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The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Euro Nymphing

No facet of fly fishing has witnessed a more rapid rate of change than nymph fishing. Driven by its popularity which is fueled by its success, nymph fishing has arrived at the forefront of fly fishing. More anglers are nymphing than ever before. And it’s no wonder; trout feed more often on subsurface food sources than those floating on top and anglers rely more on nymph fishing to target those feeding fish.

Euronymphing, sometimes called tightline or contact nymphing has exploded onto the fly fishing scene and changed the landscape of nymphing. No other method brings more fish to the net because it allows anglers to more effectively meet the three goals of nymph fishing with every drift.

The three goals of nymph fishing: the ‘Why’

Regardless of the method, the three goals of nymph fishing still apply: the first goal challenges you to get your flies to the strike zone where trout feed, usually the bottom 20% of the water column. Trout hold in feeding lies close to the bottom where the current is less than that flowing over their heads. To reach those trout in the strike zone, our leader must pass through the faster layers, which produces drag that lifts our flies from the bottom and traps them in midcurrent.

Presentation, the second goal of nymph fishing, requires us to achieve a dead drift for our nymphs just like we do for our dry flies. Flies should tumble in the strike zone at the slower speed of that layer, not whisk over their heads in midcurrent. Natural invertebrates drift this way and so should our flies. In other words, our flies should not drift at the speed of the current we see on the surface, but at a speed approximately one half of the surface current.

Lacking a floatation style indicator, whose large surface area affixes our drift to the surface speed, euronymphing allows our leader to cut through the fast current to reach the strike zone. Producing less drag on our flies, euronymphing allows our flies to remain in the strike zone and lets them drift at the slower speed of that layer, achieving goals number one and two.

A more accurate means of strike detection obviously leads to more fish in the net, making it goal number three for any successful nymphing method. While there’s a time and place for floatation devices, euronymphing affords a more sensitive and reliable means of strike detection by eliminating the inherent delay in strike detection with floatation devices, including plastic indicators. With the improved connectivity to our flies that euronymphing provides, strike detection sensitivity and immediacy also improves.

This graphic further illustrates the importance of a drag free drift. Notice how the current is faster near the top of the water column underneath the bobber/indicator, thus creating more drag . Not having an indicator lets the nymph rig reach the bottom of the water column faster.

The ‘How’ of Euronymphing

Euronymphing minimizes the drag inducing effect of the surface and midcurrent portion of the water column by cutting through these layers as efficiently as possible to reach the strike zone, allowing our flies to maximize the time spent there. To accomplish this, first and foremost eliminate drag accentuating plastic floating strike indicators. Then eliminate any line or leader lying on the water’s surface as this will also accelerate your drift. Lastly, use the thinnest leader you can manage with all subsurface sections of your leader or tippet thin and level.

On the water, cast your flies upstream or at an upstream angle, usually less than forty-five degrees across stream. Most casts are less than twenty-five to thirty feet. A slightly overpowered forward cast combined with a hard stop will transfer enough energy to complete the cast and snap back the weighted flies enough to ‘tuck’ them under, drilling them into the water to improve their sink rate. Recover any slack in the leader as quickly as possible to connect to your flies since many strikes occur during the descent. You’ll know when your flies reach the strike zone because the leader will tighten slightly and the drift will slow noticeably to a speed more consistent with that layer.

By lifting the rod after the cast and holding steady throughout the drift, then by recovering slack with your line hand, keep all line and leader from the water’s surface, maintaining the most vertical orientation of the leader as it pierces the water. Keep the sighter out of the water not only so you can see it but also to reduce drag since its usually thicker than the fluorocarbon tippet below it. Allow the drift to approach and pass downstream of your position. At this point, you’re fishing under the rod tip. At the end of the drift, you can recast to start another pass.

Anglers can vary any of the three parts of a euronymphing presentation, which are the initial cast, the dead drift portion of the presentation that follows and thirdly, the aftermath of the dead drift.

Casting, the first phase of every drift, offers several choices. While a constant tension oval shaped tuck cast works most of the time, the choice of various other casts may be necessitated by circumstances, such as overhead vegetation. In this situation, a water loaded cast might work better. Another common problem; you encounter faster water that minimizes fly time in the strike zone or prevents them from even getting to the bottom at all. Try more power and a firmer stop on the forward cast to drill the flies to the bottom.

The dead drift phase, the middle part of every euronymphing presentation, often works best as a dead drift. But when trout hesitate or on slow days, try adding a very subtle jig animation to the flies to elicit a strike. Gently lift the rod and drop it slowly, staying in contact with the flies as much as possible. Use nymphs tied on jig hooks to reduce bottom snags. Sometime a simple jig ‘twitch’ means the difference of several fish on slow days.

The final stage of each pass begins as the dead drift ends. Often we simply recast to start another drift, but try stopping the rod tip to allow the flies to lift up towards the waters surface in the manner Jim Leisenring made famous many years ago as a method to imitate natural insect behavior releasing from the streambed and rising towards the surface. You’ll even get strikes by letting the flies dangle in the current. Also on occasion, let the flies swing across current at the end of the drift like wet flies, since trout like to chase living food prey. You can tease a lot of trout to bite that you might otherwise miss.

Armed with the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of euronymphing, you’re ready to hit the water. Pack your nymph fly box, grab your net and your nymphing rod. If you don’t have a nymphing rod and love to euronymph, consider adding one to arsenal. The ability to cast lightly weighted flies, rod length and sensitivity make a dedicated euronymphing rod a wise investment.

TFO recently released the new Stealth rod – designed specifically for European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing techniques. Learn more about the Stealth below or here.

Blog written by TFO Advisor Jason Randall. Photos provided Jo Randall.

The Stealth Is Coming – An Overview with Rod Designer Jason Randall

It’s no secret that European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing is an extremely effective (and popular) way of catching trout. Being able to make repetitive, drag-free drifts and cover as much water as possible (depth and length) is a sure way of increasing your chances of catching more fish. However, having the right rod and reel to accompany this style of fishing is crucial.

If there’s anyone in the TFO family that knows nymphing, it’s TFO National Advisor Jason Randall. Jason has been fly fishing for most of this life, but when he isn’t fishing, he’s writing about fishing – specifically, nymphing. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. Leading up to this book, Jason spent several years researching the various styles of nymphing by interviewing, observing and fishing with several competitive anglers that specialize in European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing. With his knowledge and experiences, it was obvious that Jason would be paramount in helping TFO create a rod designed specifically for this style of fishing.

After several years of prototypes and modification, the Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th. This week, we talked with Jason about what went into making the Stealth and why he thinks it’s the perfect Euro-nymphing rod.

Photo: Jo Randall

This rod has been several years in the making. Tell us about the research and “making” of the new Stealth rod. What were some important factors for you when helping design this rod?

The two most important factors for a good performing tighline or Euro-nymping rod are overall weight and action.

Weight: We wanted to get this rod right at or under the neighborhood of three ounces that would also be heavily damped. This way there isn’t a lot of back and forwards at the end of the cast. Essentially, we wanted a light rod that would cast easily.

Action: The rod needed to have the sensitivity to detect strikes, but it also has to have the ability to fight a good fish – especially when you are talking about a two or three weight rod. It also has to forgive break offs and protect the lighter tippet (6x & 7x) that is so common in Euro-nymphing.

There were several different stages of prototypes for the Stealth. Each one was an improvement from the last, but when trying to find the right balance between recovery, dampening, tippet protection, and sensitivity in rod, that’s a hard set up criteria to get perfect. I think we finally found it and I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve come up with.

How is this rod different from other TFO rods – specifically the Drift.

The Stealth is a lot lighter and has less swing weight. They are really designed for two different purposes. The Drift is a very good nymphing and multi-purpose rod, but it’s not specifically designed for Euro-nymphing like the Stealth.

And recommendations for reel accompaniment?

The BVK SD I is a great complement for the Stealth. Having a good balance between a longer rod and reel is critical for a good euro nymphing set up. If you have a longer rod, but don’t have a reel to help balance it out in the butt section, your going to wear your arm or shoulder out. The BVK SD I works perfectly for the 2wt and 3wt models of the Stealth.

The BVK SD l is a great complimentary reel for the Stealth. Photo: Nick Conklin

What line, leader, tippet set up do you like to use? Do you add a sinker weight/split shot to the bottom of your rig (bounce rig)? 

Bouncing the bottom is not necessarily the goal since trout don’t feed directly from the bottom but on drifting organisms in the lower 20% of the water column (strike zone) and I almost never use sinkers. I most often use lightly weighted flies on light tippet. I usually use 7 X, but 6 X is also common which cuts through the faster water in the upper water column to allow the flies to drift in the strike zone at the slower speed relative to that layer. So my rig is very light, long leaders up to 20 feet long and very light tippet, usually ten feet of 4 X and ten feet of 6-7X. I use SA competition level line. I know my flies are in the strike zone when the drift slows relative to the surface current I can see above, not necessarily when I snag the bottom.

Go-To flies? 

I like the Blow Torch, Ice-dub Frenchie, the Pink Hog and the Iron Lotus, in size 14, or so. If I need a slightly heavier fly, I use the Czech Catnip 2.0 or a Coulee Scud. I need a heavier fly to fish stronger, faster current.

Rigging Up. Photo: Jo Randall

Do you ever euro nymph with larger flies or streamers? If so, do you use the same set up (line/leader/tippet) that you would use for the nymphs?

Yes, I use my Euro-nymphing set up- rod, leader and tippet for dries and streamers, but it wouldn’t be called nymphing at that point. Just a hybrid technique.

With the two models offered, can you describe what would be the best types of scenarios for each line wt? In other words, would the 2wt be best for creeks and smaller streams, and the 3wt best for larger streams and rivers? 

I think of the 10 foot Stealth as our finesse nymphing rod, which I use most of the time. It is perfect for the lighter rigs and lighter flies I like. It’s also ideal for presentation in tight quarters with limited space.

I would use the 10’6″ Stealth when I need extra reach to target lies, seams or pockets beyond the reach of the 10 foot rod.

The Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th . To find out more about this rod click here.

Jason Randall is a National Advisor for TFO, as well as an outdoor writer. His articles appear regularly in national fly fishing magazines and he is a feature writer for American Angler and written four books. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. He appears at shows and fly fishing events throughout North America. You can find out more Jason here.