The Euro Nymphing Primer by Dave Kilhefner
Euro Nymphing has rapidly swept across the fly fishing landscape and it looks like it’s here to stay. The technique is very effective, the basics are easy to learn, plus if you want to pursue the technique further, there are lots of fun new things to try.
My own experience getting started with Euro Nymphing seems typical.
Standard indicator and high sticking nymph fishing were working just fine, so I ignored the early rumblings and claims of this new technique. Also, I had plenty of fly rods and didn’t want to buy any more. Then one day I ran into a buddy on the Deschutes River. We were both having a good day, but he was Euro Nymphing and doing really well. What really caught my attention was his audible enjoyment. I am not shy about asking for advice or accepting help, so he showed me the basics.
He explained that I needed a special leader and some heavy flies to get started. Luckily I had enough gear to rig up and gave it a try; I started catching immediately and it was fun.
If you have a trout fly rod, you can give this technique a try without buying any new gear other than a special leader, which is easy to make. To get started you’ll need 15lb or 20lb high visibility mono, like Maxima Chameleon to make a ‘sighter’.
You can also use 12 inches of hot colored fly line backing. You also need tippet rings and 2x, 4x and 5x tippet material (8lb, 6lb & 4lb).
Modular leader, 1/32oz anchor flies, small nymphs, tippet rings, tungsten beads for extra weight, reading glasses for rigging.
Blood knot it to your ‘sighter’ material to 25 feet of mono.
Next, attach a foot of 2x tippet to the other end of the ‘sighter’ and tie on a tippet ring. This is called a “modular leader” as it’s very fast & easy to tie different pre-tied tippets to the tippet ring. This leader is longer than what is usually recommended online, but we’ll get to that in the section on presentation.
The easiest tippet rig to start catching fish with is the three fly “drop shot,” so we’ll focus on that.
Start with 6’ of 4x tippet material.
Tie on a heavy “anchor” nymph on the end; it’s called an anchor as it’s meant to maintain contact with the bottom and slow the drift. You can substitute an inexpensive marabou jig for your anchor fly, with 1/32nd and 1/16oz sizes being the most useful. Also, marabou jigs make excellent streamers.
The rule of thumb is to space the flies about 20” apart, so divide the rest of the tippet into thirds with tippet rings and tie 6” to 8” droppers off these and tie on some small size 12 to 16 nymphs.
These 3 fly tippet rigs are a real a pain to tie on stream so pre-tie a few at home and wrap them around some pipe insulation foam.
With your modular leader and tippets pre-tied, rigging up on stream is a very simple matter of tying or looping the modular leader to the end of your fly line and then knotting a tippet to the tippet ring.
The smooth, knot-free section of the modular leader makes it easy to lob-cast the drop shot rig. But, the leader length is the limit of your casting distance which is why the modular leader is 25 feet long; you don’t want the fly line/leader connection constantly hanging up in your guides.
At first, it’s challenging to accurately lob cast this rig but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Make an upstream cast then raise the rod tip to keep the leader & sighter off water at about a 45 degree downstream angle.
As your flies drift downstream, strip in some leader plus lead the flies downstream with the rod tip, maintaining the 45 degree angle with the leader.
You should feel the anchor fly ticking the bottom occasionally. With all the heavy leader off the water, only the thin tippet is affected by the pull of the current and thus your sighter should be moving slower than the surface current. This slow, natural presentation really gets the fish’s attention and works extremely well.
With the leader off the water, you’ll have tight contact with your flies. Bites are usually light, sometimes you feel them but mostly you will see them.
Strike quickly but don’t overdo it, a smooth lifting of the rod that tightens the line is enough.
Since you are always getting close to the fish, you need a stealthy approach. Cover the water from back-to-front, near-to-far and shallow-to-deep. As you cover the water, look for rocks, trees, and turbulence to keep you concealed from your quarry. Give every piece of structure within reach one or two good casts and keep moving.
During the summer, the warmer water temperature has the trout at the peak of their activity level. One of the places trout like to lay is right in heavy water at the throat of the pool; here the surface current can be very fast but the current near the bottom is much slower. It’s hard to fish these places with conventional “line on the water” presentations but Euro nymphing covers these zones perfectly. You’ll be surprised at the nice trout you catch from places you used to pass up as unfishable.
Euro nymphing opens up a whole new section of the stream.
The Next Level
If you like Euro Nymphing, there’s a lot more to it than the drop-shotting technique just described. There is plenty of good information available and you can’t go wrong checking out books by Devon Olson or George Daniel.
To jump to the next level you’ll need an actual Euro Nymphing fly rod and there are lots of good ones on the market but like all equipment, you’ll get what you pay for. This style of fly rod is very light so you can hold it extended over the water all day without getting fatigued. The long flexible rod cushions light tippet and small hooks and loads very easily, which is necessary to accurately cast the Euro leader with tiny weighted flies.
John Warren Euro Nymphing the Deschutes River.
You’ll also want to invest in a rubber mesh landing net with a magnetic release. When your technique is dialed in and the fish are biting, you’ll be catching a lot of fish.
A good net system is a great aid to land the fish faster and release them with a minimum of handling, giving them the care and respect they deserve.
This brings up some concerns about conservation.
While it is great to catch a lot of fish, some very knowledgeable fly anglers have expressed concerns that the technique is too effective and we are subjecting our fish to too much stress. If you feel this way, there is nothing wrong with practicing some restraint and limiting your catch numbers.
After reading catch & release studies, I’ve reached the conclusion that trout become most stressed when caught in warm water conditions (68 degrees and above). So, besides trying to “keep em wet”, I stop trout fishing when the water temperature is above 65 degrees.
See you on the water!