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 you get after fooling a trout into taking a dry fly. But dry fly fishing is not always best for all conditions or all seasons.

As my fishing buddy often says – 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 starts in November, we can’t count on regular hatches except for midge hatches.

Midges hatch here all year round and the trout rise to eat them, but it is very difficult for the average fly fisher 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 very technical challenging to get good drifts.

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Fish Under the Water

Fishing under the water, AKA nymphing or wet fly fishing.

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, because it originated in Utah on the Provo River. I have also seen the bounce rig used by guides on the Green River and since we have been teaching it to people, we have friends and clients that use it all over the country.

I have only used the bounce rig with fly rods, but I see no reason why this technique can’t work with a spinning rod (in fact, I have seen people (mostly old-timers) using it). There is an advantage to using a longer rod however.

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.

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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)  I recommend attaching to a tippet ring.
  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 3 -5 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 – 2 times (sometimes longer) than 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.
  15. We prefer longer rods for the bounce rig, at least 9 feet, but 10 or even 11 feet is better. For the Provo River, we prefer rod weights 3 to 6 wt. Jim’s favorite rod is a 10.5 ft 3 wt. with a 5 wt fly line.  Use whatever fly line you have… Indicator will float the rig and weights get nymphs to the bottom. I use a double tapered fly line… when it wears out, turn it round and use other end.

What You Need to Build the Provo River Bounce Rig

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.

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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.

  4. Alex Argyros says

    Hi Jim and Dan,

    I’m writing from Texas with a question about how you set up your bounce rig.

    Could you tell me how you add dropper tags? Also, do you ever fish the bounce rig by tight lining, i.e., by dispensing with the strike indicator?

    BTW, your website and videos are a treasure trove of useful information. Thanks for offering it to the public.
    [Click Here to Watch our Fly Fishing Videos]

    Many thanks, Alex

    • Hi Alex: Notice that I moved your question to the comments section of this post about the bounce rig.

      We tie dropper tags several ways, either by making a loop tied off with a triple surgeons knot or with a knot Jim calls a dropper loop knot (like a blood knot, but with a loop).
      After you make the loop, simply cut one side of the loop close to the knot. That is your tag.
      We need to make a video showing these knots. When we do, I’ll post the link.

      When fishing close in, I sometimes “high-stick” the bounce rig so the indicator is barely touching the water. I wouldn’t say I ever fish it without the indicator, but when high-sticking, I am fishing by feel and not by watching the indicator.

      But if you need/want to fish farther away than the length of your rod, an indicator is very important.

      Thanks for the support. If you get out this way, go fishing with us.

      • Alex Argyros says

        Alex Response via email:
        Since you were so kind as to answer a previous question, I thought I’d bother you some more.

        You frequently allude to scud patterns in your videos. Could you tell me what your preferred recipe for a scud is (my tailwater, the Guadalupe River, has a healthy population of the little critters)?


        • Alex: We frequently talk about sow bug patterns, not scuds. We also have scuds in our waters, but far more sow bugs and since they are very similar in size shape and color (especially when cascading quickly down a riffle), I think they can be interchangeable when nymphing for trout.

          I wrote a post and made a video showing how we tie our sow bugs. It’s very simple and in this post (includes link to video), my 17 year old cousin ties his first fly, which we took straight to the river and he caught fish on it.

          There are small differences between sow bugs and scuds if you want to tie a more accurate scud. Scuds are small shrimp, so all of their legs will be facing in one direction (see photo) as opposed to a sow bug with legs hanging out both sides trying to grab onto something as they float downstream.

          Good luck and let me know how it works there.

  5. Alex Argyros says

    Thanks for the fantastic information, guys. And, if you have the time, a video showing how you set up your bounce rig would be a great gift.

    • Alex:
      We have many videos showing us fishing the bounce rig (see videos).
      We’ve talked about making a special video about rigging. Except for showing how to tie certain knots (e.g. triple surgeon, blood knot, dropper loop) I am not sure a video will convey that information much better than the diagram.

      But the best way to learn is to come fishing with us.

      The key to using the bounce rig is to know how to adjust it for different depths and flows (as mentioned in the “Bounce Rig Tips” in the post and at the end of this video.

  6. I am a student in Utah and have spent the last year fishing on the Provo whenever time allows. I have often struggled to catch fish. I have noticed on your youtube channel that you generally use a Provo River Bounce Rig. I get how it basically works, however I want to know more about leader and tippet size when using the tags. What do you generally use? Do you struggle with tangled lines with such a complex setup? How do you adjust for different depths?

    Thank you

    • Hi Nicholas. I hope the post answers some of your questions. We normally use 4X or 5X tippet on the bounce rig. It is rarely necessary to use 6X to entice bites from fish and we do occasionally use 3X when fishing our “secret big fish hole” just to have a chance to hold the big fish.

      Casting the bounce rig can be a challenge and like everything else, takes practice do so properly. The bounce rig gets hung up and we have a fair amount of break-offs, but it rarely tangles badly unless we make a bad cast.

      To adjust for deeper water, add more length and/or more weights.

  7. Hi I’m a huge fan of your fly fishing videos and just learning about fly fishing. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to set up a proper bounce rig. Have any advise? Thanks

  8. Great article, content rich, clear and practical. Thanks very much. Peter

  9. I learned how to use this rig fishing the Provo River in 2017 with a local guide service. The guide taught me how to rig it so I could easily do it on my own. This is my go to setup in Michigan. I have successfully used it for browns, brook trout and steelhead.

  10. Alex Argyros says

    I have another question, if you don’t mind.

    If you were fishing relatively shallow pocket-type water, would you still use the bounce rig? If so, would you modify it? If not, what kind of nymph rig would you prefer for such conditions?

    • Don’t mind at all…
      Answer is yes and no… If I were moving from one deep hole to the other, I occasionally dab or high stick (similar to Euro) the long bounce rig into a hole to see what happens…
      But I would use an inline rig or shorter bounce without a bubble for pockets if I wanted to seriously fish them.

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