Euro nymphing, Czech nymphing, tight line nymphing...whatever you want to call it, it's been growing in popularity over the past few years. With the excellent Modern Nymphing video series from Lance Egan and Devin Olsen, attention to the style of fly fishing has reached a bunch of new eyes and people like me have decided to give the technique a try.
In 2017, I decided to pick up euro nymphing and I found that the claims were true. I could catch fish in more spots on the water, catch more fish overall, and also get into higher quality of fish. It's not my default go to method for fishing, but I do find it to be the most productive method overall. So when I was getting ready for another trip to Alaska's famous Kenai Peninsula back in August, I decided to bring the euro style rig along. Along with my dad and brother, the three of us were ready to chase trophy rainbows, and for the first time in 20 years we were going to try new methods to reach them.
At first, I thought the euro nymphing would just be an option on the trip. I figured we would try it out, see how effective it was, and alternate between that and standard indicator nymphing. Well, on our first day on the trip, we all decided to start out with euro nymphing setups and it was so effective that 90% of our fishing was done that way.
Our first outing was on the Russian River, a fairly shallow stream that fills up with spawning sockeye and silver salmon along with hungry dolly varden and rainbows looking for an easy meal. This is a river that can drive you crazy but also bless you with fantastic days. The combination of shallow depths, some tight pockets, and a lot of salmon to fish around, can make getting into the feeding zone a challenge with indicator nymphing. We found that we could get our beads (egg patterns) to the feeding zone extremely early in our drifts and keep them there. The productivity was amazing, and we were hooking up with dollies and rainbows nonstop. We also noticed a lot more rainbow trout than usual (more about that later).
So day one was encouraging, and we decided to keep using the euro style setups. Day two put us on a larger river. This river is deeper, faster, and is colored up by glacial silt. We noticed an immediate advantage using the euro nymphing here over traditional indicator nymphing once again. Due to the depth and speed of the river, our indicator rigs would spend the first part of their drifts just getting to depth, whereas with the euro rigs we were down much more quickly and could so much easily control the depth of our drifts. Tapping bottom all day long yielded fish after fish. Once again, our decision to bring the euro rigs was completely validated.
And the trip progressed like this. We fished a large variety of water as we moved about the Kenai Peninsula. Everything from small creeks with big elevation drops to larger streams that were more deep and windy were so much more effectively targeted with the euro style rig than we have ever experienced with indicator nymphing. It wasn't just egg patterns, either. Flesh flies fished beautifully with the euro setup, and I managed to land some quality fish leading that flesh pattern through pools and runs.
The real test, however, was when it was time to float the Kenai River. We fished with a guide we've known for over a decade, and we told him we wanted to try a rod set up with the euro rig. He was all for testing it out, so while my brother and I fished indicators, my dad went with a euro setup. Once again, the euro setup was extremely effective and provided longer drifts that were less prone to lift from the bottom of the river on depth changes. It didn't catch dramatically more numbers, but it was nice to see the style translate well to a drift boat. This probably wouldn't work on tons of rivers, but the glacial silt allows you to fish very near to the boat. For wade fishing on the Kenai, euro nymphing was fantastic.
Throughout the rest of the time in Alaska, over eleven days, euro nymphing proved to be our most effective option. We caught more rainbows, and larger rainbows, than we've ever caught in 20 years of visiting Alaska. We even caught several salmon (not entirely intentional) on the euro style rig, which was lots of fun. The ability to target water from six inches deep to over ten feet deep with the same setup was very valuable for a place like Alaska, and the more stealthy approached offered by not having to fish as much weight and a big plop happy indicator was a true boost to our efforts.
I guessed that the euro style would be effective, but I never guessed it would be so clearly superior to indicator nymphing. For anybody that has yet to give euro nymphing a try and has some curiosity about the method, I would give the Modern Nymphing video series a look. You can tie your own leader setups, and you can actually fish those rigs quite well on 9 ft. rods if that's all you have. If you're really enjoying it, looking into a longer rod that's designed around euro nymphing might be worth your investment.
So, if someone asks if they should give euro nymphing in Alaska a try, I would never hesitate to answer with a resounding yes. In fact, once the dry fly season winds down and the fish are keying in on eggs and flesh, I would make it my primary method.