February 09, 2021
This story was originally titled “Euro Tools: Scratch your niche with specialized nymphing rods, reels, and lines.” It appeared in the 2020 Gear Guide issue of Fly Fisherman.
No matter what profession, activity, or hobby you find yourself in, specialization is synonymous with better results. To succeed in business, you should specialize in a small/specific market. With fly fishing, specialized tools will help you achieve greater success.
For example, if you are planning to target a large saltwater fish in a tropical climate, there’s a line for that. Floating Rocky Mountain rivers and tossing big streamers on rivers with limited backcasting? There’s a line for that as well. Basically, there’s a widget or gizmo for any fly-fishing niche. It’s no wonder that beginners get overwhelmed when a fly shop employee goes through a 10-question checklist to decide what outfit is best for them. The question is: “Is it worth the money or effort to specialize?” It’s an individual choice we all must make, and it’s closely related to the level of performance you’re looking for.
For me, scratching my niche means investing in specialized tools for Euro nymphing. I spend over half my fly-fishing time participating in and teaching these types of nymphing skills, so it’s in my best interest to use tools designed for optimum performance.
These specialized rods are designed to cast long leaders and light nymphing lines. The current theme in competition nymphing is “thin to win.” Thin includes the use of thin-diameter, level fly lines (aka Euro lines) and long, thin 4X to 6X leaders. Thin lines and leaders create less sag when you’re holding the line and leader off the water—this is a typical scenario when you’re Euro nymphing. Less sag creates a straighter line between the rod tip and your nymph, and increases your ability to feel and see strikes. Less mass outside the rod tip provides better strike detection.
Casting. The “thin to win” approach is amazingly sensitive, increases catch rates, and continues to enhance Euro nymphing as an essential tactic. The issue is trying to cast light lines and leaders with a traditional-action fly rod. Traditional fly lines are weighted to bend standard fly rods. Thin level fly lines and thin leaders don’t have that mass. Sometimes when you are Euro nymphing, you have nothing but thin monofilament outside the rod tip. Without weight, you compensate by overpowering the rod and expending excessive energy.
I continually get questions from fly fishers asking why it’s so difficult to cast long Euro leaders and very little line. After a few exchanges, it’s clear the problem isn’t with their casting, but a poor mismatch of Euro nymphing leaders with traditional-action rods. The problem disappears after switching to a Euro-style rod.
These rods are specifically designed for Euro nymphing. Casting a long leader is a pleasure and takes little or no effort. European-style rods have softer tips with stout butt sections. They load easily, even with very little mass outside the rod tip. Your casting stroke should be nothing more than a short flick of the wrist, and the softer tip launches the light line and leader toward the target. They allow you to cast what amounts to just monofilament line. Conversely, you don’t want to load these rods with a weight-forward, 250-grain line and cast 60 feet. You use a scalpel for some jobs, and a butcher’s cleaver for other jobs. Both work well for their intended purpose.
Strike detection. Euro rods have thinner walls in the tip section, creating a softer and more sensitive rod. Combined with a light line or leader, these sensitive rod tips allow you to feel even the subtlest strikes. Rods designed for casting heavier lines over longer distances are by nature heavier, stiffer, and less sensitive.
These soft tips allow more play with the sighter (aka in-line indicator), creating a scene where the sighter constantly twitches and vibrates during the drift. This twitching/vibrating indicates that the nymphs are drifting naturally in the water column. The twitching stops the moment the flies encounter a snag or trout. A common saying used to be that a good nymph angler misses 40 percent of the strikes. Today, with current rod technology, I would guess that good fly fishers miss fewer than 10 percent of the strikes. These specialized rods provide superior strike detection by sight or by feel.
Fatigue. Euro nymphing is a repetitive activity. A typical Euro drift is short, so continuous casting is routine. It takes a lot of work to nymph all day. Adding high repetitions with forceful movements often results in fatigue or injury to your wrist, hand, or shoulder. Euro rods require only a short wrist and/or hand movement to load the tip. Euro rods make casting long leaders physically possible for almost anyone with less fatigue and reduced risk of overuse injuries. I also use Euro-style rods anytime I work with children, fly fishers with hand or shoulder injuries, or anyone else who lacks the strength to cast traditional-action rods. It’s amazing how little casting energy you need to unroll light lines and leaders.
Stealth. When your approach causes less fatigue, it’s also a sign that you are moving less of yourself during the presentation. Euro nymphing involves shorter casts, which means getting closer to trout before making the kill shot. Have you ever watched a blue heron walk and stalk streamside? We need the same approach when getting close to a fish. I’ve seen too many fly fishers (including myself) perform brilliantly while stealthily approaching a trout, then throw out all that stalking effort with excessive casting movements. Euro rods contribute to a stealthy approach, as they require little movement to cast. When I get into close position, I keep my upper and lower body locked, rod hand positioned out in front (with wrist slightly cocked back), and my only movement is a short snap of the wrist. Euro rods limit your physical footprint (hand and body waving) during the presentation, creating the ultimate stalking scenario.
Closed frame. Open-frame fly-fishing reels have an open frame, with line guard that fits into a slot on the spool. While this offers some convenience, and has made them popular for 30 years of more, open-frame reels don’t work well when you are Euro nymphing and dealing with long lengths of very narrow line or monofilament. The problem is that the monofilament often slides out of the gap where the line guard meets the spool, creating a jammed line. It’s a very real and constant frustration. I’ve lost several good fish because of the thin leader getting stuck between the gap as a large trout makes a strong run, immediately snapping the leader. Also, Euro lines have a thin and delicate fly line finish, easily ripped when getting stuck in the gap while a fish makes a strong run, or while pulling line off the reel.
A simple solution is to use a reel with a closed frame, creating no chance for a thin line or leader to slip through the cracks. Years ago, this meant using classic reels like the Hardy Perfect (still a good option) but there is a new modern generation of reels out there designed with a closed frame specifically for Euro nymphing. These modern reels also work for regular lines, and for casting 60 feet, you just have to feed the line through the gap properly before you thread the line through the guides on your rod.
Better balance. These modern Euro reels are also better balanced for Euro fishing and for lighter rods with significantly lighter tips. Some reels even include an adjustable counterbalance system, meaning you can add weight to the reel or remove weight to create an outfit you can balance on one finger on the cork handle. A balanced system reduces unwanted strain on your hand and shoulders while you are holding the rod high for extended periods of time. If your setup is tip heavy, you’ll be fighting to keep the tip up all day. Although it weighs only ounces, lifting this small amount of weight all day long will create significant strain. Trust me, you will feel it in your hand and shoulders if your setup is not balanced. Most of the time this is just a case of getting a lighter reel for your Euro rod. Most standard U.S. reels are just too heavy. For longer, heavier rods you might need more weight. Competition fly fishers have been known to spool lead-core line onto the reel between the line and backing.
Lines & Leaders
There are an infinite number of possibilities out there for line, leader, and sighter setups, and I’ve written extensively on this subject. [Search for the author’s name “George Daniel” at flyfisherman.com to see his previous stories on nymphing leaders. We also highly recommend the story “4 Unconventional Competition Fly-Fishing Rigs” by Jay Nichols, which is also available at flyfisherman.com. The Editor]
Some expert fly fishers use a Euro-style fly line with a long leader system, while others favor an all-monofilament system. Both these thin systems outperform traditional tight-line rigs with regular fly lines. Thinness wins. Less mass in the line, leader, and sighter material enhances both visual acuity and feel when you are determining whether to set the hook or not.
Compare this concept to house insulation. A house with thick walls and heavy spray insulation prevents you from feeling a light breeze. A house with little to no insulation will allow you to feel the slightest breeze. Traditional fly lines and thick leaders act like insulation, reducing your chances of seeing or feeling soft strikes. While these thin systems offer little help when casting dry flies and indicator systems, they offer ultimate strike detection performance while Euro nymphing.
Like the proverbial “killing two birds with one stone” concept, I do enjoy the concept of one fly-fishing outfit to do it all. Trying to keep it simple, I strive to reduce my collection of fly-fishing tools and gadgets. However, I struggle to “keep it simple” when faced with the effectiveness of these specialty Euro-nymphing tools. They simply catch more trout. Maybe later in my angling life I’ll choose a sportier fly-fishing approach to nymphing—similar to what a traditional recurve bow is in the sport of archery? But for now, I still prefer any tactical advantage I can gain while nymphing, which is why I continue to use specialty nymphing tools designed for specific tasks. This tackle is some of the best ROI in fly fishing.
New Euro Nymphing Gear for 2021:
In this complete redesign of the Colorado LT, Ross has shown an unparalleled ability to create reels that are both simple and elegant—and also brilliantly functional.
The Colorado LT was light and airy, but this is almost ethereal. When viewed from the side, there’s almost nothing to it but shaped aerodynamic lines. The beveled edges of the large arbor are almost hidden from your eyes until you rotate the reel to a three-quarter angle. Despite the open design aesthetic, both the spool and the frame are strong and rigid, with no flex or “give” whatsoever. Both pieces snap together (and apart) with the aid of exacting tolerances and a bushing machined from Vesconite, a hard-wearing thermopolymer that is self-lubricating, and is quickly replacing bronze and nylon in marine applications because it is has greater load-bearing strength than bronze or nylon, and 10 times the lifespan.
The drag mechanism is similarly simple, an all-metal external clicker that makes a distinctive unidirectional sound. A silhouette of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains is machined into the bronze-colored anodized aluminum back of the clicker housing.
For Euro nymphing, the reel is extremely light—3.2 ounces for the 3/4-weight and 3.5 ounces for the 4/5-weight so it balances well with rods that are light in the tip. It also has a semi-caged frame, so the points of entry/exit for your line are completely closed, and there’s no chance of narrow-diameter monofilament slipping out. But this reel isn’t specialized for just one task. The Colorado is a do-it-all trout reel that can handle large rivers to small streams, and everything from dry-fly fishing to streamers. $335 | rossreels.com
Thomas & Thomas Contact II
Euro nymphing requires specialized tools to reach peak performance. As author George Daniel writes in his story, “You use a scalpel for some jobs, and a butcher’s cleaver for other jobs.” The Contact II series from Thomas & Thomas is the new iteration of their best-selling Contact series. This innovative nymphing rod should be considered for any serious technical angler’s quiver.
Rod designer Joe Goodspeed spent more than three years developing the Contact II. Proprietary aerospace resins bind five different carbon and fiberglass reinforcement and unidirectional fibers, making it possible to roll thinner sheets onto rod mandrels, and increase the number of layers. This has created a featherweight rod that transitions evenly throughout the blank, increasing accuracy, sensitivity, and strength.
The black Recoil single-foot snake guides are more strategically spaced than on the original Contact rod series, and the “Low Rider” stripping guide is closer to the rod butt, which shortens the length between your hand and first guide, and reduces line sag.
The compact Flor-grade cork grip improves feel, while a downlocking reel seat, and low-profile rounded fighting butt balance the rod. An unfinished blank, olive and brown thread wraps, and premium machined, black components add to the stealth and durability factors.
I fished the 10' 2-weight Contact II on Pennsylvania’s Big Spring creek, using a RIO Euro Nymph Shorty line, Scientific Anglers Absolute Euro Nymph leader, and 6X Absolute Fluorocarbon tippet.
The ultra-sensitive rod effortlessly transmits every tap of a rock and subtle take of a trout. The tip and midsections intuitively flexed softly to protect the light tippet and loaded the rod easily for flick-of-the-wrist short casting. The Contact II is no slouch when it comes to dry flies or small streamers. Tracking on 15- to 40-foot casts with a weight-forward line was accurate. Joe Goodspeed wanted to create a Euro nymphing rod that’s specialized but can also be highly fishable for other styles. I like to think of the Contact II as a Swiss Army knife disguised as a scalpel. Available in six sizes, from 10' 2-weight to 10'8" 6-weight. $825 | thomasandthomas.com
Scientific Anglers Euro nymph kit
Here’s why you’d want a Euro Nymph Kit: You want to try Euro nymphing, but you don’t want to remove your regular fly line from your reel. Or maybe you just want to switch back and forth during the day from Euro nymphing to distance dry-fly fishing. This kit has a 20-foot floating Euro Nymph Tip (0.25" diameter) you can loop right on top of your regular fly line, and SA’s Absolute Euro Nymph leader. The 13.5-foot 2X monofilament leader has an integrated Absolute Tri-color Sighter. It’s looped at one end and has a tippet ring on the other end to attach your thin tippet. The kit comes with a foam storage spool so you can remove the tip and the leader and convert back to traditional fly fishing. $25 | scientificanglers.com
Sage ESN European Nymphing
This reel is specifically designed for Euro nymphing in a number of ways—it’s a low-volume, V-shaped, large-arbor reel designed to hold thin Euro lines and monofilament, and still preserve extremely fast line pickup. The reel diameter is 3⅞" and the width is 11/16". The reel is 45/16 ounces and comes with ½-, 1-, and 1½-ounce stainless steel weights you can add to balance the reel with longer rods commonly used in Euro nymphing. It’s a fully closed frame so thin lines can’t escape through the dreaded gap, and the reel uses Sage’s SCS drag system, with a one-revolution drag knob and numbered and detented drag settings from 1 through 20. $425 | sageflyfish.com
Cortland Euro Nymph Braid Core / Mono Core
Line sag has a “numbing” effect and can cause you to miss strikes. Less mass between you and the fish helps prevent line sag, and Cortland has two new “skinny” lines to improve your Euro success. The Euro Braid Core is a level 0.022" diameter floating fly line with a nylon multifilament core. The Euro Nymph Mono Core has a 0.017" diameter and a single-strand nylon core for a stiffer line with even less sag and more sensitivity.
Both lines are also available in a double-taper design with the 17-foot front taper thinning down to 0.022" and 0.017", respectively. $55 | cortlandline.com
Hardy Ultralite LL
Howard Croston is the current FIPS/Mouche fly-fishing world champion. He was part of the 2009 gold-medal-winning Team England, and he has competed in 16 world and European championships. When he won individual gold in the most recent world championships in Tasmania, he was also captain of Team England, so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or too about competitive fly fishing and Euro nymphing.
Croston is Hardy’s product manager, a world champion, and he found time to design Hardy’s Ultraclick UCL reel (left) and the Ultralite LL rod series. Although Croston has participated in more than 90 tournament casting events, this is not a tool for launching long lengths of fly line. It’s a precision instrument engineered specifically for Euro techniques. It uses Hardy’s latest carbon fiber and resin system called NSX SINTRIX, different than Hardy’s previous versions of SINTRIX, with a “classified” ingredient that helps create lighter carbon fiber prepreg that is equally strong.
With Croston’s guidance, Hardy has improved the line guide spacings to eliminate line sag, and moved to a downlocking reel seat so the weight is farther behind your hand for better balance. (On regular Hardy Ultralite rods, the reel seats are all uplocking.)
The rods are available in eight different sizes from 9'2" to 11'2" and from 2-weight to 4-weight to suit your style, and the waters you fish. The sweet spot might be the 10'8" model rated as a 0/2-weight in recognition that AFFTA line weights are mostly irrelevant when you are fishing with only a short length of narrow, level fly line or just monofilament outside of the rod tip. There is no “grain weight” for casting. This is all about tactical close-range fishing and a high level of sensitivity between you and your flies. $785 | hardyfishing.com
Hardy ultraclick UCL
This is the lightest fly reel Hardy has ever made in the company’s 120-year+ history. It may also be the lightest practical trout reel we’ve ever seen. Period. The 1/2 model weighs just 2 ounces, and the largest 4/5 weighs 2.4 ounces and has the capacity to hold a weight-forward 5-weight line and 75 yards of 20-pound-test Dacron backing.
The machined aluminum reel is bronzed and anodized, with a push-off spool release. It’s designed with a large arbor to pick up line quickly when you need it, a key attribute when you are using small, barbless, competition hooks.
The Ultraclick UCL has an adjustable all-metal exposed click-drag system designed for constant and fine pressure with light tippets and small flies. Consider this reel not only for Euro fishing, but anytime you are using light lines, small flies, and you need delicate precision. $250 | hardyfishing.com
*George Daniel is the author of the best-selling Dynamic Nymphing and most recently Nymph Fishing: New Angles, Tactics, and Techniques (Stackpole, 2018). He is a Fly Fisherman contributing editor and owner of Livin’ on the Fly, an educational/guide company in Pennsylvania. He was a coach for both the U.S. Youth Fly Fishing Team and Fly Fishing Team USA, and is a two-time U.S. National Fly Fishing Champion.