How to French nymph for grayling

One of the best new additions to Corwen and District Angling Club's excellent junior coaching days has been some training sessions on the River Dee, this year including a masterclass in French nymphing from local expert Dylan Roberts.

How to French nymph for grayling
© Fly and Lure
How to French nymph for grayling
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to French nymph for grayling
Fly fishing tips Estimated reading time 10 - 17 minutes

For the past few years, CADAC’s resident coach and fly casting instructor Paul Ainsworth has taught a hoard of youngsters the basics of fly fishing. Many of the juniors who have attended are fishing for the first time yet still manage to learn the basics of casting and even catch their first fish.

Paul helps a junior land his first fish.

Thanks to Paul’s tuition, and the club’s funding of junior days, a couple of them are even competing at national level. However, while they’re quickly becoming adept at stillwater fly fishing, most of them are less experienced on the river, so this year’s coaching has included a couple of sessions designed to get them started and catching on the Dee.

Paul Ainsworth teaching George the duo method.

Earlier in the year, we enjoyed a great session at St. David’s where the juniors learned about basic river craft and how to decipher rise-patterns and we did a spot of kick sampling to figure out what sort of fly patterns might work best. This was followed-up by a great demonstration of fishing dries and the “klink and dink” or duo method where the youngsters got into the river and used their new skills to target the trout and grayling.

The juniors learnt how to kick sample this year.

In August, the juniors were back on the river again, this time for a masterclass in French nymphing from committee member Dylan Roberts. As other club members might know, Dylan is a big advocate of this nymphing method and is great at teaching it. For any juniors who missed it, and for any grown-ups keen to learn the basics from a pro, here are some of the things Dylan covered.

French nymphing for beginners

French nymphing, like Czech nymphing is a short-line nymphing technique that was first seen on the Dee in the late 1980s and early 1990s and has continued to evolve. It’s now one of the main methods used on the river and takes the bulk of grayling and trout, as well as the odd accidental salmon. It’s a technique that works well on the Dee all year round, and it’s fairly easy to learn, even for juniors.

Dylan Roberts ran the club's junior French nymphing masterclass.


“My set up is very, very simple”, Dylan explained to the juniors. “I’m using a tapered monofilament line – not a fly line, and I lob the flies rather than casting them. You need a long rod. I use an 11’ 3wt. It’s dead light! With a long rod you’ve got more reach, but the drawback is leverage. If my arm is extended all day my arm and shoulder is going to hurt, so you want your rod to be as light as possible and as balanced as possible.” The reel doesn’t need to be anything fancy as it’s really just there to house the line and balance the longer length of the rod.

An 11' 3wt is used to extend reach.

French leaders

Instead of a fly line, Dylan explained that a long tapered mono leader is used. He favours the Hends leaders but says that the original Hends Camou French Leaders which have a dark green camouflaged pattern are now being replaced on the Dee by the newer pink ones which are a bit easier to see.

“All the competition guys are using something really bright at the moment”, said Dylan. “They’re using the whole leader as an indicator. Not so much for the bites, but to tell that their flies are working properly.” These soft, 9m leaders attach directly to your main line (which can be a thin fly line or even just mono backing), while the other end is attached to a brightly-coloured strike indicator.

Competition nymph anglers now favour bright leaders.


While most juniors (and many adults) are familiar with bung-style strike indicators for suspending buzzers, blobs and squirmy wormies, French nymphing indicators are a little different. They’re brightly-coloured sections of line, often with beads attached, and are dangled just above the water surface so you can detect bites and check that you’re moving flies through the water at the same speed as the current.

Dylan explained: “I use a drop indicator because they’re easier to see. I’m using that as an indicator of when a fish takes, but the main reason is so that I can see the drift. Once you can see that this is drifting properly, you know your flies are ‘working’ properly.”

Beaded or drop indicators help you spot your leader more easily.


This method uses a point fly plus one or two other flies on your droppers, explained Dylan. “I’ve got three flies on this set up, but sometimes I’ll use two flies if I need more control over them. I’ve got the monofilament leader going to an indicator, then a straight through leader with two droppers about 18-24” (45-60cm) apart. I use the heaviest fly on the bottom.” For French nymphing, the line used is generally 3-4lb breaking strain, but for Czech nymphing heavier line is often used as it allows the heavier flies to be retrieved from snags more easily. Dylan places the top dropper about 36” (90cm) below the indicator.

You can use almost any tippet material you fancy.


The juniors also got a glimpse inside Dylan’s box of secret nymphs as well as some tips on selecting the right kinds of flies for nymphing on the Dee. “The flies are very simple – most are just pheasant tail with a coloured collar”, explained Dylan. “The main thing is bead weight. You do need dust-sized beads (about 1.5mm) and industrial heavyweight beads (about 4mm) when it’s flowing faster. Beads of 2.5-3.5mm are your mainstay.

"Have a range of bead colours – copper, silver, black.” The flies Dylan uses consist of a simple tail of cock hackle fibres, a dubbed body of Seal’s fur or hare’s ear, and usually some kind of coloured collar with beads in various colours and sizes. “Take a selection of a few patterns in a variety of bead weights and bead colours. Keep it really, really simple. Hook size can be anything from 10 to 20.”

Carry a range of different bead sizes to cope with different water speeds.


The “cast” used for French nymphing is more of a lob or tension cast. The idea is to carefully chuck the flies upstream without letting them tangle and then immediately lift the indicator just above the water surface and guide the flies through the water at the same speed as the current.

When you crack it, the flies will be drifting drag-free at the same speed as the water and they’ll look very convincing to the fish beneath. At the end of the cast, Dylan used another technique that resulted in a few fish during the day: “At the end of the drift, give it a little lift or retrieve. This often leads to an induced take.”

A lob or tension cast is used to place flies upstream.


The strike indicator will either stop or dip under when a fish takes a fly. Many of these “takes” can be the flies catching on rocks and weed, but some are fish and it pays to strike just in case.

Dylan explained: “Once you’ve cast your flies, watch the strike indicator for signs of movement. If it stops, strike, but use the smallest strike you can as it keeps your flies in the same place in case it was a false alarm.”

If the indicator stops, strike.


While our stretches of the Dee are apparently not as bad as some, it can be a bit slippery underfoot and the current is often strong. Wading boots with studs are essential, wading staffs are sensible and life jackets (and downstream adult supervision) are compulsory for juniors.

Life jackets are a must on the Dee.

Dylan explained that when wading you should plant your foot firmly before moving the other foot and wade downstream when you can. You should also stand with your feet wide apart to prevent the current knocking you over. To demonstrate this, Dylan (who is a fraction bulkier than the average 10-year old), stood with his feet close together and far apart to see whether George could topple him. Try as he might, George couldn’t budge Dylan when he was in his wading stance!

A good stance stops you getting knocked over by the current - or small boys.

Tip: Use Loom bands to minimise tangles

Dylan attaches Loom bands to his rod for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they’re spaced out at just the right distance so he ensures his flies are 18”/45cm apart without the need for a measuring tape, and secondly, he uses them to secure the dropper flies. By tucking the bend of the fly beneath the Loom band it stays in place as he’s walking between spots and minimises tangles.

Tip: Loop the line over your fingertip to feel more bites

Sometimes the light levels and reflections off the riffles and waves make it very hard to see your indicator. One excellent tip Dylan shared for getting more hook-ups was to wrap a turn of the leader around your fingertip after casting. If a fish does take the fly and you can’t see it, you’ll sense the bite with your fingertip and can lift the rod and set the hook. We managed to catch a couple of fish using this method and we’d probably have missed them before!

CADAC junior coaching

CADAC provides free coaching in fly fishing to junior members of the club. Led by Level 2 coach and GAIA qualified instructor Paul Ainsworth and assisted by Country Membership Secretary Harry Carr, the days are held every few weeks from spring to autumn and teach juniors everything they know to get started catching fish on a fly rod. If you’ve got children or grandchildren who are interested in trying their hand at fly fishing, please bring them along. You can find out more at

CADAC provides free coaching for junior fly fishers.

This article was first published in Issue 2 of The Beat which is distributed free to members of Corwen and District Angling Club.

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