Author: Karel Křivanec
French nymphing with a very long leader was disclosed at the World Championship in Spain (2003) and in 2004 Czech observers could see even more of it during the World Championship in Slovakia. Long French leaders were used in the Czech Republic at the fly fishing competitions in the following year and this new way became immediately successful. This proved in the team competition at the World Championship in New Zealand (January 2008), where the Czechs won both team and the individual competition. The main cause of this clear victory was just "hybridization" of Czech and French nymphing techniques. Czech competitors used very long leaders (7 - 9 m) in combination with tree weighted nymphs and ten feet long rods class 5 - 6 AFTMA. Even if it almost looked like that the Czech school exhausted its possibilities, just the combination with French elements opened new ways which I would like to mention shortly.
French leader and its composition
The length of the French leader is one of the key questions, where the tippet ranges between 6 and 20 m. However, the length between 9 and 10 m seems the ideal to me, because it still allows quite good casting and leading of flies. Besides the length of the leader, also a question of its diameter is important. Very simply, you we can say that if we fish in a bigger and deeper river then we will use heavier nymphs and the entire leader can be stronger. If we use bundling leader, we can use lines of about 0.45 mm and simultaneously braid individual parts to the end part with the diameter of about 0.22 – 0.25 mm. The length of individual parts is important especially due to the fact that stronger parts are a bit longer and in direction to the strike indicator they get thinner and shorter. This is very important for easier casting and unrolling the entire leader.
As a material for its production, we can recommend French line Kamoufil which changes its parts from olive, brown to almost black and it is very suitable for this purpose. There is also tapered French leader Kamoufil produced by the company Hends and it is made in two lengths: 420 and 900 cm. However, this does not mean that you cannot use another kind of nylon and fluorocarbon. There are also many very good fishermen and competitors, who use so-called Janus´ monofil (linear) leader with the diameter of about 0.40 mm finished with the strike indicator for these “more difficult and larger” waters.
When fishing in small rivers and brooks with shallow water the use of stronger lines is less suitable, because there will be necessary to use much finer application for presentation of very small and light flies. The strongest part of the leader at the fly line in this case should start with the diameter of 0.25 mm – 0.30 mm and the end part at the strike indicator must be of the diameter of about 0.16 – 0.18 mm. The length of about 9 m is recommended as universal. Only parabolic rods (290 – 305 cm) for fly lines AFTMA 1 – 3 are used for this fine nymphing
This is a very often discussed matter and there are many various options. Original French indicators were mainly spirals produced in various reflexive colours such as yellow, orange, red, pink, chartreuse and also white. The diameter of the line used is mainly ranging between 0.16 and 0.30 mm. A common fisherman does not have to be interested in changing rules of the appearance of these indicators for competitions, because he/she can use what he/she likes the best either regarding the lightning conditions and indicator´s visibility or with respect to its properties. Commonly, also breaded line connectors are used as indicators and on both sides they have a microring or various spiral indicators from variously coloured lines. Recently also various coral indicators have been popular. The easiest possibility is an indicator from a piece of coloured line. A very suitable is two tone colour line, where two signal colours are changing every 40 cm (orange/yellow, yellow/red or orange/pink) in the diameter of 0.16 – 0.30 mm. The lengths of all these types of indicators should be ranging from 15 to 30 cm.
Tippet (fishing part of a leader)
This part should look like as it was described in our book about the Czech nymph earlier. Here I would mention the fact that it is possible to fish with one fly which is a classic French approach; or with 2-3 flies which is a Czech option. All depends on the river bed size, depth and slant. I prefer fishing with 2 flies, which seems to me the most universal for presentation, leading and contact with flies. Of course, we can use tree flies on a leader, especially, on larger and deeper rivers. The most efficient is the use of the lightest fly as possible, but all the set should get to the required depth or to the bottom as quickly as possible. This can be reached by using once overweighed nymph. For fishing itself, it is more or less disadvantageous, because based on our experience the fly should drift in water as naturally as possible and as attractive for fish as possible. And this is rule No. 1. Overweighed set of nymphs move in water unnaturally and often it can also get stuck at the bottom. On the other hand, too light flies are difficult to get, where we need them during the drift. From this results that the weight and size of flies and the natural move of the entire set is the most principal success factor while fishing. Definitely, it is important to mention that during the use of 2-3 flies, the dry fly can be used as the upper dropper.
Casting with a French leader
When casting for a short distance, there are no big differences in technique compared to casting with a short nymph. However, fishing for longer distance is technically more demanding, because the line which the French leader is composed from is much finer and lighter than the fly fishing line. Casting of flies, especially those really small ones, is much more complicated. Generally, we can say that for a good cast, we need to move the rod continuously. Just fluency of the back and forward move is a guarantee that the leader does not get entangled and the cast is exact. We may be surprised by the fact how far we can cast with our set with continuous and elegant moves of the rod.
When casting we have to leave to form the leader behind the back and after that we have to shoot flies forward with a relatively quick swing. Then we achieve the fact that the entire leader unrolls and flies fall on the surface easily and quickly drop to the bottom. We try to have a direct contact with flies. Therefore, we do not lay the leader with the indicator on the surface and we try to have it as directly as possible to the rod tip. Immediately after casting we watch the move of the indicator and we react to each of its moves with a gentle strike.
When casting nymphs to more distant places, it is necessary to let the leader go between fingers and simultaneously estimate the required distance to the place where we want to cast the flies. If the flies do not get to the required distance, we have to repeat false casts with the rod back and forward to get to the selected place with the second cast. It is necessary to let flies fly to the end of the track, because if we swing too early we often entangle the entire tippet. In bushy places, it is necessary to watch the trajectory of the flight of flies. Especially larger flies make a relatively large arc and can behave unpredictably with their flight´s trajectory. If we have branches over the head or behind the back, then we use side casts and we work with the rod to height of shoulders at the most.
Style and tactics of the fishing
In this chapter, I have to explain and generalize rules where the advantage of the use of the long French leader compared to other nymphing techniques is. The most important difference is a possibility of exact presentation and leading of nymphs with the finest and the most natural way. When fly fishing line falls on water, it scares fish and simultaneously gets the casted flies from the best places. Fly line has often higher weight and also today, when it is possible to use fly lines # 00 and 000 during presentation it cannot be compared to the use of long braided leader from monofil lines.
The entire set of flies on a leader can be naturally led even in those smallest slow-downs at the bank, shallow streams, etc. And this all in relatively long distance of about 7 - 10m. This is important for reason of not scaring fish with our presence and furthermore the move of flies in water is always very natural. The fineness of this leader and the use of indicator can show us also takes of very careful fish.
The smaller and shallower riverlet or stream, the more the upstream rule applies, when the fisherman continuously wades and fishes upstream water. We cast to all probable places where fish is and lead the flies as naturally as possible in previously selected places and make the fish take the fly. After casting, the indicator is held just above the surface and the fisherman strives to have as best contact with fish as possible. He reacts to any indicator´s move (swing, stop, twitch) with a fast and fine strike.
Regarding large rivers with higher water flows and depths, then it is not often necessary to fish and wade upstream. Of course, fishing and wading upstream is much less physically demanding and it is also true that fish are not as shy as small and shallow riverlets. Then it is easy for a fisherman to wade upstream and fish the river in the mentioned distance around him both with casting upstream and across the stream and flies can be “revived” with various rod´s moves during their leading downstream. We can sometimes meet the situation, when large rivers with lots of water will have to be fished upstream and fish solely fish located upstream, because fish around and downstream of us are scared in the long distance. Mainly of this applies for extremely clear rivers, where very shy wild fish occur.
We use a bit different flies for grayling and trout, especially with respect to size, hooks and sometimes fly´s colour. Majority of nymphs can be used universally, because they are taken by both trout and grayling, but the difference can be in the size of a nymph. Grayling is less shy than brown trout and it can be fished in much shorter distance from us. Therefore, very often there is no problem when nymphing in smaller riverlets even downstream.
It could be also generally said that the entire set for grayling should be finer. There is no sense to distinguish the rod, because today we can fish trout with the rod AFTMA 2 or 3. When we fish trout, the tippet of the leader can be between 0.11 – 0.16 mm, but in the case of grayling we cannot get over the diameter 0.10 – 0.12 mm, but we can also use the line in the diameter of 0.08 mm. On rivers with mixed population of trout and grayling, we mostly fish upstream not to scare wild brownies.