What Is Euro Nymphing?
If you’ve stopped by a fly shop recently, watched some fly fishing videos online, taken an educational class, or simply spend a lot of time on the water, you’ve probably heard somebody talk about Euro nymphing, tight line nymphing, high stick nymphing, Czech nymphing, Polish nymphing, Spanish nymphing, French nymphing...you get the picture. But what does all of that mean? You can probably scour the internet and discover many different versions of what the above techniques entail, but let’s break this down simply.
Euro nymphing is a term that Americans use to describe a cocktail of techniques that were discovered while competing in the world championships overseas. Many of our high level competition fly anglers have taken what they’ve learned in international competitions and have melded the best aspects of those techniques together to coin the all inclusive nymphing approach we call Euro nymphing. I’ve also heard many anecdotes of people all across the country developing very similar techniques without any European influence, and there’s likely validity to many of those stories. To hear more about how the history of this all went down, check out the podcast Wet Fly Swing: Episode 43 with Devin Olsen as the expert himself gives a good summary of the topic.
Though there are a few constants within Euro nymphing, it lends itself to having many variations that are unique to different anglers. I’m not here to be the authority on this topic, but rather to try and give a clear picture of what it tends to look like. Hopefully, you get an idea of the generally accepted principles of this style of fly fishing and decide whether it’s something you’re interested in tackling or not.
Let’s break down each area.
Leaders: The leaders that Euro nymphing utilizes are what really defines the technique more than any other factor. In general, these leaders are very long. Where a traditional indicator nymphing situation may call for a 9 ft. 5x leader with the necessary amount of tippet attached, Euro nymphing leaders will be 18-20 ft. in length from fly line to fly. The reason that these leaders are so long is that any thick material in or on top of the water will inherently cause some amount of drag (something that moves your fly unnaturally). Fly line is one of the biggest culprits of drag, so by creating very long leaders, you take the fly line out of the equation. In essence, you really don’t need to have any fly line at all to start Euro nymphing, so long as you have a long enough leader. Manufacturers make Euro nymphing specific fly lines that are extremely thin (think 0-2 weight). These fly lines exist in order to comply with both fly fishing only regulations in certain states as well as competitive rules. To execute most Euro nymphing techniques, an actual fly line is not necessary and can actually be detrimental. Another aspect of leaders here is that they are light. When Euro nymphing, it is most common to hold all of your line off the water, besides the tippet and flies. If you had any heavy material out of your rod tip when doing this, such as fly line or very heavy leader, you will have a droop in your line which is called sag. This is magnified the further you are from your target. In order to maximize your range and reduce as much sag as possible, use as light of a leader as your casting abilities allow. A generic leader will consist of a level or tapered amount of stiff butt section for about 12-15 ft, roughly 3 ft of high vis “sighter” which is colored monofilament, along with a tippet ring followed by a level piece of 4-7x tippet.
Maxima Chameleon is great for leader building in Euro nymphing.
I go into more depth on this topic on my separate blog: "Getting Started with Euro Nymphing Leaders"
Tippet: It is important to note that tippet length and diameter really matters. In general, this is the only piece of the leader that is underwater and by keeping it light and thin, it not only has less drag but also allows flies to sink at the fastest rate possible. Fluorocarbon tippet is most popular but is not necessary. I like it for its abrasion resistance. Many would argue that fluorocarbon sinks faster than mono which is a benefit, and though true, this is normally nullified by the heavily weighted flies that are part and parcel for the technique.
Trout Hunter tippet is my go to for euro nymphing. It comes in 50 M spools and has half sizes.
Flies: In most scenarios, the actual fly pattern is not a very important factor in the overall equation. Euro nymphing allows for superior presentation in a lot of common situations. Most Euro nymphing anglers will have very simple flies with few materials that are easy to tie. A more important factor is the weight of your flies. As long as you have a 3-4 nymph patterns in a few sizes with many different weighted tungsten beads per pattern size, you can be effective. Jig hooks have gained popularity because they ride hook point up. Though this won’t eliminate as many snags as you would hope, it does eliminate some. To me the benefit of jig hooks is that it prevents your hook points from taking a beating in the water from rocks and wood. Keeping sharp hook points is an often overlooked aspect of any sort of nymph fishing that will save you many fish. Jig hooks also tend to hook fish in the upper portion of the mouth, which is a great connection when playing and landing fish,
TCO TIP: This wild brown ate a simple nymph that was tied with just dubbing and a bead.
Casting: Without getting into specific casts, let’s look at the differences compared to a traditional fly cast. In a normal fly cast, the fly line bends the rod, and the unloading of that rod propels your line forward. When casting with a Euro rod, your fly line is often entirely in the reel, but you still need to cast. You will either rely on the resistance of your flies in the water, or the weight of your flies to load the rod. Rods designed specifically for Euro nymphing will bend under the weight of their own mass, making it easier to cast long light leaders. Because of the lack of traditional fly casting, many traditional anglers remark that this technique is getting away from what they consider to be fly fishing. I don’t really worry about that idea too much. If you get the chance to be on the water with a few elite anglers that use this technique, you will notice just how much skill is required to cast this setup at a high level.
Presentation: As a topic that could fill countless books and articles, let's keep this simple once more. Essentially, an angler will choose a feeding lie they think a trout will be in. Position yourself across and a little downstream. Make a cast upstream of the fish. Your flies should be weighted enough to get close to the bottom, but not more than that. This eliminates the need for split shot. As the flies drift through the piece of current you are targeting, lead your flies slightly by holding all your leader off the water, except for your tippet.
Sighter Material: Watch your colored sighter material without pulling your flies. Allow them to drift naturally. This colored monofilament will act as your indicator and eliminate the need for strike indicators and yarn. Keep in line with the piece of current you’re fishing. When you see your sighter tighten, turn, or stop, set the hook as this could be a fish. Drift to a position just downstream of you and recast. As you advance in your nymph fishing, there can be a lot more variation and nuance to this, but what I described is a good starting point.
Fly Rods and Fly Reels: We will be getting into Euro rods and Euro nymphing reels in future posts in much greater detail, but let’s look at a few basics. In short, 10-11 foot 2-4 weight rods are used, but not necessarily with 2-4 weight lines, as mentioned in the leaders section. Essentially, long rods with soft tips are used to maximize the demands of the technique. In terms of reels, it’s nice to have a reel that is heavy enough to balance the longer rods. It is also beneficial to have a nice smooth disc drag reel because it can be a little challenging or just annoying to handle leader material, especially the thinnest leaders, when stripping in fish.
Why you should try Euro nymphing…
So, what makes it worth getting an entirely new nymphing outfit and going out of your way to learn all these new techniques when you can catch fish with what you already have? Most would say it is simply way more effective than standard nymphing techniques, and this is mostly true. In the fly shop, I hear a lot of people rave about fish counts doubling and tripling after getting a pretty introductory set up and practicing for a few days. Especially if your water type lends itself to Euro nymphing, results can be immediate and staggering.
TCO Tip:This section of the Fryingpan River is loaded with pocket water and is ideal for Euro nymphing.
People like catching fish, but numbers are not the most important thing for most people. I enjoy Euro nymphing because for one, I used to hate dealing with indicators and split shot. To indicator fish effectively, it requires so many small adjustments to weight and leader that I feel like I’m adjusting my rig more than fishing. Euro nymphing will still require making changes on the water, but less frequently. There is a lot you can do to change presentation before changing flies/weight is necessary. I also like that I can take on the mindset that every piece of water can hold a fish. I love reading water and thinking about all of the various places a trout could be. Picking apart a stretch of river piece by piece and leaving no stone left unturned can be a great way to maximize your time on the water and add new layers to your fishing experience.
So, there's the quick rundown. Like anything else in fly fishing, there is so much more that can be said than what we covered here, but hopefully this gives someone new to the technique a good picture of what it's all about. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to shoot me an email directly!
TCO Boiling Springs
Trout Guide at Relentless Fly Fising
Interested in trying it out? Come in to a TCO store and talk to our staff to get started!