A Guide to Euro Nymphing: It's all about the drift!

A Guide to Euro Nymphing:  It's all about the drift!
I started fishing when I was young just like a lot of us.  Growing up in Reno, Nevada at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountain range I remember taking family camping trips where we would visit rivers and lakes. While fishing we would always use a spin rod with a bobber or a lure.  I can distinctly remember sitting at lakes with a bobber for hours at a time and rarely seeing results if any and the boredom of watching the bobber going up and down in the water.  I remember one time I went fishing with my dad and we weren't having much luck with the bobber,  I looked up and saw a guy down the beach flipping a line back and fourth and it landing softly in the water, he caught multiple fish when I was having no luck at all.  I asked my dad what he was doing and he said he was fly fishing.  I asked my dad if he had ever tried and he said no,  I replied can I try sometime?  About a week later my dad came home with a fly rod kit and I've been fly fishing ever since.  I figured even if I don't catch anything at least I'm flipping the line around and not staring at a bobber all day.
Over the years I've tried pretty much every style of fly fishing there is from indicator to dry fly to euro style nymphing to stripping and spey style.  After a lot of experimenting I've found that I enjoy fishing rivers the most out of all places where fly fishing is possible.  There is a certain challenge and difficulty that comes with river fishing and it's not just as simple as casting a line and hoping for a bite.  There's other factors that come into play like flies, type of water, location, gear, and THE DRIFT! 
Even though I love the challenge of dry fly fishing and getting a fish to rise and take a dry fly, my all time favorite type of fishing on a river is euro style nymphing or ESN style fishing due to the fact I catch 10 times more fish than any other type of fishing I have ever tried!  Heck even the USA fly fishing team uses this style of fishing, if its good enough for them it's good enough for me.
I stumbled upon euro nymphing after talking with a good friend of mine named Jim that fishes 4-5 times a week and regularly takes trips to Idaho and California.  He was talking to me about this weird style of fishing where you don't have a fly line and don't cast (in the traditional way).  He said you do what's called a lob cast and you focus more in the drift of the fly than than anything else.  I proceeded to use google and YouTube to do some more research before I asked him to teach me, I found some information on it but not a huge amount.  That's what made me decide to write this.  Jim took me out fishing with him a couple times and it took me a while to get the hang of it and a lot of frustration watching my buddy catch a bunch of fish while I was striking out.  After the third or fourth time getting skunked and watching him catch a bunch of fish I took a second and stood there to watch and see what he was doing.  What I noticed was he makes sure the line was straight (no slack) and he focused on keeping the flies going about the same speed as the water just like a natural bug would and any sort of hesitation or movement he would lift up on the fly rod.  I copied him and caught my first fish ever, euro style!
The Flies
The reason I titled this blog: It's all about the drift is because 80% of the euro nymphing is all about the drift of the flies.  Don't get me wrong what type of flies do come into play some but are far less important than the drift.  I watched a video on the habitat of trout and some fella got in the water with a water proof camera and video taped what trout do in their natural habitat and what they eat.  What I noticed is that they eat a lot! and not just bugs, they will eat sticks, vegetation, and other debris floating down the river as long as it looks like some food. They will eat it then spit it out if it's not a bug or something they don't like.  A lot of people will overcomplicate fishing (I have too) but now I prefer to keep it simple.  I have a few favorite euro nymphing flies and that's about all I use.  You can see in the picture below I have a lot of different colors and have tried probably every color variation possible
(this is not all of them). 
My favorite flies that don't let me down much at all are a Frenchie, and a couple different colors of perdigon, other than those there's not a lot of others I use.  What's far more important about the fly is the weight that you use.   With euro nymphing you don't get a huge cast with a big long drift your basically attacking smaller sections of water so you need to make every bit of your drift count.  On the euro flies they are all pretty much weighted with a bead because you need to get down to the fish and you need weight to do that.  What weight I use depends on the water speed and where they're feeding. The beads typically come in 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 3.5mm, and 4.  Too light and you wont get down far enough, too heavy and you will get snagged all of the time. 
(the winners)
The set up
The set up is quite a bit different than the regular fly fishing style set up.  With regular fly fishing you let the line do all the work and that's what gets your flies out there. With the ESN style set up you're letting the weighted flies do all the work because you have no fly line out.  Some guys use line, however they're not really using it, I don't use any line I just fill up my reel with backing. 
The typical set up is as follows:
                    -Normal reel backing material
                    -fly line (optional because you wont be using it)
                    -15-20 feet of Maxima Chameleon 
                    -6-8 foot of slighter material
                    -Tippet ring
                    -tippet (5x is may favorite and gets me the best drifts)
                    -I typically use a 2 fly set up with the brighter fly as the dropper
The Drift
When I walk up to the water I want to fish I will attack it a certain way so I'm not tromping through a fishes home thinking I'm on the way to the fishing spot.  I can't tell you how many times I've caught a fish where I didn't think I was going to.  I start by casting out from the edge in 1ft to 1/2 foot sections (take a couple casts step further out, take a couple casts step further out etc.).  I will continue to do that until I can't wade any further into the water and the entire time I'm trying different depths of the flies (basically lifting the rod up or down depending on what depth I'm trying to maintain).  Fish feed in different water columns and I notice they're mostly on the bottom however a lot of the time they're in the middle or will at least travel to the middle if they're hungry enough. 
After I'm done fishing a small section I will move about 10 feet up the run and complete the same process until I get to the end of the run.
The main thing that I watch when I'm making these casts is THE DRIFT and what I mean by that is I'm watching the indicator line, depth of my flies, and how fast my line is moving compared to the water speed around it, all while  looking for any hesitation or movement of my indicator line (there's more takes than you think).  I try to keep my indicator line slightly ahead of the flies while I'm doing drifts and any subtle movement I will lift up right away.  You would be surprised how many times you've missed a fish with the bobber set up, that's why I prefer this set up.
Where to fish
Due to the fact with euro nymphing you don't cast like you would a regular fly rod your limited in distance, you can't cast all the way across the river and let the bobber do the work.  You need to attack the best possible spots, that's why a lot of the ESN style guys use 10+ ft rods so they can get better distance for their drifts. 
I look for runs riffles and rocks mostly.   I like to start at the bottom of a run and work my way to the top getting everything I can reach in between.  One of the things I notice is that the fish move into the faster water in the summer and slower water in the winter.  So depending on what time of the year it is I will fish different sections of water. 
If your just starting out and confused on where to fish just pick a nice run that has a nice tailwater section and fish it all the way to the top wherever you can and you're likely to get at least a fish or two.  Just make sure you're testing different depths of your flies, watching your drifts, and lifting up on any hesitation of the indicator line.  Tight lines my friends!
By Anthony Saling