What Is European-Style Nymphing?

Like every sport, fly fishing has its innovations. Right now, one of the biggest—and the most productive—is a technique called European Style Nymphing.

Fly fisherman in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France perfected Euro-nymphing and competitive fly anglers adopted their tactics to win tournament after tournament around the globe. As other fisherman discovered just how productive Euro-nymphing is, this technique showed up online and invaded North America. Today, magazines are filled with articles about Euro-nymphing and companies are building special rods for it.

So, what is European Style Nymphing? And why should you try it out the next time you hit the water?

Simple. Because Euro-nymphing is absolutely the best way to get to know a river in the most intimate of ways. It’s also incredibly effective at breaking down sections of river and allowing you to fish every inch of it. When you’re a Euro-nymphing expert, you’ll notice the small differences on a river’s bottom and, best of all, you’ll hook far, far more fish.

The Right Rod

For Euro-style nymphing, anglers prefer rods in the 9’-11’ range built to toss 2-4WT lines. These days, many rod companies build rods like these. They’re all characterized by thick butt sections and fine, ultra-responsive mid and tip sections.

As you can imagine, these Euro rods will not lay down 60 feet of line like a superfast, 9’ dry fly rod. But that’s OK. With Euro-nymphing, the “cast” is more of a upstream lob, and these rods are perfect for it. Also, these rods are unparalleled when it comes to feeling the bottom and giving you the sensitivity you need for drift control and feeling the subtlest strikes.

Following Their Lead

By definition, fly fishing uses the weight of the line to cast a fly. But with Euro-nymphing, that’s not always the case. Instead, Euro-anglers use the heft of their nymph (usually weighted) to propel the fly to the target. To make this easy to do, they use long leaders made up in different ways.

  • Czech-style setups: Fly line then 6’–12’ of clear, #15 mono, a 16” section of multi-color sighter as an indicator, and 4’–8’ of level fluorocarbon tippet in 1x to 4x to the fly.
  • French-style setups: Fly line then 9’ of 0x tapered leader, a section of curly-q sighter acting as indicator, and 4’–6’ of 4x to 5x fluorocarbon tippet to fly.

Both these setups use a long section of colored monofilament as an indicator. Unlike standard indicator nymphing, this mono is not used to show strikes. Instead, Euro-anglers use it to gauge the fly’s depth. This way, they can be sure their nymph is in continuous contact with the bottom of the river.

If you buy a Euro-style rod, rig it up one of these way, and practice Euro-style nymphing techniques, you’ll notice right away how the hard ticks of rocks your fly encounters through a drift differ from the soft pull of a trout mouthing the fly.

Since your casts are really just lobs, and most drifts are right in front of you and only run as far as your rod reaches, you’ll also notice you aren’t using your fly line much. That’s why some Euro-nymphers don’t use fly lines at all.

Instead, they just use a 20’-30’ thin monofilament leader. A setup like this gives them incredible sensitivity. Not only can they can feel strikes in the rod tip, but they can also hold the “leader” in their hand near the handle and pick up on subtle bumps of nudges in the drift.

BTW: Before you gear up with a Euro-rig and hit your favorite river, check your local regulations. Not all states allow Euro-style nymph setups on fly-fishing-only waters.

Trying It For Yourself

Now that you’ve learned how effective Euro-nymphing can be, you’re probably itching to try it how for yourself. When Euro nymphing, there are few key things you want to achieve:

  • A tight connection at all times between your line, leader, and fly
  • A dead drift that still eliminates slack in the entire length of the system
  • Total control over the speed and depth the fly drifts

With these three things in mind, the first thing to do when you arrive at the water is pick a run. But before you get anything wet—feet or fly—visualize the river bottom in a grid-like pattern from bank to bank.

Unlike regular indicator nymphing, Euro-styling requires you to move around constantly to reposition yourself. Before you start fishing, have a plan for attacking the fishiest parts of the river, one after another. If you just wade right in, you may blow out a great spot before you can run a fly through it.

One you know what you want to do, make your first steps into the water (or begin from the bank) and cast upstream. Gather your line and leader. Then raise the rod tip so your everything is taunt. As the fly drifts downstream, follow its path with the rod tip and maintain a tight, constant connection.

You should feel the bumps of the river bottom. If you’re not, lower your rod tip. As mentioned, don’t use the colored monofilament section of your leader as a strike indicator. Instead, use it to gauge your depth and relationship with the rocks and structure along the river’s bottom. Sometimes, you may need to speed up your rod and actually pull your fly through a run in order to stay in contact with the bottom through the entire drift.

After making drifts through the area directly in front of you, take a few steps forward until you’re standing on top of the area you just fished. Then repeat the process. Once you make those first few drifts and have felt the river bottom the entire time, you’ll see how European-style nymphing allows you to sweep the bottom and put your fly in front of fish all over the river. No other method of nymphing lets you break the river bottom down in such a way.

When you realize you can make a drift with Euro rig, all those areas of the river that seemed unfishable with a regular indicator/nymph setup are now open to you. Most rivers have fast, boulder pocket water that is heaven for fish but hell for a fisherman. With water rushing by so fast, regular indicators are swept away before the fly reaches the bottom. This doesn’t happen with Euro nymphing. That’s just one way it opens the door to discovering what lurks beneath. And one good reason why it’s a skill every fly anglers should know.

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