Euro Nymph Leaders With Lance Egan & Ben Wilcox of Team USA

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Euro nymphing At A Glance

The appeal is easy to understand. Euro nymphing (also known as “tightline nymphing” or “Czech nymphing”) is a way to efficiently and effectively get your flies in front of trout.

Euro-Leaders-Featured-ImageThrough the use of heavy weighted flies, anglers can deliver natural presentations to trout while they’re holding at the bottom of a river or stream. Light tippet and long leaders are used to deliver and control these flies throughout a natural drift, and colored sighters in the form of multicolored tippet or colored wax (more on that later!) are used to detect subtle takes that often go unnoticed through traditional nymphing tactics.

One of the most important factors in a euro nymphing equation is the leader. In order to stay “in connection” with the weighted flies through the drift, euro nymphing anglers use a sighter (rather than a strike indicator) and thin, long leaders and tippet to cut through the water. The art of feeling the fly as it drifts downstream at depth without fouling the drift is often called being “in contact.” To maximize this skill, in addition to lots of practice, anglers can use self-tailored, hand-tied euro nymph leaders.

Typically these leaders come in two forms: traditional tapered euro nymph leaders that are somewhat similar to traditional tapered leaders used for other forms of fly-fishing, or smaller, thinner, more uniform micro leaders. We’ll compare the advantages of both leaders, and then get into specifics, below.

Leaders | Micro-Leaders vs. Traditional Tapered Euro Nymph Leaders

In general it’s best to use as thin of a leader as you can effectively cast. The thinner your leader, the better your presentation will be, but the more difficult it will be to cast. It’s best to not jump right into fishing a super thin micro leader.

For the purpose of distinction within this article, we’re defining micro leaders as 4X (.007 in) euro nymph leaders. We are describing leaders with a 15lb (.015 in) to 20lb (.017 in) butt section as a heavier leader.

Heavier leaders

Heavier leaders are better when you need accuracy, or when you are fishing with techniques like streamers or a dry dropper setup. These heavier leaders will develop some sag in your presentation as you fish at distance, potentially taking you out of contact with your euro-nymphs.

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Micro Leaders

Micro leaders are better for fishing further away, or in more open areas. The thinner you go, the less sag you’ll have as you fish at a distance. You sacrifice accuracy and casting control. Thinness of the leader allows for better strike detection as you’re in better contact with your nymphs throughout the drift.

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Advice from the Fly Fishing USA Experts

Who better to turn to for advice on euro nymphing than the experts? We sought out a pair of members of the USA Fly Fishing Team, and asked them for advice on their tight line leader recipes and situational applications.

Lance Egan is a decorated competitive angler. Egan is a 3X National Fly-Fishing Champion, 2X ESPN Great Outdoor Games Fly-Fishing Champion, a Fly-Fishing Masters Champion, a Teva Mountain Games Fly-Fishing Champion, a 3X Utah Single Fly Champion and has been a member of the USA Fly-Fishing Team since 2000. With Team USA, Lance has represented America 13 times at the World Fly-Fishing Championships and is a 3X World Fly-Fishing Championship medalist (1 team silver, 1 team bronze, and 1 individual bronze).

Lance is the shop manager of Fly Fish Food in Orem, Utah. He’s also a part-time guide and instructor and a Signature Fly Designer for Umpqua Feather Merchants.

Ben-Wilcox-Fly-Fishing-USABen Wilcox is the owner and head guide of Maple Country Anglers, based in the Burlington, Vermont area. Wilcox is an accomplished competitive angler and has been a member of the USA Fly Fishing Team since 2021.

Here’s what Lance Egan and Ben Wilcox had to say about euro leaders

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How much do you tight line nymph, compared to other techniques?

Lance Egan: I euro nymph about 20% of the time. This is always evolving, but I’d guess that my current amount of euro nymphing is 20% or less.

Ben Wilcox: While fishing rivers, I have a tight line rod with me at all times, and frequently have a 4 or 5 weight floating line as well. In my local rivers in Vermont, dry fly opportunities are not as consistent as other locations around the country. I use a tight line rig at least 75% of the time, either with nymph, dry dropper, or streamer tactics.

Do you tie your own leaders? If so, what materials do you use?

Lance Egan: I tie my own leaders. I use Maxima Chameleon, Sunset Amnesia, Pezon Michel Color Line, Umpqua Indicator tippet, and Cortland Indicator mono.

Ben Wilcox: I do tie my own leaders. I’ve been through so many different leader configurations and materials over the years both of my own ideas, and on recommendations from others. Currently I use Maxima Chameleon, Pierre Sempe, Amnesia and Cortland material.

fly-on-lineWhat is your preferred leader construction?

Lance Egan: Leader construction varies depending on the situation.

If only nymphing and using streamers on a euro rig, I favor a very thin (.007”) leader. If wanting a bit more directional control, I like a slightly larger diameter leader, like .010” to .012”.

If floating the sighter, I prefer a thicker leader like a maxima 20/15/12 leader or a straight leader in the neighborhood of .013”.  Thicker leaders float better, are easier to see, and have more directional control, but have more sag when trying to lift all of the leader off the water. Sag limits fishing distance, and sink rate of flies.

On the flip side, a super thin leader allows you to fish far away, but is harder to be accurate, is tougher to see, and doesn’t float or support weighted flies like is needed when floating the sighter.  

Ben Wilcox: My current leader construction is 12” of 6 lbs Maxima Chameleon, 14’ of 4.5x Pierre Sempe, a tippet ring, and 5’ to 7’ of 5-8x tippet.

Also, I should add that I’ll use up to 12 lbs maxima chameleon for big fish, such as when I fish for land locked Atlantic salmon. I also prefer a little heavier leader if I have a dedicated streamer rod in the 3x-4x range.”

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Do you use a modular leader construction for dries, dry droppers, and/or streamers? 

Lance Egan: I used to, but have leaned towards technique specific leader builds more recently.

Ben Wilcox: I use this leader for dry dropper, nymph, and short range streamer presentations. I use a floating line and dry fly leader for dries, and a modified tapered leader for long range dry dropper fishing.

If the situation or need arises, how do you suggest the average angler go from a micro leader to a modular leader? 

Lance Egan: Simply have both leaders built and ready to attach, and make sure you have an easy, smooth mode of attaching the leaders to the fly line. Otherwise, put in the practice.

Rainbow-trout-fishpond-netTime on the water with both rigs is needed to have command of both systems, since they behave quite differently.

Ben Wilcox: If you only want to carry one rod to cover most situations, I’d recommend having a weight forward fly line, or thin diameter euro nymph fly line with about 30’ of 10-15 lbs Maxima Chameleon. With this you can fish nymph, dry dropper or short range streamers.

If you want to fish dries or longer range streamers, you can remove the 30’ leader and put on a tapered leader. You can also use a micro leader on this set up instead of maxima chameleon.

Micro leaders take a lot of time to master and the average angler will not notice a huge difference between a micro leader and a thin diameter leader in the 8-10 lb range, though presentation at distance and strike detection are improved in the hands of an experienced angler.

The leader must be long enough to keep the entire length of weight forward fly line on the reel. My solution, however, is to bring two rods to the river much of the time. Mastering dry dropper, nymph, and jig streamer presentations on a micro leader will cover most of the situations I find on my local rivers.

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What do you use for an indicator with a micro leader when suspending your euro rig? Do you use indicator mono or have you switched to wax?

Lance Egan: I like Umpqua Perform X Nylon Indicator in 3x or 4x for a micro leader sighter. Skafars wax is good too if you want to be able to adjust it on a long tippet.

Ben Wilcox:I use Pierre Sempe pink and green and will add orange skafars wax from time to time to my tippet as needed based on tippet length and water depth.

A quick note on sighter color:

On the east coast where everything is green I prefer mostly pink or orange, but on the west coast in some areas the green shows up better for me.

How do you feel about tactical fly line in conjunction with tight line methods?

How necessary is it in your opinion? Example: is it suggested to go from backing to micro leader without adding the cost of fly line? 

If so, what knot do you suggest using for going from backing to leader (say 15 to 20lb mono) 

Lance Egan:  I favor using a thin competition style fly line. I prefer this because I favor handling fly line when taking up slack during the drift, when setting the hook, and when fighting fish.  These are important steps and I find using only monofilament leads to line slip, which causes lost fish during a fight and when setting the hook.  Also, mono tends to have more memory and be harder to feel when taking up slack.

catching trout on fly iconOne can definitely go from backing to leader, but backing to leader is a tough connection to make smooth, and both backing and mono have limitations for taking up slack, setting the hook, and fighting fish.

Competition fly lines are usually only $50 and are level, so when you wear a few feet out you can simply cut the line back to where it is new and basically have a new line. This makes for a very cost effective fly line.

The drawbacks of using mono or backing are significant.  Why not use a fly line?

Ben Wilcox: I would not recommend foregoing fly line. Having some sort of fly line will give you more options out on the water.

How to Make Lance Egans Modular Euro-Leader

Conclusion

Euro nymphing combines two of my favorite things about fly fishing: catching fish and continuously learning. Both of these payoffs are lifelong rewards — there’s always more fish to catch, and there’s always more methods to study and tactics to apply.

Fishing with a hand-tied micro leader is rewarding on its own. A good, long drift while euro nymphing is a drug in and of itself. If you want to dive into tying or exploring micro leaders for the first time, or if you’ve been pursuing this method of euro nymphing for a while, hopefully this guide and conversation with Lance and Ben has proved useful.

As always, tight lines!

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AUTHOR
Wes has fly fished in mountain streams and creeks since his childhood. He grew up on the waters of Northern Utah and Southern Idaho. Wes currently calls Salt Lake City, UT, and its blue-ribbon trout streams home. In addition to his local rivers, Wes spends time pursuing trout in the Intermountain West. He sojourns regularly to Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.

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