Catch More Trout on a Bounce Rig

nymphing bounce rig

Figure 1. Bounce Rig Diagram (Click Photo for larger image).

As a fly fisherman, there’s nothing as satisfying as achieving a good cast, a perfect drag-free float and the feeling I get after fooling a trout into taking a dry fly. But dry fly fishing does not always work in all conditions or all seasons. As my fishing buddy Jim O’Neal often tells me – We can try to fish on top, but if you want to catch fish today, we might have to fish under the water.

After the first real cold weather came down in November, all the insects except the midges stopped hatching.

Midges hatch here all year round and the trout rise to eat them, but it is very difficult to catch trout with the tiny midge patterns in the midst of a thousand real, live midges.

Fishing the tiny midge patterns on top is always challenging so Jim often says… “If you want to catch fish today, you might have to fish under the water.”

Want to fly fish with Jim and me? Schedule a guided fly fishing trip or a fly fishing lesson – Learn More.

Fish Under the Water

Fishing under the water, AKA nymphing or midging. The method that we use most is the called the bounce rig. The rig bumps along the bottom and fools fish by imitating nymphs drifting naturally in the current. The nymphs are attached to tags, which float down stream and reach the fish before the rest of the tippet (See Figure 1).

Bounce Rig Diagram (Figure 1).

  • A – weight – several small split shot sinkers
  • B & C – Tags with nymphs (3 tags may be legal in some areas)
  • D – Float, bubble or indicator
  • 3X – 5X tippet between A & D
  • Make Tags from 4X – 7X Tippet

When I first heard about the bounce rig, someone called it the Provo River Bounce Rig, and it supposedly originated in Utah by fly fishing guides on the Provo River. I have also seen the bounce rig used by guides on the Green River (Our Float Trip).

I have only used the bounce rig with my fly rod, but I see no reason why this technique can’t work with a spinning rod. Since I originally wrote this, I have seen people successfully using the bounce technique with different types of fishing rods.

Bounce Rig Video

We shot the following video showing my young cousin fly fishing for the first time. We were using the Provo River Bounce Rig on the lower Provo River. This was his first morning as he got the hang of casting the bounce rig and setting the hook. On his second day, he tied his first fly (a sow bug) and then caught fish that afternoon on that sow bug using a bounce rig.

Bounce Rig Tips

  1. Start with about 4 – 6 feet from the butt end section of a salvaged (but still strong) tapered leader.
  2. Attach about 3 – 4 feet of 3X – 6X tippet to the leader (depending upon size of fish and depth of water).
  3. Use fluorocarbon tippet if the water is very clear because it is less visible and it also sinks faster, but it is not as durable and it will break after you catch a few fish.
  4. Create 2 or 3 tags, depending on how many flies you can legally use in your area.
  5. Each tag should be about 2 inches long and spaced so they can’t tangle with each other. Longer tags will work, but will tangle more often. Longer tags will allow you to change flies a few times before the tags get too short.  Start with 6 – 12 inch spacing between the weights and the next tag, but experiment to see what works best under different conditions.
  6. Tags should be made from the smallest tippet possible (5X – 6X). The key is to find the balance between getting strikes and losing fish.
  7. Use egg-shaped, green colored weights, so they blend in with the mossy bottom and slide across the stream bottom (Non-lead is better for our streams).
  8. Use several small weights (3 – 7 BB or smaller) instead of one large weight, because they slide over the bottom better and hang up less. If the rig does hang, you may loose only one or two small weights instead of all the gear.
  9. Tie knots both below and above the weights. The lower knot prevents the weights from sliding off the rig. The upper knot allows the line to break at the knot in the event of a serious hang up so you don’t also loose the rest of the rig.
  10. Set the bubble (indicator) so the distance between bubble and weight is at least 1½ times the depth of the stream.
  11. Learn what the indicator looks like as it bounces along the bottom. Any quick movement sideways or down is probably a strike, so Set The Hook! When in doubt… Set The Hook!
  12. If the rig is not bouncing, you are not reaching the bottom and are not fishing deep enough. Move the bubble to fish deeper and/or add more weight.
  13. Be very careful casting this rig. The best method is to let the pressure of water weight the rod, then flip it upstream. Start by fishing it very close.
  14. Like fishing a dry fly, the drift should be as natural as possible, so Mend, Mend, Mend.

Nymph Patterns to try on the Bounce Rig

Any nymph pattern will probably work, be we primarily use:

  • Egg patterns
  • Sow bugs
  • San Juan worms

Looking back at my records, between last Nov. and mid Feb., my fishing buddy and I fished 22 times using the bounce rig technique and caught 227 fish (10.3 fish per trip). Not too bad for a tough time of the year to fish.

In case you are worried about losing large fish on the small tippet, we landed at least one 16 inch or larger fish on 14 of our fishing trips and we landed 19 inch or larger fish on three trips, all with 4X – 6X tippet. Sure we lost some big fish, but isn’t that what you want anyway? You have to find them before you hook them and you have to hook them before you can land them.

Sometimes I try to buck the odds and catch fish on dries and it is very satisfying when it works. But I almost always switch to a bounce rig because I actually want to catch a few fish.

For those of you that think this only works on western streams, a buddy has been using the bounce rig on eastern streams. He said he watched a group of guys fish a stretch of the stream and fail. After they left, he fished the bounce rig using local scud patterns and caught several nice fish including his largest trout in that state.

So when there is no hatch, the fish aren’t rising or if the water is fast or if the wind is too strong, you might need to fish under the water. Give the Provo River Bounce Rig a try.

Want to fly fish with us? Schedule a guided fly fishing trip or a fly fishing lesson – Learn More.

Check out our most recent Provo River Fly Fishing Report.

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  1. Another good post with some great information. I will set up one of my rigs with the bounce configuration when I go to Montana to hunt. I might even catch a few fish. In June, I fished for three weeks and I tried nymphing. I caught a few cutthroats but mostly I caught some fat whitefish, which is fine with me. Now I can tell I have a whitefish on right when they take the hook. They are lazy compared to trout haha.

    • Whitefish can put up a good fight. Some of the big ones seem to head for the bottom of the hole and just sit there until they realize you are not going away. I always catch them in the fastest water.

      Remember to use nymphs that the fish are used to feeding on and let me know how it goes.

  2. Thanks for the update, I have a question? With the bounce rig do the tags have to be attached directly to the tippet or can I tie a loop on the tippet and then tie my tag line to the small loop I made on the tippet?

    I fished this way on Sunday on the lower Provo and it didn’t seem to make much difference in fact I caught more fish doing it this way. I was just wanted your opinion on rigging it up this way. Thanks

    • Good question Steve.
      We normally just make tags off the main line. I usually make a loop with a triple surgeons knot and Jim usually ties a dropper knot. We then cut one side of the loop to create the tag.

      Most of our adjustments to the bounce rig have to do with adjusting length of rig and the amount of weight to allow the rig to bounce properly along the bottom.

      I like your idea. I guess we could even tie loops off the main line and on the tag and connect the two loop to loop. What type of knot did you use to attach the tag to the loop?

      Now to scientifically test which tag is actually best (catches more fish) will be incredibly tedious because all possible factors would have to be tested using at least two different types of tags.

      Since time of day, sun vs cloud, direction of sun, water flow, depth of tag, top vs. middle vs. bottom tag are all factors, you see what I mean about tedious.

      You can bet we will be experimenting with your suggestion. I will probably be looking for which type of tag tangles upon itself less as much as which tag I think catches more fish.

      I can visualize tags made with simple surgeon or dropper knots as being more streamlined and less prone to bucking wildly about in the current, but this may not be the case.

      We have been telling people the Middle Provo was still “fishable” (see June 4, 2017 fishing report) but people should probably stay off the Lower Provo for now.

      Thanks for the comment and for letting us know you have been fishing the Lower Provo with the high water. Be careful out there.

  3. I used a simple improved clinch knot to attach my tag line to my loop. I used this method for the first time on the lower Provo on Sunday.

    Flows were only around 600 but as of money they are above 1200cfs and too dangerous to fish. I caught about 10 fish in 4 hours and when I had to put a new tag line on it was easy.

    All the fish I caught were all good fish and one monster rainbow and all were caught on San Juan worm.

    I did think about attaching my tag line using a loop to loop connection but was in a hurry to fish so I just used an improved clinch knot. If you try this method let me know how it works for you.

    Is the middle still fishable or not worth the effort? Keep the updates coming. Love the videos too.

    • Steve: I received both messages, but reply here is best so others can follow the conversation.

      Not surprised that fish were hitting San Juan (we should call them Provo River) worms with all the high water.

      As for the Middle Provo being fishable… I went to the river last evening just to see what the river looked like and to video the high water (1600 cfs).

      I ran into a buddy that was heading out fish. He had a hard time getting to the place he wanted to fish because of high water, but caught a few on the bounce rig (sow bugs).

      I got some of it on video.

      He left early to get through the sketchy crossing before it got dark and found a spot where “fish were rising everywhere“. He tried several flies (BWO), but didn’t have any luck.

      I think if someone had the right fly, it could be amazing fishing at the right place and the right time.

      Try using a Davy knot on short tags… I’ve learned to tie the knot so close I don’t have to clip the excess. Here is our video showing Davey Knot. Davy knot starts at 3:38.

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