June 07, 2022
Imagine the scene: It’s 1989 in Kuusamo, Finland. A who’s who of competitive fly fishing has assembled for the World Fly-Fishing Championships.
While many of the anglers competing look exactly like you’d expect—dressed head-to-toe in the newest 1980s fishing garb, wielding the best rods and the finest reels—one individual stands out from the rest. His vest is not the style typically worn by competition anglers. He has green rainboots over trousers while others are wearing waders and wading boots, and his fly rod…let’s just say it’s not in pristine condition.
But Wladyslaw "Vladi" Trzebunia, a member of the Polish fly-fishing team, has drawn a crowd for more than his appearance.
He has just won first place in the World Championships by bringing 60 fish to the net, more than the second-, third- and fourth-place finishers combined. His win not only lands him on the first-place platform, it also solidifies the team title for Poland.
The technique he used throughout the competition was unlike any that had been seen before, and unbeknownst to him in that moment, Trzebunia has just changed the trajectory of fly fishing forever.
His technique was pioneered by his father in the mid-1930s, when he discovered that if he pulled a baited hook downstream faster than the current, he caught more fish. He theorized it was that motion the trout were most attracted to.
Fast-forward 50 years, and the proof of his theory takes the form of a gold medal won by his son. Fast-forward an additional 30 years, and the technique has been copied and tweaked more times than we can count.
Today, you’ll hear labels like "Polish nymphing," "Czech nymphing," "modern nymphing" and more. But, as we do with many things that come across the sea and land on U.S. soil, we have renamed and repackaged all these subtle techniques into one all-encompassing term: Euro nymphing. And for the sake of this article, that’s what we’re going to call it.
Since Trzebunia’s big win in 1989, Euro nymphing has continued to gain traction the world over, and today it’s one of the most beloved and most controversial techniques in the sport. Most tournament anglers consider Euro nymphing the gold-standard method for catching not only the most trout, but the biggest ones as well.
SINK FLIES QUICKLY
Even beginner anglers realize that if the fish can’t see your fly, you have zero chance of catching them. The down-and-dirty on the Euro nymphing technique is that it delivers flies quickly to where fish live, eliminates drag, creates a reactionary strike and provides the angler a visual cue to respond quickly to even the most subtle takes.
While I love to drift a dry fly, that method is not always fruitful and, at the end of the day, I really like to catch fish. On many occasions, bouncing a nymph has been the only thing that has kept me from getting skunked. And bouncing a nymph Euro-style has not only kept me from getting skunked, it has put a lot more big browns in my net than any other method.
The concept, which has been complicated by not only the nomenclature but the vast setup possibilities, is relatively simple at its core. I like to think of Euro nymphing as the more sophisticated and colorful cousin of indicator fishing. Simply put, Euro nymphing is a method of fishing nymphs for trout using a heavy base fly below a lighter nymph and light tippet to quickly sink the flies deeper in the water column to where the big trout lie.
It typically includes a "sighter tippet," which is nothing more than a multi-colored leader material used in the place of an indicator. (To all of you avid Euro nymphers out there: Don’t get your tippet in a bird’s nest. I recognize that the method is more complicated than that, especially once you get into the minutiae of it all, but that’s a story for another article.)
While you can use your standard 9-foot fly rod, I find it difficult to cover water with a rod of that length. A Euro-specific rod is typically between 10 and 11 feet long, ranges in size from 2 to 4 weight and is worth every penny if you are serious about upping your Euro game.
Of course, there are exceptions to these sizes, but the same way many trout anglers choose a 9-foot 5-weight as their first fly rod, these weights and sizes are the standard. Euro rods also tend to have a softer tip, which allows you to water-load and fight big fish more efficiently.
There is no false casting in Euro nymphing. Instead, you lob your flies upstream and allow a brief second for the flies to sink. Then, with a straight arm, you barely lead the rod tip downstream just ahead of your flies, essentially pulling them ever so slightly downstream. I use a sighter when I Euro nymph as an added visual. Because the sighter takes the place of an indicator, this technique eliminates the drag that can be caused by the indicator. The longer rod also gives you more opportunity to reach targeted seams.
Because the rods are longer than usual, the reel, while not as important in my opinion, tends to be slightly heavier to counterbalance the weight of the longer rod. You can absolutely use the reel you already have for your matching-weight rod, but it’s worth mentioning the balancing act. And, hey, who doesn’t need an excuse to get a new reel?
Where the great divide occurs is in the leader. In my opinion, there are few things more controversial in modern fly-fishing than the Euro leader. When I first started to fly-fish, I spent hours teaching myself knots and building my own leaders. While this skill has served me well, today I usually just buy a traditional leader. There are many commercial options, so you can be confident walking into your local shop and purchasing one.
However, if you like to create your own way, let’s cover the leader. I’m going to give you my favorite setup, but keep in mind you’ll need to consider the depth of the river you’re fishing, so you might need to adjust it.
You might be predisposed to thinking the leader is key in turning over your flies to create the perfect presentation, which is the case in a traditional situation. With Euro leaders, however, while the perfect presentation is vitally important, turning over your flies is less so.
LONG RODS, LONG LEADERS
There are a few things to consider when building out your Euro leaders. First, they are much longer than traditional leaders.
The rule of thumb, in my book, is that the entire setup is 1 1/2 to 2 times the length of the rod, with most of the length in the section that directly follows the fly line. Some fisheries have rules regarding how long your leader can be, so check with the local shop if you’re unsure. While I adjust my leader length depending on the conditions and the rod I’m using, my standard set up is:
- 8 ft. of 20-LB leader
- 4 ft. of 12-LB leader
- 2–3 ft. of sighter tippet
- Tippet ring
- 4 FT. of 5x tippet
- Lightweight nymph
- 6 in. of 6x tippet
- Heavier nymph
While you don’t have to use a sighter (the traditional Polish method did not include one), as a visual learner I find they’re extremely useful at helping me detect even the slightest movement. It also helps gauge how deep my flies are and how quickly (or slowly) I need to drag my flies.
I follow my sighter with a tippet ring. For me, tippet rings are a necessary evil and currently the bane of my existence. They’re so small I have a difficult time tying them on, but I believe they’re essential to the setup. This is what you’ll tie your tippet to, and it will make life a lot easier when you break off.
You might have noticed I skipped over the fly line. That’s intentional. Rarely will your fly line leave the tip of your rod. In fact, many Euro anglers ditch the fly line altogether. If you feel better about having a fly line on your reel, there are currently great Euro fly lines on the market. They are all level lines, and you can find them from all the major fly-line manufacturers.
GIVE IT A TRY
For me, the most memorable day on the water is one where I’m not just in a beautiful place but have figured out the water and caught a memorable brown, which I consider the apex predator on a trout river. If you have yet to experience a giant brown in the net, I’m confident that fishing the Euro technique will get the job done.
After all, big browns lie down deep and can’t pass up a tasty meal that might get away from them. Euro nymphing offers you the ability to get the fly in their faces in a manner that makes them feel like it will get away, causing that reactionary strike. Give it a go. The brown trout are waiting.
Build your own Euro nymphing rig from the ground up.
Greys Fin Euro Nymph Fly Combo: This first-of-its-kind combo includes everything you need to get started with Euro nymphing, right down to the tippet ring. Just add your favorite tippet and flies. Available in a 10-foot 3-weight and an 11-foot 3-weight. ($225.95; purefishing.com)
Rio Indicator Tippet: Choose from alternating fluorescent pink and fluorescent yellow or black-and-white sighter material with highly defined hard color changes to create contrast and allow you to see the visual cues needed. ($15.99 for 30-yard spool; farbank.com)
Loon Trout Tippet Rings: These tippet rings help conserve tippet, give you an easy break-off point and strengthen the connection between leader and tippet of different size. ($10 for 10 rings; loonoutdoors.com)
Hardy Ultralite LL 10-foot-8-inch 3-weight: This technique-specific rod is for the avid Euro nymph angler who cherishes great gear above all else. It has been designed, developed and tested by some of the leading experts of modern light-line methods and represents the most refined action on the market for today’s Euro-nymphing anglers. ($825; hardyfishing.com)
Perdigon Jig Nymph in Chartreuse/Peacock: My hands-down favorite base fly for out West is this nymph. It is a constant in my box, and I don’t head to the river without it. ($2.75 per fly; slideinn.com)