With the recent boom in popularity of Euro nymphing, I thought of sharing some basics on how to find trout in a river. This article forms part of our complete Euro nymphing series we’re releasing, so be sure to check out the rest of the guides.

If you spend time looking at an experienced nymphing angler on the water, you’ll notice that everything they do is very calculated and methodical, which is why this method is so effective.

How they plan and approach the river is no different. In my opinion, this is one of the most overlooked topics, and getting your approach dialed in will catch you a lot more fish than buying a new rod.

In this tutorial, we’ll first look at basic terminology for water structure, whereafter I’ll go through my approach when arriving at a river. Before all of that, let’s first recap what Euro nymphing is.

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What Is Euro Nymphing?

Euro nymphing is a broad term that groups together different styles of nymphing. This unique style of fishing was developed by European competition anglers and is one of the most effective ways to catch trout.

Euro Nymphing

Within the realm of Euro nymphing, there are various styles; you’ll hear terms like French nymphing, Czech nymphing, and so on. These all share the same basic principles but differ with slight variations in leader length, fishing distance, and so on.

The most common of these techniques, the one we refer to when using the term Euro nymphing, is Czech nymphing. It’s a short-line technique, which means you’re fishing at relatively close distances.

The core idea behind this technique is to get the flies down to where the fish are holding and allow them to drift as naturally as possible. The trick is ensuring you retain enough tension throughout the drift to detect even the most subtle takes.

See more: Best Euro Nymphing Rod Buyer’s Guide

Terminology

Now that we’ve gone through the principles of Euro nymphing, let’s look at basic structural terminology before we learn how to approach a river.

Pool

One of the most common types of structures or water types you’ll find on a river is a pool. Now, pools come in different sizes, shapes, and depths, but the approach remains the same.

a fly fisherman fishing for wild trout on the mountain river

The section where the water flows into the pool is referred to as the head. You then have the body of the pool, and the area where the water flows out is called the tail.

Seam

A seam is the meeting point of two currents flowing at different speeds. You can think of this as a seam between two different colors of material. Understanding how to fish around them effectively is vital, especially when working the head of a pool.

Pockets

One of my favorite types of water to fish is pocket water. You can think of pocket water as a combination of small or tiny pools, which can be as small as a dinner plate. Each small pocket has its own head, body, and tail, so the systematic approach remains the same.

How to Approach a River

With the essential knowledge of the basic structural elements that make up a river, let’s look at the systematic approach to maximize our efficiency and get the most out of a day’s fishing.

Watch the Water

When I arrive at any stretch of river, I spend a good five minutes watching the water. If there’s a hatch coming off and the fish are feeding actively, you’ll immediately start seeing rising trout.

River fishing

If the fish are holding deep, scan the pool or run from side to side, keeping an eye out for any movement or strange shadows. Look around the structure, overhands, and deep sections.

What you’re trying to establish here is the type of water the fish are holding in. Are they deep, are they shallow, are they in the shade, or are they sitting in fast water?

The more you train your eye, the better you’ll get at seeing fish. It’s small clues, movements, and colors that give their position away. Oh yes, and make sure you’re wearing a good pair of polarized sunglasses.

What Food Types Are Present?

Once you’ve scanned the water and have a better feeling for where the fish are, you need to establish what food types are present in the system, especially if you’re fishing a new area.

Turn over some rocks in both fast and slow water and check the size and color of the insects. Usually, these will be caddis, mayflies, or midges.

Another place you can look for food sources is the bankside vegetation. Very often, this will be the source of terrestrial insects like beetles, hoppers, or ants.

Direction of Approach

Now, in which direction should you fish? I recommend moving in an upstream direction when Euro nymphing. In most cases, especially in faster-moving water, trout will hold in an upstream direction, which means they’ll face the oncoming current.

In my experience, approaching in an upstream direction means that you can get much closer to fish than walking down towards them. When you can make a cast, make one in an upstream direction and allow the flies to drift naturally towards the fish.

Working a Pool – Tail First

So, arriving at a pool, you’ll want to work the tail section first. I find this can be one of the most overlooked yet productive areas where fish hold. Sometimes they sit in the most unsuspecting place, where the water drops off into the next run or pool.

Man Fly Fishing a River Hiking with Backpack

The most important thing to take into account here is line drag. Usually, the tail’s flow rate is relatively slow, but as the water drops, it increases drastically. So, if you deliver a fly in this slow water, but your fly line is caught in the fast water, you’ll immediately get drag. You’ll never catch a fish like this.

You need to deliver the fly in the slow water and ensure you keep the fly line out of the fast stuff. As the fly drifts down towards you, lift your rod to lift the excess line in the air. In this way, you’ll get a drag-free drift.

Working a Pool – Structure

After working the tail, you need to plan how you’re going to approach the main body of the pool. This approach will be dictated by structure. Look for overhanging vegetation, rocks, current seams, deep cuts in the bottom, and shadows.

Be delicate and careful in your approach and present the fly well above the desired area you want to fish, and then allow the fly to drift into the zone naturally.

Working a Pool – Head

The most productive spot in a pool is the head. The fast current that drops down into it gives fish cover and a fresh supply of oxygen. One of the reasons I believe the head is so effective is that fish don’t have a lot of time to inspect the fly because of the high current speed. They either need to eat it or leave it.

When fishing the head, make sure that you do so systematically. A fish will often hold in a small narrow slot, so if your flies drift just to the right or left of it, it won’t get eaten. Choose a direction that works best for the situation, and work it thoroughly from one side to the other.

If you don’t get a bite with the first pass, change the color, size, or weight of your flies, and do another pass.

Pockets

As mentioned earlier, I love fishing pocket water. The microcurrents and small pools make for excellent fishing. Approach each pocket in the same way you would a bigger pool, but just with fewer drifts.

Fly Line Floating On The River Water

Make sure to look out for any deeper holes, shadows, or overhanging vegetation.

Conclusion

I hope that this tutorial on how to approach a river will help you out. If you’d like a more visual explanation of what I’ve gone through above, please follow the link to my Youtube video about the same topic.

Until next time!