What’s all the excitement about, anyway? Isn’t this just another variation of less-exciting-than-dry-fly-fishing? We have news for you – way more fish are already caught underwater, and euro-nymphing takes it up a few more notches. Here we cover the why and how of euro-nymphing, as well as what gear you need and where to get it. Read on.
Besides the obvious, European style nymphing arose from competition fly fishing. Anglers aren’t allowed to put anything on the leader, that is to say, no split shot and no strike indicators – or anything that would help sink or float the fly.
The nymph fly fisher’s secret is they know that fish spend most of their time feeding on subsurface bugs. In fact, nymph fishing allows you to fish more months out of the year, when fish aren’t coming to the surface much if at all in the shoulder months and offseason.
[Refresher: what is a nymph? A nymph is a newly emerged insect, that is clinging to underwater structure, may be in its protective casing, or may have been dislodged making it vulnerable to fish as it floats downstream. Fish feed on nymphs near the bottom of the river or lake. Nymphs by definition are not yet ready to emerge, or swim towards to surface in order to dry out and fly away in a hatch. Subsurface nymphs are always present, whether a dry fly hatch is underway or not, and whether baitfish are available or not. This is why nymphing fly fishing takes more fish overall than either dry or streamer fly fishing – they are a continuous staple food for trout, bass, panfish, and other species.]
To stay within the rules poses two issues. First, how to get flies down to fish-depth without split shot, and second, how to detect even subtle strikes without a strike indicator.
As it turns out, ditching strike indicators and split shot actually overcomes the issues associated with these crutches. Split shots get hung up themselves, and can buffer feeling a strike. They also have to be adjusted frequently to change depth, and can damage your leader. Strike indicators act as a float, fixing the depth down to the fly, and may spook trout in some cases as well.
Getting rid of these, it turns out, and using the right technique can help you catch many more fish.
OK, but What is the Technique, Actually?
To summarize, Euro-nymphing is a fly fishing technique where you high-stick your leader above, and to the extent off the water possible, to increase your ability to feel when a trout takes your fly which is more heavily weighted. Having a longer rod is helpful, and using a lighter-weight line (e.g. 3-weight) helps, but is not necessary – you can start this technique just by changing your flies and leader.
Bye bye, split shot. The first issue mentioned above in competition fly fishing is addressed by putting more weight into flies. By replacing brass with denser tungsten in the beads, and by including lead wire in the body, adds substantial weight to the flies. As a result, the fly itself can get to depth more quickly.
An additional development helps keep the flies from hanging up even more than ditching the split shot sinkers. Many euro-nymphing flies (but not all) are tied like jigs, with the hooks facing upwards.
Hello, colorful leaders. To address the second challenge, no strike indicators, you can use a colorful euro-nymph leader that does the same trick – in fact even better with different sections different colors to give you a sense for depth and additional strike indication.
By adding a bright section of leader in the middle (either one you tie or provided by a manufacturer), the color makes it more visible. When the euro-nymphing leader straightens or pauses, it gives you the visual cues to set the hook. And, by high-sticking the leader over the water, you stay more focused on – and in touch with – the fly. No discontinuities created by the split shots or strike indicator – which only served to dampen your feeling for strikes anyway! You may say that it prevents using long casts with nymphs, which may be true, but then again how much luck have you had with long distance nymphing, anyways?
Ok I get it. But really, why Euro-Nymph?
Still not convinced? Here are several more reasons why the pros are using this technique – and why fly fishing classes and guides are increasingly offering their instruction on this skill:
It sounds fancy and expensive – but really isn’t. You can start this technique for less than $100 (just by changing up your leader and flies), so it doesn’t need to be as expensive as say….a European vacation.
Your continual connection to your flies helps detect more strikes, resulting in better hook up rates.
It’s useful in both large and small rivers – better to be closely in touch with fish than to cast across currents to the other side.
Increased precision helps you work the small pockets and eddies, giving you advantages on smaller streams and large alike.
The longer rods made specifically for euro-nymphing are useful for large rivers and lakes (but think about your length when fishing smaller streams).
Once again, fish spend way more time – of the day, and months of the year – eating under water. In fact, some insects never leave the bottom.
So keeping your rod-tip up and fly down increases your overall catch rate. No need to give up dry fly fishing, you’ll just catch more fish with the following types of flies, leaders, and rods. By the way, there’s no reason you can’t use your own rod to start, a specialty rod isn’t necessary even though one might enhance the technique. You can find euro-flies and gear more prominently at most fly shops and online, here are a few options to consider.
Types of Euro Nymphing
Well there are many countries in Europe, so you may ask, are there different types of Euro-Nymphing? Yes, there are styles modeled after Czech, Polish, French, and Spanish techniques, explained briefly here.
Czech Nymphing: The Czechs have been so successful in competitions, their style has become one of the most famous. Czech style uses short distance casts with multiple weighted nymphs, on leaders a little shorter than the rod. Essentially you swing the flies upstream, then pause while they sink. By raising your tip and leading the flies, you eliminate slack from the leader. To cast, snap your wrist not unlike setting the hook, sending the leader and flies behind you before swinging upstream again (essentially is no back cast, it’s also been described as “lobbing” the flies upstream). Czech nymphs are tied on rounded style hooks like uncased caddis larva, grubs, or similar insects. They typically have dubbed bodies with a shellback and ribbing. A colorful “hot spot” is used to grab the fish’s attention, and Czech nymphs tend to have narrow profiles to sink more quickly.
Polish Nymphing: The Polish style is essentially the same as Czech Nymphing – extremely close that is. In fact, the Czech approach originated from the Polish, with the primary difference being in how the leader is rigged. The lighter fly is tied higher up and the heavier fly is at the end of your leader (reverse of the way most do when fishing double nymphs). The tippet for the lighter fly is actually connected to a loop that moves freely between blood knots tied to the main leader. This helps calibrate both flies to the proper depth, and prevents raising them out of the water while leading with the rod. However, the order is changed when fishing runs or riffles, then the larger / heavier fly is reversed with the smaller fly. As with Czech style you won’t cast your fly line as much as the leader, so the focus is also on short casts and fishing close in. Woven nymphs are associated with Polish style, though the same nymphs as Czech style are often used.
French Nymphing: The French use longer leaders, for example as long as 12 to 20 feet, and typically use smaller flies than the other styles. The French still cast directly upstream, may pull on the flies during the drift (as opposed to following or leading the flies). To enable the longer leaders, you do cast at least some of your fly line. This allows you to reach fish a little farther away, or to work slower water across a faster seam. The flies are typically smaller than in Czech or Polish styles, because larger flies are unwieldy on the longer leaders.
Spanish Nymphing: The Spaniards use an even longer leader and presentation. Spanish style is closer to French style (in technique as in geography) than Polish or Czech approach, with exceptionally long rods and leaders. Similar to other European techniques, Spanish nymphing typically relies on a lob cast (due to the weight of the flies) and an upstream presentation. Due to the longer casts, instead of leading the fly through its drift, this approach involves actually retrieving the line as it comes down with the current. This is accomplish by stripping or a figure eight retrieve. Spanish nymphing is less so a tight line technique, but instead the leader has a curve in it. Spanish style uses 2-3 flies, with a heavy fly at the bottom, such that the weight of the flies is crucial.
Overall there is of course more detail to the differences between these styles, but we wanted you to have at least an overview before going to flies, leaders, and rods.
Best Flies for Euro Nymphing
We selected these flies for their universal proven patterns, made by some of the best quality fly fishing suppliers and major retailers – just point and click for details. To recap, Euro nymphing flies are heavier than most in your fly box, because they have tungsten bead heads and/or lead wire in the body. This allows them to sink more quickly, get to the right depth, and avoid use of splitshot. As you may recall, splitshot has the undesireable effect of getting snagged itself, and also dampens your connection to the fish resulting in missing the subtle takes. And, they are tied / fished “jig style” so that the hook faces up – preventing snags and keeping you fishing a higher percentage of the time. These flies will help you hook more fish – now all you need to do is land them!
Tungsten Hot Spot Pheasant Tail
Hot Head Euro Pheasant Tail
Hot Head Euro Pheasant Tail
Hot Spot Frenchie Nymphs
Copper John Jig Tungsten
Umpqua Parrott’s Euro Jig
Barbless Euro Nymphs 5 Flies
Best Leaders for Euro Nymphing
Euro-nymphing leaders are still quite a specialty item, and not offered by all retailers yet even some of the major ones. We selected these leaders for their quality suppliers. Some leaders may be as long as 18 feet (see French vs. other styles described above), to maximize usability and durability. Of course, you can also purchase colored monofilament, and make your own – exactly to your own specifications. The key is having the visible “strike indicator” built into the line instead of a separately applied strike indicator, and also having alternating colors to help with monitoring depth – as soon as you hook one fish, you know exactly the depth you were at so swing it through there again. These are the best fly fishing leaders on the market for euro-nymphing, just click on the image for details.
The best fly lines are critical for casting dry flies for example, so do you need a specialty line for this technique? No, not really. In fact, you’re not even relying on the line as much with this technique as you probably have been fishing traditional USA styles of nymphing. The key is having a line that is strong yet light (e.g. 3-4 weight) to increased sensitivity. If you do want to really take euro-nymphing to the max, try out the Rio euro-nymph line for an ultra light line (3 weight), with special coloring added at the tip to help detect subtle fish bites.
Same question as for lines – do you need a specialty fly fishing rod for this European technique? Again, not really. The important thing is that your rod is relatively long to aid with swinging the flies upstream. In that respect, any 9-10 foot rod will do the job, and even shorter if you are on smaller streams. However, if you do want to really take euro-nymphing to the max, check out these rods that help with high-sticking and really controlling and feeling the nymph to the extent possible – they are long and at the same time sensitive. Many times longer rods are also built to be more stiff and powerful – for casting on large rivers for example. These are the best fly fishing rods available on the market for euro-nymphing, because they combine length with sensitivity – makes fighting smaller fish fun too!