There’s no doubt that Euro nymphing, or high sticking to the old timers, is the most productive way to take trout consistently with a fly. Euro nymph techniques provide pinpoint fly control on a tight line, utilizing flies designed for rapid sink rates to quickly enter the zone where most fish live. Whether you call it Czech nymphing, high sticking or Euro nymphing, these techniques have won multiple world fly fishing championships and is effective on the hardest fished waters. Euro nymphing quickly gets your fly where fish are feeding, which is 90% of the battle.
That’s not to say building a box and buying a long rod will instantly answer all your prayers. Like any other fly fishing technique, Euronymphing takes some practice. A slight dip in the rod can result in a quick two-fly loss, while minimizing fly loss lessens your effectiveness. The best Euronymphers walk a fine line between hauling in fish and decorating the bottom. It takes time on the water to find that fine line.
With the bottom in mind, it’s no accident that most Euro nymphers have embraced the jig nymph style fly, for two reasons. First, and possibly most important, the hook rides point up, so it’s less apt to snag in it’s underwater journey. Two, in order to turn the hook over, the bead must be made of tungsten or an equally heavy material. This means jig flies, by their design, sink faster than a fly with a brass bead, thus dropping your fly where it needs to be faster.
Speed in attaining depth is critical with Euro nymphing. Euro nymphing often utilizes a very short cast, giving the fly little time to sink. A well designed Euro nymph gets deep at a much faster rate than a standard nymph. Considering the sink rate of your fly is the most critical aspect of creating an effective Euro nymph fly selection.
Sink rate is governed by two factors- weight and resistance to sinking. This blog writer used to tie the prettiest Hare’s Ear Nymphs, with a nice, active body and super buggy thorax. The only problem was, they wouldn’t sink. Just like a dry fly’s hackle, all those spiky tendrils were trapping air and spreading out in the water, seriously hindering my flies rapid descent in the water. Pretty in the vise ain’t pretty in the water! Too much fuzz on your fly, too much spread, and it won’t sink fast enough.
Which is why the Perdigon style fly, or SR Bullet, is the backbone of any Euro nymphers box. This hard bodied fly is unprepossessing at first, seeming to flout all the widely held beliefs that a fly must be active in the water to look alive and attract fish. Because Euro nymphing is designed to put your fly in a place where the trout doesn’t question its presence, action is less important. If it’s close to looking like food, and skimming across the bottom like the naturals, it’s going to get eaten.
Choosing your first Perdigons is easy. Light, dark, big and small. What could be simpler to get started! The Orvis Co., at one point, had a brilliant idea. They offered a basic mayfly nymph in light, medium and dark. It didn’t sell, as evidenced by its almost instantaneous removal from the catalog. But the concept is smart and useful. You don’t need a lot of accuracy when putting your fly directly on the trout’s nose. The fish are feeding, taking in as much food as they can, and when your fly is in the trout’s comfort/feeding zone, it’s going to get eaten if it’s anywhere close. Light, dark, big and small.
When fishing in Missoula on the Blackfoot River, Rock Creek, Clark Fork River or Bitterroot River, bigger is often better. In Europe there are very few stoneflies, with many caddis and mayflies. Their fly selections tend to run to the small side, as do many east coast fishermen’s. This makes a lot of sense- match the naturals for more success. In Missoula, we have nymphs that are 50mm long! The small, big, light, dark theory works when fish aren’t focused in their feeding. When trout are on a subsurface “hatch”, having a fly that closely matches the natural is always better. Again, examine the fly for sink rate. The Pat’s Rubber Legs is not our best-selling fly for no reason. It’s the right size, sinks quickly and has good action in the water. A Peacock Double Bead Stonefly is also excellent for imitating the big stoneflies found in Montana. These two flies sink very rapidly and imitate a variety of stoneflies, especially the Pats in its various colors.
Another strong style of Euro nymphs is the Hot Spot. These are jigs with a drab body and a very bright spot of dubbing at the thorax. Some say it represents an egg load in the insect- others just say the contrast attracts the fish attention. We do know flies with a hot spot can be extremely effective, with hot pink and yellow being two favorite colors around Missoula. Again, big, small, light, dark with the added variable of a hot spot.
A third Euro nymph style features a collar of CDC wrapped at the back of the bead, like the Duracell or a Howell’s Shuck-It. CDC is chosen for two reasons. First, it’s easy to work with, can be torn to length and still look natural, and is a light weight fiber with lots of action in the water. CDC also has a property no other feather has. It comes from the preen gland of a duck, and is designed not to mat when it gets wet. The CDC feather holds air bubbles in its fibers that look incredibly lifelike to the fish. But this only works if the feather is dry! Once the CDC is soaked through, it loses it’s ability to trap air, but is still active.
Serious Euro nymphers will carry Frog’s Fanny dessicant with them to refresh the CDC when it’s completely soaked. The Frog’s Fanny pulls the water from the CDC, allowing it to again trap air and bring that natural light refraction to the fly. Dressing your fly after every 4th or 5th cast can be a pain, but there are times when the CDC is a strong trigger, and it’s worth trying if the fishing is slower than you think it should be.
No Euro nymph box is complete without the Annelid. We prefer a basic Red SJW, though Hot Pink is also very effective. A fly that’s often overlooked in Euro nymphing is the Wire Worm. While not a strong producer in Missoula (No idea why not- it SLAYS on the Missouri) it is the fastest sinking fly we sell. What’s not to like- it’s wire wrapped around a hook, and sinks like a brick.
It doesn’t matter what type of bead you use on a size 14 or 16 Perdigon, comparatively it doesn’t sink as fast as a size 4 hook wrapped with wire. The Wire Worm is a great point fly in fast water. It takes your little bug down quickly, and then the long rod controls the depth of both flies. You might pick up a fish or two on the Wire Worm, but your smaller bug sinks deep quickly and doing a lot of business. We all know the addition of lead to your leader adds a hinge point, fouls up casting and is generally annoying to use. The Wire Worm works like a sinker, and has the added bonus of catching fish.
If you’re local to Missoula and are building a Euro nymph box, don’t miss the Missoulian Angler’s Dollar Fly Box on the counter. I know it sounds weird, recommending flies on sale! The Dollar Box is filled with flies that didn’t perform as well as we hoped they would. They were all bought with high hopes- they just weren’t what we hoped they would be. The Dollar Box is incredibly useful as you learn to control your fly’s depth with the long rod and skinny leader. It’s better to lose $2 worth of flies on a cast than $6! So grab a handful of Dollar jigs for when you’re just starting, to save some wear and tear on your wallet.
Because at it’s best, Euro nymphing is about working the bottom of the river, where the fish live. With practice, your fly will follow the contours of the bottom, just as the naturals do. Present your fly naturally, where the food is, and your success rate is going to go through the roof. Too deep, and your flies are gone. Too high in the column, and the fish don’t move as readily to your fly. Depth is critical, and using flies designed to get deep and stay there is a critical aspect of Euro nymphing. Armed with this knowledge, you can build a Euro box that will take trout throughout Missoula, all over Montana and across the country.