Don't Pigeonhole the Nymph Game
Euro nymphing. Czech nymphing. High-sticking. Tight-line nymphing. We're fly fishers, and as our boxes of flies can attest, we love to attach names and labels to everything.
A recent product evolution in fly fishing has been the creation of highly specialized trout rods—rods for streamer fishing, rods for dry-fly fishing, and even highly specialized rods for specific disciplines inside the realm of nymphing. Most of these rods are inspired by or even in some cases designed by competitive fly fishers who participate in the annual World Fly Fishing Championships.
I don't fly fish to compete, and am not remotely interested in who wins the events. What does fascinate me though, are the flies and techniques that result from these events. If adopted correctly they can help me catch more fish on highly pressured waters at home, and for that I say "Viva la Fédération Internationale de Peche Sportive Mouche Sportive Mouche!"
U.S. fly fishers have not widely accepted the idea of competitive fly fishing, and Team USA has never finished with a medal. But the team members have brought back many of the techniques used by winning teams, and that's how we ended up with "Czech Nymphing" for fast turbulent water, and the French technique of using lightly weighted nymphs and very sensitive strike-indication methods for flat, shallow water. [See George Daniel's story "Nymphing Skinny Water" in the Feb-Mar 2012 issue for details on this technique. The Editor.]
North Americans often lump these various techniques into the broad classification of Euro nymphing, but it's important to realize that the best rod for working a heavy anchor fly through fast, bouldery water is likely different than the extremely delicate rod you'd need for using a curly indicator and #18 nymph at a distance of 40 feet.
I recently spent a week on the Bow River watching Fly Fisherman contributor Lance Egan demonstrate on camera a multitude of techniques for an upcoming two-part DVD series on nymphing. What impressed me most was not Lance's religious devotion to any single technique. It was his ability to use different subsurface techniques to catch fish in nearly any water type, and it wasn't all "Euro" stuff either. A few of the biggest fish came when he used a Thingamabobber (just like the rest of us) to suspend a heavy nymph rig in deep, fast water.
The lesson was that there is no Holy Grail of nymph fishing techniques, and the same goes for fly rods. If you're a versatile fly fisher like Lance Egan, then you need a jack-of-all-trades nymph rod that can handle a variety of tasks. If, however, you just want to throw a Ping-Pong-ball-size yarn indicator and two Kaufmann's Stones from a drift boat, you'll need something different altogether. Decide what kind of nymphing you're most likely to be engaged in and get the rod that's right for you.
Echo Shadow PE $330
pete erickson was a member of Fly Fishing Team USA from 2002 to 2010, when he had ample to time study, mimic, adapt, and then improve the European nymphing techniques that rule competitive fishing. Erickson helped Tim Rajeff and the Echo rod design team to create a light, balanced nymphing rod with the power to lob heavy anchor flies, and a sensitive tip to stay in tune with the smaller flies and detect strikes. Shadow PE rods have a stealthy matte black finish and are available in 3- and 4-weight models. Our tester used both Shadow PE rods in high, low, and ideal water conditions and said 'The extra length of the 11' 4-weight enhances control on long-range drifts, allowing you to cover seams other anglers can't reach. It is also a long lever, which moves more line when the time comes to set the hook on a fish deep in the current. The 10'6" 3-weight is a versatile tool you can nymph with, or toss a dry/dropper rig. '
G.Loomis NRX Nymph $775-$785
The popularity of G.Loomis's NRX rod series stems partly from the technology that allows rod designer Steve Rajeff to create rods that are lighter — and lighter rods by definition provide more sensitivity — so it was a no-brainer that G.Loomis would eventually produce NRX nymph rods. Our tester used both of the new Nymph models (10', 3- and 4-weights) for a week of fishing on Alberta's Bow River. He said the rods are 'light and powerful ' with 'a moderate tip to protect light tippets, and a strong butt section to handle large fish and heavy rigs in fast water. ' Choose the 4-weight for larger rivers or anywhere you're likely to cast large flies or mend line at a distance. The 3-weight is a better choice for small or medium rivers like the Provo or Rock Creek where you can high-stick flies at close range, and sensitivity is at a premium. The rods are available in black matte with blue trim, and also in an all-green color scheme.
Greys Streamflex XF2 $245-$340
Howard croston is captain of Team UK fly-fishing, and also chief rod designer for Hardy and Greys, which put him in a unique position to create competition-style nymphing rods. Streamflex XF2 is a complete lineup of 17 trout models, but the 10- and 11-foot light line weights were created specifically for Euro techniques. 'The normal casting performance requirements of a high-performance fly rod are in many ways secondary to the requirements of a technical nymph fishing rod, ' he said of the rods he designed. 'The ability to project a long compound tapered leader with a relatively light nymph — as used in French-style nymph fishing — requires a rod with a limber tip that is almost capable of loading under its own weight. ' This ultralight philosophy created rods that protect the finest tippets, and are super sensitive for detecting strikes. Our tester used the 11' 3-weight and called it a 'roll-casting machine ' that excels with drys and lighter nymphs in shallow water, but he said it's a little on the limber side for the heavier flies associated with Czech nymphing and deeper, faster water.
Sage ESN $700
ESN stands for European Style Nymphing and our tester first fished ESNs in practice sessions during the World Fly Fishing Championships on the Rienza River in northern Italy. 'These are phenomenally light rods designed specifically for the kind of fishing I prefer, ' he said. 'They are physically light, but more importantly they are light in the hand, or well balanced, which really cuts down on hand/wrist/arm fatigue. The ESNs are the fastest of all the rods I tested, but they still have very sensitive tips. I fished the 2- and 3-weight versions with 18- to 24-foot leaders, and two-fly Euro style rigs and caught brown trout, marble trout, and grayling up to 18 inches. According to rod designer Jerry Siem, 'Konnetic Technology allowed us to build a very small-diameter shaft, which enables better detection of takes while still being strong enough for a vigorous hook-set, which is ideal with Czech, Polish, French, or Spanish nymphing. ' Konnetic Technology is Sage-speak for a mix of proprietary resin, a high-modulus aerospace-grade carbon fiber, and Sage's Advanced Modulus Positioning System (AMPS) — a manufacturing process that aligns and positions the carbon fibers for the greatest blank strength with the least amount of material. And less material means less 'dead stick ' and more sensitivity between you and your nymphs, or more importantly between you and the trout. The 10' 2- through 5-weights all weigh in at under 3 ounces and are the lightest nymph rods we tested.
St. Croix High Stick Drifter $430
Kelly galloup lives on the banks of Montana's Madison River — perhaps the world's finest laboratory for high-stick nymphing techniques. Fifty miles of endless riffles leaves a lot of space where trout hide in tiny pockets along the bouldery bottom, and much of the time, tight-line presentations are the best way to get to them. Galloup says he developed the High Stick Drifter with a lightweight tip to reduce fatigue from holding the rod high during long periods of technical nymphing with or without indicators, and to provide extra sensitivity for better strike detection. St. Croix packs a lot of technology into its newest fly rod, with high-modulus SCv graphite, 3M Matrix Resin, REC Recoil snake guides, and a Fuji K Series Tangle-Free stripper guide. Our tester took the 10-foot 4-weight HSD for a bath on Utah's Lower Provo River in clear water with high flows. He said he was worried about the soft tip during his out-of-the-tube wiggle test but 'on the water the High Stick Drifter came alive. Once I had a reel, line and weighted flies attached to it, the tip became an advantage for accurately casting weighted flies, and managing a long leader. I used mostly a two-fly Euro rig on an 18-foot leader, but the HSD also did a fine job with smallish drys, taking browns up to 16 inches. '