What Is European Nymphing?
There are many ways to catch a fish, and while each one them has their place, this is the place for European Nymphing. The term European Nymphing, or Euro Nymphing is just as it sounds, nymphing methods that originated in European countries. While used in day-to-day language as a term for a style of fishing, it actually encompasses multiple styles, but is easier said than naming which specific method one might use, especially when each person may have a slight spin of their own. In general, use of the term Euro Nymphing really boils down to tight-line fishing with a longer rod, an inline sighter rather than an indicator, and flies that are heavy enough to get to the fish without split shot. There are many ways to set up a European style rig, as well as many ways to fish it, but having the right gear for it is most important.
While a 9 foot 5 weight rod may be the perfect all-around trout rod, it is not the best option for European Nymphing. It is possible, but it is similar to seeing a fish without polarized sunglasses; it’s much easier with them. With a longer rod, it is possible to reach out, keep the rod tip high, line off of the water, and stay tight to the flies. That will make it possible to detect strikes in time to set the hook. Typically, rods built specifically for these methods are going to be 10-11 feet long, but can even be up to 14 feet. Each length has its purpose and is usually a personal preference decision. The length does, however, affect reach, wind resistance, tip recovery, weight and feel. Another important note about the length of these rods is that because they are built longer, they can be built with a softer tip to protect light tippets.
The weight of the rod is the trickier part to understand, as it does not fit into the standard of fly rod weights. A rod that was designed specifically for European style Nymphing will be labeled as a 2, 3 or 4 weight, but they are much stronger than that. Essentially, that means that the tip section of that rod will be a 2, 3, or 4 weight while the butt section will be 5, 6 or 7 weight strength. This is because the rods need to be built with a softer, more sensitive tip to protect tippets and detect strikes, but they also need the backbone to fight the fish. The longer taper makes this possible.
Reels for Euro Nymphing are the same as any other method, but there are a few specific points to look for when rigging. The main point is the weight of the reel. This means the actual weight of the reel and is not referring to the line weight the reel is recommended for. Holding the rod up high with an extended arm for long periods of time will be tiring, and an unbalanced rod and reel outfit will make that even more so. Imagine holding the rod up and at the same time, pulling the tip up or pushing it down to maintain the correct position. This will create fatigue in the wrist and arm. Ideally, the rod is balanced horizontally on one finger placed just in front of the cork. Because the rod is longer, a heavier reel is necessary to balance it. Below is a table that will help to determine an ideal reel weight for each of the Syndicate Pipeline Pro P2 series rods.
Another feature to consider when deciding on a reel is the way that the spool meets with the frame of the reel. Some reels have a small gap in between the line guard of the frame and the spool of the reel that a thin diameter fly line may be able to fit through and end up where it shouldn’t be. One may even choose a full-framed reel to avoid the line slipping through the line guard. While a minuscule problem, it is still annoying and avoidable.
There are two main types of lines to use in European Nymphing, level monofilament and manufactured lines made specifically for Euro Nymphing. There are a few options in manufactured lines these days, such as the Rio Euro Nymph line, The Super-Dri Euro Nymph line from Airflo, and the Competition Nymph line from Scientific Anglers, and they have certain advantages and disadvantages over using monofilament.
Monofilament line can really be considered the original method and certainly still works today. While monofilament can be much less expensive than a manufactured fly line, it is also less durable and usually has more memory as well. It must be spooled tightly in order to keep it from tangling around itself on a fly reel, which will also make it coil more when pulled off of the reel. The repeated coil and stretch combined with UV exposure will cause monofilament to break down faster than most manufactured fly lines. On the plus side, monofilament is stiff enough to avoid sagging in the guides while fishing and is easily tied to leaders and sighters.
Because many competitions require the use of a tapered fly line, companies began producing a nearly level line with a slight taper. The idea was to create a line similar to level monofilament in use, but with advantages over it and competition legal. Some of these lines even have a monofilament core, but ideally the core is a braided Dacron. The braided core offers a more supple line even in cold weather as well as the ability to splice a leader into for passing through the rod guides easily. For those that prefer a loop, most of these lines will come with it. One great advantage in the manufactured fly line is the slight texture. Monofilament can be slippery, especially with wet hands, but a slight texture on the fly line allows for a solid hold and direct connection.
Leaders for European nymphing can be purchased or built and consist of the actual leader, a sighter and then the tippet. While Czech and Polish style leaders tend to be shorter, French and Spanish style leaders are longer, but experimenting and customizing is ultimately the best method.
From the fly line to the sighter is the actual “leader” which can be built from nylon or fluorocarbon. While fluorocarbon will be stronger, it is also more expensive and slightly heavier so nylon is usually a better option here. Connecting the leader to the fly line can be done with a “loop-to-loop,” a nail knot, or by splicing the leader into the fly line. If the leader was purchased, it is most likely made of nylon and is tapered, which will aid in the turn-over of the flies during casting, but this can be achieved by building the leader with multiple sizes of larger tippet as well.
The next piece in line will be the sighter, a brightly colored section of line to aid in visual detection of strikes as well as drift manipulation. Sighter material is available in a variety of colors, but most commonly yellow, green and pink. Choosing the correct color depends on the colors in the background of the fishing areas, which also vary, so the best option is multi-colored sighters. Adding blue and white to the color chart will help, especially when fishing in the fall when foliage colors are changing. The sighter is a constant reference point as to where your flies are and what they are doing at any giving time. The sighter will usually point to the flies, so a bend in the sighter facing downstream will typically mean that the flies are upstream and vice versa.
Choosing the right sighter is best done through experimenting, as there are many options out there. The most common type with Czech and Polish style nymphing is a piece of braided Dacron, or fly line backing. This type can be more sensitive as it is more mendable, but is also more affected by wind while fishing. For Spanish and French style sighters, a section of brightly colored monofilament is more common, but the two are quite different from each other. A French sighter will be a multi colored mono sighter just as the Spanish, only it is coiled up like a slinky.
From the sighter to the fly will be a section of level line tippet, preferably fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon tippet material is more abrasion resistant, is heavier and does not reflect sunlight under water, making it a better option than nylon material in this situation. Smaller tippets will sink slightly faster than larger ones so for much trout fishing, 5x is a great starting point. As with all fishing though, the tippet will need to vary by the water fished and the size of the target fish. The length of tippet will vary by the depth of the water and number of flies fished.
To allow more movement of each fly, they are tied on tags, short pieces of tippet stemming from the main line. The number of flies will equal the number of sections of tippet, so fishing one fly will require one section, two flies, two sections, etc. A good rule of thumb is for the total tippet length from sighter to the point, or terminal fly to be just more than the depth of the water fished.
Tying all sections of the leader together with standard blood or surgeon’s knots is one way, but using tippet rings can make rigging and re-rigging faster and easier. A tippet ring can be incorporated into almost any knotted connection from the leader to the fly tags. Most commonly, a tippet ring is used from the sighter to the tippet to preserve the sighter length when changing tippet.
While most flies will work for European Nymphing, traditional patterns incorporate specific designs to be effective. Usually, hooks are barbless and use a jigged, curved or straight shank shape with super points and wide gapes. Companies like Hanak, and Dohiku are on the leading edge of these hook styles. These flies are tied with tungsten, brass and lead to incorporate the ideal amount of weight, as no split shot will be added to the leader while fishing. Fly shapes and sizes are also manipulated to create the most effective pattern for each situation.
Most flies specifically for European Nymphing are tied on manufactured barbless hooks. This is not a requirement for this style of fishing, but a barbless hook does result in better penetration. This also means the hook will come out more easily, requiring constant pressure from the angler to stay hooked, but is also easier to remove from fish, clothing, skin, etc.
Hook styles were made popular with each style of European Nymphing with the Czech/Grub coming from Czech, the jig coming from the French and straight shank really stemming from the Spanish and Polish style of nymphing. Each hook style can be used in each nymphing style, but the hook shape sometimes also determines the weight of the fly. The Czech/grub hook is curved and is typically used for heavy grub style flies such as caddis. These can be tied without weight, but are usually the heavier patterns with lead wire and tungsten beads. They are great anchor flies for deep and fast water situations.
The jig style hook is easily the most popular style of fly these days because it is most versatile. Almost any pattern can be tied on a jig hook, big or small, heavy or light. The jig hook is also popular because it will drift with the hook point up, resulting in fewer snags and better hook ups with fish.
Finally, the straight shanked hook that is widely used in every fly fishing style. Most of the time, smaller, lightweight flies will be tied on these hooks. Patterns such as the Spanish Bullet Nymph are perfect for this hook style.
Weight is most important in European Nymphing, as that is what will get the fly in front of the fish. Every angler should carry a variety of flies in extra heavy, to lightweight to cover each situation. Heavy flies are going to be tied with lead wire under bodies and tungsten beads, while lighter ones will have less or no added weight. Brass beads and lead free wire are also used in tying European style nymphs.
Something to consider when purchasing hooks is that each model may come with multiple hook point styles. This may include the standard straight point, up-turned point and even a wave point.
The Up-turned hook point is meant to hook and stay hooked better than the standard point because it has a slight upward bend. These hook points tend to get damaged more easily than the standard point.
The wavy point is the lesser known style and is meant to hold fish better than the standard and up-turned point, but also requires a better hook set to penetrate initially. Few companies manufacture this style of hook. It is best to experiment with each style to find the preferred one.
There are an infinite number of ways to build a European nymphing leader. Finding the best one is a matter of experimentation and often leads to having multiple leaders for different situations. As a starting point, consider the following to leader builds and grow from there as needed.
One style of leader that is generally best for fishing smaller, lighter weight flies, is built from a standard 13-15 foot, 3x tapered leader. When tying a sighter onto the leader, be sure to continue to taper down in size to aid in turning over the flies during the cast. In order to make this leader last, tie a tippet ring to the end of the sighter and add tippet from there. By adding the tippet ring, the sighter will never be clipped back when adding tippet, and also making for easy rigging each time the ideal amount of tippet for the given fishing situation is added. This option still works with larger flies, but the smaller diameter leader makes it more delicate and efficient with the lighter flies.
A second option is to build the leader out of nylon leader material. This is done with a single stretch of level line in about a 20-pound strength and about double the length of the rod being used. From there, adding the sighter, tippet ring, and tippet as mentioned in the previous leader build. To help in casting, starting with 30-pound material, then transitioning to 20-pound about half way will create a bit of a taper to the leader. The amount of line weight in this leader setup makes it better for fishing with large, heavy nymphs as it will turn them over better than a lighter weight leader.
When adding tippet to both of the leaders, be sure to add enough to equal the depth of the water, plus a few inches. Having the right length tippet allows the sighter to be out of the water and visible while the flies can still be near the river bottom. It is ideal to keep the flies separated by about 16-20 inches and to tie the them on separate lines called tags. The tags should be about 5-6 inches long. By tying flies on their own tags, they will drift more naturally and as an added bonus, when one breaks off, the other usually remains on the line.
Both of the above leaders have their strengths and weaknesses. It is important to consider the type of flies, and type of water to be fished. Big flies in deep, fast water will often be best fished with the second, heavier leader. On the other side, using the first, more delicate leader will be best in smaller water with lighter flies. By varying the length and weight of those leaders, one can customize them to their own local waters and fishing styles.
An angler can fish as many flies as the regulations will allow, but in general, two flies is usually most productive and allows for fewer tangles. When fishing more than one fly, considering the placement of the flies along the leader will allow the angler to work each type of water more effectively. This means moving the anchor fly to the point position or to the tag position in order to get both flies to the proper depth in each type of water.
What is a point fly in a European Nymphing setup? The point fly is the fly in the point position of the leader, which is located at the end of the line. Any other flies on the line are considered “tag” or “dropper” flies as they are tied on dropper tags from the leader.
The anchor fly is the heavier of the flies on the leader and can be in the point position or the tag position. It is called the anchor fly because it has the weight to pull the other flies down in the current as well as being the fly the angler is most in contact with. The anchor fly will need to be moved between the point and tag positions depending on the type of water to be fished.
When fishing shallower water, the anchor fly should be in the tag position as seen in the diagram below. This will ensure that both flies sink down to the correct depth of the fish.
In shallow water, having the anchor fly in the point position could mean that the tag fly never reaches the water, as seen below. This is especially an issue when the depth of the water is less than the distance between the flies.
To fish deep water and pocket water most effectively, put the anchor fly in the point position. This is also a good time to add a third fly, especially when fish are suspended in the deep water as a three fly rig can cover more of that depth with each drift.