What’s all the excitement about, anyway? Isn’t Euro Nymphing just another variation of less-exciting-than-dry-fly-fishing? We have news for you – way more fish are already caught underwater. Euro-nymphing takes it up a few more notches. Here we cover why and how to euro-nymph, what gear you need, and where to get it. Read on if you want to increase your hook-up rate.
Besides the obvious, European style nymphing arose from competition fly fishing. Under the rules in most European nations that host competitions, anglers aren’t allowed to put anything on the leader. This eliminates artificial aids that would help sink or float the fly. Said another way, there are good reasons for disallowing split shot and strike indicators. The act of isolating the angler’s skills, in turn levels the playing field among the competitors.
To stay within the rules poses two issues. First, how do you get flies down to fish-depth without split shot? Second, how can you detect even subtle strikes without a strike indicator? Euro-nymphing doesn’t only overcome these issues, but excels at them.
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 you from feeling a strike, especially subtle strikes. They also have to be adjusted frequently to change depth, and can damage your leader resulting in break-offs. Strike indicators act as a float, fixing the depth down to the fly, which not only reduce your touch and feel but also can spook trout as well.
Getting rid of these, and using the right technique can help you catch many more fish.
Beyond the technique, the nymph angler’s secret is they know fish spend most of their time feeding on subsurface bugs. In fact, nymph fishing allows you to fish productively not only more hours in a given day, but also more months out of the year. This is because fish don’t come to the surface much if at all in the shoulder months and off-season.
What is the technique, actually?
Euro-nymphing involves high-sticking your leader above, and to the extent over/off the water. This increases 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 as well. But these are not mandatory by any means – you can start this technique just by changing your flies and leader.
Bye bye, split shot.
Competition fly fishing takes care of the weight issue by putting more weight into the flies themselves. By replacing brass with denser tungsten in the beads, and including lead wire in the body, adds substantial weight to the flies. As a result, the fly itself can get to depth more quickly without split-shot on your leader.
An additional feature 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 to use different colors for different sections, which will give you a sense for depth and additional strike indication.
By adding a bright section of leader in the middle, the color makes it more visible to you. When the euro-nymphing leader straightens or pauses, it gives you the visual cues to set the hook.
Not only that, but by high-sticking your 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 actually had with long distance nymphing, anyways? The farther away from you, the more out of touch you are from the fly.
Colored leaders also help you with depth control, in terms of maintaining consistent depth. When you can easily notice what depth you are at when you get strikes, you’ll run the fly through the same channel more consistently.
The great thing is, you can easily tie leaders yourself, to exactly the length and color specifications you want.
Ok, sounds interesting. But really convince me, why Euro-Nymph?
Still not convinced? Here are several more reasons why the pros are using this technique. Not to mention, why fly fishing classes and guides are increasingly offering 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.
Productive 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, many insects never leave the bottom, and never head for the surface.
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. Euro-flies and gear are increasing in prevalence, but still a specialty item and not in every fly shop. 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.
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.
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.
The French use longer leaders, for example as long as 12 to 20 feet, and typically use smaller flies than the other styles. They also prefer to cast directly upstream, and may pull on the flies during the drift (in contrast 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. French flies are typically smaller than in Czech or Polish styles, because larger flies are unwieldy on the longer leaders.
The Spaniards use an even longer leader and presentation. Spanish style is closer to French style (in technique not only 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 accomplished 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. Spaniards tend to use 2-3 flies, with a heavy fly at the bottom, such that the weight of the flies is crucial.
In this section we walk through the best flies, leaders, lines, and rods that will help you increase your effectiveness at Euro-nymphing.
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. It also dampens your connection to the fish resulting in missing the subtle takes. These flies are tied and fished “jig style” so that the hook faces up. The great thing is it prevents snags, and will keep 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!
Individual Tungsten Bead Heads Available From Orvis & Amazon
Tungsten Hot Spot Pheasant Tail
Hot Head Euro Pheasant Tail
Hot Head Euro Pheasant Tail
Multi-Pack Tungsten Bead Heads Available On Amazon
Region Fishing Tungsten Bead Head Flash Back Pheasant Tail Mayfly Nymph Fly | 1 Dozen Flies (Assorted)
Region Fishing One Dozen Tungsten Bead Head 20 Incher Stonefly Nymph Flies on Mustad Signature Hooks (Hook #12)
Region Fishing Premium Tungsten Nymph Fly Assortment | 60 Flies
Hot Head Euro Pheasant Tail
Region Fishing Tungsten Bead Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Jig Fly – Euro Nymph – Hanak Hooks (6ct Hook #18)
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 build 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. You will also want to have alternating colors to help with monitoring depth. As soon as you hook one fish, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly the depth you were at. Then 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.
RIO Euro Nymph Leader with Tippet Ring
Umpqua Phantom X Euro Numph Fly Fishing Leader 20′
Rio Euro Nymph Leader, 11′, 0X/2X, Pink/Yellow – 2 Pack
Rio Fishing Products Technical Euro Nymph Leader with Tippet Ring 14FT 2X/4X (Pink & Yellow)
Scientifc Anglers Euro Nymph Kit
Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader
Best Fly Lines for Euro-Nymphing
The best fly lines are critical for casting dry flies for example, so do you need a specialty line for this technique? No, not to get started, but yes if you want to refine your Euro-nymphing technique. To get started, consider that you’re not relying on the line as much with this technique. If you are already a nympher in the traditional sense, then you are already used to trying to sense subtle bumps.
Where fly lines designed for Euro-style can really help, is their higher strength-to-lightness (3-4 weight) ratio. This provides increased sensitivity. Also, the addition of special colors at the tip (in addition to a multi-colored leader) can help detect super-subtle hits.
RIO Fly Fishing Fly Line FIPS Euro Nymph Line
RIO Products Euro Nymph Shorty Fly Line (#2-5) – 20ft, Floating, Orange/Sage/Olive
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, at least for starters, and perhaps even shorter if you are on smaller streams.
However, if you do want to really take euro-nymphing to the max, you will want something longer, and very lightweight to ensure you feel every little bump. 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 designed to be very sensitive.
Many times longer rods are also built to be more stiff and powerful – for casting on large rivers for example – but with those same power rods you lose the touch and feel you need for Euro-nymphing.
Cortland has made a business out of multiple versions of euro-rods at a reasonable price, while Orvis brings the highest quality to gear for this technique. 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!
Echo Carbon XL Euro-Nymph
Cortland Competition Nymph 10 foot 3 weight
Cortland Competition Nymph Fly Rod Outfit with Rod Lamson Liquid Reel and Competition Line
Euro-nymphing involves high-sticking your leader above, and over/off the water. This in turn increases your ability to feel when a trout takes your fly which is more heavily weighted. The style comes from European competitions, where supplemental weights such as split-shots and floating indicators are disallowed. This keeps you more in touch with the fly. The technique works best with a longer fly rod, a lighter-weight line (e.g. 3-weight), and a multi-colored leader. Note however that you can start this technique just by changing your flies and leader, with your existing fly rod.
What is the best leader for Euro-nymphing?
The key is having the visible “strike indicator” built into the line, instead of a separately applied strike indicator. This is aided by a multi-colored leader with alternating colors to help with monitoring depth. As soon as you get a strike, you’ll be better able to know exactly the depth you were fishing at. Then swing it through the same depth again to reach where more trout are lying. Some leaders may be as long as 18 feet. You can also purchase colored monofilament, and tie your own just the way you like it.
How do you do Euro nymphing?
Absolutely! The nymph fly angler’s secret: they know that fish actually much more of their time feeding on subsurface bugs, than on surface hatching bugs. In fact, nymph fishing allows you to fish productively not only more hours in a given day, but also more months out of the year. This is because fish don’t come to the surface nearly as much if at all in the shoulder months and off-season.
Can you Euro nymph with a 9 foot rod?
Yes, certainly. While longer rods 10-13 feet certainly enhance Euro nymphing, you can do the technique with any rod, just by changing up your leader to a multi-colored, longer leader and your flies to weightier jig-style. A 9-foot rod can be used quite effectively to Euro-nymph, especially on smaller to medium sized streams. Of course, the longer the rod the more line and leader you can get out there while “high sticking” and keep a direct connection to the fly, so shorter rods will limit you somewhat in that respect. But if you don’t want to spring for a new rod just yet, don’t let that hold you back from Euro-nymphing because the technique can be so effective.
What are nymphs?
Newly emerged insects, or those still in their protective casing are nymphs. They can often be found clinging to underwater structure, or coming out of their protective casing. Sometimes they may have been dislodged, making them 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 swim towards the surface 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. Nymphs are a continuous staple food for trout, bass, panfish, and other species.
What is fly fishing nymphing?
Nymphing uses artificial flies that imitate aquatic insects in their juvenile, larval state. Nymphs are the first stage of underwater insect hatches. For many insects the nymph is followed by the emerger (wet fly) state as they rise to the surface. After that, insects that dry out their wings on the surface then fly off to breed and then die. Sometimes this occurs within as short as a 24 hour period, from hatching and the lifecycle starts again. Nymphing also involves imitations of other sub-aquatic lifeforms, such as worms (try for example the San Juan worm, Wormy Worm, Ultimate Worm, etc.). Trout also find crustaceans such as crawfish imitations (try the Wooly Worm and other Crawfish imitations) simply irresistible.
Is nymphing really fly fishing?
Absolutely! The nymph fly angler’s secret, is they know that fish spend much more of their time feeding on subsurface bugs, than on insects hatching at the surface. In fact, nymphing allows you to fish not only fish more hours productively in a given day, but also more months out of the year. This is because fish often don’t come to the surface much if at all in the shoulder months and off-season. Of course catching fish on dry flies is a lot of fun, because you can see them take it. But if you want to maximize the number of fish you hook into, then you’ll want to fish below the surface at least as much as above it!
Is it better to fly fish upstream or downstream?
You certainly can catch fish with a correct downstream drift. However, in general you want to present your fly upstream and across the river from you. This presentation is often the most effective for dead-drifting nymphs, wet or dry flies. Since fish generally face upstream, this keeps you downstream or directly behind the fish. It’s better to stay in the trout’s “blind spot” (directly behind fish facing upstream), to help with stealth and avoiding spooking them. In fact, you can often get very close to fish—even within 10-20 feet, by moving slowly and carefully upstream. Be sure to cast closer to you after every wading step, before you cast farther, to pick up trout in seams closer to shore before you spook them. This approach also gives you the maximum drift per cast, saving energy and spooking fewer fish.