Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Euro Nymphing 101: part 3

       For my last installment of Euro nymphing 101, I'm going to quickly take you through why I believe Euro nymphing is more successful than typical indicator nymphing in most water types. Today was a perfect example. I was fortunate enough to spend the day fishing a local tailwater with Antonio Rodrigues from Portugual. Antonio has represented his native country very well in the World Fly Fishing Championships many times and I've been both fortunate and unfortunate enough to fish directly against him in my group during two World Championships.
Antonio in the zone
       The local water utility czar jumped the water on today's tailwater from 15 to over 200 cfs in the last several days. Hearing that the water had been raised, quite a few other anglers joined us on the river though most of them were expecting the 80 cfs that was supposed to be flowing. I talked to several who said "I've had a few bites" but no fish to hand. I couldn't help but notice that every angler I met had a thingamabobber attached to their leader. Using Euro nymphing techniques, Antonio and I were fortunate enough to catch fish with ease and regularity throughout the day despite 39 degree water temperatures and high water for this temperature. Though we are both very experienced anglers, I firmly believe that if the anglers I met had been given a Euro nymphing rig and sufficient instruction, they would have had the fish they came to the river for. Having spent the first dozen or more years of my fly fishing life convinced that indicator nymphing was the king of river techniques for catching numbers of fish, I know from personal experience that I was mistaken now at least in most water types. The picture below explains much of the reason why I think this is the case.

       Think of this diagram as representing a very typical river situation. The blue arrows represent different currents and the size of the arrows reflects the speed of each of these currents. In this diagram and in many cases on the river, the indicator rig is cast up and across the river, the indicator lands in one current speed while the flies land in another further across the river. Line is mended and slack is managed to try and provide a dead drift for the indicator. The indicator becomes an anchor in the surface current, which affects the drift of the rig below. The bigger the indicator, the more current it catches. Again, the issue is that the flies are drifting in a different current seam and speed than the indicator. Therefore, the indicator may be dead drifting, but the flies are not. If the flies land in a slower current speed than the indicator, the flies are dragged downstream until they swing into the same seam of current as the indicator. The flies drift laterally until this occurs which further reduces the deadness of the drift. If the flies land in a faster current speed than the indicator, the indicator slows the drift and the flies swing downstream. Not only does a downstream swing not provide a dead drift, but there is no way to detect a strike because the flies have to be vertically below or upstream of the indicator to register a strike when a fish takes. Even if the flies land in the same current seam as the indicator, unless the distance between indicator and flies is perfectly adjusted, slack forms leading to reduced strike detection. On the fly line side of the indicator, mending induces slack which reduces the power  and increases the time of hook sets. If a fish eats during the process of mending, a hook set often can't be made and the fish is missed. Furthermore, mending is often imperfect at providing a dead drift throughout the drift and the indicator may be moved with mending leading to the flies jigging with each mend.

Though Euro nymphing has its own limitations, I believe it solves most of the above problems.
       Back to the same situation on the water, when the Euro rig is cast, it enters the water in one current seam. There is no indicator to act as a surface anchor and affect the drift. Only thin tippet penetrates the water and the angler can control the speed of the drift simply by the downstream movement speed of the rod. There is no mending and some amount of contact is maintained with the flies leading to a high proportion of strikes being detected. As an illustration from today, see the photo below.
          This eddy produced 3 fish for me with a Euro rig. With an indicator rig it would have been difficult to land the flies and indicator in the same current. Typically, the indicator would have landed in the fast downstream seam nearer to me while the flies landed in the upstream recirculated seam. Obviously, if the flies and indicator go in opposite directions, a dead drift is impossible. Many of the fish today came from similar pockets with complicated currents. Pools and runs which lend themselves to indicator nymphing were few and far between leading to fish being correspondingly few and far between for the indicator nymphers I met.

Besides the fundamental issues with drift, there are some other issues with indicator nymphing which Euro nymphing solves.

  • The typical indicator rig involves split shot above unweighted flies. A hinge forms at the split shot further inducing slack between flies and thee indicator. This slack must be removed before a strike is detected. Fishing weighted flies without split shot on a Euro rig eliminates hinges especially if a heavier fly is fished on the point (end of the leader) and a lighter or unweighted fly is fished on the dropper tag above.
  • The indicator creates a splash when it hits the water. Obviously this has the potential to spook fish. The only splash created by a Euro rig is the entry of the nymphs. Their small splash has much less potential to spook fish.
  • Indicator rigs don't fit in small pockets. If your indicator is 5 feet from your flies, then a pocket must be nearly that diameter to fit flies and indicator within the pocket. Even if your flies are only 3 feet from your indicator, the same rule applies. In many pocketwater sections I fish, pockets that large are few and far between. Only the space between flies limits the size of pockets a Euro rig can be cast into. If you fish a one fly rig then only your casting accuracy limits the size of pockets you can fish.
  • Lastly, in order to adjust for depth, the position of an indicator on the leader must be repeatedly adjusted and split shot must be added and subtracted with increasing or decreasing depth. Most depth adjustments on a Euro rig can be made simply by raising or lowering the elevation of the sighter or adjusting the angle of the leader either on the casting entry or during the drift. If these adjustments aren't enough, a quick change of fly weight usually suffices.
Though it may seem like it, I'm not telling you to throw your indicators away and abandon suspension nymphing altogether. There are a few situations where indicator nymphing is more effective than Euro nymphing. Below is a quick list:
  • Low velocity pools, runs, or flats with fairly uniform currents create conditions where many of the problems with suspension rigs are nullified. In these water types, approaching fish within a Euro nymphing radius may be difficult without spooking them.
  • If deep water prevents wading within proximity to an intending holding lie, suspension rigs may be your only hope of reaching the fish.
  • If wind is above around 15 mph, controlling the drift of a Euro leader becomes very difficult. In windy conditions, the anchoring nature of the indicator becomes beneficial as it prevents the wind from blowing your flies and leader around.
  • Lastly, if the fish in your river only eat flies size 22 and smaller, it will be hard to tie flies with sufficient weight to attain depth. This situation may be countered when Euro nymphing by fishing a sacrificial heavy nymph to allow other micronymphs to attain depth, However, I find that a lot of anglers and guides today assume that fish only eat small flies in their river when it certainly isn't the case. I've fished a lot of picky tailwaters the last few years where size 12-18 flies worked just fine. There are exceptions but I don't believe most rivers require only microflies most of the time even when the fish may be focusing on minutiae.
If the rivers you fish don't fit the short list above, I highly suggest you give Euro nymphing a try. As with any method, there is a learning curve and you may not have great success your first time out. However, if you commit to Euro nymphing it won't let you down.


  1. Nice article. You are providing flyfishing a great service! Thanks Devin. (By the way the fisherman in the first pic is Ugly)

  2. Great explanation. Gradient is the key I guess.

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  4. Thanks Antonio, luckily I don't value looks too highly in a fishing partner!
    Blueheron, gradient is definitely important but substrate type, water clarity, and other factors are key as well. For example, in a pool with at least medium current speed that has a gravel or silt bottom, the surface currents will be smooth and if water clarity is high the indicator rig will outperform a Euro rig. However, given the same pool with large cobble or boulders which undulate surface currents and create differing current seams, the Euro rig will outperform an indicator rig.

  5. Hi Devin, great article. I live in Montana and fish the Missouri primarily. I was wondering if you have ever euro-nymphed from a drift boat (while floating). I've toyed with the idea, but never tried it. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  6. Thanks Bradley. I get asked this question a lot. I have actually had a lot of success Euro nymphing from a drift boat. I've also been badly outfished by my friends who were Euro nymphing from the boat while I was chucking a dry dropper or indicator rig. It can take some adjusting from the angler and the rower but it has shown the same deadliness in the boat as it has while wading. The one caveat is that the fish obviously must be fairly approachable in the boat. Because you're standing high above the water, you certainly don't have the lowest of profiles. Therefore, rivers with broken character, slightly off color water, or fish that are very used to and not typically spooked by boats will be best for Euro nymphing. I've spent a lot of time on the Missouri but never Euro nymphed from a boat there. It certainly could work, especially on certain sections, but its often smooth surface and clear water don't immediately lend it to Euro nymphing from a boat or even from the bank for that matter. I would say give it a try though, it might work fantastically.

  7. Hi Devin,
    Thanks for your advice. I'll give euro-nymphing from the ole' drifter a try this spring.

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