So you want to learn about european nymphing techniques (euro nymphing), like the highly effective Czech nymphing or french nymphing methods, right? I've written a number of articles on european nymphing methods that you can review here, but if you want to learn the basics here is what you need:
1) A light spinning rod with 4 lb test line
2) A hook
3) Some worms
Learn European Nymphing By Fishing Bait
Yep, that's the secret to becoming proficient in european nymphing techniques or any nymphing techniques for that matter. Learn how to fish bait.
Let me explain.
This occurred to me the other day when I was out running along the Little Lehigh, a nearby creek in eastern Pennsylvania that I have a love-hate relationship with (more on that later.)
After my run I stopped along the river to stretch as I usually do. I also take this opportunity to study the river a bit to see if any hatches are coming off and just observe (something I should do more often when I have a rod in-hand). Today though there happened to be a guy spin fishing nearby that was doing pretty well. So I watched.
Fishing with a single worm on a small spinning rod rigged with light line, he would toss the worm upstream 10 feet or so, allow the worm to sink, bouncing along the bottom and drift back toward him while maintaining a tightline by taking up the slack as worm drifted back down stream.
He would run his worm rig through ever little seam and likely trout lie within reach, being careful to not cross-currents and maintain a drag-free dift, then take a step or two upstream and repeat. And he was catching fish, one after another.
Sound familar? It should, as that is the essence of most of the european nymphing or tight-line nymphing techniques. That is, getting your fly down to the fish quickly, staying in direct contact with your fly (aka tight-line nymphing, i.e., no slack in your line) and a drag-free drift.
You do those three things and you will be successful.
Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS)
The KISS engineering design principle is equally effective when applied to fly fishing and in particular european nymphing. Too often we make things way more complicated than need be.
"Out of Clutter Find Simplicity" Albert Einstein
"Simplify, Simplify" Henry David Thoreau
Einstein and Thoreau were smart dudes and would have been good nymph fisherman. You can be too.
The key is not getting hung up about having the latest and greatest fly rod specifically designed for european nymphing techniques (although a decent 10-foot rod does help) or using a highly complex and advanced french nymphing leader that will take you an hour to construct and a year to learn how to cast.
Forget all that for a moment. Dig out the ol' spinning rod and spend some time fishing bait. This simplifies the learning process by removing a lot of variables.
- First, the fly. Trout love worms, we all know that. So instead of worrying about if you are using "the right fly", use a worm. Having confidence in what you are fishing matters. Somehow the fish know. Case in point, how many flies do you have in your fly box that you don't fish? Why don't you fish these patterns? Because you don't think they will catch fish and you don't fish them the same way you fish your ol' standby patterns.
- Second, the cast. Long monofiliment leaders (12 to 20 feet) are used in both short- and long-line european nymphing techniques, both of which typically include at least 5 feet of 5x or smaller diameter tippet on the end of the leader. The later is done to minimize line resistance in the water and allow the fly to sink quickly. No matter how you slice it, these leaders are a pain in the arse to cast! A spinning rod rigged with 4 lb test monofilament line (the equivalent diameter to 4x tippet material) is a lot easier to cast and has the same benefit of getting your bait or fly down to the fish quickly.
- Third, tight-line strike detection. One of the main advantages of european nymphing techniques is enhanced strike detection achieved by maintaining direct contact with your flies and using sighters for strike detection. This is easier said than done especially when fishing long mono leaders and multiple flies as is often done when european nymphing. When fishing a worm on a spinning rod it is pretty easy to maintain a tight-line and it is easier to feel the take when the fish grabs your worm - no sighter required.
- Fourth, a single fly (ok worm). Czech nymphing, french nymphing, and spanish nymphing rigs all use multiple flies to cover more of the water column and increase the probability of a hook up. This has many advantages, but when first starting out this often makes things way too complicated. Where to put the flies, how to rig them, which flies to use, not to mention the god awful tangles that will ensue when trying to cast (or lob) a multi-fly rig on a 15-foot leader. Good Lord, it's enough to drive you insane. Where as a single worm, perhaps with a single split-shot in heavier current, on a spinning is a simple flick of the wrist. No mess, no tangle, no stress.
All of the above allow you to focus on what's important, getting your fly down to the fish, maintaining a tight line and a drag free drift.
From Spin Fishing to European Nymphing
Ok, so you have now mastered fishing with a worm on a spinning rod and are confident you can catch fish by working small sections of a stream methodically fishing upstream, allowing your worm to bounce along the bottom while maintaining a tight-line. Now what?
Break out the fly rod. Any fly rod will do, but preferably one 9 or 10-foot long. If you have a Tenkara fly rod (you know the ones without a fly reel that are all the rage today) even better, it's one less thing to worry about.
Put on a 9-foot tapered 4x leader, any kind will do, a hook and bust out those worms. Now go back to the stream and do as you did with the spinning rod working the water and your worm rig in the same upstream way.
What? How do I cast a worm on a fly rod? Well, you don't really, nor will you cast a multi-fly czech nymphing rig either. You basically have to lob it. Let a little line out and let your worm hang in the current below you. Then start your forward upstream cast by first loading the rod by letting the current pull on line on the water and your worm. Once the rod is loaded (bent a little) give it a little flick upstream.
Once the worm hits the water, keep the fly line and leader off the water and allow the worm to sink. Then lead the worm with the fly rod through the riffle you are targeting maintaining a tight line and as little drag as possible allowing the worm to bounce along the bottom. Do this until you can catch fish consistently and confidently.
Once you become a fish catching machine with your worm and fly rod rig, switch the worm for a weighted Czech nymph. It doesn't matter what kind really. If there are some caddis flies in the river you are fishing then just about any Czech nymph will do.
Now pick a small run and pretend you are fishing that worm, lob cast and all. Guess what, you are now european nymphing! Note: This technique is also a great way to introduce kids to nymph fishing in general and they won't even know it!
Once you become proficient in czech nymphing with a single nymph you can move on to fishing multi-fly rigs and eventually start to experiment with long-line french nymphing techniques but for now let's keep it simple, it's a lot less stressful!
Now go dig some worms and get back to the basics!
For more on european nymphing techniques, visit our European Nymphing Resources page.