Most fly guys you see on the stream are fishing with suspended nymph rigs, where two flies, accompanied by split shots, drift below a small float – or for fly-fishermen, a strike indicator. This common form of nymphing limits the angler to slower pools and more steady runs due to the issue that drag presents when the indicator is pulled downstream by the current faster than the flies.
Yes, mending can correct this issue, however it worsens the issue of surface disturbance, already initiated by the smack of the rig after a cast. This leads to the ideal pools becoming crowded, hence the fish are more pressured.
But there is a solution!
The Euro Model
European tight-line style nymphing tactics offer a stealthier, more active alternative to the traditional way to nymph, where the bobber is replaced by a section of hi-vis “sighter” material, and the flies hold the weight in their large tungsten bead heads instead of in the split shots. This style of fishing allows direct contact with flies, the ability to maintain ideal drift speed in faster current, and provides a certain sense of pride in finally dropping the bobber.
Quickly put, euro nymphing is the umbrella of the different techniques that European competitive fly-fishermen developed in order to nymph tournaments without strike indicators. Each country had made up its own way to build their leader for specific scenarios, whether the Czech for fast pocket water within a few feet of the angler, or French for slower drifts with a longer cast. When learning, I was overwhelmed and confused by all the different leader and rig builds, but quickly learned that it can be simplified.
Fishing my fast-moving, local trout stream without having to deal with drag from the float, is nearly impossible. The water also happens to be filled with boulders, making the runs and pools tight and broken up with little time in the water before having to make another cast. This is where tackle and fly selection become important. The ideal versatile tight-line nymphing rod is a 10-foot, 3-weight which most guys fishing smaller sized rivers and streams own for traditional nymping applications. The 10-foot rod allows you to just lob out the flies when first learning, thereby simplifying the cast; more than likely you can get within 10 feet of your target run or pocket, even if your drifts end up shorter. The soft action allows good flex when just casting the heavy flies, yet still enough backbone to get in a larger trout.
There are a couple companies that make “Euro-Specific” fly lines that are level weighted and light, rather than forward-weighted and tapered like a traditional fly line, in order to not weigh down your leader, hindering your tight-line connection to the flies. To avoid buying unnecessarily expensive line, you can build a mono-rig. I get strange looks from the traditionalist that sees my fly-line has been replaced with 20-pound mono, but it works essentially the same way. Plus, straight mono makes adjusting leader for depth much easier.
At the end of the main-line, I add a couple feet of 15-pound clear mono, then about 20 inches of a 15-pound high-vis line. I use generic red monofilament, followed by a tippet ring or just blood-knot to tippet and flies. With no fly-line to send out a cast, the mono-rig makes you dependent on the weight of the flies, in order to punch them down with a quick tuck cast. This is where you flick the rig behind you and when you release the flies forward you stop the rod tip high and allow their weight to straighten out the mono and get you tight to them.
It is important to keep your rod high and follow the current throughout the drift, almost leading the flies keeping a slight bow in the sighter, and whenever you see that line jump, move, or stop, set that hook! Because the casting motion is similar to the hookset, it doesn’t take much to get right back into the drift if it ends up being a false alarm.
Of course the combination of European tight-line nymphing techniques with the good ol’ mono rig may take some getting used to when casting and leading the drift, but with practice the sighter line can be even more sensitive in strike detection than a float, and the rig overall can get you down to fish holding and hiding in that deep current. Just be careful not to let the flies come back and hit your head – or perhaps more importantly your rod – as that speedy tungsten can surely do some damage!