The Competitive Edge

Known by many names reflecting the origins of the technique, Euro nymphing creates controversy and division among fly fishers due to its efficiency in catching fish and its lack of traditional fly line casting. ‘Raking the river’ is a phrase I have often heard used. Competition fly fishers have developed this style of short line nymphing to a fine art since the Czechs, French and other Europeans introduced the technique with great success, winning many a World Championship since adding it to their repertoire. “Yeah but it’s not really fly fishing is it,” I hear many of you say. But fly fishing has been through similar revolutions before. Skues’ popularisation of modern nymphing disrupted traditional dry fly fishing, and the Royal Wulff signalled a transition into attractor patterns, flying in the face of matching the hatch. All were controversial at the time, but they addressed a challenge that fly fishers had been wrestling with either on the water or at the tying bench. My conundrum came from a constant nagging that I never fish deep runs at anywhere near the required depth. Many of my largest fish have been caught on extra long nymph droppers under dries, but I could rarely achieve the length required to reach the bottom, not to mention the obvious drag that was spoiling any hopes of a natural drift. Combine that with one of the first things I learned (most likely from Rob Sloane’s books), that trout do 90% of their feeding below the surface and mostly on nymphs when it comes to streams. And so I finally decided to try Euro nymphing after hearing countless anecdotes of competition fishermen following their punter mates up a stretch already fished and cleaning up! I received a serendipitous invite from Luke Barby, who has competed in the Australian national team, to learn the technique properly and I gladly accepted. TUITION FlyLife has run numerous articles around this technique FL#87, #57 & #34. My interest was in how usable the method might be on my regular Victorian streams as a novice. After less than an hour of tuition, a few hooked trees and generally duff casts, the technique began to come to me. The key is to stop thinking about it like a typical cast and more like a sling or a lob using the weight of the flies and the flex of the rod. In fact for the entire day I rarely had the fly line past the tip of my rod, using only the 18-foot leader. It all came together in a single run of about three feet deep and barely 10 metres long. A nice dead drift, just above the bottom, a subtle stall of the indicator and I had my first fish on the point (bottom) fly. A few drifts later and I hooked my second fish on the dropper nymph in almost the same spot. A few drifts more, going a little deeper into the heart of the run and I had my third fish on the point fly again. A misplaced cast lobbed over an overhanging branch spoiled my chances of more fish from the top of the run. Equipment We used 3-weight nymphing rods of 10 feet or more in length. These dedicated rods have a much softer action, enabling smoother leader-only casting. They provide great sensitivity to feel nymphs on the bottom and for detecting often very subtle takes. The forgiving tips also protect the fine tippets used. Leaders are unique for this method and combine a variety of visibly coloured indicator sections. Check out for the leaders we tried on the day, or if you want to keep it simple try a pre-manufactured nymphing leader. Thin tippet is important in reducing drag and achieving depth quickly. At 7X or 0.10 mm the fluorocarbon tippet is the thinnest I’ve ever used and does require more careful playing of fish. A net is very handy for reducing landing times and potential break-offs. Bring your glasses too. Two flies, one on a short dropper and one on the point is the norm for this method, covering two depths, fly choices and adding weight. You can just start with a single nymph if you want to keep things simple. As a basic rule, 50–70 cm of tippet to your first dropper and 50–70 cm to your point fly is a good place to start, but lengths should be varied based on depth and flow. Flies Competition has broken all the rules in recent times with completely unnatural nymph colours and triggers that catch fish after fish. The most important criteria are density and size of the nymph to match the water fished. I say density rather than weight because a smaller, denser fly has less surface area, allowing it to sink faster. You want the fly to achieve your desired drift depth as quickly as possible. Talking to the experts, the general order of fly choice priority is: density (as a function of size), pattern (imitate or attract), and bead colour (yes, bright pink and orange beads do catch fish). Euro nymphing flies are typically barbless due to their competition heritage. This purportedly assists hook set, but you can fish with standard nymphs too. A #16 tungsten Pheasant Tail flashback will do just fine to start. Casting Casting is the most foreign aspect of the technique and uses more of a slinging action as you have minimal, if any, fly line out. The cast relies on the weight of the nymphs and the flex of the rod for its delivery. The standard casts are an oval or tuck cast and a quick search on the Internet will do a better job of explaining the finer points than I can in words. Use a sideways hook set motion at the end of every drift. This provides insurance in case a fish is following at the very last moment, which is often the case, and tends to release your nymphs directly behind you to more easily begin your next cast. Presentation & Drift Controlling the drift is critical to success. Most competition anglers agree that fly choice is far less important than the way the nymph is presented. Most fish sit low near the streambed, taking advantage of the disturbed slower current and the eddies and pockets associated with stream obstructions such as boulders. Aim to match the speed of the bottom current with your drift. This often means drifting flies slower than the surface appears to be moving. Use a vertical drift for relatively deep water of three feet or more — you want the fly near the bottom as quickly as possible. Try to keep a direct connection between your rod tip and the fly perpendicular to the water. Try to maintain contact with your nymphs throughout the drift. This will enable early detection of a take and allow control over your drift speed and depth. Feel for a gentle tapping of your point fly on the bottom to confirm your depth. Then vary the depth of each drift from there. Use the indicator colours on your leader to determine depth and adjust your rod height to control drift depth. The shallower the water, the lower your rod angle as you lead your rod downstream ahead of the leader and nymph. Cover the water Fish methodically, covering the water nearest you first and working your way up and across. The easiest starting place is to fish the water directly in front of you, using an up and across direction. You can get much closer than you think and fish are more often caught directly adjacent to you where the drift can be most easily managed. Vary your depth with each drift, ensuring you cover multiple depths where a fish might be feeding. Eddies in front of and behind obstacles often have a fish holding in them and the seams between slow and fast water should be covered thoroughly. Drifting from directly upstream back toward you is useful when there are varying currents to manage or in pocket water where you are fishing short seams between boulders. Across and down is also not to be ignored and fish will often take on the swing as the fly begins to rise like an emerging nymph. Catch that fish Set the hook on every stop or depth change of your leader/indicator however small. Don’t ‘strike’, or you’ll snap your 2 lb tippet. You should expect that each stall or bump is a fish, as it often is with this method. Set the hook in the direction of the drift and sideways, rather than a typical ‘trout strike’ upward. You’ll hook more fish and maintain pressure after the take. A low sideways rod is best for playing fish and controlling them to the net. Expect to catch multiple fish from every feature of water. A defined run of only 10 metres in length might hold up to 12 fish or more and with this technique you’re a chance of catching every single one – seriously! As with most forms of fly fishing, a deliberate and thoughtful approach is more fruitful than timid uncertainty. When fishing deep the fish are in good cover and their flight instincts are very subdued, allowing you to literally catch fish at your feet. Don’t be afraid to follow behind other anglers when applying this technique. We fished directly after two dry fly anglers in hopper season, even fishing after each other, and still enticed fish. This makes the technique a great option for pressured water or when near-surface activity is absent. YES, BUT IT’S STILL NOT fly fishing! Call me a heathen, but I will be incorporating the technique and equipment into my existing array of options depending on the situation and conditions. Just like I would change from a 6- to a 4-weight rod for smaller water, when things are quiet on top I’ll grab the nymphing rod for an hour or two and use the right tool for the job. Euro nymphing is a lot of fun, it often catches more fish and teaches you a lot about the importance of the drift, vertical currents and fish lies, which can only be good for your fishing in general. Give it a try. If nothing else it provides a great excuse to buy more fly gear, and who can argue with that logic! Refer to for further details on rods, leader formulas, knots, dropper set-ups, flies and more.

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