as they do it. This is the floating line method, which should use a weighted fly, sinking tippet, or sinking dressing. Make sure there's enough tippet attached to that the fly can hit the bottom of the lake, with enough fluorocarbon to help hide the fly.

Scud fly line setup for trout

Scuds Pattern Line Setup For Stillwater

  • Full sinking line
  • 9ft leader
  • Scud pattern flies, such as a Scud or Sowbug

A full sinking line is essential since scuds don't live much higher than 20ft deep into the water, and you want to mimic how they move about the bottom. For that reason, you need to give your line plenty of time to sink after you have cast out. Count up to 20 in your head to make sure it has settled before you start to retrieve it.

Follow the same hand twist retrieve tips as mentioned above for midges, working back with a strip retrieve of 4-6 inch intervals. Your rod tip should be in the water to maintain a straight connection between the line tip and fly as you do so. 

Dragonfly fly line setup for trout

Dragonflies Nymph Line Setup for Fly Fishing Still Water

  • Full sinking line
  • 7ft leader
  • Slow strip retrieve 8-12 inches 

There are two types of dragonfly nymphs that matter for still water fishing, darners and mud dwellers. Make sure you know which live in the waters you're fishing in and know that they are greedy hunters, so you want to hand twist the line a little more quickly than you would with some of the nymphs mentioned above. 

Damsel Fly Fly line setup for trout

Damselflies Nymph Line Setup Setup for Still Waters

  • Floating line
  • 12ft leader
  • Damsel Flies Nymph with a Non-Slip Loop Knot

With the damselfly setup, you want to cast it out as far as possible, letting it sink roughly three feet before starting to do a slow hand twist retrieve. Follow the tips for a hand twist as mentioned above, pausing to let it sink a little every 3 feet to mimic the natural movements of this nymph.

Dry Fly

Dry Fly Line Setups For Trout In Still Water And Rivers

Dry fly presentations are crucial when the trout are rising and hunting for the emergers. Aside from being the most visibly exciting kind of fly fishing, since you can see the trout taking the fly with your own eyes, it can also be pretty challenging. Here are a few different setups for various styles of fly fishing. 

Single Dry Fly line setup for trout

Single Dry Fly Line Setup For Trout (For Beginners)

  • Have the leader the same size as your rod
  • This means a 10ft leader for a 10ft rod, 9ft leader for a 9ft rod, and so on
  • Single dry fly connected with the Improved Clinch Knot

When you're just starting to fish, it's a good idea to get an idea of how to cast, and the single dry fly rig is a good choice since it's relatively easy to do and it gives you a good idea of how to control the fly to mimic natural movements.

Should you find that you're spooking the fish, it's likely to be that there is too much line in the water. To fish that, add a couple more feet of tippet to hide the line with the Double Sturgeon's Knot, and that should help.

Double Dry Fly - Fly Line Setup for Trout

Double Dry Fly Setup For Dry Dropping

  • Have the leader the same size as your rod
  • Yes, if you have a 10ft rod, get a 10ft leader; 9ft rod, 9ft leader
  • Attach the first fly to the end of the leader using the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Add 12" to 14" of 5x or 6x tippet with the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Add the second smaller fly with another Improved Clinch Knot

Dry dropping with two flies is a good idea because it can help increase your chances of catching trout taking smaller flies. The larger first fly acts as a visual indicator, allowing you to fish with a smaller fly. From there, you set the hook when you see movement around that larger first fly.

Hopper Dropper Fly Line setup for trout

Hopper Dropper Line Setup

  • Have the leader the same size as your rod
  • Yes, if you have a 10ft rod, get a 10ft leader; 9ft rod, 9ft leader
  • Attach the first fly to the end of the leader using the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Add 12 to 14" of 5x or 6x tippet with the Improved Clinch Knot
  • Add the second smaller fly with another Improved Clinch Knot

Large hoppers are best suited for those summer months, and having a hopper as the lead with a nymph or dry on the second fly is known as the Hopper Dropper combo. The hopper acts as your visual indicator, with the dry on the second patterning those hunting for smaller prey.

Streamer Fly Fishing Fly Line Setups

Streamer Fly Fishing Setups For Trout

There's no need for a long leader when you're fishing with streamers since you're stripping the line at such speed that and the trout are moving so fast that spooking them isn't much of an issue. As well as being a particularly exciting method of fly fishing for trout, it's also great for catching some monster trout.

A general tip for streamer fly fishing for trout is to vary your retrieves. If you're only using one type of retrieve, whether it's the speed or the angle, you're not as likely to catch the trout's attention. Remember, everything is moving fast, so spooking them isn't as much of an issue. This gives you more room to try various retrieves to make sure that you're catching some attention.

Single Streamer Fly Line Setups

Single Streamer Line-Setup

  • 4 to 5ft of heavier monofilament. 3X weight or stronger
  • Streamer pattern tied on with a Non-Slip Loop Knot

If you're using a single streamer, it's important to bear in mind that white is going to be the easiest color to see in a river, allowing you to see when fish chase the fly, as well as how you're maneuvering the fly in the water. 

Double Streamer Fly Line Setups

Double Streamer Line-Setup

  • 4 to 5ft of heavier monofilament. 3X weight or stronger
  • Larger Streamer pattern tied on with a Non-Slip Loop Knot
  • 12" to 16" monofilament or fluorocarbon tippet
  • Smaller Streamer pattern

A second streamer can offer the fish more variety when it comes to color, shape, and size, which can be vital, alongside varying your retrieve, in making sure you're sending the signals they're going after. A mix of an attractor and a natural imitation can work well, too.

Hopefully, all of the setups above help you find the right one for the kind of fishing you're doing as well as the type of pattern you're fishing. We're going to keep releasing more guides for everything related to the technique of fishing for trout. At Drifthook, we also have a sizeable fly fishing flies assortment to help ensure you get that big catch.

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Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 


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