THE EURO NYMPHING BEGINNER HANDBOOK
Pro tips to develop the fundamental euro techniques faster and easier
PART 1: KEEP IT HEAVY
Euro nymphing continues to take the fly fishing world by storm. Anglers from across the world are adopting this “indicatorless” nymphing method for one reason. Under the right conditions paired with proper technique, extraordinary days can be made on the water with lots of fish.
In our Euro Nymphing Basics class, we discussed the fundamentals of European nymphing; what is it, why it’s so effective, how to get started, and on the water approaches. This multiple part article is a segway from the online class. Rather than focus on the advantages and basic components of European nymphing, in Euro Nymphing Basics we will provide several key on the water tips to make your first days euro nymphing even more fun and productive.
Enjoy and feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.
COMMON EURO NYMPHING CHALLENGES
Tips to manage accurate casts and connected drifts
The first change you’ll notice when European nymphing is the cast. It goes against every intuitive muscle movement or lesson learned from a traditional fly cast. Instead of long sweeping loops, euro nymphing casts are short, abrupt movements. And of course, since fly angler love overcomplicating things, this radically different cast will require entirely new techniques and setups.
Rather than a tapered line and 9ft leader, the euro setup features a thin level fly line (meaning a constant diameter from the front to the end) and a leader with an average length of 18-20ft. Needless to say, no 35+ foot casts are executed when euro nymphing since there is no mass to help load the rod. Any cast below 20 feet is composed entirely of the leader and flies. If you’ve ever tried solely casting a regular leader with a dry rod, you’ll understand how difficult it can be.
While the euro-cast rarely falls beyond 25ft, it is surprisingly difficult at first to make short and accurate casts. Many beginner or intermediate anglers will struggle to maintain accuracy with the cast and tension during the drift. While mastery certainly comes down to practice, there are several highly beneficial adjustments you can incorporate to make the transition from “traditional” fly fishing to euro nymphing easier.
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PRO TIP #1
FISH HEAVIER FLIES
THE CASTING ADVANTAGE
Even during the small-bug seasons, if you’re in the early stages of your soon to be euro nymph fanaticism, you want to fish with heavier flies. For instance, rather than a size 16, 2.3mm beaded beatis, use a size 12, 3.3mm Stonefly pattern. Why? Well, a heavier fly adds more mass to the “massless leader,” improving cast accuracy and line load. By familiarizing yourself with the principles of the euro-cast and getting a feel for the casting motion, over time you can start to downsize the fly weight without jeopardizing accuracy.
THE DRIFT ADVANTAGE
Achieving tension between the rod and line is a preeminent challenge first time euro anglers face. With improper technique and fly selection, the line will start to sag, creating a sailboat like shape. This makes strike detection extremely challenging; without sighter tension—a variable that distinguishes takes—all sensitivity is lost.
Through the adoption of heavier nymphs, you will not only sink the flies faster, but guarantee the leader/sighter will entirely straighten out upon entering the water. If you want to develop a trained eye to decipher strikes from the natural movement of the sighter, it’s essential for any beginner angler to start with heavy flies. Furthermore, in moderately deep rivers paired with a long enough tippet section, the heavier flies will bounce along the bottom of the river. This helps you develop a feel for the sensitive nature a euro-rod/leader provides, in addition to distinguishing the contrast between the river bottom and a fish.
*What qualifies as a “heavy” nymph is certainly subjective, but a general rule of thumb would be a size 12 hook and/or a 3.3mm beaded fly or larger.
*Even with heavier flies, keep in mind that certain water types, such as extremely fast and deep runs, or strong winds, will make it near impossible to achieve the straight sighter. Under these conditions, pivoting to an indicator setup is the most sound.
PRO TIP #2
USE A HEAVY LEADER
Casting ease vs strike detection
A light leader improves strike sensitivity and reduces casting ease. Conversely, a heavy leader improves casting and reduces strike sensitivity (strike sensitivity includes both the ability to feel the flies ticking the river bottom and of course detecting strikes based on the leader’s movement).
You want to learn to balance on a bike before learning to mountain bike. The same applies to euro nymphing. You want to learn to cast the rod before learning to detect strikes. Even if you began euro-nymphing with a light leader and every 1-15 casts are accurate, while you would eventually learn to detect subtle strikes, it’s by no means an efficient way to fish. You should first hone in on the euro cast’s components. If you can pinpoint the proper casting technique and effortlessly place the flies in the intended spot, your strike detection abilities will soon follow.
Keep in mind, that a heavy leader is still enormously sensitive and you can occasionally feel the fish take the flies or notice the flies tick the river bottom just as you would with a light leader. A light leader has more frequent sensitivity. So, for any beginner angler, it’s most logical to sacrifice strike sensitivity in favor of casting ease through the use of a heavy leader. A well constructed euro leader with a proper taper and mass distribution makes the transition from a traditional setup far more seamless.