Never stop learning. Never stop fishing!
Even though I’ve been European Nymphing for about 11 years now, I’ve been lucky enough in the last year to have learned so many new things about Euro Nymphing that it has become a totally new game for me.
Because of what I’ve learned I have I taken a hard look at old info and old styles (both used and taught) and I have turned everything upside down, shaken out obsolete or outdated ideas, and it has taken my own fishing to a higher level. Hopefully what I am updating here will help you catch more fish too.
Learning from a Piscatorial Savant
It has been exciting to learn from the newest books and DVD’s, and the internet and social media, but it’s been especially rewarding to have had the opportunity to be guided by one of the best competition anglers in the world this year and to have fished together for several days not only in Oregon but in Tasmania as well. Thank you, Tom Jarman, from Australia.
Tom is the Australian Team #2, and was 18th at the World Championships in Slovakia in 2017 and 25th at the 2018 WC’s in Italy. We refer to Tom as a Piscatorial Savant, and the best part about him is his passion for sharing what he knows. I try to do the same: in the shop, out guiding, and sharing with friends on the river or here on the internet.
The greatest thing about fishing to me is the fact that we can never stop learning. I also firmly believe that even though most of us (including myself) will never compete in a fly fishing competition, the competition anglers are the one’s driving a lot of the innovation in the sport of fly angling right now. Much of this innovation revolves around nymph fishing with some very specialized techniques, but dry fly fishing and lake fishing are other areas where we can learn from the competitors and take our own fishing to a higher level.
Getting to know some of the guys who represent the USA Team, the Australian Team, and the Chilean Team has opened my eyes to the fact these are the anglers we need to be learning everything we can from.
Techniques, New and Old — Czech, Polish, French, and Spanish
The last Euro Nymphing blogs I wrote was about four years ago. While none of the information shared in the past is wrong, the development and evolution of the methods have changed the techniques in many ways. The newer methods are simply more effective at catching more fish.
In the past, we talked about the Czech methods, which were similar to the Polish methods and are where the modern Euro techniques originated. We considered the Czech/Polish ways of nymphing “short line” methods. They are easy and effective and they are still being used today by anglers all over the world because they work!
French Techniques — Ultra Long Leaders and Long Dead Drifts
From the short liners in Eastern Europe, the long line methods were mostly associated with the French and Spanish ways of nymph fishing. Their ways of building leaders were a little more complicated, since they were usually 20 to 40 feet long. In many cases this approach was more difficult for the average angler, mostly because of the complicated formulas of building and fishing leaders. I think the French leaders are fascinating and were developed for really challenging fishing conditions found in the mountains of Western Europe.
I suspect the more we play with some of their formulas on our own challenging waters, the better we will do too.
One of the things I’ve learned from following the French techniques is they use these ultra long leaders to present nymphs on long dead drifts. They apply grease floatant (Loon Payette paste is my choice) to the butt section and sighter and cast far upstream to achieve a totally stealth approach to the trout. Western anglers do similar presentations with an indicator casting upstream in riffles, but with a lot of fly line out, stripping in line as the current is bring the nymphs back towards us. Now imagine that same upstream presentation in a pool or a tailout with a 30’ leader and no (suspension type) strike indicator. Much less potential for drag and a quiet approach with zero plop of an indicator on the water, and best of all a very natural drift for the nymph. This of one of many styles in the French Leader methods, but is so different from what people around here envision when they think of Euro Nymphing.
Today people use the term Czech Nymphing for all sorts of ways we fish a nymph without a strike indicator. Short leaders, long leaders and any leaders in between often get lumped in to the same name; Czech Nymphing.
Some anglers call it Czech nymphing. Some call it Euro Nymphing. Some are now calling it ‘tight line nymphing’. Whatever you call it, there are some really cool ways to catch fish on nymphs without using a strike indicator.
With these methods you will be more effective at putting fish in the net at the end of the day over any other method of fly fishing rivers and streams.
An Evolution Every Six Months
If you look at this style of angling over a short period of time, whether at fly angling competitions around the world, or in our own back yards on a local river, the sport of Euro Nymphing is evolving quickly. Some say it’s a six-month cycle to the next evolution. My observation is that the evolutions come mostly to leaders and flies, but I’m never surprised by anyone taking presentation to another level.
Arguably leader and tippet will always be the most important aspect of all of this.
Leader designs have become longer and lighter. They’ve also become better at presenting a fly to the exact depth needed. Modern European Nymphing leaders incorporate much lighter tippets and often, shortened tippet sections from the sighter to the fly than what we recommended and taught just last year. Evolution in angling is alive and well.
The Newest Euro Nymph Leader Design — A Hybrid
One of the big innovations is that most leaders are now hybrids. A hybrid leader means it is a combination of both a short and long line leader, and can be fished shallow or deep, or even long up or across the currents to reach the toughest places.
A euro nymph leader is easy to build on your own, or you can pick one up at the Fly Fisher’s Place (just fill out the form and tell us how many you want). Please keep in mind this is one formula out of hundreds that will work.
This formula is our current favorite and the one all of our guides use on a daily basis, and that we fish ourselves. We learned this leader from Tom Jarman on the Australian Fly Fishing Team over the winter when we fished in Tasmania with him at the Driftwater Lodge in Delorraine. Tom uses this leader to compete in the World Championships. This is a world class set up.
Building the Hybrid European Nymphing Leader
If you wish to build your own leader this is an easy set up because it only uses five ingredients.
- Start with 10’-12’ of 6, 8, or 10# Hi Viz. Yellow.
- I’ve been using a Hi Viz Maxima 6# which is .009, but 8# is .010 and 12# is .013 and also make good butt sections, just adjust for the taper on the next section down. For this example we’ll assume you’ll keep the .009/6# butt section.
- Add 16” of 3x (.008) Rio Powerflex and attach to the .009 with a blood knot.
- Add ~23″ of 4x (.007) Rio Two-Tone Indicator Tippet to the 3x with a blood knot.
- I prefer to go pink–chartreuse-pink for my sighter which is why I prefer the Rio material. This is about 23” of sighter. It may be shortened to one section of pink and chartreuse which gives you 15 inches of sighter if you prefer a shorter sighter.
- At the end of the sighter add a 2mm tippet ring using a Clinch Knot.
- Add *3’–5′ of tippet.
- *These days I am using a lot of Trout Hunter Fluorocarbon tippet, from 5x to 7x. I’m using 6.5x and 7x for the ultimate presentations. Don’t be scared away from the light tippet, because the rod will protect the tippet from most break off’s.
- *I match the tippet length to the average depth of water for the stream. Usually 3 to 5 feet will be good but for various reasons you could go to 6 or 8 feet of tippet. One of those reasons would be deeper water, but another reason would be a presentation that you’d want to make in a shallow riffle on a more horizontal plane.
- Put a dropper tag halfway in the middle of the tippet with a triple surgeons knot.
- I put my dropper tag halfway in the middle of the tippet, but there are some situations in pocket water, or in shallow water you’ll do much better fishing ONE fly.
- Dropper tags can be added in a few different ways but I still prefer a triple surgeons knot with a tag left on one side to attach the dropper nymph because I think it is the strongest way to add a dropper tag over any other knot.
- You could add a second 2mm tippet ring in the middle of the tippet too, and tie the dropper tag off the ring.
One big difference in this leader design is we used to fish 4x and 5x for our tippets, with an occasional 6x used. Now we use way more 6x and 7x and we are definitely catching more fish and certainly getting better drifts. With all the well designed and purpose built ESN style rods, you will catch so many more fish using lighter tippet. It works so much better. I recommend adding fresh tippet every new day on the water.
We have been testing and using a lot of fluorocarbon tippet materials. Without a doubt, Trout Hunter and the new Cortland “Top Secret” Super Premium material are the two to use if you want the strongest materials on the market. I believe the Trout Hunter is the best from many days of fishing all of it.
Euro Nymphing Lines haven’t changed much since the last blog. In fairness they are so simple there can’t be much to change. Airflo, Cortland, and Rio all have great offerings. I certainly prefer a braided core line over the mono core offerings as they are way more manageable especially in cold water or cold weather.
One for Nymphing, One for Dry Flies!
One thing people are doing more frequently is getting two lines for their Euro Nymphing rods, and having an extra spool with a dry fly line set up, and a dedicated line for Euro Nymphing on the other spool. That is not a bad idea because a lot of these 10’ 2 and 3 weight rods make incredible dry fly rods too.
The last thing to consider is that with Tom’s leader formula listed above, very little line is coming out through the guides. I remain loyal to the true Euro Nymphing fly lines as opposed to an all mono rig for the ability to go to a shorted Czech style system (like the FTB King Snake sighter) and the fact it is the traditional set up used by the best competitors in the world due to rules set in the comp’s. If you tie up Tom’s leader for yourself, and find you want zero fly line out of the guides, go with a 15 to 20 foot butt section.
I’ve learned a lot about rods since the first blog too. Years ago it seemed to me any long 10′ or 11′ rod for a 3 or 4 weight would be fine for Euro Nymphing techniques.
While that isn’t wrong, it isn’t the best either.
It’s important to have a rod that is 10 to 10 ½’ feet long for a 2 or 3 weight (with occasional 4 weights mixed in for specialized places).
Make sure the rod is purpose built with a strong butt section and a soft, sensitive tip.
My absolute favorite rod right now is the Sage ESN 10 ½’ 3 weight. I believe it is the pinnacle of rod design for European Nymphing.
At the shop we sell a lot of Euro Nymph rods. Quite possibly the most in Oregon and the Pacific NW. One thing we see a lot are anglers who want a rod dedicated to Euro Nymphing but that doesn’t break the budget. Echo and Cortland make excellent rods for Euro Nymphing that sell for $169.95 to $249.95, and Sage and Beulah also make great mid-priced rods under $500. Winston, Thomas & Thomas, and Sage all have high-end models you’ll love and enjoy for years to come.
The 2-weight rods are pretty exciting fishing tools that are completely under utilized by most anglers. Hardly anyone I know that isn’t a competition angler has a 2 weight ESN rod. 2-weight ESN rods handle big fish well and more than anything they protect the lightest tippets. I am surprised more people don’t have a 10’ 2 weight because it is a fantastic rod to fish with around here and will handle way bigger fish than you think it will. It is also a sweet dry fly rod.
3-weight rods continue to the bread and butter. We use (and sell) 3-weights more than any other ESN rods. Getting a good 10 to 11’ 3-weight will serve you very well and will be an investment in your happiness. Again, these also make good dry fly rods, so while they are specialized, they are not a one trick pony.
In my mind 4-weight rods are the odd ducks in the Euro Nymphing rod world. We sell them, I have one, but just don’t end up using or recommending the 4-weight too often. I’d say, unless you have a really specific need for one I’d buy a 3-weight first, and back it up with a 2-weight.
One thing that has become so apparent to me on my journey to understand nymphing at a higher level is that trout and whitefish take the fly on a good drift as much or more than because of a specific pattern. Sure, we are using flies suggestive of the natural foods found in the biological drift of the river you are fishing, but this journey of ESN fishing has proven that a good drift with a nymph is more important than matching the perfect fly. This was hard for me to accept because for my 40-year fly fishing career I’ve been such a bug geek.
Size, shape, and color are important attributes of the fly but a good drift, with a properly weighted fly on a light tippet will out perform the fly choice more often than not.
Flies with Hot Spots
We have been using a lot of Euro Jigs and Perdigon Nymphs tied with tungsten beads. Some of the flies are flashy, but more often than not they are tied in natural colors of the insects we find on our local rivers but will incorporate a hot spot between the body and the bead using a fluorescent thread or dubbing to add a target for the fish to find your fly out of all the things drifting by in the river throughout the day. We are tying and selling more flies that use a hot spot or some kind of small color change in the thorax, butt, or tail of the fly to draw attention to the fly.
We are also using beads differently. Pretty much 100% of the Euro nymphs we sell are tied using tungsten beads. I find copper, gunmetal, light pink, and silver to be really good for our local waters. Gold beads are always the standard, but sometimes the other beads will out fish a gold-beaded fly. Every day is different.
My four favorite nymphs at the moment are:
- An Olive Perdigon with a pink bead
- A Pheasant-Tail Perdigon with a fluorescent orange hot spot and black nail polish wing case with a copper bead
- A Rainbow Warrior Perdigon with a fluorescent orange hot spot and black nail polish wing case and either a silver or black bead
- A Hares-Ear type nymph with a Coq-de-Leon tail and a pink UV-dubbed thorax and a silver or gunmetal bead.
- If you pressed me on a fifth fly I’d say a Frenchie.
All of these flies are solid contenders.
Presentation has remained mostly the same, with attention given to staying in touch with the nymphs and most presentations happening up and slightly across the current. Look for runs and pockets in the riffles as the place to really hammer the most trout and whitefish in any given fishing session.
One important aspect is to also fish the swing. We see so many fish coming to the jigs and perdigons on the swing, assuming they are chasing down the color out of curiosity, or taking it as an emerging insect.
Euro Nymphing Books
Books remain one of the great tools of learning. Anything.
George Daniels original book Dynamic Nymphing remains a masterpiece in my eyes for learning about Euro Nymping. He has new book called Nymph Fishing, New Angles, Tactics, and Techniques which takes another look at Euro styles and dives into western techniques for important comparisons as well. As we all know, there is a time and place for an indicator and this new book explains in detail why and in what kind of water or weather conditions you’d be better off fishing with the different methods.
The first time I read Nymphing the New Way by Jonathan White I was interested in it, but the techniques were so far apart from what I was previously doing, it kind of lost me. Now, after spending the winter, spring, and summer of 2018 re-learning so much about Euro Nymphing I re-read this book this fall and found it to be an excellent source of information on leader setup, flies, equipment, and techniques. It is a worthwhile book for any serious nymph anglers library.
As far as DVD’s go, the learning opportunities for ESN has been tough. That is until Modern Nymphing by Devin Olsen and Lance Egan came out two years ago. Before that DVD, all that covered ESN style angling were pretty inadequate. Most were hard to follow and not necessarily presented in a clear way, or not filmed in a way that the viewer could see anything that was going on through the drift. That changed with the Modern Nymphing and Modern Nymphing Elevated DVD’s. They are both excellent sources of information for you to learn from, they are clear to follow. My only gripe is the guys catch too many fish during each chapter sometimes breaking up the continuity of the message, but if you focus on the message and realize how well what they are teaching works, you’ll appreciate both of these DVD’s.
If it ain’t broke…
From my last blog in 2015 to now here is what I still like:
FTB Sighters for an old-style Czech Nymph setup. For one thing, when you use an FTB King Snake Sighter you’ll have fly line out the tip and even occasionally on the water. On a breezy day that can be better than the longer mono rig I talked about earlier in this post. I believe there is a true time and place for this style of nymphing and that could occur in deeper runs, on breezy days, or times you might want to “float” the sighter as an indicator.
Loon Snake River MUD is an excellent product that reduces glare on a tippet and makes even fluorocarbon less visible. On bright sunny days it is a must in my opinion if the fish are being extra selective.
Loon Deep Soft Weight is another amazing product that allows you to add more weight to your leader wherever it is needed and you see fit. I was recently schooled on that on a Deschutes trip by a friend who came in behind me and picked my pocket catching a beautiful redside right in front of me. The difference was he had a small bit of soft weight between his flies and besides getting deeper, it made his leader into a better Tight Line rig.
A new product recently introduced to the market is Rio Kahuna indicators. I’ve been putting two or three different color one inch pieces of these on my intermediate sighter (the clear 3x just above the bi-color) and it really makes the line trackable through bad light on practically any drift. It’s cool stuff we just got new for fall 2018 but I know it’s going to make an impact for nymphing in so many ways.
I know this is a lot to absorb. Questions? Comments? Leave a comment and let’s discuss. Want us to help you with a setup or put together a package of terminal tackle? Just give us a call or send me an email through our easy contact form.