Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The misconception of "Czech-Nymphing" in the press and public of American Fly-Fishing

The result of Euro-nymphing on the Poudre today.
I’ve put this post off for a few weeks because I knew it could run away from me and end up taking days to write. I’m going to do my best not to let that happen. The impetus for the post is that over the last few years I have taught quite a few Euro-nymphing clinics. Invariably the students themselves and the shops that I teach the clinics for have a vastly different idea of what nymphing techniques are actually being used in the world of fly fishing competitions vs. what they have been told is "Czech Nymphing". To highlight this fact, the owner of the Crystal Fly-Shop in Carbondale recently wrote the Aspen Daily News and essentially accused the competitors at this year's national championship of foul hooking a large share of their fish with 3 bright nymphs jigged in the face of trout. Something tells me Mr. Johnson didn't watch any of the competitors fish. If he had, he would have seen something much different.
As a perfect example of the misconception of competition nymphing being propagated by the fly fishing press, I recently came across an article titled, "Czech Nymphing for Western Waters" in the Fall 2013 Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Journal. Now I am certainly not accusing the author Glenn Zinkus of intentionally trying to lead anyone astray. He just needs to pick up a copy of George Daniel's book Dynamic Nymphing for a contemporary treatment of competitively inspired nymphing. I simply believe the technique Zinkus described hasn't been used very successfully in world fly fishing championships since Cognard pioneered the use of the French leader and the deadly and versatile range of nymphing it spawned. I have only been fishing in the World Fly Fishing Championships since 2009 so I can't personally vouch for what techniques have been used prior to that time and I don't get to see a lot of what other competitors are using who aren't in adjacent beats to me. However, several veteran FF Team USA mates and I have a much cherished video from the 2004 World Championships in Slovakia. It is more than evident on this video that competitors had moved toward the style of nymphing I'll describe in the rest of the post. Below, I'll take you through some excerpts of what Mr. Zinkus describes as "Czech Nymphing" vs. what I'll label contemporary Euro-Nymphing because it is a melting pot of different styles from Europe into more of a nymphing system. The text of the article will be in italics followed by my take.

"Traditional Czech nymph rigs are a group of three flies."
It's very rare these days that I fish 3 flies on a nymphing rig. The only exception is in heavy deep water (more than chest deep). Most of the time I fish one or two flies. It is nearly impossible to fit 3 flies into small pockets or narrow seams without your drift suffering because one or more flies land in different current speeds. Having one or two flies creates better accuracy, better dead drifts, and reduces tangling while casting or while a fish is in the net. I won't say that all competitors are avoiding 3 flies because I know others who still use them and use them well, but I would say they are in the minority.

"The Czech nymph itself is tied with a very slender body but heavily weighted, so that the fly sinks quickly on these short drifts."
While the original Czech nymph exemplified a representation of a caddis larvae or scud, Euro nymphing today employs a wide range of patterns in addition to Czech style nymphs. Most people I have talked to about "Czech nymphing" have the impression that it should be done with bomb heavy flies incorporating 4mm tungsten beads, a pile of lead wire, and on hook sizes 12-6. In reality, I spend most of my time with flies from size 18-12 tied with tungsten beads between 2mm and 3.5mm. I do carry larger and heavier flies for the occasional abyssal run or hole but they don't see water very often.

"A Czech nymph leader is not tapered.....I prefer a straight monofilament leader....Overall leader length should not exceed the length of the rod."
The length and design of the leader is the fundamental crux which separates today's Euro-nymphing from what is described in this article. I use a leader that is about twice the length of my rod to conform with the new Fips Mouche leader length rule. With a 10' rod the math is easy and my leader ends up being about 19' just to be safely short of twice the length of my rod. Why so long you say? Two reasons: 1) any more than a few inches of line or leader on the water inevitably creates drag unless mended which then induces slack. Therefore, the best way to eliminate drag is to keep line and leader off the water. 2) Once fly line is picked up off the water gravity takes over and line sags towards you inducing drag by another route. Leader material is much lighter than fly line and can be suspended without dragging small lightly weighted flies toward you. 

"These multiple-fly combinations can be prone to tangling. Use a gentle flip of the wrist to create a lob cast."
For those who have ever watched Pat Weiss nymph, he definitely does not lob his flies. He casts his nymph rig with perfectly controlled loops that allow him to manipulate his rig anyway he wants. A properly tapered leader and long nymphing rod definitely helps. For leader formula examples see George's book. For a quick example you can refer to a post on Troutlegend from a few days ago.

"Once the cast is made......keep the rod even and parallel with the surface of the water so that the leader and flies are straight under the rod tip." 
The technique described above by Zinkus limits you to only fishing across the current in heavy water that hides you from the fish so you can approach within a rod length. However, having a long leader allows you to fish both across the river and upstream as well as well beyond your rod tip.

"Begin moving the rod downstream and smoothly lead the flies down the river current."
If you are truly leading your flies downstream then you are creating downstream drag. If my leader is off the water I maintain a nearly vertical or slightly downstream leader angle to achieve as dead a drift as possible.

Lastly, Zinkus does not mention this aspect directly in his article, but takes should be visual when Euro nymphing. There is a reason that hi-vis mono is incorporated into Euro-nymphing leaders. This "sighter" mono allows you to see takes. If you are allowing your flies to dead drift you will see takes before you feel them because you are not overly tight to your nymphs which affects their drift. 

For those who are interested in learning more you really should pick up Dynamic Nymphing. Though I've had the pleasure of fishing with George on the water and much of what he wrote about in the book wasn't brand new to me, I've still read it 4 or 5 times and I find new tidbits that pique my interest and improve my skill on the water each time I revisit it. There are also videos available produced by Steve Parrot and Aaron Jasper. I haven't seen any of them though so I can't speak personally as to their content.

Happy Nymphing,


  1. Well written article, thanks. I don't believe that many anglers actually use what was originally described as "Czech Nymphing" and the variety of styles has expanded so much that there is a great deal of crossover. Perhaps it is more important for the angler to understand what one is trying to achieve rather than the varieties of ways that different nations achieve it. In the end the fish don't care what you call it, what matters is that the flies are on or near the bottom, and you have a means of registering a take. But thank you for taking up the fight against the "more weight is better" brigade who fail to understand the nuances of proper Euro-style nymphing.

  2. Thanks paracaddis. I agree that understanding the efficiency nymphing that the Euro styles provide is the most important aspect. I don't much care for labeling it one name or another either. I've met so many people over the last few years that see Euro-nymphing as nothing more than dragging bomber heavy flies through the water that I at least had to put this out there for those who might be interested.

  3. Excellent article. As you rightly observe there is too much outright drivel written about Euro nymphing. Unfortunately what tends to happen is new articles are based on the drivel that has gone before, and starts to be seen as 'gospel'.