Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

Part I described the leader rig, its purpose, the bounce weight, floatation, fly attachment and fly type. This installment discusses the overall “value proposition” of the bounce rig, regulations, a few points of leader construction, and ways and limits to using the rig.

The primary virtue of the bounce rig is that it settles the fly to within x inches of the bottom, with x decided by the angler…no matter where in the drift the fly and leader happens to be. It takes some of the guesswork and readjustment out of other methods (for example how high above a fly an indicator must be positioned for a given stretch of water). The angler watches the floating line or indicator, looking for suspicious twitches that can signal a take.

With a bounce-rigged leader, depending on the point weight, flies can sink as quickly as if they were weighted, and like a weighted fly they don’t “ride up” until close to the end of the drift. That can be a disadvantage if your intention is to represent an emerging nymph, but otherwise it’s generally a plus. Ideally, bounce nymphing affords some of the benefits of both slack-line drifting and tight-line strike-sensing–the rig drifts with a slack line on the surface, to stay connected to the current…but is somewhat taut between the fly and the surface (which is the point where you visually detect the takes).

Care must be taken not to run afoul of state fishing regulations. States that have rules intended to discourage fish-snagging may use poor regulation wording that inadvertently forbids bounce nymphing (which is not usually those regulations’ intent). For example, in California the letter of the law makes it a no-no to use a weight directly attached below a hook. Usually this is interpreted to mean no weight below a bare hook rather than below a fly, especially since a weighted fly below another one would also otherwise be taboo. But to be certain, a small bit of dropper tippet for the fly can help steer clear of such wording because the weight is no longer “directly” beneath (although again that dropper tippet comes with its aggravations). I’ve found that tippet rings can help make tying up bounce rig leaders easier–addition of a dropper is a clinch knot away.

Figure 3
Fig-3 – Tippet Ring

There is a fair amount of bounce nymphing lore available to those who care to see various anglers’ personal leader constructions, including dropper heights and lengths. As with normal two-fly rigs, the tippet on which the point shot dangles should probably be weaker than the rest of the leader so that a point shot hang-up only risks losing the shot.

It’s true that use of significant amounts of point weight impedes artful casting, but the same can be said for heavily weighted flies and plastic bobbers…and spoiling water to loosen snags is the epitome of artlessness, so any means of avoiding hang-ups is a step in the direction of grace. The lighter the point weight, the slower the water that can be fished effectively (and heavier, with better floation up top, for faster water). That, if you like, becomes your “adjust for the run being drifted” knob, and your estimation of how castable your proposed setup will be.

Bounce nymphing is an effective method of nymph drift fishing, especially where gravel and cobblestone chutes and bars define much of the bottom. Its advantages over weighted nymphs and over use of above-nymph weight are that the depth can be controlled for longer drift distances without snagging bottom–the fly gets to the desired depth fast but then stays there instead of sinking further into danger. Also, in my opinion, unweighted nymphs just plain move better. The method’s strengths over point-fly-rigged “Czech” style high-tip nymphing are mainly that you can fish distances much further away from you and runs much longer than those tight-line techniques allow. Since surface current generally moves faster than at depth, the fly and point weight will likely follow the line down the run. But count on that, cast upstream as you like and need, and just watch that line. With practice you can extend drifts quite a long way without mends being noticable at fly level.

Fig-4 – Drifting Bounce Rig

(Question: Would high-sticking with this rig constitute a “Bounced Czech” technique? Just asking.)

For water deeper than a manageable leader length allows, bounce nymphing will likely give way to sinking line rigs and techniques.

All its strengths notwithstanding, I personally find bounce nymphing with my fly on a dropper tippet somewhat ill adapted to angling that involves distance casting. My experience with it is admittedly limited, but with a fly-on-dropper-tippet bounce rig I find myself spending more time unraveling wind knots and wondering whether my drift is tangled or not than I do fishing the cast in confident peace. There are likely ways to tie a “stands out stiffly to the side” fly dropper that resists wrapping up on the main leader, but as for me, I can manage a bounce rig (i.e., cast it) only if I put the bounce shot on a tippet hanging directly from the fly’s hook bend.

I do think bounce nymphing is excellent for boat drifting, where casts can be easy lobs and the drift is long. And it’s quite good for standing within a close toss of a deep small-water channel. Fishing afoot and casting long, though, I’ve begun numerous times with a fly-on-dropper bounce rig but have shifted back to a point fly rig (or a simpler bounce rig with the bounce weight hanging off the fly’s hook) each time, due to problems encountered with casting and tangles. My observation is that most anglers who try to cast bounce rigs agree with me on this, by the way they construct their leaders–they invariably hang the bounce weight directly off the lowest fly’s hook. Again, be aware of laws.

The bounce rig/drop shot rig has its place, and many fishermen use it quite effectively. Rigged properly for the conditions, it is by all accounts a very productive nymphing method.


  1. Mike

    Nice, instructive post. Despite the perceived effectiveness of this technique, I am dissuaded from even trying it for several reasons. When I read your post, I must admit I was unfamiliar with the bounce nymph technique for trout. But it did have a vague resemblance to the drop-shot technique adopted by bass anglers in the 1990s. Suspend a soft bait above a specially shaped chunk of lead held in place with a couple of overhand knots at the tip of the line. Reading about the bounce nymph in your post and other articles online, the only real difference was the size of the weight and a fly instead of a glob of soft plastic. Every thing I read confirmed your observation. Placing lead at the end of your leader made casting difficult (or lead free weight as required in some locales expensive as well). Strike one. A big part of fly fishing for me is the ability to make long or short effortless and accurate casts. Strike two came with the lead itself. I can imagine all the damaged fly rods that will eventually break from that high speed collision with the lead shot during an errant cast–an inevitability. Third, and this one is so contextual to individual rivers that it is very generalized, is the inevitable snags and muck this rig will encounter and collect. In the spring, waters are low, moss and weeds are few. But as summer progresses, weeds and moss become major obstacles in the river’s flow. By fall, no pun intended, the weeds and moss are falling apart and the river’s flow is awash with the bits that seem to gather on hooks and leaders with every cast. Again, nice instructive piece, but a technique that seems much too tedious and risky for me. For those who chose to try it, good luck, but use a cheap fly rod as that lead bullet at the end of your tippet will eventually cause the rod’s destruction.

  2. Mike, you make some very good points. Using this rig for trout usually requires half a gram of weight at most (depending on the run of course), so the “bullet” isn’t wholly unmanageable from a rod-avoidance perspective, although yes there is that. The bounce weight also doesn’t necessarily snag on rocks more than a weighted point fly would, but as you point out it does get hung up in bottom vegetation in particular, when that is present. It’s used effectively on the Truckee down my way, and on the Sac from drift boats. I think the idea is if you absolutely must get your fly to free-drift while hugging bottom, better to let a bounce weight flirt with whatever’s down there than a weighted fly.

    But the “strike one” you brought up is enough to DQ this rig for me; like the pure joy of executing a long throw makes playing shortstop or outfield addictive in hardball, I just can’t opt to fish for trout without being able to cast. I can’t stand there all day heave-lobbing a leader rig very carefully toward the top of a hole and letting it drift down, only to do another easy lob. It’s not fly fishing…to me. I want to cast–I want to see that line extend and lay itself out there. I love that aspect–it’s part and parcel to the art. (And it’s the only way to reach logs and undercuts.)

    And the bounce rig compounds a number of issues with that, not the least of which is tangle avoidance. Attempting real back-casts and ttight loops and graceful arcs is begging for a ball of leader and tippet around your fly. I suspect that’s a primary reason why it hasn’t become more popular…because it does some things well and does catch fish. But when I try it on a given run, I’ll give it a bit of time but I ultimately look forward to switching back to a point fly rig. Even though I may be less certain of my fly’s clearance off the bottom, a point fly rig is simpler to manage. I assume bounce nymphers can bounce very well and would dismiss my own experiences, but I’ve wasted too many minutes untangling and swearing to want to waste more.

    I use the bounce rig now and then, and I’ve learned things from it, but I’m with you on not preferring it when it comes to the quest for the perfect experience.

    One thing I’ve learned is that placing shot above a point fly is its own art…in how the weight is distributed using multiple tiny shot instead of one slightly larger one, and in where the weight is placed…and an angler can get an unweighted fly near-ish the bottom in that way too, although the “formula” is less straightforward.

    Thanks for the comments; we don’t disagree, on the whole.

    – Mike

  3. In our streams here in pa water goes from 1ft to 4ft…Most use fly on end with dropper and weight above.
    To use the dropper I feel you would have to go to 1fly at bottom dropper only .
    Leave tag end to sinker like 12 inchs long so you can adjust height of that 1nymph..
    Using 2 nymphs in that water depth would be difficult but 1 non bead nymph I feel you can make work lot of times that is all you should have on anyway in that type of streams depth…

  4. I was out in stream last week using bounce rig here in pa trout streams.
    Our water is from 16 inchs to 4 ft deep ..
    I found that the bounce rig can work if you use just 1 fly at bottom with 4 inch dropper.
    Its lot better for sure and nice thing is you do not lose flies..If you get snag it breaks at my tippet ring at bottom or sinkers slid off…
    I use beadless fly also BUT stock trout love the bead…
    So you are back to using fly on end weighted with bead to catch those stocked trout no doubt stock trout love bead and silver one works better than gold one on stocked rainbow trout ..
    Brown trout like gold beads…
    Lot are using very small sinkers in row to reduce snags others using tungsten stick on weight thing..
    I feel in streams here in pa up to 4ft deep bounce rig can work but just go to 1 fly and use perfection knot on dropper so you can move it up/down the tippet finding the sweat spot …
    Trust me with these stocked trout most will hit bottom fly 90% of time and you will have more fun than having 2 dropper that can tangle etc in net or cause a snag ..
    Getting snag with 2 fly can ruin hole too and using just 1 fly you can adjust sinker to move the depth,its easier to use and adjust to say from 1ft to 4ft of water etc just move the gly up line with perfection knot..
    Also I tie flies on at home down to size 16 ,if I want to change just reach in pack and get perfection knot leader 4 inchs ,slid one off and other one on..?
    Bounce rig is great if you go to 1 fly in streams in pa that are up to 4ft deep..
    My Secret? trick is I can change fly Quick? catching that stocked trout that saw same flies going by I bet I catch more trout than using 2 fly rig doing this..
    Also in our water 2 fly can scared trout hitting it in nose with tippet I see that a lot after the trout have been hooked.
    It is just better to use bounce rig with 1 fly and perfection knot system in our streams in pa that are not deep…?

  5. As mostly a fly rod fisher (98+%) and rarely a spin fisher(for trout), I often thought a long limber light weight spinning rod in the ultra lite style ( like a noodle rod) would be a superior tool for this style of “fly” fishing!
    It would be much easier to cast and likely would be just as effective, IMO! An additional advantage is that the main leader is the line on the spinning reel! Lose a foot or so, no big deal! No need to worry as much ,casting in tight
    quarters! Some purists may suggest that if the rod, line and reel are not orthodox, it is not fly fishing? But using a “ bounce rig” is not traditional fly fishing anyway? So, IMO, this argument has no validity! Why not use an better method to achieve the desired outcome? Seems fine to me! Food for thought!

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