Euro-nymphing – What do the experts do?

While I have been fly-fishing for a number of years, I was only introduced to Euro-nymphing a couple of years ago. It very quickly became an obsession, and I have subsequently spent countless hours on the water trying to perfect the technique. More importantly however, after getting involved in competitive fly-fishing, I have tried to learn as much as I can from some very good fisherman. Some of whom have competed at an international level in fly-fishing. The very best of them normally being the most willing to share their knowledge. This blog is my observations on what sets the expert Euro-nymphing fisherman apart from the average fisherman. So, what do they do differently? Here are my 5 key observations:

  1. They move…A LOT

Each Euro-nymph drift only covers a small, concentrated section of a stream at a time. Compare this for instance to the stripping of a streamer, which could cover the breadth of a stream. Therefore, to get the same coverage of the stream by your fly, you need to either amend your cast, or keep on moving around the stream. Expert Euro-nymphers know this, whether consciously or unconsciously. You will note that they seldom stick to the same spot, unless they are actively catching fish in that spot. They tend to move around a lot, and usually cover a large part of the stream in search of fish. 

  1. They observe

We have all done this before. In our excitement to be out fishing, we arrive at a fishing spot, begin setting up, and even go as far as to fully rig up with the flies/nymphs that we think the fish would like to eat on that specific day. All without even going to have a look at the stream. And, to top it all, we immediately start doing drifts at the first location that they are able to enter the stream. We do this based on our pre-conceived ideas, without observing the prevailing conditions. By observing an expert Euro-nympher, you will note that they do not simply get stuck-in. They will be slow and methodical in their observation of the conditions. They will take their time in assessing the conditions. They will observe and consider the impact on their fishing, of factors such as, water temperature, water flow, water colour, stream structure, weather conditions, depth of the stream, etc. Importantly, a large part of their observation is to find fish, whether by means of direct sighting of fish or by means of calculated and intuitive reasoning. Only after observing and considering these variables, will they decide what their best course of action should be.

  1. They focus on technique, less so on fly selection

The Euro-nymphing technique is deserving of a book in its own right. The intricacies thereof not possible to convey fully within the confines of a blog post. Saying that, you will note that an expert Euro-nympher is less concerned with the flies/nymphs that they have selected, than with the choice and application of the Euro-nymphing technique. Sure, fly choice is important, however an inspection of an expert’s fly box, and a discussion with them, will have you believe that they prefer sticking to flies/nymphs that they know to work, and that they ensure that they have a sufficient number of those flies/nymphs in their box to allow them to confidently fish those particular flies/nymphs. Significantly more of their time on the water is spent trying to perfect the specific technique that would enable to them to catch more fish at any given time.

  1. They actively try and find the depth that fish reside at

Ever been in the situation where your expert Euro-nymphing buddy right next to you has been pulling out fish after fish, while you hardly get a bump? Well, I certainly have, and on many occasions at that. It is pretty frustrating, but on questioning that expert Euro-nymphing buddy on why he is catching, and I am not, his answer most often alludes to the depth that he is fishing his nymphs at. This response intuitively makes sense. Fish are after all trying to conserve energy whilst feeding. They therefore prefer their meal to come by them as closely as possible. Fish also vary the depth that they swim at, for a variety of reasons. Couple the fact that they prefer to not move excessively whilst feeding, and that they vary the depths that they reside at, it makes sense then that one needs to try and fish at different depths in order to find the fish. Expert Euro-nymphers do exactly that, and what looks like a nymph pattern-change often is more a change in the weight of the nymph. Combined with the change in weight of the nymph, a person can also obviously vary the depth of the line in the water, thereby varying the depth that the nymph drifts at.

  1. They try to be as stealthy as possible

Lastly, there is a very fine line between how quickly a person should move in searching for fish, and the amount of noise/disturbance this movement should cause. Most, if not all fish, are predated on. They are therefore inherently cautious of anything entering their environment. Over millions of years, fish have evolved a keen sense of self preservation, which is specifically aided by good eyesight, and the ability to detect the faintest of vibrations through their lateral lines. Observing an expert Euro-nympher, you will seldom see them moving rapidly and noisily through a potential fishing area. Likewise, they will seldom fish a spot that has just recently been fished by someone else. Only the very laziest of fish might remain in an area that has been disturbed by a human presence. Expert Euro-nymphers know this, and you will note that they approach a potential fishing area, very slowly, very cautiously, and as stealthily as possible.

Well, I hope this blog post has been useful on some level. Whilst many of the observations are anecdotal, I do believe they hold some merit. Fortunately, there is only one way to test these observations. So, what are you waiting for, go ahead, try them out on the water.

Written By Sholto Piek, Gauteng North Fly Fishing Association