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Beginner's Guide

Croston on Czech/French Nymphing

by John Randolph   |  November 9th, 2010 22
John Randolph photo

Howard Croston

In mid-October longtime British fishing champion and Hardy & Greys Ltd. Category Manager Game,  Howard L. Croston demonstrated to 10 expert fly fishers why Europe leads the world in competitive nymph fishing. His techniques and equipment can help American nymph fishermen catch and release more trout. His instructions, offered October 22 at Jonas Price’s The Feathered Hook, Ltd. flyshop in Coburn, PA, (on Penns Creek), and demonstrated Oct. 23 on Spring Creek near State College, have already made me a better nymph fisherman, and have set me on a mission to prove that I can more effectively fish flies below the surface, where trout find 90 percent of their food.

Over the past decade America has produced no top-three champions in the European competitive nymph-fishing events, though the American contestants have improved greatly in both their standings and their techniques. It’s understandable: Few fly-fishing competitions exist in the U.S. and nymphing, has historically been low on the ladder of priorities (or skills)  with American fly fishers, who overwhelmingly preferred dry-fly or streamer fishing in a noncompetitive  environment. Thus no expert instruction in nymph fishing existed and true wide-scale and consistent  nymphing success did not begin in the U.S. until the strike indicator was introduced to our waters by George Anderson writing in the April 1982 issue of Fly Fisherman. The rapid onset of strike-indicator fishing followed, to the success and joy of many newly arrived fly fishers, but to the chagrin of most experienced nymph fishers. They saw strike-indicator fishing as easy but mind-numbing, devoid of technique and a dead-end cul de sac in learning the many complex arts and techniques of the complete fly fisher.

That’s history. Many fly fishers who prefer the ease of strike indicators will continue to enjoy themselves catching many trout. But now that the Europeans have showed the way to perhaps the most highly technical trout nymph-fishing in the world, Americans are finding new challenges that may prove what veteran nymph anglers have said all along: “Nymph fishing requires more skill than dry-fly fishing.” The great British nymphing pioneer and master G.E.M Skues (Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, 1910)  would agree.

In his teaching Oct. 22 Croston explained that the European youth fishing clubs and competitions are producing very skillful youths (especially in France) who rapidly work their way up to the highest championship levels in the competitions. No highly organized fly-fishing youth affinity-group clubs or competitions exist in North America to our knowledge.

Does competition fit into the American culture of fly fishing?  Fly Fisherman magazine has not reported on the world or European competitive events since they began back in the late ’80s, simply because fishing competitions were shunned by fly fishers, who generally viewed them as the realm of bass fishers.

Things are changing. The annual One Fly competition  in Jackson, Wyoming, which had its birth in the 1980s, thanks in part to Jack Dennis, had as its mission the restoration and conservation of Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the Snake River drainages, particularly through spawning habitat restorations. The competition proved to be so popular (and profitable in a nonprofit way) that other conservations groups and clubs around the U.S. and Canada initiated fund-raising  one-fly contests under different names. Competition became more acceptable, albeit in a relaxed social setting.

During the same period (’80s and ’90s) Americans and Canadians began attending  the European fly-fishing  competitions (and regularly getting their clocks cleaned). But with each competition they learned new techniques of nymph and wet-fly fishing on waters from still to freestone, from Czechoslovakia to the British Isles and New Zealand, and they brought them back to North America, where they practiced and wrote about them. Their experience and the wealth of knowledge they brought back to our waters have provided the inspiration  for a new generation of American nymph fishers. Czech and French nymphing styles (combined into “Euro Nymphing” technique) is now the standard of nymphing in the world of fly fishing.  Younger American fly fishers in particular are finding it the wave of the future, and competitive fly fishing is quickly gaining acceptance in North America. Can youth leagues be far behind?

John Randolph photo

Czech nymphing techniques typically involve more heavily weighted anchor flies for deeper, faster water. Croston begins his nymph drift after casting upstream about 30 degrees. Note the two-colored “striker” below the junction odf the line/leader. John Randolph photo

 He leads the line drift with his rod tip (critical in this and French nymping technique).      

The 3-nymph rig slices swiftly to bottom because the typical Euro nymphs are slim in profile and heavily weighted. John Randolph photo

Croston watches the striker for any hesitation, striking with a quick wrist snap.  He always strikes at the end of each drift. John Randolph photo

Howard Croston is the consummate competitive nymph angler, in effect a sharp-eyed, fast-moving pink bunny onstream. His skill at spotting fish in skinny water (the domain of French style nymphing) is astonishing. As he explains it, he cannot afford to waste time since winning in competition means catching (and releasing) as many as 80 small-to-medium size trout per day. His rods and rigs are the ticket to his success. They consist of the right Czech- (10-foot, 4-wgt.)  and French-style (11-foot, 3-wgt.)  nymphing rods (Hardy, of course), armed with specialty 12- to 16-foot custom-tapered leaders, with tippets to 6X (though he does not us X-ratings as unreliable, preferring diameter measurements in millimeters and his own tested breaking strength–monofilament, not fluorocarbon ), with a two-colored “striker” built into the leader below the line/leader connection and with two droppers (where legal) off the leader. (Croston uses the knotless epoxy leader splice favored by Dave Whitlock to join his leader butt into the line to avoid nail-knot snags at the rod tip-top.) He rebalances his nymph rig often to fit each current and depth, one rig with the heaviest nymph on the point and another with the heaviest (anchor) nymph at the top. Each configuration is designed to create the best drag-free drift of the three nymphs along the bottom.

Croston’s “slinky”, or “curlicue” floating strike indicator is tightly curled for some of his fishing and more openly curled for other fishing conditions. He makes the slinky by wrapping his colored tippet monofilament around slim tubing (secured to needles penetrating each end) then curing it in the freezer overnight to allow the curlicues to set. He greases the curlicue so it floats high on the surface film to provide easily spotted strike detection in shallow-water nymphing.  (See also George Randall’s curlicue techniques in the Feb/March issue of fly fisherman, on sale Jan. 1.)

 Croston casts upstream, straight up or angling slightly right or left, using the French short nymphing style in shallow water. John Randolph photo

His tippet is rigged with his hand-made curlicue, which serves as a strike indicator as his nymph rig drifts downstream toward him, into the faces of upstream-facing trout.  John Randolph photo

Croston fishes this drift standing, but he most often fishes kneeling in shank-length knee pads.   John Randolph photo

Croston always wears soccer shank-length knee pads so he can kneel in approaching trout in shallow water and for deeper-water Czech or combined Czech/French, “Euro nymphing.” In French thin-water nymphing he uses hard, slim-profile nymphs tied Czech style (to slice easily through the water column), but with tiny tungsten beads invisible inside the body. He balances and rebalances his three-fly rigs–to get just the right drift balance for each flow speed and depth. The flies are designed to sink quickly to bottom when cast up or a cross-stream in water below knee deep. His casts are upstream or across and slightly upstream and all his drifts are followed at the bottom of the swing with a slight hook-set, since many of his strikes occur there.

Slim in profile, Euro (French/Czech/Polish/English nymphs are tied small and heavily weighted. Croston and other competitors constantly rebalance their weighted nymph rigs to drift drag-free in the type of water they are fishing.  John Randolph photo

Croston’s casts in deeper-water Czech and Euro nymphing are across and slightly upstream (not 45 degrees) so that his more heavily weighted nymphs can quickly sink to bottom and drift roughly parallel and without drag (the key to both Czech- and French-style nymphing). He points out that the Czechs and French discovered early on that the current flows much more slowly at the bottom of the water column than at the surface due to friction. A standard strike indicator floats so fast along the surface that it drags the slower-moving nymph below, causing trout refusals. Getting the nymphs to drift without drag is the key to  this fly presentation. Greasing the leader and curlicue to make both float properly is also a key to this presentation.

Editor’s notes. Croston’s leaders are hand-tied using knots (no tiny tippet rings now commonly used by noncompetitive fly fishers) he ties in seconds. His fly boxes are jambed tightly and neatly with hundreds of nymph imitations, ranging from Czech, to French, Polish, and English, a broad international smorgasbord of offerings.  Jonas Price says the materials and instructions for tying Croston’s leaders will be available shortly at The Feathered Hook (, including tippet rings, curlicues, Czech-style nymphs and as the Hardy Streamflex XF2 line of 17 trout 10- and 11- foot light-line rods. See also, Google Howard L. Croston for his competition achievements. Also read  Lance Eagan’s “Euro Nymphing” in the FFM 2012 Gear Guide. If you visit The Feathered Hook, make sure you also visit Jim Downes bamboo rod shop directly behind the flyshop, part of Jonas Price’s operation ( The Feathered Hook will be offering onstream seminars on Euro nymphing next season.


  • Terry Lawton

    I urge all right-thinking American fly anglers to reject the urge to fish competitively as competitions are contradictory to the whole ethos of fly fishing. Leave competitions to the bass anglers. While we must all do all we can to encourage young people to fish, teaching them to fish competitively at an early age is morally wrong.

    • Joe Daniel

      Wow, I'm not sure I've ever met a youngster who wasn't naturally competitive when it comes to fishing. When did competition become a bad thing in America? And what fishing trip have you ever been on with your pals that didn't involve some wager of sorts? I think competition would be extremely healthy for fly fishing (it's certainly what made bass fishing as big as it is). If you don't want to do it, don't do it. That's fine. But if you want to see the sport truly elevated just watch Howard Croston work his way up a stream, it's high art! I know, I'm the guy wearing the red top and filming Howard in the background of the top few photos. It'll be one of our Wild On The Fly episodes on the Outdoor Channel beginning this January.

    • R. Chandler

      I kind of felt like you and thought comp. fly fishing was like the bass tournaments. I was wrong. To see what it involved, I volunteered to help judge a fly fishing competition. It is nothing like the bass tournaments. My suggestion is for you to attend a competition here in the U.S. and then make your judgement.

    • Tom

      You are correct.

    • Guest

      AMEN Brother!

    • FatherAbraham

      You truly are a nut case. I hope you fall in the river.

  • Giancarlo Boschi

    In Italy,this technique is popular,thanks to Mr. Edy Dona' ,probably the most famous and great ninph-fisherman,member of Italy'national Team(see his website Fly tiers…

    • Howard croston

      Hi Giancarlo
      Edy is my good friend and is truly an expert nymph angler .
      also he supplys good knee pads for this kind of fishing .
      Best HC

      • Mike Wong

        Where do u get those knee pads? I have ones that fit INSIDE my waders, but they tend to shift around, and I cannot easily adjust them. If they fit OUTside the waders, it's crumples up the waders and still shifts around. I wear them because I have already broken my kneecap from falling on a rock while wading, and I need some knee protection. Thank you for your insight.

        • Wes

          Mike, look for SWAT team kneepads that extend the length of your shin–they'll save your waders and are very comfortable to fish in for extended periods of time from one's knees. This is the sort of thing you're looking for:

    • Dalibora

      during our stay in Italy, it was the preferred technique. we've relocated to USA now, but out of curiosity i have a question – which is the fast moving technique, now in Italy? though i refer many blogs online but personal experience matters a lot.. u agree with me?

  • Surley Ampissed

    Competitive fly fishing is for some and not for others. As the old saying goes "to each his own" but to call it morally wrong is absurd!!!! If you do not like it, don't do it, but refrain from expending your views and personal opinions on the one that do!!!!!!.

  • Steve Sparks

    Frankly, I don't care about competitions, but I do care about catching more fish by doing a better job at nymphing and any technique or skills offered for this is something I want to know more about.

  • Norm

    great skills

  • Robert Berish

    This will certainly open another chapter of the great sport of fly fishing in America. It becomes apparent that when one views the tiny underwater nymphs, most of our American patterns tend to enlarge the size of what nature creates, and this elaborate fishing setup will be another challenge to us in an area that has at times becomes confusing. I look forward to the new material coming out to further our knowledge.

  • Mr. Q

    Wow, the pressure man…..

  • Andrew

    on one hand im not interested in fishing competitively. but it could improve existing trout streams and create more suitable trout habitat with more recognition from competitions

  • Ltullis

    Just because you drive doesn't mean you need to drive in the Indy 500. Likewise, just because you fly fish doesn't mean you need to be a part of tournaments. I think they have their place for those who love competition. As racing often pushes the envelope and new technologies arise because of it….so too in fly fishing competitions, there are improvements made because of the competition. It brings about improvements in fly patterns, techniques, tackle and strategies. "Euro nymphing" is just a revamp of what we used to call high-stick nymphing such as in the Leisenring Lift technique or Charlie Brooks nymphing style. Competition breathed new life into a dwindling technique.

  • Allen Pritchard

    Fishing should be pleasurable pursuit, dry, nymph, streamer what ever is legal on your river. Part of the fun of fishing is struggling to catch one fish during difficult times. Remembering and learning from these times in later years. Perhaps the challenge of river craft, perhaps the difficult presentation, how the fish would come to the fly and turn away at the last minute leaving you frustrated, looking into a full fly box after using most of the connotations you have tied and tried then finding the right fly to deceive the fish into taking. Come away from your fishing experience with the amount of pleasure you have had, the friends you make along the way, not with the amount of fish you have caught. Imaging fishing a whole day and not being happy until you had caught one more than you caught yesterday. The first fish which you normally look with tender eyes and released back into the water with a smile exchanged for a robotic a means to the end.

  • Aaron Jasper

    How did you do on your other trip to Penns… or is that forgotten :)

  • Bob Mansel

    I have been up stream nymphing for 30 years,with out a indecator, and i am sure i can beat anybody at this game. I use a 11' ft stream flex 4 wt.I am a guide on the Muskegon river in Michigan i am ready lets get it on.
    I teach people to nymph fish, and they start out useing indecators, but when they learn somthing about this game, they should shed there training wheels and then learn to fish.If your interested in learning this sport
    contast me.

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