A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, three Eastern-bloc countries took part in a friendly flyfishing competition on Poland’s Dunajec River that would eventually lead to a worldwide angling revolution. The host Polish team dominated the contest over Czechoslovakia and East Germany, catching more and bigger fish by employing a short-line, heavy-fly system for presenting nymph patterns. In the following years, the Czechs further refined that system to the point that it’s now called Czech nymphing. By any name, it is deadly for catching large trout in numbers. French and Spanish anglers have since added their own slants on nymphing. And, of course, many traditional wet-fly techniques were developed in the United Kingdom and Ireland decades, if not centuries, ago. The point being, by looking “across the pond,” American anglers can tap into a world of strategies that work great in their own rivers and lakes.
The Czech Trick Czech nymphing is all about feel. The basic premise is to use a short tippet system and tie a heavy fly at the end (the “point” fly) and a second fly on a dropper tag roughly 2 feet above that. You sneak up close to the trout and make short, pinpoint casts, then lead the line downstream with the rod tip pointed at the water’s surface. The point fly ticks and bounces along the bottom, and when a trout strikes you feel resistance–and set the hook. As Steve Parrott, co-owner of the Blue Quill Angler in Evergreen, Colo., and creator of the Czech Nymphing 101 DVD, explains: “In many ways, Czech nymphing mirrors popular bass techniques like tube jigging and using a drop-shot rig.” Flies from left: Size 14 Graphic Caddis, Size 8 Pat’s Rubber Legs Stonefly
The Rig: Choose a long, supple rod, such as a Sage ESN 10-foot 3-weight. At the end of a weight-forward floating line, attach a 12- to 18-inch “sighter,” which serves as a strike indicator. The sighter is made from a section of bright Dacron backing or red mono. Tie 5 feet of 5X tippet from the sighter to the dropper fly, which hangs on an 8-inch tag, then 20 more inches of 5X tippet to the point fly. Your leader should be about 8 feet long. (Note: The only difference with a Polish rig is the dropper fly is tied on a loop that can slide between two knots.) The Flies: There are many woven, weighted (often beadhead) fly patterns designed specially for Czech nymphing, but your favorite local patterns will do the job just fine. Try a size 8 Pat’s Rubber Legs Stonefly as the point fly and a size 14 Graphic Caddis as the dropper. Where It Works: Fish a Czech nymphing rig in classic trout runs, where fast and slow currents meet to form a seam, where there’s a dropoff or depression, and behind structure like rocks. It’s best to fish in runs with steady current. How It Works: The key here is to move the rod tip with–or even slightly lead–the line as it moves downstream (1). When it’s done right, the tippet should form what’s known as a Lazy J (2) as the flies drift in the current. Because you are so close to the fish, you’ll have to crouch down and flip short casts. It takes practice to hone the rhythm of leading flies so they sink to the bottom but don’t get stuck.
The Spanish Combo Spanish nymphing blends characteristics of both the Czech and French styles. Like Czech nymphing, you’re using a heavy weighted fly on the point and leading the flies through a run with the rod tip pointed at the water. Like French nymphing, the leader in this technique is very long–15 feet or longer–and rather than feel, you are relying on a sighter that is relatively far from the end of the fly line to tell you when to set the hook. Spanish flyfishermen created this nymphing technique to help them catch the notoriously elusive fario (brown trout) in Pyrenees mountain streams. They found that the extra-long leader is the key to avoid spooking the fish. Flies from left: Size 10 Conehead Wooly Bugger, Size 18 Flashback Juju Baetis
The Rig: The ideal rod for Spanish nymphing is a 10- to 12-foot 3-, 4-, or 5-weight. Use a weight-forward floating line and a 3X to 5X 9-foot tapered leader. Spanish anglers tie a two-tone sighter to the end of the leader. Make the sighter by splicing two 12-inch sections of Sunline Siglon F mono together with Uni knots or a Blood knot. Below the sighter, attach 4 feet of 5X tippet and leave an 8-inch dropper tag while adding 2 more feet of 5X for your point fly. The Flies: Heavy Czech-style flies work best on the point; smaller nymphs on the dropper. As an American variation, try a size 10 Conehead Woolly Bugger on the point and suspend a size 18 Flashback JuJu Baetis on the dropper. Where It Works: This technique is especially effective in the tail-outs of runs, in slow, deep water, and in spots where you have to reach across fast or deep water into a seam where rainbows and browns are holding. How It Works: Cast at a 45-degree angle upstream (1), then follow the flies with the tip of the rod as they move downstream. With such a long leader, back casting is almost impossible, so lift the rod high at the end of the drift, letting the current load the rod (2), and lob the line back into the target zone. Keep your eyes focused on the sighter and set the hook on the slightest stagger, change of direction, or pause. The key to effective Spanish nymphing is choosing a point fly that is heavy enough to tick the bottom but not so heavy as to hang up on every drift. For that reason, anglers switch point patterns often–usually run by run.
The French Twist The French have won six world flyfishing championships by being masters of catching trout in the trickiest, most technically demanding conditions–clear, shallow water and slow-moving currents. When you find trout in these situations, and they are not eating dry flies, the best option is to throw light nymphs on a long, fine leader. The French have devised a rig for this scenario that works better than anything else. Their twist (literally) is a coiled, two-toned sighter, sometimes called a Curley Q. The sighter is actually at the end of a standard leader, making the total leader system very long–16 feet or more–which can make casting tricky. A deliberately long stroke and wide loop is necessary here. And casts are made upstream rather than working perpendicular to the current, as the Czech tactic requires. Flies from left: Size 18 Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail, Size 16 Zebra Midge
The Rig: Here, the same style of rod used in Czech nymphing works, but you’ll need to chop 5 feet from the tip of the weight-forward floating line. From the line connect an Umpqua 9-foot Power taper leader (butt section at least 2X), followed by the Curley Q.* The length of 5X tippet that extends from the Curley Q should be 2.5 times the water depth. The dropper fly hangs on an 8-inch tag, and the point fly is tied to 5X or 6X tippet 18 to 20 inches below the dropper. *Make a Curley Q: Take a 24-inch section of Jan Siman Bi-Colored Indicator Material and tightly wrap it around a 3-inch finishing nail. Boil the line-wrapped nail for five minutes, then freeze it for 24 hours. Make perfection loops on both ends. The Flies: Fish a size 16 (or smaller) tungsten Zebra Midge as the point and a size 18 Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail as the dropper. Egan’s Frenchie is also a great all-around nymph for this tactic. Where It Works: This rig is ideal in spring creeks and clear tailwaters–water where you know the fish are eating nymphs and emergers, but you think the splash made by a dry fly in a dry-dropper rig would spook your targets. How It Works: Cast upstream and let the flies drift over your target fish (1). As the flies come downstream, lift the tip of the rod to gather the slack in the line. When a trout takes either fly, the Curley Q will stretch ever so slightly. Set the hook. The long leader makes the cast tricky, requiring a deliberately open loop. After the coil starts to lose its memory, you can refreeze it into form, but once it kinks like a telephone cord, it is ruine…finis!
The Irish Dibbler Not all nymph (or wet-fly) fishing should be confined to rivers. Using subsurface patterns for trout on lakes can be deadly. Fourth-generation ghillie (guide) Neil O’Shea recently explained to me why the traditional “dibbling” technique works well in places like Lough Currane in County Kerry. “The peat-rich soil makes these lakes acidic and less hospitable for mayflies,” he said. “So the migratory trout and salmon are window-shopping more than they are keyed in on a specific food source, like an insect hatch. Showing the trout and salmon bright, attractor wet flies with a slow, methodical retrieve will elicit a reaction strike. This is a technique for hooking curious, rather than hungry or aggressive, fish.” Flies from top (clockwise): Size 14 Prince Nymph, Size 10 Damselfly Nymph, Size 16 Mercer’s Poxyback PMD
The Rig: Use a 9- or 10-foot 5- to 7-weight rod with a weight-forward floating line–or a sink tip for targeting trout 8 feet or deeper. From the fly line tie a 6-foot 3X leader. This rig pre-sents three flies–two are on dropper tags. From the leader, tie a 3-foot section of 6- to 8-pound mono tippet, leaving a 6-inch dropper tag. Attach another 3-foot section of tippet, again leaving a 6-inch dropper tag. The leader length is roughly 12 feet. The Flies: Traditionalists will insist on staples like the Red Arse Green Peter, Bibio, and Silver Stoat, but good luck finding those at your local
fly shop. Stick with proven patterns: a size 10 Damselfly nymph, followed by a size 14 Prince nymph, and a size 16 Mercer’s Poxyback PMD as the point pattern. Where It Works: Dibbling is best suited for flat water–preferably in light wind-driven chop on overcast days when the trout are not dialed in on a specific hatch. Work it over structure, off points, in current lines, and especially near weed mats. Try this technique from
a belly boat. How It Works: Make a long, delicate cast and let the flies sink for a few seconds before starting your retrieve. You want to make long, slow, consistent strips (1). Near the end of the strips, lift your rod tip toward the sky so the flies “emerge” to the surface (2). The trout, which will likely have trailed the rig out of curiosity, will grab a bug–just as it reaches the surface–often within short reach of the boat or shoreline.
_A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, three Eastern-bloc countries took part in a friendly flyfishing competition on Poland’s Dunajec River that would eventually lead to a worldwide angling revolution. The host Polish team dominated the contest over Czechoslovakia and East Germany, catching more and bigger fish by employing a short-line, heavy-fly system for presenting nymph patterns. In the following years, the Czechs further refined that system to the point that it’s now called Czech nymphing. By any name, it is deadly for catching large trout in numbers.
French and Spanish anglers have since added their own slants on nymphing. And, of course, many traditional wet-fly techniques were developed in the United Kingdom and Ireland decades, if not centuries, ago. The point being, by looking “across the pond,” American anglers can tap into a world of strategies that work great in their own rivers and lakes._