Euro Nymphing: What you’re missing by following FIPS competition rules — Part One

by | Aug 26, 2020 | 20 comments

** Note ** This is Part One of a Troutbitten short series about what tight line anglers might be missing by following competition rules. You can find Part Two HERE.

Euro nymphing has all the buzz in fly fishing right now. So it’s no surprise that the industry searches for its experts. Fly fishing companies, publishers and shops look to provide their customers with quality info and new gear for euro nymphing. And so far, they’ve largely turned to the competition scene to find authorities on the matter. It’s a logical place to start, as the term euro nymphing has been synonymous with fly fishing competitions since the beginning of this century.

But using competition fishing standards for the average angler is extremely limiting. And following FIPS Mouche rules makes little sense for most dedicated fly fishers. (FIPS is the governing body for international competition.) Comp rules strip away too much of the versatility and efficiency offered by long leader systems in the first place.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | The Mono Rig

Let’s discuss the two main FIPS rules limiting the tight line, contact or euro nymphing angler. Because many long-liners fish under these limits without understanding the other options. And following these rules can be a major hindrance. So if you’re not competing — don’t follow them.

ONE: Nothing Attached to the Leader

FIPS rules dictate that nothing can be physically attached to the leader other than the flies. (Article 28)

This limitation has spawned some wonderful ideas in fly design and nymphing tactics, all in an effort to allow flies to drop through the water column and meet a trout. Restrictions foster creativity in many fields. And the popularity of beadhead nymphs and long, thin tippet sections are a direct result of working around the roadblocks.

Photo by Bill Dell

But there are consequences to these constraints as well. And the competition rule against attaching anything to the leader other than the flies strips away versatility in numerous limiting ways. Here they are . . .

No Split Shot

Adding weight to the leader is a timeless tactic that I never want to be without. Sometimes, split shot is the better choice over weighted flies. And sometimes a drop shot system is the best answer. When used properly, with an efficient method for adding and removing shot, the advantages of split shot often outweigh the inherent disadvantages.

But weighted flies allow the angler to be in better contact with the fly, right? Sure. But good tight line nymphing is about being out of contact as much as in it. And split shot, pinched about five inches in front of the fly, is an indispensable tool for facilitating the freedom of movement that trout are looking for in a nymph.

Used with unweighted flies or employed as additional weight with beaded flies, split shot is an invaluable tool.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing — Not all that tight

READ: Troutbitten | Split Shot vs Weighted Flies

Adapted Flies

In recent years, it seems that the traditional proportions of a nymph are being lost at the vise. With oversized beads, tyers sacrifice these proportions to put extra weight in the fly (since no split shot can be used.) When fifty, sixty or seventy percent of the fly is taken up by the bead, does it really matter what is lashed to the hook behind it? Maybe not.

READ: Troutbitten | That’s Not An Olive

These extreme flies certainly work. But flies with proportions that are more similar to the natural nymphs rolling on the bottom may be better performers.

Likewise, shaggy dubbing on nymphs is trending downward, in favor of slimmer flies that plummet easier — cutting through the water with minimal bead weight. Flies like the Perdigon are killer styles, but shaggy dubbing on flies like a Fox Squirrel nymph and those tied with teased-out Hare’s Ear have stood the test of time for good reason. Sometimes buggy is better. And adding split shot helps easily get those flies down without going unusually large with a beadhead and destroying the proportions.

READ: Troutbitten | What’s the Deal With Hare’s Ear?

READ: Troutbitten | Troutbitten Fly Box — Feed ‘Em Fur

Remember, what makes tight line and euro nymphing work has nothing to do with where the weight is. It’s not the flies. It’s the leader and how the angler delivers the cast.

Photo by Nicholas Roman

Super Light Tippets

Following FIPS rules has encouraged another trend. In an effort to aid the sink rate of nymphs without the addition of split shot, some anglers choose a terminal tackle that is thinner than ever. But it’s also weaker. And I grow tired of losing flies on the bottom of the river or snapping off 6X tippet in a tree branch when 5X could have won the tug-o-war.

Remember too, excellent drifts are achieved with excellent casting, and without it, super thin tippets can only do so much.

READ: Troutbitten | Why you may not need the crutch of 6X and smaller tippets

I also plan to hook and land the largest trout of my life every time I’m out — at any moment. And that’s pretty unlikely at 7X.

So the trade off for using extra thin tippets and keeping shot off the leader is not worth it for me. Again, this is a different mindset than the competition angler, who (justifiably) does everything possible to land and score each eight-inch trout. But if you’re not competing and you’re not bound by FIPS rules, your goals are likely different.

Indys !!

Using indicators on a tight line rig is one of the most overlooked and underrated tactics in the game. Taking tight line principles over to a suspender is a deadly method of fishing. And it solves many of the problems encountered while tight line or euro nymphing — namely distance and wind. Choose the right indy, and you can cast tight line rigs further, even on windy days.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line with an Indicator

But FIPS rules prohibit attaching anything other than flies to the leader.

The competition angler’s work-around is to use a tight line dry dropper style, which is a popular and effective way to fish (It might be my favorite way to catch a trout.) But there are many times when an indicator made of yarn, foam or plastic is the better choice. The advantages of these indicators, when chosen for good reason, kept small and used properly, are undeniable. Compared to a dry fly, they can be less wind resistant (small foam or a Thingamambobber) more sensitive (Dorsey Yarn Indy), easily adjustable and completely slidable.

To me, the inability to add a small indicator may be the biggest loss, while following FIPS rules.

But I was just doing what they told me . . .

Many anglers, new to nymphing on a tight line or even after seasons of experience, don’t realize that they are following FIPS competition rules. Instead, they’re introduced to tight line or euro nymphing through videos, articles and experts who are deeply entrenched in the competition scene. And without some balanced insight as to what makes a Mono Rig or euro rig work in the first place, the angler assumes — incorrectly — that indicators are in opposition to tight line rigs, or that split shot will harm the drift.

But by making these assumptions, the tight line angler takes away a host of options. There’s a range of tactics out there, only available by attaching something to the leader other than a fly.

So, why fish under any restrictions? Learning these new tactics is not only useful on the water, it’s enjoyable to use a full range of techniques and meet the trout on their own terms.

Next Time . . .

In the second installment of this Troutbitten short series, we take a look at the other FIPS rule that significantly restricts a tight line angler’s options and versatility.

It’s the rule that dictates leader length.

READ: Troutbitten | Part Two: What you’re missing by following FIPS competition rules — The Leader Restrictions

Fish hard, friends.

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Your arguments are compelling, Dom. Orthodoxy of any kind is inimical to flexibility and creativity.

    • Wow, Alex, inimical? Good for you.

  2. I like the concept and follow most of the logic on the water. However, drop shot rigs are not legal in many western states (just a word of caution) read your regs before trying some of this stuff. There are ways around it…the point fly or a extra heavy fly (sinking bomb) can act as the drop shot. I would also add that using a micro swivel to separate the point fly and the tag is not allowed under the FIPS rules however, it sure prevents tangles.

    • Cool. If it works for you, keep it up. For me swivels are too much. Even the smallest swivel just adds too much beef to the tippet section. I don’t have twisting problems. But I don’t use 7X either, and I work upstream for dead drifts, so with no tension on the line, the flies don’t spin much anyway. What’s great is how many options there are for doing everything.


  3. Man,you nailed that one!! I got all fired up in Euro thing,bought the rod and thought,here come the fish!! But quickly found definitely a learning curve and soon adapted rod for every type fishing imaginable. And forget 5X,found even in clear water 4X will work!!

    • Agreed. Trout aren’t leader shy. In my experience, I find them to be DRAG shy. And in low, clear water, there are less conficting currents pushing the real nymphs around — so trout know exactly what they are looking for. Consequently, our presentation must be better. 7X and smaller is one way to achieve it, and no doubt the extra flexibility helps, but I prefer to get the better drifts by building into the cast the needed adjustments. Just my thoughts.


  4. Great summary, Dom.
    You and Jason Randall continue to take the best insights and techniques from the FIPS scene and adapted them into truly usable “Contact/Tightline Nymphing” techniques for the non-competition angler. Thank you!!

    • Thanks, Mike. There are great ideas from everywhere too, from every scene. And I’ve always been the kind of fisherman to dig in and discover what works. I’ve also been fortunate to spend more time on the water each year than most people get to in a lifetime, so I’ve had time to test things out. It’s fun.


  5. Exactly, Dom. I found the style to be very limiting. I think you’re right on the mark.

  6. I get what you’re saying, but if you are not a competition fisherman, the regs. don’t apply to you anyway. I’ve experimented with euro-nymphing and did not care what the FIPS rules were. Just mho.

  7. Great article….I’m constantly amazed at how many #4 split shots it takes to make the difference in really heavy, fast water (even with tungsten bead and lead wraps on the bug) relying purely on thin tippet and weighted nymphs often makes for a pretty frustrating day..

  8. I’ve become a worshiper at the altar of ‘contact nymphing’ since diving in head-first in 2019, and have seen immediate leaps and bounds in my catch rate and the size of the fish I’m catching.

    A lot of the allure of the system (Mono Rig for me) is the simplicity–I don’t need to carry split-shot, futz with attaching it to my leader, move it around, feel bad about dropping another thing in the river– because the weight is there on the fly that I tie. 2.0 to 4.0 in every variety of fly, a change in the length of my tippet and that’s that.

    Why complicate things?

    I also don’t understand the point you’re trying to get at by lamenting the death of fuzzy naturals at the hands of the Perdigon. Proportions matter? Dubbing and natural appearances matter? Maybe if you’re putting a fly in a glass case to hang on your wall. That’s an argument I’d expect from the people on the river that are still fishing dries upstream never catching anything, sneaking furtive looks when fish after fish comes to hand with a tight-line rig…

    What a fly looks like matters 0%– where it is is all that matters.

    • Hi MM.

      So I respect where you’re coming from. But I just disagree. Most of what I think is already in the article and in the linked articles contained within.

      Split shot doesn’t complicate things, if you have a good plan and system for how to use it. Most people don’t, so they hate split shot. But that’s alright. Although, split shot solves problem and lends another look with more options, that’s all.

      If you’ve been contact nymphing since 2019, then give it some more time on the water, and you’ll start to see how opening up to bringing in elements of other nymphing styles improves the system.

      You missed point about the flies. I’m not lamenting the death of fuzzy nymphs. I’m just reminding us that these styles are effective for a reason. And proportions matter, not because of flies hanging on a wall, but because sometimes trout care to take things that look natural. That’s all. Again: options, man.

      And as far as the fly mattering 0%??? Nah. No way on that one. Presentation trumps pattern, for sure. But I guarantee I could give you some flies that won’t catch fish. Think of it that way.


  9. Big beads and small bodies. I think it gets to a point where you’re fishing beads and not flies. Or maybe that’s what it was from the beginning. Either way, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re catching fish,

  10. Limiting yourself out of options works out both ways. Thin nymphing lines, line indicators, tungsten nymphs with smaller hooks, #0-2 class ultra flexible rods etc. evolutions from competition world are sometimes, at some situations also huge advantage outside competitions.

    Try different things and decide yourself what from there suits for your own style. Only working it out by experience will tell you, not lectures or school of thoughts.

    Anyone can tell that tenkara, competition style nymphing or any other style is less effective than style x. Even without properly trying things out to adapt with his/her own fishing methods properly ie. quite a long hours at fishing.

    Fly fishing is on constant evolution for more efficient methods, where competition scene is only a small part.

    • Hi JaV,

      I completely agree with your premise that limiting yourself is no fun and that discovering what works for you is best — always. I write about that a lot here on Troutbitten. Find your way. And except no limits. These are Troutbitten themes, for sure.

      I also agree with your point about indicators, tungsten nymphs, smaller hooks and flexible, low weight rods. They all are a big advantage at times.

      But I’m wondering how thin nymphing lines are ever a huge advantage. Specifically, I mean how are they a huge advantage over a longer mono leader with a butt section of about .017″? I’m open minded about that, and after fishing them a lot, I find the only advantage to be that they are more comfortable in the hand for some anglers.

      I won’t go through the rest of my thoughts on the topic, because you can find all of that in Part Two of this short series, all about leader length restrictions and the use of euro or comp lines. It’s right here:

      Curious about your own thoughts. When are thin nymphing lines are a huge advantage?

      Thanks for the dialogue.


      • Hi all,

        About thin nymph lines. I went for years with level mono only on my nymphing rigs. From 2018 Autumn I have swapped to Hends L000 nymphing line, diameter ca. 0,58mm. In Europe 27m line costs under 30 USD.

        I have found the handling superior, also casting is o.k, even with dry flies one can do 10 meter or so, rod and wind permitting. In my opinion fly line ‘sits’ on spool better than mono (not cutting into lower layers of line so easily) , handles absolutely better on hands etc.

        Other application for that line has been small brook fishing, with thin short leader nail knotted on it and also very small tungsten head streamers cast (usually) downstream.

        Reason for my choice may be on my nowadays venues with lot of pocket water, where often leader + tippet total length is only 2-4 meters and fly is often spending quite short time on water after cast.

        I play with lines and leaders all the time, trying to get better and better balanced setup for my style. Imho, effective and comfortable fishing style for each one is found only after years of trying and swapping things around. In my books it is not either static euro line, mono, system x or y, but a setup one have grown together with in practice, working a.. off for hours and years. What may fit to someone, may not fit to someone else, depending on so many factors.

        During last two years I think I have done with level nymph line several hundred hours of fishing and that is my take as an ex ‘mono only’ nymph fisherman.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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