Euro Nymphing: An Expert Euro Guide Explains

A client Euro nymphing

My take on Euro Nymphing is likely going to be different than other people’s take on Euro nymphing simply because Euro nymphing can mean a lot of different things to different people. I have been teaching all forms of Euro nymphing since 2008 and have determined that some versions are more effective in different types of rivers.

What Is Euro Nymphing?

Euro Nymphing is a tight-line nymphing method that uses very thin leaders, weighted flies, and a piece of colored line known as a sighter, all used together to suspend your flies off the bottom and to maintain direct contact with your flies at all times which greatly improves your strike detection.

Euro nymphing done right will allow anglers to be able to control the speed and depth of their nymph better and it improves strike detection. Euro nymphing done right is often the most effective way to nymph which is why the pros use it.

But which method is best for you, or is best for the river that you fish will depend on a few factors.

All The Versions Of Euro Nymphing

One Of my clients Euro Nymphing with sighters.
One of my clients learning how to do Euro Nymphing with a sighter in four feet of water.

The reason I said that my version might be different than another person’s Euro Nymphing is that Euro Nymphing can mean many things.

I first learned the history of Euro Nymphing from Jack Dennis who was one of the first coaches of the USA national fly fishing team.

Jack’s version of the story starts when the USA started participating in the European fly fishing competitions that anglers from outside of Europe first started seeing Euro nymphing being used and that is when they saw how effective it really is.

Back then Euro nymphing consisted of a Polish Nymphing version which was then taken, changed, and used by the Czechs which became known as Czech Nymphing. Polish and Czech nymphing are great in certain types of rivers, but not so great in other types of rivers.

Over the years the French and Spanish started to adjust and change the technique to be more suitable to their rivers and as it stands now in 2021 it’s hard to beat the French and Spanish in the world champions ships.

It’s also hard to beat anglers that are versatile and know how to fish all methods which allows them to Euro nymph successfully in just about any river condition they are faced with.

Today, Euro Nymphing consists of French nymphing, Spanish nymphing, Polish nymphing, Czech nymphing, and probably 50 other variations from guides like me, and competitions, that have revised them for their purposes and their rivers.

Me doing Euro Nymphing training with George Daniel
This is me learning a Euro Nymphing version taught by famous author, fly coach, guide, and competition angler George Daniel.

As European nymphing has evolved many anglers have their own version that works for them which is why I say my version might be different than another person’s version of Euro nymphing. However, most versions, follow the same basic process.

Despite the many versions of euro nymphing, the basics of using a high rod tip, along with weighted flies and a sighter remain the same throughout all versions.

What really changes from one version to the other is the length of the leader that is used, the leader setup, the weight of the flies, the positioning of the angler, and where they target the fish from.

With traditional euro nymphing methods, and even with the newer modern methods used now, the fly line is not used and no indicators and no weights are added to the leaders. However, there are variations that I use under certain situations and for certain reasons when adding weights to the right area of the leader is needed and works.

There are also some times when a suspension indicator can be used.

Polish Nymphing

An angler Polish nymphing some faster deep water
One of my clients using the Polish Nymphing method in this deep fast water with great success. He caught about 20 rainbow trout in this spot.

As I understand it and based on how Jack Dennis describes it, the Polish nymphing method was the first version of the European Nymphing ever used and it was created by a competition angler named Wladyslaw (“Vladi“) Trzebunia.

As the story goes Vladi outfished every angler around him by such a large amount that nobody could even come close.

Vladi was so good that even his individual score during competitions was better than multiple teams’ scores combined.

The original Polish Nymphing method uses a short leader that was about 2/3rds the length of the rod, which means the angler would use a 7-foot leader with a 10-foot rod. This would be combined with 2 or 3 heavy flies and a piece of colored mono between the top of the leader and the fly line.

No fly line or almost no fly line is used when fishing and only the leader is out of the rod guides as the flies are flipped out and then lead down the river directly under the rod tip.

The flies are suspended just off the bottom and because the leader is tight the entire time anything that touches the fly would be felt by the angler.

The Polish Nymphing method is a very short line version of Euro Nymphing and it can be excellent in faster choppy water.

However, due to its short length, it’s not a method that I use often on clear water with nervous trout. Under these conditions there on other methods and leaders that work better.

Czech Nymphing

An angler fishing Good Czech Nymphing water
A client of mine is fishing some good Czech Nymphing type water.

Czech Nymphing is what made European nymphing popular. Czech nymphing is basically a copy of the Polish Nymphing method that was slightly modified so that the sighter was more in the middle of the short 7-foot leader and the flies are slowly pulled along under the rod tip.

Because the flies are pulled slightly faster than the current the strike detection is immediate and can often be seen and felt by the angler.

Check Nymph flies are also skinny and very heavy so they get down very fast and stay down in the faster currents.

Czech Nymphing today can be very different than the original Czech Nymphing style. I have seen Czech tournament anglers use many versions of this method and they will adapt to the river and the situation they are in.

Like the Polish Nymphing method, Czech Nymphing is also a short leader method and you need to get very close to the fish, therefore it is best used in faster noisy water where your close proximity to the fish is not going to spook them. This can be an excellent method in deep pocket water as seen in the above picture

I do not use the Czech nymphing method very much.

Spanish Nymphing

Spanish nymphing
When you have low clear water with nervous trout the Spanish Nymphing method is a great option.

Spanish nymphing is what I describe as long-line Czech Nymphing. The Spanish Nymphing leader in tournaments is usually double the length of the rod. That means the leader is 20 feet long on a 10-foot rod.

The reason for the extra-long leader is that some rivers are shallow and very clear and the trout will spook easily if you get too close to them. This makes the Polish and Czech methods not very productive. The Spanish Nymphing leader still uses the sighter and multiple weighted flies just like the Czech and Polich leader methods.

The other thing that makes the Spanish method different is where the Spanish anglers position themselves when fishing. Spanish Nymph anglers will often stand behind the fish and cast up and across while staying behind the fish as much as possible.

Euro Nymphing Expert David Arcay
Spanish Nymphing expert and world champion fly angler David Arcay and Myself. David makes some great Euro nymphing rods and other products.

I had the opportunity to train with the world champion Spanish angler David Arcay and he said that during the tournaments they are only allowed to use a leader double the length of their rod, but when he fishes for fun or when training he would use 30 to 40-foot leaders.

Check out some of David custom Euro nymphing gear on his website ArcayFishing.com

Most beginner anglers would struggle with a 20-foot leader, but there are some major advantages to learning how to use 30 or 40-foot leaders on wild nervous trout in clear waters.

Long leaders also have the advantage of fishing spots that are too far to wade to.

Like the other euro nymphing methods, no fly line is used with the Spanish Nymphing method which means that anglers are casting 30 to 40 feet with nothing but a bare leader and a fly or two. That’s pretty impressive, and with practice and the right setup it really is not that hard to do.

The version of Euro Nymphing that I use the most and teach my clients is a combination of Spanish and French Nymphing.

When I’m guiding and teaching new anglers, I start with the 16 foot leader seen in the above picture.

When I fish for fun I’m often casting a 30 to 40-foot leader which you can make by extending the 20-pound section of my leader to the desired length.

I will discuss Euro Nymphing leader setups in another article which you can find on the Fly Fishing page.

There are huge advantages to the Spanish Nymphing method which is why it’s so hard to beat the Spanish anglers in world fly fishing competitions and it’s why I use this method more than other Euro Nymphing methods.

The primary advantage to Spanish nymphing is that you can effectively present your fly to fish that are far away from you so you don’t spook them and you can make very long drifts which put your fly in front of a lot more fish than the shorter line Euro Nymphing methods.

And you can do this with a lot of control and with good strike detection.

With Spanish Nymphing, you do not pull your flies through the water. Instead, you simply allow them to drift freely at the speed of the current and then you just take up the slack and maintain slight and controlled tension between the rod tip and the flies.

French Nymphing

An angler French Nymphing straight upstream
One of my clients uses the french style of nymphing method to stay behind the trout.

French nymphing is very similar to Spanish nymphing with the exception that the French tend to cast straight upriver and retrieve the flies back and they end the drift just in from of them. Whereas the Spanish will cast up and across and can let the flies pass them and continue to fish downriver.

The advantage to the French Nymphing method is that you are directly behind the fish which makes it impossible for the fish to see them. The French adaptation is meant for low clear waters with very nervous trout.

Just like the Spanish anglers, the French competition anglers are very difficult to beat which is why my version of Euro nymphing that I mostly use and teach to clients is a combination of the French and Spanish nymphing methods.

I had the opportunity to fish with a competition angler from France and see the French Nymphing method used and compared to typical North American Nymphing methods.

This French competition angler flew in the night before the guided trip me and I got to witness the effectiveness of the French Nymphing style first hand. During that day, he was able to out-fish every angler on the water by about 10 to 1 using small flies and a 30 to 40-foot leader which he used with precision casts and unbelievable presentation and control.

It was amazing to watch and to see how extremely effective this method was firsthand from an expert. It was also amazing to see how much more effective this method is to the typical nymphing methods most anglers use.

The original French Nymphing versions also used very small flies which are much smaller and much lighter than the big heavy Czech nymphs that people think about when you mention Euro Nymphing.

The reason for this is because of the slower and shallower water that the french fish, but also because they fish such long drifts that the lighter flies won’t sink to the bottom and get snagged up or drag the bottom the entire time.

Using a couple of big Czech nymphs would just mean you are dragging your flies across the bottom.

The French also came up with the slinky sighter which I have tried but do not use except for fishing frog water. The slinky sighter is a tightly coiled sighter that straightens with light taken from trout.

Modern Nymphing

Some anglers and competition anglers simply call Euro Nymphing just Modern Nymphing. Modern Nymphing is basically what I do as an angler and a guide and it’s just variations of the many European Nymphing methods above.

Often modern nymphing just takes the best aspects of each of the Euro Nymphing methods and combines them into one method that is most suitable to the river or type of water that you want to fish.

When I see modern nymphing done or explained it’s usually very similar to the Spanish nymphing method and setup. The reason is that this method is very versatile.

Why Euro Nymphing?

The simple answer to “Why Euro Nymphing” is that if done right in the right type of water you can not beat it.

Other common nymphing methods like indicator nymphing and the old school high-stick nymphing common in North America was invented by North American anglers and guides, but Euro Nymphing was designed, improved, and then improved again by multiple fly fishing competitors.

Euro nymphing has evolved and is ever-changing by the world’s best fly anglers because in order to win against the best anglers in the world you need to use the best methods possible in all kinds of different river situations.

What works for me on my home river might not work for you on your river because your river might be 300 feet wide and slow and deep.

Another guide might have a different version of Euro nymphing than both of us because maybe his mountain stream has lots of deep pocket water so his version of Euro Nymphing might be closer to check nymphing than French Nymphing.

That is why there are so many variations to Euro nymphing coming from so many anglers, guides, and competition anglers. Everyone takes the basic concepts of Euro Nymphing and then adjusts them to meet their own needs.

How To Euro Nymph

Euro nymphing is a lot more than just the leader setup. Euro nymphing done like a pro involves proper body placement, different cast, and learning how to cover the water well. Check my Fly Fishing page for my series on Euro nymphing methods and tips.

Advanced Nymphing

Every year I do a few sold-out Advanced Nymphing classes and clients that have participated in these classes claim almost instant improvements in the amount of fish they catch compared to what methods they used prior.

The improvement wasn’t because I was a great teacher, the improvement was simply because now they know how to do more effective methods and they have more options when faced with different conditions.

I had a private page on my guide website for those anglers to use as a reference but I recently decided to include all of that information on my page Fly Fishing With Nymphs so don’t forget to check it out.

The Euro Nymphing Set Up

Recently a friend asked me about the setup for Euro nymphing since he was looking into getting his first Euro Nymphing rod, reel, and the line setup that is best for Euro Nymphing.

My opinion on the Euro Nymphing setup might be different from what you may have read elsewhere simply because I think like a teacher of fishing, and not as an expert or competition angler.

I think a lot of so-called experts talking about rod and reel, line, and leader setups are recommending what works best for them, but this is not necessarily what is best for the average angler.

I have taught thousands of anglers how to Euro Nymph and the honest truth is that for the average angler, the two things that matter the most when it comes to Euro Nymphing effectively are the rod, and a leader that works for their skill level.

The problem is that too many anglers want to use what the experts use long before they are experts themselves.

Even if I used the very best rod and reel for Euro nymphing, if I gave new clients a 40-foot advanced leader right from the start they would end up being frustrated and fishless.

With so many different setups and advice coming from so many people, most anglers getting into Euro nymphing end up becoming confused. Should they use a Euro fly line, or no-fly line at all, or a running line instead of a fly line, or just use an all mono rig setup? Bla Bla Bla…

As I explained to my friend, the truth is that most anglers can not fish with a leader over 20 feet very well anyways, and therefore, what you have on your reel before your 20-foot leader is irrelevant..

Unless you compete in fly fishing, or you fish 3 days a week or more and you are advanced, anything over a 20-foot leader is just going to cause problems and likely make you fish worse.

And the only time it matters what’s on your reel before your leader is when a big fish pulls all that line out, and if that happens, whether it’s a fly line, backing, running line, or mono, it will all pretty much work the same when fighting fish.

So it doesn’t make a difference how you set up your reel and whether you use a fly line, a euro line, or whatever.

The only time a longer leader helps you as an average angler or new angler is if you have fly line sag between your reel and the first guide, or your fly line is so heavy every time you rlift your rod tip the fly line slides down the rod guides and pulls you leader along with it.

Both of these are an easy fix by simply extending your leader butt section by 10 to 15 feet with Mono and keeping your fly line buried in your reel while you fish.

So why are all these different setups being recommended if it doesn’t matter?

The experts can cast a single weighted fly and an entire 40 or 50 foot leader with near precision and no fly line, and then they can fish it all the way through the entire drift very well and in control, but they are experts.

This means the setup they use will be different from what the average fly guy needs because they are capable of using that type of leader and line setup.

When I try to have clients cast 40 feet of leader and then fish it well, they can’t. At least not without a ton of practice first and even then they struggle and that affects how many fish they catch.

As I explained to my friend, unless you are an expert, just set up your reel the same way you would if you were planning on fishing with dry flies. Use backing attached to a standard fly line, then to a leader that is only as long as you can handle.

And as I tell all my clients, start with a 16 to 20 foot leader and only use 12 to 14-foot of that leader and get very good with that length. Master your cast and your presentation first, then add 2 or 3 feet and master that length, and so on, and so on.

If you leave some extra room on the reel and you don’t pack it too full when you set it up, as you get more advanced you can add 20 to 50 feet or mono, or a running line like the 30lb or 35lb OPST Lazer line.

But, until you are at that skill level that you can cast 40 feet of leader, I suggest sticking to a basic setup, with my 16 to 20-foot Euro leader, and then just focus on fishing that well.

My current Euro Nymph setup is:

If you come out with me and think you are going to see some cool euro stretup on my reel, you will be disappointed. I use backing connected to a standard fly line on all my reels so if I need to quickly switch from a nymph to a dry fly i can.

Then I add 40 feet of OPST with a loop-to-loop connection to the fly line. The OPST line is attached to my 16-foot Euro leader using a Double Uni Knot that is glued with UV Knot glue to ensure a nice smooth knot connection that won’t get stuck in my guides when a big fish pulls or I shoot 40 feet of OPST. This is basically a 56 foot leader and it works on every reel I own.

With this line/leader setup I can easily teach new anglers with a short leader by keeping all the OPST in the reel, or I can teach advanced anglers how to cast and fish a 40 to 50-foot leader the next day without needing a setup change.

The OPST acts like an extension of the leader and works very well, but some anglers and top experts prefer to use Maxima Chameleon 20 to 30-pound leader line instead.

I will be adding a Euro Reel and Euro Rod page soon.

Got A Question About Euro Nymphing

If you have a question or comment about Euro Nymphing let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,

Graham

4 Comments

  1. I fish a lot using a micro leader and very small nymphs. At other times, I fish with trout beads using a thicker leader and a bobber. I was wondering if you have ever combined the two methods, i.e., fish trout beads on a Spanish leader.

  2. Come on guys!
    This is high sticking!!!
    Folks were doing this back in the late 80’s. Loomis built the nost beautiful 10′ 3wt that was comparable to a hoover vacuum cleaner in Gene Takeuchi’s hands.
    Does the fly fishing world always have to reinvent the wheel?

    1. Hey George,

      lol.. A very skilled but old-school local guide said the same thing to me one day, and he was wrong too. The thing is that if you don’t know both methods intimately and if you don’t fully understand them both, you can’t honestly say they are the same because they are not.

      I also fished high stick nymphing methods from the late 80s to about 2006 so I fully understand it, but I have also been perfecting my skills with euro nymphing from around 2006 to now. Back then, I was very hesitant about the Euro nymphing method when I first saw it too, and was just like you and figured it’s the same thing as high-stick nymphing.

      I can assure you that what you think high sticking is will be very different than what Euro nymphing is. But the only way you will understand the difference is if you truly understand both methods.

      Best of luck,

      Graham

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