How ‘Euro-Nymphing’ Originated in Northern California

Joe Kimsey was a fishing legend on the Upper Sacramanto River

If you refer to that fly rod as a “pole,” you’ve already identified yourself as a newbie to the fly fishing realm. Regardless of whether or not you know which end of a fly rod to grip, if you’ve spent any time at all exploring NorCal’s legendary fly fishing venues, you’ve probably run across the term “Euro nymphing.” It’s all the rage right now and YouTube videos on the topic are everywhere.

So here’s the thing: This incredibly effective technique for catching trout on a fly rod in small to medium-sized rivers might have recently come from Europe, but it originally evolved in Northern California. How do I know? Because we walk in the shadows of NorCal fly fishing legends, and we can name names.

So what is Euro nymphing anyway? It all started when competitive fly fishing became a “thing” in Europe. Lots of countries (including the good ol’ US of A) formed teams of their best fly anglers who regularly fish shoulder-to-shoulder to see who can catch the most/biggest trout. Since competition quickly leaves behind ways of fishing that produce lackluster results, European teams like the Czechs, Polish, Spanish, French and others have distilled fly fishing down to the one technique that produces the most fish in the shortest possible time, so-called Euro nymphing.

Anglers work long, light rods with very little fly line extending beyond the tip of the rod. Weighted flies (nymphs) are driven down into the water while the tip of the rod leads the flies downstream on an almost tight line. Anglers are trying to do two things; get their flies to drift as naturally as possible beneath the surface, and recognize when a fish has grabbed their fly. It just so happens the upper Sacramento, McCloud and Pit Rivers are ideal for Euro nymphing.

Flies by Joe Kimsey

What today is called Euro nymphing was simply referred to as “short-line nymphing” a century ago. A Native Wintu man named Ted Towendolly was known to use the technique to fly fish the upper Sacramento River around Dunsmuir as early as the 1920s. The name Towendolly is an anglicized version of “Tauhindauli” (same pronunciation), and the same family Tauhindauli Park in Dunsmuir is named for.

Ted Towendolly taught his technique to Ted Fay (as in Ted Fay Fly Shop in Dunsmuir), and Fay used it in his guiding and teaching. Fay passed along the technique to Joe Kimsey who owned the Ted Fay Fly Shop after Fay’s death. Joe Kimsey also passed on, and the famous fly fishing shop now belongs to Bob Grace.

Good fly fishing techniques are hot items to pass along. More recent practitioners of short-line (Euro) nymphing include Bill Carnazzo, Ron Rabun, Tom Peppas and Dick Galland, several of which (including Joe Kimsey) I’ve had the honor to fish with.

Competitive fly fishing and YouTube videos might have popularized the technique and given it a glitzy new name, but “Euro nymphing” is nothing more than short-line nymphing, the same exact way NorCal anglers have been gitten’ ‘er done for more than 100 years.

Here is an historic video of Joe Kimsey fishing the upper Sacramento River long ago:

Chip O'Brien

Chip O'Brien is a regular contributor to California Fly Fisher and Northwest Fly Fishing magazines, and author of River Journal, Sacramento River and California's Best Fly Fishing: Premier Streams and Rivers from Northern California to the Eastern Sierra. He lived in Redding, California, for eighteen years, where he was a guide, teacher, and regional manager for CalTrout.

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