BILLINGS, Mont. —Once Jason O’Connor got the hang of Czech nymphing, he started catching twice as many fish on pocket-water rivers and creeks.
“I’ve been nymphing a long time,” he said. “Normally, on the Stillwater River a guy has four fish and that’s a great day. With the Czech rig, it’s a whole different ballgame. You catch more fish.”
Czech nymphing is one of four methods developed for European competitive fly fishing. The Czech’s actually copied the Poles and modified the angling technique. Then the French and Spanish came up with similar techniques using longer lines for fish that are more wary.
At the base of all of the techniques is a simple idea, said Rob Kelly of Wild Fly Anglers. The end of the line has a weighted fly to sink quickly to the bottom where fish are swimming in less current. Anglers utilize longer and lighter rods – 10 to 11 foot 3 and 4 weights, although 9-foot rods also work. They all also use tight lines, there’s no slack line while fishing.
None of the techniques use strike indicators, which act like bobbers. And in none of the methods do the fly lines actually touch the water, only the leader. As a result, the casts are more of a lob than a traditional fly-fishing cast.
Czechs and Poles
In a Czech rig, Kelly uses at least a 9 foot, 3x tapered leader. Onto that, he attaches a 12-inch high visibility “sighter” line made of colored monofilament or 30-pound colored backing. Onto the sighter line he ties in 5 to 6 feet of 4x, 5x or 6x tippet material. About 6 inches above the end of the line he ties in a 20-inch section of 4x, 5x or 6x tippet with a surgeon’s knot. This longer section of line that is added becomes the leader to the heavier fly that will ride along the bottom of the stream, called the anchor fly. From the 6-inch tag line 20 inches up from the bottom, he’ll add a smaller nymph, called a dropper.
“With this technique you’re leading your flies,” Kelly explained. “You’re not pulling them, but you’re keeping the slack out. You want to stay tight to your flies so that when a fish does take it, you feel it.”
The entire leader setup, from the sighter to the bottom fly, should be about two-thirds of the length of the fly rod.
The main difference between the Polish and the Czech rigs, Kelly said, is that the Poles use a heavier 1x leader – about 20 inches long – above the sighter line. The Poles will also lead the flies through the drift faster than the Czechs.
French and Spanish
The French and Spanish rigs employ longer leaders – anywhere from 15 to 35 feet -- for waters where the fish are more easily spooked, the water is shallower and the fishing pressure is heavy.
To rig the line for the French method, tie in 9, 12 or 15 feet of tapered 2x to 3x leader. At the end of that attach a coiled sighter line, also called a Curly Q or slinky, with tippet rings on each end. (Tippet rings are small rings that allow the angler to cut off the leader and add a different one, such as when dry flies begin to hatch. Kelly keeps his tied leaders wound around a piece of foam for quick changes.) Below that add 4 to 5 feet of 4x, 5x or 6x tippet. The end of the line is tied the same as the Czech and Polish rigs – with an anchor fly 20 inches below a dropper fly.
Kelly ties the Spanish nymph leader much the same as the French, except he uses 16 to 20 inches of high visibility monofilament line to create the sighter line. Below the sighter line he adds 4 to 6 feet of 4x, 5x or 6x tippet. He places the anchor fly about 24 inches below the dropper fly – 4 inches farther than the French rig.
“The flies aren’t necessarily sinking to the bottom,” Kelly said. “It looks more like an emerging insect.”
The main difference between the two rigs is how they are fished, Kelly said. The French will cast straighter upstream using smaller flies – size 14 and down – in an attempt to stay out of the fish’s field of view. The Spanish will still use a heavier anchor fly but will cast upstream and across at a 45-degree angle.
Not for everywhere
Although the directions may seem daunting, Kelly said the fishing method isn’t that complicated to execute. It just takes time and practice to get a feel for how fast to move the nymphs through the current and to notice strikes, since the takes are subtle.
Although a proven fish catcher, the methods don’t work in all scenarios. They tend to be better for pocket-water streams like the Stillwater and Boulder rivers or Rock Creek, as opposed to large tailwater streams like the Bighorn or Missouri rivers. It’s also not a technique that can be fished from drift boats or rafts. The angler has to be wading, sometimes fairly deep, so chest waders come in handy.
But because anglers are using longer rods at shorter distances and not worrying about getting drag free drifts like they would using an indicator, they can fish behind boulders that would normally be difficult, Kelly said.
“You’re only limited by how close you can get to the fish,” he said. “There is some stealth involved.”
Kelly said that since he started using the technique on smaller rivers about four years ago, his catch rates have jumped two to three times what they were when he used an indicator.
“I think you miss a lot of strikes with an indicator because the split shot (used in place of an anchor fly) has to move two to three times farther” for the angler to feel the bite, Kelly said. “With the Czech method, there’s no slack line in the system so you feel the strike right away.”
The type of flies Kelly uses doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference. He typically uses a beadhead weighted rubber-legged stonefly as the anchor fly, using a bigger fly in faster water so it sinks more quickly.
“I tell guys when they’re starting off to use heavier flies than you need because you want that feedback” of hitting the stream bottom, Kelly said. “As you get better and develop more of a feel, you can fish lighter flies.”
O’Connor is a convert.
“If a guy can nymph fish, it only takes a couple of times to pick it up,” he said.
“It takes awhile to get good at it,” Kelly said. “But most people will notice a difference in their catch rates right away.”