By Spencer Durrant | Managing Editor
Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in Euro nymphing. I happen to be good friends with Gilbert Rowley, the unseen hero behind the camera for the the excellent Modern Nymphing films. I’ve had the chance to learn from Gilbert, as well as Lance Egan, and I’ve used every Euro nymphing rod I can get my hands on.
From Winston’s Super 10 series to the Sage ESN and Cortland Competition rods, I have a feel for what I want out of my Euro nymphing rod. It has to be light, quick, lively, sensitive, accurate, and able to double as a dry fly rod in extreme circumstances.
The Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt checks almost all of those boxes, but more importantly, it’s quickly moved to the front of my quiver when reaching for a Euro nymphing rod.
It won’t cast dries like the Winston Super 10, and it’s not as accurate as the Sage ESN. But Douglas sells this iteration of the DXF line for $395. With a rod this exceptional at that price point, it’s hard to spend top-dollar on such a niche-specific stick, unless you plan to dedicate most of your angling time to Euro nymphing.
With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Douglas DXF 11′ 3wt such a great Euro nymphing rod.
This aspect of Euro nymphing rod design has come a long way in recent years, though most lower-end sticks are still hefty enough to wear your shoulder out during an afternoon on the river.
The DXF clocks in at 3.2oz for the 11’3wt model. That’s the same weight as the Redington Hydrogen ESN, heavier than the 10’6″ 3wt Sage ESN’s 2 11/16thoz (Sage doesn’t make an 11′ version of their Euro rods), and lighter than the Cortland Competition MKII.
With how great most modern fly rods are, a lot of anglers don’t need to take weight into consideration when buying a new stick. With Euro rods, though, you do. Luckily, the DXF weighs right where it should for its length and line rating.
Euro nymphing is an exercise in feeling what’s happening with your flies, rather than seeing the take. Sure, your sighter will move when a fish really commits, but I often feel the takes before seeing any movement in my line.
Great rods help you feel those takes better, and the DXF is significantly more sensitive than any Euro rod I’ve fished except the Sage ESN. That’s including the Winston Super 10 – a personal favorite rod.
It’s hard to describe “action” on Euro rods. Most “casts” don’t happen with fly line leaving the guides. Hell, I’ve seen great Euro nymphing anglers fish a leader so long that their fly line never leaves their reel.
That being said, there is an art to casting nothing but straight leader and two heavy bugs off the tips of an 11′ rod. The DXF puts flies where you need them without making you work too hard for it. I was surprised to find that Douglas built a more accurate rod than Winston and Redington. But that’s a recurring theme with Douglas lately. They’re consistently outcasting my expectations.
The DXF has a nice stiff backbone to help turn fish and cast flies. The tip is loose and feels a bit like a noodle – usually a sign that your rod won’t be as accurate as you’d hoped. I don’t know how, but the DXF makes it work. The light tip is obviously great in protecting light tippet as well.
The mid-priced rod market is blowing up in fly fishing. It’s arguably the only market growing in the sport, but that’s a conversation for another day. All the demand for rods that fish well but aren’t equivalent to a mortgage payment has forced builders to get creative.
From completely custom builds from builders like Shane Gray to Instagram-ready rods built by Blue Halo, the aesthetic appeal of fly fishing has never been more prominent.
The problem is that a lot of attempts to make rods that stand out from the pack results in added weight, decreased performance, higher prices, or a combination of the three.
Douglas doesn’t escape this completely – the DXF comes with burnt cork rings on the end of the grip, as does their flagship rod, the Sky – but they do an admirable job at building a functional, but attractive, piece of gear.
The DXF’s matte green blanks, dark green wraps, white lettering, and hard-chromed snake guides all show a bit of class. This is underscored by the gorgeous burled wood reel seat and double uplocking rings.
The cork is better-than-expected quality for a sub-$400 rod, and it comes shipped with a rod sock and triangular Cordura rod tube. I don’t see anywhere that Douglas cut corners when building the DXF. Compromises have to be made to sell a sub-$400 rod, obviously, but that reality aside, the DXF is a solidly built, good-looking stick.
One spring day in 2018 I sat in a drift boat with Bob White, the sporting artist, and our guide Charlie Card. Charlie brought up the topic of competitive fishing – and his brief stint with Fly Fish TeamUSA – which Bob found fascinating.
What caught my attention, though, was an observation Charlie made of the French national team’s custom-built Euro nymphing rods. Where most Western-style rods have a hook keep, the French national team placed a stripping guide. According to Charlie, this was done to reduce line sage between reel and rod, bettering the connection between angler and line.
That sounded like a bit much, but I’ve come to realize the French are onto something. Other Euro rods I’ve fished have guides lower on butt section, and more guides in total. Adjusting guide spacing on the DXF would help make this rod even better.
Uplocking Reel Seat
Blame it on my old-school tendencies, but I don’t like uplocking reel seats. Reels should sit in a downlocking seat, putting all their weight at the very end of a fly rod. That creates a better balance for every kind of fishing, but Euro nymphing especially.
Douglas could improve the DXF by swapping out its double-ring uplocker with a single-ring downlocker. This will help better balance the rod, and I personally think downlockers look better.
Douglas put together an absolute winner with the DXF. It’s a lively, fun, light, well-built Euro nymphing rod that fishes better than sticks twice its modest $395 price. I wish the reel seat were different, and guide spacing could be improved, but overall, this is just about the best Euro nymphing rod I’ve fished to date. The Sage ESN still holds the top spot, but Douglas’s foray into Euro nymphing should easily go toe-to-toe with Winston, Cortland, Redington, and other manufacturers.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Sporting Classics Daily, American Angler, Southwest Fly Fishing Magazine, Hatch Magazine, Trout Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant, and on Facebook @SpencerDurrantOutdoors.