Euro Nymphing Rods Explained
Posted on 20 October 2019
My last post was basically a long form definition of what Euro Nymphing is. Moving forward, I’ll be dissecting the world of Euro nymphing piece by piece. This post is going to focus on the rods we use for Euro nymphing. I think in general, there are a lot of misconceptions about what makes one of these rods “good” or not. Hopefully this post provides a little clarity on this topic. As in any fly rod, you will see trade offs in different areas of performance, and different people value some of those areas more than others. These are specialty rods designed for a specific purpose, so let’s break this down and provide a starting point.
One of the first things people ask here at the shop when thinking about getting into Euro Nymphing is “Can’t I just use my 9 ft 5 Weight?”. The short answer to that question is yes. You could pretty much use any trout rod to Euro nymph. In a pinch, I’ve fished Euro leaders with my fast action 9 ft 5 weight and was able to make it work and catch a bunch of fish. Despite this, myself and most others would agree that getting the right tool for the job is going to make a huge difference. Anybody who fishes large streamers would tell you that 4 and 5 weight rods with dry fly lines are going to make a day of streamer fishing far less enjoyable, and ultimately, less effective. The same thing goes for Euro Nymphing. The advantages of having a piece of equipment that matches the demands of the technique far outweigh any inconvenience of having an additional rod.
So what makes it a “Euro Nymphing Rod”? The first thing you will notice about Euro nymphing rods is that they start at 10 ft in length, far longer than what you might need in an all purpose fly rod on the exact same piece of water. By in large, 10 ft is the most popular length due to it’s versatility, with the 10’6’’ models gaining popularity recently. 11 ft rods are sometimes favorable in larger pieces of water, but have some other disadvantages, specifically in landing larger fish and in their overall weight. The length does gives you the ability to reach water further away and provides a longer lever to play fish on lighter setups. It also puts a little more distance between you and the fish as this is a very close range tactic in most scenarios.
In challenging wading situations like this, extra length in your rod is always a huge advantage because it allows you to reach out to effectively fish more water.
The line weight of a Euro Nymphing rod is also far lighter than what most typically expect to see when nymphing using other techniques. 3 weights dominate the current scene, with 2 and 4 weights having a place as well. Let’s use the 10 ft 3 weight as our generic example going forward, as they are by far the most popular. The question that follows is... “Isn’t a 3 weight a little light for big trout?”. The answer would normally be yes, but a Euro nymphing rod is not a normal 3 weight. Having increased length allows rod tapers to be designed in such a way that allows for a soft tip like you might expect to see in a standard 3 weight, but what follows is a transition into a thicker and sturdier butt section, much like a 5 or 6 weight. This allows the rod to protect light leaders and cast lighter flies, and yet, still be able to put the wood to a good fish in strong current. It is worth noting that though a rod may be considered 2, 3 or 4 weight, the actual fly line used is normally far lighter to reduce drag during your drift.
The follow up question we should be asking ourselves after you have an general idea of how these rods are designed is “What does quality performance look like in a Euro nymphing rod?”. Because you seldom cast a traditional fly line with these rods, performance looks different than your standard fly rod. But...“Aren’t you just lobbing those flies around, barley fly casting at all?”. Sometimes, but there is a lot more nuance to the casting and performance of these rods than meets the eye. Here is my checklist, in no particular order, of what is important to performance in a quality euronymphing rod. Some will have different opinions on what is most important here:
- Casting: You aren’t casting 40 ft loops with a fly line, but casting is still important. Casting bomber heavy tungsten jig nymphs isn’t too hard, but many situations call for lighter rigs. Can the rod effectively cast light flies and light leaders at a distance (20-30ft is long)? How well does the rod tuck cast and manipulate the flies’ entry into the water? Can you feel the rod load with just the weight of two weighted nymphs when casting? Can it manage casting the occasional dry fly? These are the questions I’m asking myself when evaluating the casting component. Accuracy also matters. One thing that impacts your accuracy is the rods recovery or how quickly the tip dampens (stops wiggling and returns to its original position). The quicker the rod tip returns to its resting position after it bends in a cast, the more consistent and accurate your casting becomes. Also, look out for rods that don’t track well (maintain a straight line), as this can cause some accuracy issues.
Light pocket water such as above is one of many situations where accuracy counts. Each of the colored marks indicate a unique target, all in a small stretch of water. Being able to hit multiple specific targets in a small area is an important aspect of successful Euro nymphing. In reality, you could divide the marks into more unique targets that are smaller, requiring even better accuracy.
- Tippet Protection vs Hook Set: In my eyes, this is the most significant trade off to consider. Simply put, these rods need to be able to bend enough to protect 5-7x tippets with larger fish. Because of the desire to have as little drag in your drift as possible and for flies to sink as quickly as possible, 6x tippet is the norm for a lot of situations. Here is the dilemma; rods that don’t flex enough will break off big fish, while slightly stiffer rods will result in easier hook ups. Stiffer rods allow for better hook penetration with less force applied. A flick of the wrist could be all you need with a stiffer rod. This is especially important when fishing for smaller fish because these fish don’t have the mass to bend the rod and account for any stretch and slack in your line before they spit out the fly. Although, hooking into a large fish with a fast action rod and light tippet will require you to baby the fish and risk a break off. A softer, deeper flexing rod will give you a much greater margin for error when fighting fish and will allow you to put more pressure on the rod instead of stressing your tippet. In return, expect to have to hook set much harder per size of the fish. These two traits are a trade off and different people will value one over the other, or strike a balance. I prefer my rods to be somewhere in the middle. I want to be able to put pressure on a big fish without breaking off, but also not have a rod that’s such a noodle that you have to hook set super aggressively to keep from bouncing fish.
- Fish Fighting: Let’s be real, when you get into a big fish, you want to land it and do it in a way that doesn’t stress the fish. For this reason, your rod needs some backbone to be able to keep fish from bulldogging you into boulders or running for root balls and sunken trees. This area will never be a true strength of these rods compared to others, but if you target bigger fish this is going to be an area of need. So you don’t get the wrong idea, I’ve landed 18-20 inch fish in fast moving water with a 10 ft 2 weight without major issues. What makes this possible, in addition to rod design, is simply good technique. Applying side pressure to a fish when fighting rather than keeping a rod vertical makes fighting fish doable with these setups. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t really want to test my 10 ft 3 weight on a steelhead.
Note: The tippet you use will dictate the amount of pressure you can apply. Regardless of rod strength, 6x tippet will break before a 2 weight rod breaks assuming you have a quality rod. If you think going up to a 4 weight will help fish fighting, this can be true, but plan on using much heavier tippet before it matters. This is why a fast action 5 weight may actually be harder to fight fish on 5x or 6x compared to a more flexible 10 ft 3 weight.
This solid Colorado brown was landed with a 10 ft 3 weight rod and 6.5X Trout Hunter Tippet. Good technique and well designed gear can help to land larger fish on lighter equipment.
- Total Weight of the Rod: Holding a 10ft+ rod extended all day long can be exhausting! Lighter rods cause less fatigue and create a smoother feel when casting by giving you a more comfortable swing weight. Some people will deal with heavier rods and get used to the weight, others will really prefer the featherweight feel. Either way, it is a factor that most will notice right away.
- Sensitivity: Many people rave about sensitivity in Euro nymphing rods but why is it important? Contrary to what many believe, strike detection is only a small portion of why sensitivity matters. Feeling strikes often means you are missing strikes, especially when your drift is upstream of your position. You should’ve seen the strike first. What I find sensitivity to be really helpful with is providing you a little bit of feedback about what’s happening under water. It can tell you if you are ticking rocks or rolling the bottom. The most sensitive rods will even allow you to feel the lightest nymphs go tight in the water column, which can be critical in evaluating your presentation.
Ultimately, many rods will meet the demands for somebody getting into Euro nymphing, but just as an expert fly caster begins to appreciate aspects of well designed fly rods, a high level Euro nymphing angler will begin to pick up on the subtleties of what makes these specialty rods work well. Despite this, I've found that there are a number of viable options out there from large and small companies alike. I've tried rods I've loved, as well as rods I haven't cared for at various prices and from various manufacturers. In terms of which brand to chose from, go with an option that gives you a good warranty, good performance and is made with materials that won't fail. Below are three models at each price point that I have full faith in from the TCO lineup. Check them out below!
Featured Euro Nymphing Rods at TCO
Orvis Clearwater: This is our lowest price point rod in this class, but is also amongst the most popular. This rod is an outstanding value. If you’re considering getting into Euro nymphing but aren’t sure you will do it as much as other techniques, or maybe you are on a budget, I would highly recommend this rod. Many experienced Euro nymphing anglers and guides keep this rod as a backup to a higher end rod, but in all honesty, this could be your everyday rod and you would be more than pleased. It is a little heavier and might not be as nice as the other rods on the list in some of my mentioned performance areas, but at $198.00, you can absolutely not go wrong with the 10’ #3 Clearwater.
With no prior fly fishing experience and after a month of practice on his 10 ft 3 Weight Clearwater, Collin was landing wild browns like this on Penns Creek!
Orvis Recon: The Recon is an awesome series of rods from Orvis in general, and the 10’ #3 doesn’t disappoint. This is a light, high performance rod made 100% in the USA. This rod is amongst the best mid range price point rods of any brand and in my opinion is preferable to many rods that cost twice as much. It has a very smooth casting stroke with a graphite design that tracks well and allows for accuracy. It isn't the most sensitive rod, but I love that it strikes a decent balance in tippet protection and easy hook sets. Also, if you want to throw on a 3 weight line and cast traditionally, this rod is probably the best rod in terms of classic casting which adds a layer of versatility. Retailing at $429.00, this is one of our shop and guide staff favorites at TCO Boiling Springs.
Sage ESN: The ESN is a classic rod that has been a staple in the Euro nymphing field for a long time. The new ESN has some undeniable traits that many others don’t possess. Sage seemed to go all in on the medium/slow action of this rod which gives it different character compared to the Orvis rods mentioned. This one is extremely sensitive. It’s going to protect your tippet very well and you will feel every tick of the bottom. It is extremely light and surprisingly accurate for such a soft rod because it dampens (stops wiggling) so well for how much the tip flexes. It doesn’t have quite as thick of a butt section which will cause the rod to bend very deep into the blank when fighting larger fish and when casting. As I mentioned earlier, this is a trade off. I think that for the right person, it has all the potential to be the perfect rod with some of the best graphite technology in the Euro nymphing market today. The 10’6” 3 weight ESN retails at $899.00.
Have more questions or want to check a rod out in person? Come on down to a TCO location and ask our staff!
TCO Boiling Springs