Low clear water in the late summer can mean spooky and hesitant Atlantic Salmon. By using French Nymphing techniques you can effectively fish for these spooky fish.

What is French Nymphing?

Originally the French Nymphing was invented by the France National Team during the World Flyfishing Championship in 2000. After that, the Belgian and Czech National Teams continued to develop French Nymphing, which almost totally replaced the Czech Nymphing technique. For the past 15 years, most of the flyfishers from all over the world moved from classical upstream fishing with a dead drift to the French leader technique.

French nymphing is a perfect style of fishing to catch spooky fish in most of the situations. The biggest difference in using the French leader versus any other nymphing methods. Is the lack of fly line. The French leader consists of a very long tapered monofilament leader, ended by a shorter colorful indicator piece. You always cast upstream into the current, a few meters above where you potentially expect fish to hold. When you cast, lift your arm with the rod and keep the leader and indicator above the surface. Let your flies swim towards you and watch the indicator tippet the whole time. Strike the rod every time you see any movement of the indicator tippet.

The Advantages of Using a French Leader:

  1. The lighter leader allows very sensitive fishing for spooky and over pressured fish.
  2. Presentation of your flies without any drag.
  3. Exact casts which can be repeated really quickly.
  4. It allows the leading of your flies at a specific depth.
  5. It is high-contact fishing when you see and feel every strike.

How Does it Work for Salmon?

We were trying the technique on the Icelandic Atlantic Salmon Rivers, the Laxa I Kjos and Grímsa. Which are run by the @hreggnasianglingclub. After the few first casts, I was surprised how effective this technique was for salmon and seatrout on these larger Icelandic rivers.

It is especially effective during the late season when the water level is low, salmon are overfished with usual flies. But with French Nymphing you cannot cast extremely long distances, so you have to stay close to fish.  It does not work on the really deep and large salmon pools, but as long as you can find some pockets in the structure you will have success!

The best thing when you fish for salmon is to spot them first. You can easily lead your flies towards them, try to keep the fly steady as possible, and just shake the flies by lifting the rod tip in front of the fish’s mouth. I have found that usually, the late males ignore flies, which are just dragging by the current. Once you shake flies a bit, they get crazy and grab the fly immediately.

How to setup French Nymphing Gear for a Salmon Rod:

Rod: The usual weight of rods used for the French Nymphing technique are in the range of AFTM between 2-4 with medium or medium-fast action and a softer tip. For salmon it is the most effective to use a #7 rod with the length of 10´. Especially for casting as it is handier to use longer rods, to reach all fish from quite further distances and to not spook them.

Reel: In the case of salmon fishing the reel isn’t just a fly line holder. You have to invest in a quality reel with a strong drag system. The reel should be well balanced with the rod and the set up as light as possible. A wide-diameter reel is recommended to avoid a tangled leader.

Backing: Fly Line backing is something most freshwater fly fishermen don’t get to see very often but in the case of salmon fishing with French Nymph it is more than needed. You will use much more softer and gentle technique so be sure your reel is loaded with enough backing in a case you hook a fish that makes long runs. I always use an old fly line directly connected to the backing and on the other side to the French leader.

French Leader: I personally use a tapered monofilament leader in a length of 10-15 meters. The diameter is in range of 0,55 mm – 0,30 (0,27mm). If you buy a tapered leader in-store with the thinnest part of 0,22mm (usual product) the best way is just to cut the first few centimeters and use just the stronger part (8-9meters should be enough). Fishing a 10-foot rod together with this leader will keep you an effective distance from fish.

Indicator: The indicator is simply just a piece of Two-tone indicator tippet ( 0,27mm in diameter). The color should be chosen according to individual taste, whatever you are able to see in different conditions (sunset, sun, twilight, rain, clouds….). I would say the most common one is the two-tone fluorescent tippet with pink and chartreuse color from RIO Products. I always use a blood knot to connect fluorescent indicator into the French Leader. The connection between indicator and tippet is always the most critical part of all setup. For that reason always be sure, that your knot was well tied!

Tippet: There is always a possibility while fishing with a French Nymphing leader to use really thin tippet (0,08-0,014mm). I use that strength only for stream fishing for smaller brown trout or grayling. There is a different situation with salmon but still, you are able to use much thinner tippet than usual. It has proven itself to use 0,24 mm tippet (10lb). In combination with the French Nymphing technique is still strong enough tippet material to handle most of the situations. I almost always use one bottom fly and one dropper to get flies straight on the bottom.

Flies: The same type of flies are used for French Nymphing technique as for Czech or Poland Nymphing. The heaviest fly is always on the bottom, it will help you cast easier and more precise. Tungsten nymphs for salmon are bit different then other tungsten flies for brown trout or grayling, where usually the size of the beads is in range of 2,0mm – 4.0mm. The size and weight of flies always depend on water conditions, but the most common set up for salmon will be 3,8mm tungsten as a bottom fly and at 3.4mm tungsten nymph as a dropper. I highly recommend flies tied on jig hooks to avoid getting stuck on the river bottom every time. Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, Orange Tags or Cooper Johns in size of 14 and 16 are the most useful patterns for Atlantic salmon.

Article by Katka Švagrová, a traveler, journalist, ambassador, and fly fishing guide at Hreggnasi Angling Club based in Iceland. Check her out on Instagram at @katka_svagrova.  Additional photos from @myvagrantlife.

Check out the other articles from Katka below:

The Biggest Brown Trout in the World – Thingvellir, Iceland

Mahi Mahi on the Beaches of Croatia – Tips to Catch Them

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