Euro Nymphing For Steelhead: Methods And Tips Of The Guides

Euro Nymphing For Steelhead

Euro Nymphing for steelhead can often be the most effective way to catch steelhead, and there are many river guides and experienced anglers that are now Euro Nymphing for steelhead.

I have been teaching Euro Nymphing for steelhead since about 2008, and this article is packed with advice and tips, my leader setups, my best flies, and tactics for Euro Nymphing for steelhead.

The reason Euro Nymphing for steelhead is so effective is that it allows you to get your flies down to the steelhead fast, it allows you to control your speed and get the most natural drift possible, and it allows you to detect even the most subtle bites.

Euro Nymphing for steelhead often requires special Euro Nymphing flies or at least variations of the regular flies that are usually effective for steelhead, but I will show you how you can Euro nymph for steelhead with your regular non-weighted flies or a combination of both.

The article is part of our series on fly fishing for steelhead. To see all the best methods for fly fishing for steelhead, which include indicator nymphing for steelhead, swinging flies, and streamer fishing for steelhead, go to my page Fly Fishing For Steelhead: Great Lakes Style.

UPDATED: November 24, 2022 – Now More Tips, Plus I’ve added 5 new and very effective fly patterns that we tested in 2021 and 2022

Best Water To Euro Nymph For Steelhead

Good water to Euro Nymph Steelhead
This is the type of water that is perfect for Euro Nymphing steelhead.

Not all water is good for Euro Nymphing for steelhead, and I prefer to use indicators in slow or flat or very deep water.

But it’s hard to beat Euro Nymphing for steelhead in faster water that is less than 7 feet deep. You also can’t beat Euro nymphing for steelhead in pocket water, runs and riffles. Euro nymphing is great in short pools and when you can fish within 20 feet of your rod tip.

What Makes Euro Nymphing For Steelhead So Effective

When I explain to clients what makes Euro nymphing for steelhead so effective the number one thing I tell them is speed control.

Speed Control Is Better When Euro Nymphing

When Euro Nymphing for steelhead you are not using any type of float or indicator. This allows the flies to move at the speed of the bottom current and which gives you the most natural drift speed possible, and that means more fish. The keyword in that sentence is bottom current.

The bottom current is often much slower than the upper current. The upper current in some cases can be 50 to 90% faster than the bottom current where the fish are holding and feeding. This is a proven phenomenon of stream hydraulics.

Imagine a big steelhead sitting 6 feet down on the bottom of the river and it’s occasionally feeding on the odd piece of food that goes by. There is also lots of debris drifting past the fish which could include little pieces of bark, sticks, leaves, bits of leaves, weeds, or algae. Everything the fish sees is moving at the speed of the bottom current which is about could be 1 to 3 miles per hour (MPH).

Now, on the surface, your indicator is being pulled along at 7 miles per hour by the faster surface current. Guess how fast your flies are going, yep, 7 miles per hour!

This means while everything the steelhead sees and feeds on is moving at 3mph, your bait stands out like a sore thumb at 7mph, and that is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, anglers don’t realize this because most anglers drift their indicators by trying to match the speed of the bubbles, or upper current. It’s not their fault because that’s what we have always been taught! And that way does work sometimes, but you are missing a lot of fish!

I tell anglers this all the time, ” trout and steelhead are dumb as a bag of nails. They have no idea what a line is when they see it, they have no clue what a hook is when they see it, and they have no clue why a fly is moving twice as fast as everything else, but….. “

“Trout and Steelhead are instinctually cautious which is why if they see a hook, or a line, or a bait moving at twice the speed as everything around them, they will avoid it. The simple truth is that anything out of the ordinary in their environment could spook them or prevent them from biting your fly.”

When Euro Nymphing steelhead, we don’t use a float or an indicator so there is nothing for that upper current to grab onto and pull. This results in the flies moving at a speed that is much closer to the bottom speed, and that’s a great thing.

Depth Control Is Better When Euro Nymphing

The other great thing about Euro nymphing steelhead is the ability to control your depth and to be able to fish in shallow and deep water without any setup or indicator adjustments. You simply lift the tip up or lower the tip down to get the right depth.

Euro Nymph For Steelhead
Euro Nymphing allows you to fish a spot like this in one drift. You simply lift and lower your rod as the water goes from shallow to deep.

With a strike indicator, you would need to adjust the indicator for all the different depths of a pool and you would need to fish each depth separately. In the picture above I would need to adjust my indicator 5 or 6 times to fish this pool otherwise I would be too deep or too shallow at times.

With euro nymphing steelhead I would not need to make any adjustments to my setup and I would simply raise or lower my rod tip as needed.

As I run my drift through the river with my Euro Nymphing set up, once my fly starts to hit the bottom I simply lift my rod tip to keep the fly 6 to 12 inches above the bottom or lower it when I’m not hitting the bottom.

The Euro nymphing method makes it easier to find the bottom and then fish in the strike zone.

Strike Detection Is Better When Euro Nymphing

Another great benefit of Euro nymphing for steelhead is that your strike detection is improved. If done right, you will never have slack in your presentation which means anything that touches your flies will be noticed on what we call the sighter.

The Sighter

Euro Nymphing for steelhead with a sighter
Euro Nymphing for steelhead required the use of what is called a sighter. It’s a piece of colored monofilament or nylon fishing line.

There are two things that make Euro Nymphing steelhead unique to other nymphing methods for steelhead. The weighted flies and the sighter.

The sighter is the brightly colored piece of line in the leader setup that makes all of this possible. The sighter can be one color or 2 or 3 colors and it can be anywhere from 6 inches to a few feet.

Most sighters that guys use are brightly colored to help them see it, however, you can also get sighters that are white and black and the contrasting colors can also help you see it better. There are also sighters that I use that stand out better and trick that I use to make all sighters easier to see.

Rio Sighter is good for euro nymphing

When I Euro Nymph for steelhead my sighter is usually around 14 to 18 inches long, but I have been known to use 8 inches and up to 24 inches.

My favorite sighter material for Euro Nymphing for steelhead is the 1X RIO Two-Tone Indicator Tippet in the Pink/Yellow color. It also comes in White/Black.

Another good sighter is the 0X tri-color Orvis Tactical Sighter Tippet which has Chartreuse/Orange/White segments and I like the OX thickness which is more visible than the 1X Rio. See Best Price Now

Sometimes the sigher is hard to see for some people due to poor eyesight or glare on the water. If this happens, I have a few guide tricks up my sleeve to help my clients out. Because, after all, the sighter is key to the whole setup and if you can’t see it you won’t do well.

My Sighter setup when fly fishing nymphs
I use a double perfection loop knot or a tippet ring for a stronger connection and use loon putty or a tippet marker to help see the sighter in low light conditions.

GUIDE TIP: One of my best tricks to help guys see the sighter better is to apply micro pieces of Loon Bio-Strike Putty to the sighter.

I prefer the orange color, and I add two or three small blobs pinched tightly to the bottom part of the sighter. You can see the three little blobs on the leader in the picture.

My blobs of putty are about the size and shape of a cooked grain of rice but making them a little more round can work too. You can increase the size as needed as long as it does not weigh the sighter down and cause problems. These blobs can easily be added or removed.

Another type of sighter that I have used with success when guiding anglers when they can’t see the sigher is 20 or 30-pound yellow or orange dacron fly line backing like the Cortland Micron backing or the Rio Dacron Fly-Line Backing.

Fly line backing is thicker so it’s much easier to see and it’s still very supple. The only disadvantage of using fly line backing it is that it might absorb water, which makes it heavy and it might start to sag. To prevent sag, I will often lightly coat the sighter with Mucilin Paste or Loon Payette Paste.

GUIDE TIP: Mucilin and Payette paste have a lot of great uses and I always have one or the other, or usually both in my fishing pack.

I will discuss where in the Euro Nymphing leader the sighter should be placed and what you need to make my Euro Nymphing leader below in this article.

Do You Need A Euro Nymphing Line?

Many companies are now selling fly lines specifically for the euro nymphing purpose which are called Euro Nymphing fly lines. Because of this, many anglers that are new to Euro nymphing, and even experienced anglers, will ask me if they need to have a Euro Nymphing fly line for steelhead, the simple answer is NO.

You do not need a Euro Nymphing line to do Euro Nymphing for steelhead because you can use a special leader that is up to 40 feet long which allows you to Euro Nymph very effectively for steelhead with any line.

However, there are some Euro Nymphing methods or variations that require the line to be out of the rod guides, and therefore using a specially made Euro Nymphing fly line will make these Euro nymphing methods easier, and for these methods, many anglers prefer a Euro Nymphing line over a regular fly line.

Some anglers prefer a Euro Nymphing line over a regular fly line for a couple of reasons.

The disadvantage to using a regular fly line when Euro nymphing for steelhead (with a short leader), especially if it’s a weight forward fly line, is that the tip of the fly line is heavy and if you have too much fly line hanging out of the rod guides it will sag between your rod tip and the sighter.

This sagging effect can cause the fly to pull inwards or downriver too fast. For this reason, either a Euro line or, my extra-long Euro steelhead leader (which I’ll show you below) will prevent sag and unwanted pulling.

Use this Orvis Tactical Nymph Line to Euro nymph for steelhead
Use this Orvis Tactical Nymph line to Euro Nymph for steelhead or trout.

The other reason or disadvantage to a weight forward line is that the heavy fly line can also cause sagging between your reel and the first feeder guide up the rod.

This is a bad thing when you set the hook because you always want tension from the reel to your bottom fly when you Euro Nymph for steelhead, and slack anywhere in the line, including above the reel in the rod guides, can be a problem.

Euro nymphing lines like the Orvis Hydros Tactical Nymph Fly Line are extra thin, lightweight, and more sensitive, and that can prevent these issues and should be considered when Euro Nymphing steelhead.

CAUTION: At this time, many Euro lines are not made for big strong fish like steelhead and they are also not made for 7 to 9-weight rods. This may change as Euro nymphing for steelhead becomes more popular.

The downside is that often Euro lines are only made in 6 weight size or under, and they can have a breaking strength less than 15 pounds.

As an example, The 5wt Rio Shorty line, which I discuss below, only has a rating of 12-pound test. Therefore, it’s not recommended to apply too much pressure when fighting a fish or pulling out a snag.

For the above reason, I rarely recommend Euro lines for steelhead. Instead, I use and recommend a super long leader mane from mono or OPST, see that below. That super-long leader eliminates the above-mentioned issues with sag.

Alternatives To Euro Nymphing Lines For Steelhead

A good alternative to getting a full Euro nymphing fly line is the RIO Euro Nymph Shorty Fly Line which is a 20 foot Euro line extension that attaches to any standard fly line and converts it to a Euro line. See Best Price Now.

The Rio Shorty line has the advantage of enabling the angler to remove the shorty line and switch to other methods like Indicator Fishing, or Streamer Fishing For Steelhead which is much better doe with a standard weight forward line.

My preferred Euro Nymphing rig for steelhead is to use a Mono-Rig setup combine/attached to about 20 feet of OPST Pure Skagit Lazar Line, which is attached to the fly line. I use the 30 pound green Lazar line and I attach it directly to my standard steelhead fly line using a loop-to-loop connection or and nail knot connection.

The mono leader in this case is usually around 16 to 18 feet attached to the 30-foot Lazar line. See that leader set-up below. This allows me to make 40 foot casts if needed.

The OPST line is made for fishing steelhead as a running line for spey lines, but it is the best line I have found for Euro Nymphing many other Euro Nymphing guides and anglers are using it too. It’s very much like a thicker monofilament line.

Also, since I use the very productive French Nymphing or Spanish Nymphing methods for steelhead, I never use any fly line while fishing. Therefore the fly line is irrelevant and unused until a big steelhead pulls it off my reel.

For anglers that use these super long leaders, there is no advantage to using a Euro Nymphing line for steelhead. That is why when clients ask if they should use a Euro Nymphing line for steelhead, I say “no, just use a standard weight forward line that matches the weight of your rod combined with an extra long mono-type Euro leader”.

The advantage to using a standard weight forward line when Euro Nymphing for steelhead is that a standard weight forward line can also be easily used for indicator or streamer fishing if you want to change methods without changing reels.

Do You Need A Euro Nymphing Rod For Steelhead

Best Euro Nymphing Rod For steelhead is a 11 foot 6 or 7 weight rod
My Euro Nymphing Rod For steelhead is an 11 foot 6 weight single-hand fly rod and it has been able to handle hundreds of great lakes steelhead up to 16 pounds.

There are many Euro nymphing rods on the market for trout, but there are few on the market that are good for steelhead.

You do not need a Euro Nymphing rod to Euro Nymph for steelhead. A standard 9-foot or 10-foot fly rod will work. However, there are some advantages to a rod that is specifically designed for euro nymphing that will make it easier to fish with.

I tell my clients that if you can find a good 10 to 11-foot single hand fly rod that is a 6 to 8-weight I highly recommend getting it.

The longer Euro nymphing rods allow you to get longer casts, fish longer leaders with better line control, and the long rods also protect light tippets. Another observation I have made from trying Euro nymphing rods from $200 to over $1000 is they are built with a softer more sensitive tip section that allows the angler to cast smaller and lighter flies further.

The Cortland Competition MKII Fly Rod is one of the best Euro Nymphing fly rods for steelhead fishing.
The Cortland Competition MKII Fly Rod is one of the best Euro Nymphing fly rods for steelhead fishing.

The best Euro Nymphing rod for steelhead is the 10-foot, 7-weight Cortland Competition MKII Fly Rod.

This rod is built for Euro Nymphing and I have used it many times and find it to be a great rod for the price as well as one of few rods that you will find in this length and weight. The balance of the weight and the main power in the butt section is perfect for Euro nymphing for steelhead.

Great Euro Nymphing water is made better with the right Euro nymphing rod.
Great Euro Nymphing water like this is made more effective with the right Euro nymphing rod.

Jeff Blood Premium Steelhead Fly Rod

Another great rod for Euro nymphing steelhead around the great lakes lake region, and a rod that is made by local legend and great lakes fishing guide is the 10’3, 7-weight Jeff Blood Premium Fly Rod which sells for around $599.99 – Check Best Price .

This is a steelhead fly rod that could be used for both euro nymphing and indicator fishing and is one of very few that are actually designed specifically for fly fishing steelhead.

St. Croix Imperial USA Switch Fly Rod is good for nymphing for steelhead

St. Croix Imperial USA Switch Fly Rod

Another rod that I have used for Euro Nymphing is the 11 foot 6 weight and 7 weight St. Croix Imperial USA Switch Fly Rod.

This is a lightweight switch rod and the extra length of the 11-footer is great for long reach and protecting light tippets.

Other good rods that would work for Euro Nymphing steelhead and for indicator nymphing for steelhead are:

  • Douglas LRS Fly Rod 10 foot 6 or 7 weight – Average Price $189.00 – Check Best Price Now
  • Temple Fork Outfitters LK Legacy Fly Rod 10 foot 6 or 7 weight- Average Price $289.00 – Check Best Price Now
  • Orvis Recon Fly Rod 9 10 foot 6 or 7 weight – Average Price 549.99 – Check Best Price

Do You Need A Special Fly Reel To Euro Nymph For Steelhead

All my euro nymphing reels for steelhead and for trout are normal standard reels. You do not need a special fly reel to euro Nymph for steelhead. However, I do recommend that you look at my page on the Best Fly Reels For Steelhead so that you get a good enough reel that can handle steelhead.

Weighted Flies

The Frechie Fly is one of my favorite flies for trout and steelhead. These are weighted Euro Nymphs for steelhead
The Frechie Fly is one of my favorite flies for trout and steelhead. These are weighted Euro Nymphs for steelhead

One of the things that makes Euro Nymphing for steelhead so effective is the use of weighted flies.

Weighted flies get your flies down fast and keep the line tight which greatly improves your bite detection. Even the most subtle bite is detected with this method.

To do this well, I use weighted flies. However, some of my best flies for steelhead can’t be weighted, but that doesn’t mean you can’t Euro Nymph for steelhead with them.

To see my most effective non-weighted flies for steelhead, check out my page on The Best Flies For Steelhead.

I will list some of my best Euro Nymphing flies below.

Do You Need Weighted Flies Or Special Euro Nymphs?

Non-weighted Flies for nymphing for steelhead
Non-weighted Flies for nymphing for steelhead

Some anglers shy away from euro nymphing because they have hundreds of non-weighted nymphs that they have tied or collected over the year and because they think that they can’t use these non-weighted flies when Euro Nymphing for steelhead.

The truth is that you can use both weighted and unweighted flies when euro nymphing as long as you know my leader setups for both. I can even use 2 non-weighted flies at the same time, or I often use a combination of weighted and non-weighted flies on the same line with great success.

So the answer is no, you do not need weighted flies or special nymphs to euro nymph for steelhead if you know how to set up your flies and your leader properly.

I will show you and discuss the leader that I use for non-weighted flies below.

Euro Nymphing Leader Formula For Steelhead

To make my 16 to 24-foot Euro Nymphing steelhead leader, you will need a few things. Once you know what you need, I will show you how to build my leader below.

  • 40 inches of 20-pound Maxima Chameleon Monofilament Leader – Check Best Price Now (FOR LONG MONO RIG GO UP TO 30 FEET – See my setup below)
  • 40 inches of 16-pound Maxima Chameleon Monofilament Leader
  • 3 to 8 feet inches of 12-pound Maxima Chameleon Monofilament Leader
  • (Optional): instead of the 20lb and 16-pound section, you can use a 7 to 9-foot 0X tapered Leader – Check Best Price Now
  • 12 to 36 inches long – Sighter – see below
  • 3 to 7 feet – extra strong fluorocarbon tippet in sizes 1x, 2x, and 3x. Check Best Price Now – Length depends on the average depth of water.
  • Tippet Ring – Check Best Price Now ( A Triple Surgeons Knot or a Double Uni Knot also works)
  • Weights – Check Best Price Now

See the diagram below to put this all together.

My 2 Great Lakes Euro Nymphing Steelhead Leader Setups

Great Lakes Euro Nymphing Steelhead Leader Setup
Great Lakes Euro Nymphing Steelhead Leader Setup at its longest is 21 feet, and shortest is 16 feet.

There are two ways I run this Steelhead Euro Nymphing leader setup.

One way is to use the Euro Nymphing steelhead leader setup that you see above with the fly line tied direct to the leader. I generally go with the longer leader, so above where it says 3 to 8 feet, I tend to go to 8 feet.

The length will depend on your skill level. I tend to use a 12 to 14-foot leader with absolute beginners until they are proficient with that length, and then slowly increase 2 to 3 feet at a time.

The second leader setup is a more advanced setup that I use for cast up to 40 feet with out any fly line being used. However, anyone can use this setup and fish it short or long.

It’s different than the first Steelhead Euro Leader because instead of using 40 inches of 20lb mono at the top of the leader, I will run a 30 to 40-foot section of 30lb OPST Lazer Line between the fly line and the Euro leader.

I use the OPST for a few reasons, but the primary reason is that I can cast the entire leader about 40 feet, and since the OPST is much lighter than your fly line, it won’t sag and pull your fly toward you at an unnatural speed or angle.

If you cast that distance with a fly line it will sag and hit the water. However, the OPST will stay up and out of the water with the same amount of line out.

I will also use a double uni knot or blood knot for the Lazar line to mono connection.

And for an even smoother knot that shoots through the guides easier and doesn’t get caught on the guides when fighting a fish, I use Loon UV Knot Glue to form a smooth football-shaped hard shell over the knot.

In fact, I use the loon UV Knot Glue on any and all knots that may go into the rod guides when casting or fighting a fish and I highly recommend it to all my clients.I hope to have a video and photo of this knot soon.

With the OPST rig and some good casting, I can cast a single #10 euro nymph about 40 to 50 feet.

GUIDE TIP: You can do this same rig with just 30 to 40 feet of 20 pound mono, however, I have experimented with a number of different mono lines and many are to limp and they tend to get beat up easier. The OPST lasts a few years for me and casts well.

If you do decide to go with Mono, consider something like the Maxima Chameleon Leader spool of mono. It tends to be a bit stiffer.

FYI: The leader that I use when Euro Nymphing steelhead is similar or almost identical to what I use when Euro Nymphing for trout and I use the same OPST line for trout too. All I do for steelhead is upsize everything on the lower part of the leader, or downsize everything for trout. And I also use different flies that work well for steelhead.

I also tend to use longer casts with steelhead so with the OPST or Maxima Line, very little or no fly line is actually used.

What Lenght Leader Should You Fish With?

Although I can cast 30 to 40 feet of line to cover a lot more water, the amount of leader length out of the rod guides for a beginner should be 14 to 16 feet most or all of the time. It is very difficult to control the extra line, control the fly depth and speed, and detect bites with the extra long leader lines.

To be in good control and have a good hookset, the ideal length of leader (no fly line) outside the rod guides for semi-experienced anglers is 18 to 22 feet long. With the added OPST and better casting skills, you may cast and be in control with more.

Very experienced anglers and some of the top competition Euro Nymph anglers are known to cast 30 to 40 foot leaders with good control throughout the drift. To get to this level, start short, get good at that length and then add 2 to 4 feet, get good with that then add another 2 to 4 feet, and keep getting good and then adding 2 to 4 feet until you casting 30+ feet with good control throughout your entire drift.

Don’t rush it and jump into 30-foot leader casts and then have sloppy drifts and no control, or you will miss fish.

Euro Nymphing Leader For Non-Weighted Flies

Euro Nymphing Leader For Non-Weighted Flies
This is the best Euro Nymphing leader setup when you want to use non-weighted flies.

Some of my best steelhead flies like egg patterns and worms flie are not always weighted, and I know that many anglers don’t have weighted flies. Therefore, some minor leader adjustments are required to get and keep the non-weighted flies down and the leader tight throughout the drift.

The key to Euro nymphing is to have the weight at the bottom so you always have controlled tension from the bottom of your leader to your rod tip.

This is why when I euro nymph with non-weighted flies and why I do not add weights like split shots to the upper parts of the leader, or anywhere between my flies or above my flies. Adding weight anywhere in the line could mean slack in the line below the weights and that can result in poor strike detection and missed steelhead.

Therefore, as seen in the diagram above, I always put my weight on a separate tag at the bottom of my leader and below the bottom fly.

The number of split shots I use will depend on the velocity and the depth of the spot that I am fishing.

Pre-Made Euro Leaders For Steelhead

Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader
The Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader can be used for Euro Nymphing for steelhead.

For anglers that don’t want the hassle of going out and buying all this stuff to make their own nymphing leader, I have used the 2X, 13-foot, Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader and although I don;t like it as much as my custom leader, it is still decent for most anglers, and it will do the job.

I have also used this for Euro nymphing for trout. You will still need a 2X or 3Xtippet for the bottom part of the leader.

The entire leader with the added 2X section of tippet is about 19 feet but the length will change based on the depth of the river that you want to fish.

Best Tippet For Euro Nymphing Steelhead

The best tippet size for Euro Nymphing steelhead in most great lakes rivers is 3X, but it will need to be an extra-strong high-quality tippet like the RIO Fluoroflex Strong Tippet.

Before you run out and get a heavy think line because you think the steelhead are big and that is what is required, remember that you will be using a 10 or 11-foot rod that helps protect your lighter tippets, and lighter tippets have some benefits and will help you catch more fish. I have landed thousands of great lakes steelhead on 3X tippets as well as hundreds on 4X tippet.

The 3 benefits of a lighter tippet and why I use light tippets are:

  • #1. A lighter tippet will not get pushed by the surface current and which will allow you to get a slower and more controlled drift.
  • #2. A Lighter tippet will allow your flies to sink faster and get into the strike zone quicker.
  • #3. A lighter tippet won’t be seen as easily by the steelhead and that will mean more fish will bite your flies.

I might use 4X in gin-clear water when steelhead are nervous and I have the room to walk a fish up or down the river and play them longer, but it’s pretty rare that i need to go this light.

I use 3X tippet most often, and I do very well with it in very clear water. I use 2X tippet in bigger rivers or in semi-clear or water that is stained. Going to a 2X is better for the fish and they won’t see it in off-colored water.

GUIDE TIP: A word of caution when using 2X tippet and flies that are purchased online or tied with some Euro Nymphing hooks is that 2X is quite strong and if you have your drag tightened to the point just before the tippet will break, you may end up bending or breaking hooks, therefore, be sure to use the highest quality hooks, or loosen your drag just a bit.

I will rarely use 1X tippet, but if I do, it would be in large fast-flowing rivers like the Niagara River or the bigger west coast rivers, or in heavily wooded spots, and I would use extra strong hooks.

If I were going to buy a tippet today, I would buy RIO Fluoroflex Strong Tippet – Check Best Price Now.

Or if you are a guy like me that goes through a lot of tippets or you want to buy in bulk to cut costs I would buy 6lb Sunline FC Super Sniper Fluorocarbon which is equivalent to a 3X tippet. Check Best Price Now

GUIDE TIP: Your Sighter, leader, and tippets are only as good as your knots. Are you using good knots? Check Out: 4 Best Knots Used By River Guides

Euro Nymphing Flies For Steelhead

Part of what makes euro nymphing for steelhead so unique and so effective is the use of weighted flies, which allows for a semi-tight line which then aids in great strike detection.

The weighted flies also allow you to get your flies into the strike zone quickly and then keep them there. But, some of my best steelhead flies can’t be weighted, or shouldn’t be weighted because I want them to act and drift freely or naturally.

Therefore I will make minor adjustments to my leader (as seen above) which includes where I place those non-weighted flies on the leader.

Best Euro Nymphs For Steelhead

The Tungsten Beadhead Prince nymphs
The Tungsten Beadhead Prince nymphs are one of my best Euro Nymphs for steelhead

Most of my Euro Nymph flies are custom tied by me. I did some research for you guys and found patterns that are similar or exactly the same as the ones that I use and that work well for me.

I prefer to use flies in size 10 or 12 for steelhead, however, depending on conditions, a size 8 or 14 can be good.

The Best Euro Nymphs For Steelhead Are:

NOTE: I tie my own flies on high-quality hooks that I know will not break or bend, but the hooks from mass-produced fly companies are often not high quality, so when buying flies you do so at your own risk, especially if you buy cheap flies.

Often, discount flies are only good for little trout.

Also, the patterns I recommend are either exactly what I use or as close to my exact patterns as I could find that are available for you to purchase. The flies do not need to be an exact match to the ones that I use as long as they are very close and you fish them well.

For quality hooks and some fantastic custom flies that myself and my clients have used, check out The Fly Feind.

Euro Nymphing Styles And History – Better Methods

The methods of Euro Nymphing on this page are proven to work on great lakes steelhead but they are my version of Euro Nymphing.

Euro nymphing can mean different things to different people because there are many styles and variations of Euro nymphing. You may have heard of Czech Nymphing which is just another style of Euro nymphing and it can be very effective at times.

I will change Euro Nymphing styles for different types of water and doing so allows me to adapt or adjust to a method that can work better based on the spot, and that and helps me catch more fish. But you can’t adapt if you don’t know what to change too.

To get a better understanding of all the different styles of Euro Nymphing see my page on Euro Nymphing

How To Euro Nymph – How You Actually Do It

There are many so-called Euro Nymphing experts, but few actually are. I have been lucky enough to learn from multiple competition fly anglers and even world champion fly anglers, so it’s easy for me to spot the fakes and the real experts.

Since it’s pretty hard to explain the cast, the drift, and just how to Euro nymph, I know it’s sometimes better to watch it done, but be sure you watch it from the right guys.

I hope to have a video series out soon, but in the meantime, these are two great options to see experts at Euro Nymphing.

The closest method to what I use can be seen in the video called Modern Nymphing, which is the best video I have seen on this method.

I have spent days on the water training with Euro Nymphing guru George Daniel, and I can honestly say that he is one of the best anglers I have trained with.

George has a free YouTube video that explains and shows you how to euro nymph properly. His methods are also very similar to the methods that I use for steelhead. Watch George Euro Nymphing Here and enjoy watching a master in action.

If Euro Nymphing for steelhead is not for you, make sure you check my page on Nymphing For Steelhead to see other great methods for catching steelhead.

Got A Question Or Comment About Euro Nymphing For Steelhead

If you have a question, comment, or tip about Euro nymphing for steelhead, let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines

Graham

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Simms Taco Bag

Simms Taco Bag

It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.

Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

SIMMS Duffel Bags and Stream Packs

Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.

Waterworks Release Tool

Waterworks-Lamson Ketchum Release Tool

Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.

Clip-on Magnifiers

When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Graham,
    Which would be the lightest line wt Orvis Clearwater nymphing rod you recommend for Lake Erie tributary steelhead? I understand the average wt for Erie steelhead is 4-6 lb and can go up to 10lb. I am trying to see if I can use one of those Clearwater rod for both trout and steelhead so that I can get dual use out of it efficiently.
    Thanks.
    Nick

    1. Hi Nick, unfortunately, there is not a perfect rod for both. The lightest I would go for steelhead would be a 5 weight rod which would be a bit light for steelhead and a bit heavy for small trout but would work for both. if you wanted to be sure you had a rod that could handle the steelhead, you could also go to a 6 weight rod which should be a good rod for steelhead of 2 to 6 pounds and it would just be just a bit heavy for trout, especially small trout like you 6 to 10-inch trout.

      Unless I was fishing little 4 to 8 inch brook trout a lot more than steelhead, if it was me, I would go for a 6 weight.

      Hope that helps,

  2. Hey Graham,

    I was wondering if you could explain in your opinion why using an indicator in slower deeper pools is better than euro nymphing? I have a trip coming up soon and really want to winter euro nymph, as an alternative, what are your thoughts on tight line to the indicator fishing? Taking my euro mono rig and just adding a 3gram float? I have a centerpin setup, but really prefer the lightweight euro setup…I also don’t have a ton of interest in fishing long distances below myself as it isnt as effective anyways. Do you think a tight line to the indicator method with a float would be just as effective as my centerpin? I figure I can fish up 35 feet out and then just feed extra mono if I want a longer drift, But keeping most line off the water when possible increases that connection. I am thinking a couple split shot right under my float, a heavily weighted fly on dropper down to a light weighted or unweighted fly on point…Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

    Best,
    Jeremy

    1. Hi Jeremy,

      The reason that Euro nymphing is often so effective is because of the angler’s ability to have the flies move at a slower more natural speed in the current, as well as being able to control your depth at different parts of the drift. As soon as you add an indicator, the surface current which is usually faster than the bottom current will pull the indicator and will pull the fly abnormally fast. Even if you tight line it to the indicator, the current will still pull the fly abnormally fast. That doesn’t happen without the indicator with true euro nymphing. And if you are standing downriver and casting upriver you can not control the speed on the indicator.

      As far as why indicators are better in slow water it’s simply because sometimes there is not enough speed to move the fly along efectievly when not using the indicator and many anglers struggle with euro nymphing in slow water. An indicator is just easier.

      Hope that helps

      Graham

  3. Hi Graham, I just wanted to drop a quick line to say that I really appreciate all of this information and insight. I’ve cross-referenced this page a few times, while getting geared up for the spring. Cheers, Cam

  4. Hi Graham,

    Thanks for all of the info on this site. I am looking at setting up one of my rods for euro nymphing steelhead and I just want to make sure I am doing the mono-rig set up right.

    You mention using 30 pound green Lazar line and attaching that directly to your normal steelhead line. After that do I make one of the mono leaders from the diagram? (steelhead line > 30lb Lazar > leader) or do you make the leader using the 30lb lazar and go straight from the steelhead line to the leader?

    If it’s the first option, then how much 30lb lazar do you put on before the leader?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Matt,

      I’ll be revising this article to make it more clear, I’ve just added extra with more to come. For now, run 30 to 40 feet of OPST Pure Skagit Lazar Line to 8 to 12 feet of 12 pound mono, then to your sighter. Use a double uni knot or blood knot for the Lazar line to mono connection, and for a smoother knot that shoots through the rod guides easier, I use Loon UV Knot Glue to form a smooth football-shaped hard shell over the knot. I hope to have a video and photo of this knot soon.

      With that rig and some good casting, I can cast a single #10 euro nymph about 30 to 40 feet. Hope that helps.

      Graham,

  5. Hi Graham,

    Great site and thanks for all the info. I have been fishing a mono rig on trout streams for a few years now and can’t wait to try it out on steelheads. My concern is with the leader to fly line connection. Im guessing it’s a loop to loop and I doubt u put UV resin on that. When you hook up I’m sure the fish takes you into the fly line. Do you have any issues with that connection going through the guides when fighting the fish? This is the only reason I’m thinking about getting a euro fly line.

    Thanks again,
    Tanner

    1. Hey Tanner,

      To be honest, I hate the fly line loop to leader loop connection, so I cut my fly line loop off and use a nail knot with UV to smooth it out..

      Because yes, that loop to loop connection can be a major issue.

      However, if you don’t want to cut the fly line loop, my tip is: the loop is only an issue when your rod is bent with lots of pressure on the line, the knot sticks in the guides and the top 3 tips are usually the biggest issue, so, when the knot is coming out of the reel and into the guides, lower your rod and point the tip directly at the fish, this takes most of the pressure off the guides and the loop connection should slide through without sticking, once that loop is out of the guides, put a bend in the rod again, you may need to do this a few times during the fight, but it does work…

      Good Luck,

      Graham

  6. Hi Graham,
    Loved all the shared experience in your article on euro nymphing for steelhead!
    I had one question: I’m from Oregon and wanted to know if these techniques can be used successfully on the west coast rivers like the Willamete, Sandy, and some of the coastal rivers like the Wilson, Siletz, etc.?
    Thank you,
    Bruce

    1. Hey Bruce,

      From what I know of those rivers, yes, you would be able to Euro nymph them in any sections with medium to fast flows that are under 8 feet deep. The deal water is less than 6 feet deep. 3 to 6 feet is great and it’s great for very clear water. Slow water is tough, that’s when I might add an indicator.

      Best Of Luck

      Graham

  7. If anyone is looking for a great Euro nymphing fly rod try the new Diamondback 10’10” 6wt, I have used it and have no problem with sensitivity, protecting lighter tippet and being able to handle 10lb plus steelhead. It fishes and handles better than any other Steelhead rod I ever fished.