Fly Casting Tips/Tactics

The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks

on
February 3, 2016

For presenting nymphs and streamers to river trout, fly line sucks. There, I said it. Now I have to defend it.

Most underwater deliveries require weight, and using a very long, monofilament leader to cast that weight is more efficient than using fly line; it keeps you in better contact with the flies, and you’ll catch more fish. I’m talking about leaders with butt sections of 20 feet or more. For all but the most lengthy casts, the fly line never comes off the reel, and the thick monofilament butt section essentially substitutes for fly line while casting, drifting and retrieving — it just weighs a lot less.

— — — — — —

**UPDATE**

I wrote this article in the winter of 2016, and it immediately caught fire, provoking much conversation and even some intense controversy (which seems kinda silly). The interest showed me how hungry people are for this information, so I kicked off a series of articles detailing how and where I learned about the Mono Rig, what we use it for and how it developed into a full system. (All the Mono Rig articles are found HERE.)

I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about the Mono Rig, but I’ll quickly address these two:

Isn’t this just like spin fishing?

No. Spin fishing for trout is performed with thin monofilament lines. Fly fishing is traditionally done with a relatively thick and heavy fly line, then a tapered leader. The #20 monofilament used for the Mono Rig functions somewhere in between those extremes. It has some properties and abilities of both spinning line and fly line. It’s still castable like a fly line because it has enough mass to carry itself and some lightweight flies to the water, but it’s light enough not to sag too much. In essence, the Mono Rig is a fly line substitute.

Is using the Mono Rig the same as Euro nymphing?

No. What my Troutbitten friends and I call the Mono Rig is a full system for both tight line and indicator nymphing styles, and for streamers, dry-dropper and dry flies, all while using #20 monofilament as a fly line substitute.

 

— — — — — —

 

In a previous article, I detailed the Tight Line Nymph Rig and why it works, and I strongly recommend reading through the tight line post before this one. So if you’re going as far as a tight line nymph rig, why not go further?

I’m qualifying my proposition here by saying the long Mono Rig is better for almost all underwater presentation — just to leave the door open a bit, and because taking away fly line is shocking to some and appalling to others.The same principles that make the Mono Rig so effective for tight line nymphing make it just as deadly for all other presentations of nymphs and streamers (for trout in rivers and streams), including nymphing under an indicator, and fishing large streamers at distance.

Some fly fishers will take a few steps back from this rig, drop their heads and shudder disapprovingly. That’s okay. Others will see this rig as too much bother — reluctant to change and adapt. If you’re the kind of angler who tries not to get too technical when you’re out there, and you just want to enjoy what happens, this isn’t for you. And that’s okay too.

Weight

The Mono Rig works. And why it works really isn’t complicated. It’s all about weight.

Fly line is heavy, so it sags off the rod tip, and it sags in the guides, causing drag by pulling back on the leader and the flies, resulting in a bad and unnatural drift. If you’re fishing fly line at distance, it lays in the water. Then you have to mend it, and then you’re no longer in touch, resulting in bad strike detection and lousy hook sets. By contrast, with a Mono Rig, long lengths of leader can be held off the water at some pretty remarkable distances. There is no need for mending, and you can stay in touch with the flies — that’s a fantastic thing in fly fishing.

Illustration by Dick Jones


Illustration by Dick Jones

All fishing casts happen because of weight. Spin fishing relies on the weight of a lure to pull line from a spool and carry it to a target. The original purpose of fly line was to push wet flies to the destination because the flies were too light to get there on their own. Dry flies are also a natural match for fly line (they need to be pushed toward the target). Likewise, lightly weighted nymphs and streamers can be presented exceptionally well with a fly line (especially if they are swung across and downstream).

But I would argue that the upstream, dead drift presentation of nymphs (with weighted flies or split shot — and sometimes an indicator) is not the job for a fly line. The weight needed for the cast is already there — it’s in the weighted nymph, split shot, or the indicator itself — and using fly line for the cast simply adds more weight. In essence, it creates a system that is fighting itself: the push of a fly line and the pull of the weighted nymphs are what create the clumsy, clunky cast that nymph fishermen eventually try to get used to. So why the hell are we fishing fly line?

A long Mono Rig solves the problem, and with a little time and practice, casting weighted rigs becomes much more elegant, accurate and efficient.

How to Do This

The more years you’ve spent casting fly line, the more awkward casting a Mono Rig might seem — but only for a short time. You can easily make the transition in a few outings by learning and implementing one key principle: take the wrist out of the cast.

Loren Williams gave me that piece of the puzzle one wintry day on the banks of a good trout stream. He taught me to hold the rod with the index finger on top instead of the thumb on top (the finger points to the rod tip). Then plant the butt end of the rod into the underside of the forearm, and cast the rod by bending the elbow, not the wrist. In fact, holding the rod like this completely disables the wrist; with very little effort, even lightly weighted flies will sail easily to the target.

In time, I’ve worked a little bit of the wrist back into my cast for certain situations, but the basic principle is still there. It’s far more important than any fancy rod will ever be (Mono Rigs are effectively cast on a wide variety of rod actions, weights and price tags). Just take the wrist out of the cast at first.

A common misconception about tight line nymphing rigs is that there’s no real casting involved — that it’s nothing more than lobbing and drifting, then lobbing and drifting again. That’s simply not true. The finesse of casting is still there (20# mono is a fly line substitute). I still make back casts, I can still tuck a cast tight under a tree limb, but with the Mono Rig I have the controlled precision to either drive my flies hard into the water (with a tuck cast), or land them with a subtle plop.

History

A decade ago, when I first saw this rig, I remember being absolutely amazed by the simple, obvious principles that make it work. And I’ve enjoyed sharing this revelation with friends ever since. Together, we’ve explored the possibilities and adapted it to other presentations.

We started to see fly line as a handicap. Burke often says that fly line is the biggest detriment to fly fishers, and it was Burke who took our tight line system and started fishing indicator rigs and streamers with it. He’ll tell you that it was out of pure laziness (that he just didn’t want to change leaders), but I give him the credit for discovering how effective it is. For years, I had fished indicators and dry-droppers fairly close on a tight line rig, and I routinely fished smaller streamers on the end of my line instead of nymphs. But I eventually understood that a Mono Rig works at longer distances too, with indicators and with larger streamers. It is killer.

The long Mono Rig, however, is certainly not a Troutbitten creation. You can find it detailed in Joe Humphreys’ Trout Tactics, and I would assume that many others were using similar rigs through the years. (That’s fishing.) Humphreys used Cortland Cobra flat monofilament in place of fly line, eliminating drag and getting nymphs and streamers deep while maintaining contact and control. Eventually, he had Cortland manufacture what they marketed as the Deep Nymph Floating Line — a very thin running line of about .022” in diameter. I’ve used the line, but I prefer mono.

Fly Line Scale

This is a Scientific Anglers Air Cell fly line. The first ten feet of this four weight, double taper fly line weighs 2.9 grams. That’s great for  pushing dry flies , but it causes a lot of line sag while nymphing.

 

Chameleon Scale

By contrast, ten feet of #20 Maxima Chameleon weighs just .64 grams. It’s much thinner, lighter and stiffer than fly line. It would do a lousy job of pushing bushy dry flies through the air, but it’s an ideal choice for fishing weighted nymphs or streamers.

The specific material used for the butt section doesn’t matter so much. If it’s significantly thinner than a regular fly line, then line sag and fly drag will be greatly reduced. I often experiment with different materials, but I keep coming back to Maxima Chameleon in #20 because it’s thin (.017″), yet it’s thick enough that it still handles well. With an easy pull, Maxima stretches out and the coils relax nicely, even in winter weather. With most thicker material, I’ve had more coiling problems than I want to deal with.

Maxima Chameleon in #20 also has enough mass that it casts like a fly line when you want it to. It can help push small, light nymphs to a target.

I’ve tried Stren, Berkley, Suffix, Amnesia (a flat monofilament), braided mono running line, Rio Slick Shooter, and a one-weight fly line. I keep coming back to Maxima Chameleon. While many long liners agree, plenty of others have their own preferences . . .

READ: Troutbitten | Ask an Expert — For Euro Nymphing or the Mono Rig, what leader material do you like for the butt section?

If you are hung up on the idea of using mono, then try one of the competition fly lines now available. They are much thinner and lighter than an average fly line and can come close to the performance of mono. Finding your own favorite material is part of the fun.

Rig

You can find tight line leader recipes from a variety of dependable sources (Dynamic Nymphing by George Daniel is one of the best). Some like to start with a standard 9’, manufactured, extruded leader and build from that, while others like to tie their own leaders from scratch. Whatever you choose, though, the long Mono Rigs I’m writing about here need to be long enough so the fly line rarely leaves the spool of your reel. I use a 24’, one-piece butt section in my leader so that the connection from leader to fly line rarely finds its way into my guides where it could hang up or slow down any shooting line during the cast. The 24’ butt section also assures that no fly line sag will occur in my rod guides while nymphing either. Remember, fly line sucks.

The rig I use for nymphing is listed below. If I add a suspender/indicator, I do so on the first few feet of the tippet section. If I want to fish larger streamers, I swap out everything from the sighter down (using Loon’s Rigging Foam) for another smaller but stronger sighter and a tippet section of 2X.

A Simple Mono Rig Formula

24 feet — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 12lb Maxima Chameleon
Tippet Ring (2mm)
6” — 15lb Red Amnesia
8” — 12lb Red Amnesia
10” — 10lb Gold Stren
20″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material
Tippet Ring (2mm)
4-6’ — 4X or 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet

(The 15lb Red Amnesia above is not a typo. It closely matches the diameter and flexibility of 12lb Chameleon.)

Most long liners tweak their leader formulas through the years, adapting to their own goals. The above formula is where I am as of Fall 2018.

I added the Rio Two Tone material because I like the sensitivity in the limp material. However, in some cases, I cut out the 1X Rio sighter and go back to using the Amnesia and Gold Stren sections as my sighter (when casting indicators on a tight line at distance, for example).

The point is to adjust and adapt the leader formula above for your own goals — modify it toward what you want to achieve. Use materials that you can see well for the sighter section. Go shorter on the butt section, or go lighter and longer for the tippet section. It’s up to you.

Mono Rig formulas need not be complicated. I prefer to step down the diameters from my butt section to tippet, but elaborate tapers with multiple sections aren’t necessary.

Defense

I suspect I’ll take some flak about this long Mono Rig. “It’s not fly fishing!” is a pretty common response, and that’s fair. It’s certainly non-traditional. And even considering the current popularity of tight lining, euro-nymphing, and competition fishing styles, a long mono rig still raises eyebrows.

In my mind, fly fishing is defined in two parts: using flies, and retrieving by hand. What “flies” actually are is pretty blurry these days; beads, coneheads, molded heads and rubber fins on streamers are ubiquitous. Who cares? I say. Just fish what works. However, the line-retrieval aspect of fly fishing is more concrete. If you are cranking a reel handle after every cast to bring your offering back for the next cast, then you probably aren’t fly fishing.

Another common reaction to this rig is, “Why not just use a spinning rod?” That’s fair too. I’ve tried it, but it’s actually much less effective and a lot less fun. Retrieving by hand and using a long rod allows for more versatility and efficiency of presentation.

When I first saw the Mono Rig used for tight line nymphing, I was intrigued. When I first used it, I thought it was fun — and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I enjoy fishing the long Mono Rig because it presents me with more options for greater control over where my flies go and what they look like to the fish. And then I catch more trout.

Problems and More

Like anything else in fishing, there are untold numbers of intricacies, adaptation, and points to be made about this rig. I’ve addressed many of them on Troutbitten, and I’ll continue to add posts about the Mono Rig. There are specific challenges to be overcome: line coils must be handled, retrieves must be adapted, etc.

Tight line nymphing is the core tactic of the Mono Rig. But indicator fishing, dry dropper and streamer fishing are both dramatically improved by fishing with the long leader. And these variations complete the set of techniques that I refer to as the Mono Rig. I’ve written about all of them, and you can find details at these links.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing with an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant

  • close range and at distance
  • suspender types
  • dry-dropper
  • using the double haul
  • when to mend, how to mend
  • balance between weight of suspender and weight of flies
  • angles of drift, angles to nymphs
  • staying tight to the suspender

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing with Streamers on a Mono Rig — More Control and more Contact

  • Big streamers and small streamers
  • Old-school vs modern streamer tactics
  • water haul and double haul
  • advantages over a floating line
  • advantages over sinking line
  • creating and using drag with the mono leader
  • cannonballs
  • shooting heads

If you’ve read to the end of this thesis, let me commend your persistence. You are my kind of fisherman, with a heart for exploration and a head full of questions.

One more thing: I don’t think I would start a new fly fisher off this way. There’s something very special about casting dries on a fly line that should not be missed.

 

** Find all Troutbitten articles about the Mono Rig here **

 

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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You nailed that one Dom….again! Can’t wait to adapt to this ‘same game’ but new approach to hooking more fish on a regular basis. I love casting a floating line but once it lands I am constantly fighting it. I have been doing this for so many years and all of this makes so much sense, I wonder why I didn’t try this myself out of desperation. Thank you!

Don Norman

Well done….but you are probably going to get some flak on this. I began using a similar rig back in the 80s after Humphreys’s book came out. My first was 20-25# Cortland Cobra mono (flat) like Humphreys and a light, long tippet (think Humpreys used manufactured tapered leader on his) . You wouldn’t believe the criticism I got about it. I think most of it was due to fact I was catching more fish than my “Halfordized” fishing buddies. Anyway, a rig like yours or something close to what you have described works…..as far as I am concerned, the best… Read more »

Jason Seaward

Hi Domenick,
Great post! Thanks for going into more detail and expanding upon your previous posts. I can see how you might catch some flack from purist/traditionalists, but I appreciate how it does not deter from your willingness to address obvious fly fishing issues. The sport can only evolve with people willing to think outside the box and be willing to experiment. All commonly used aspect of fly fishing today started with someone catching flack (ie, streamers, terrestrials, Spey rods, strike indicators, loop to loop connectors).
Thanks and looking forward to the future posts!
Jason

Walter Fenning

Hi Domenick,
I am transitioning to a nymphing technique similar to yours. I am intrigued with how far you have taken this, and this will give me a leap forward in my progression. I use streamers often, and now have the courage to try them on a long leader.
Have you tried giving up on fly line altogether?
Great blog,
Walter

I enjoyed this start to finish because, frankly, it’s new to my experience and employs some strategies that make you think (always a good thing, no matter what we’re studying or experimenting with). I’m interested enough to want to try the mono rig and, if it feels right to me and shows advantages over the traditional fly line approach, it could be killer. Thanks for a fine thesis.

There are a lot of positive comments popping up on Facebook in addition to what is showing up here. The ‘Like’ count is growing in multitudes! Many of our competition fishermen are adding positive vibes. I do not see any “flack’ anywhere. Here in CT there are anglers that have been fishing this method for a long time and the accompanying images of rather large fish are proof positive and astounding! Thanks again Dom. You started something good….and we like it. Looking forward to more.

hi Domenick, first off i’d like to say that i thoroughly enjoy your posts and i’m super-glad i discovered your blog. as you say, the ‘mono’ fishing style for any subsurface fishing isn’t new, around here (France) its rather the norm where amateurs picked it up from the high-level comp scene 10-15 years ago. most haven’t figured out how effective this is with streamers but streamer fishing is typically shunned anyway… (their loss) anyhow, most of this info has either been hush-hush or only available through books and good on you for putting all this out to the general public.… Read more »

oops, -one can’t push a string- got deleted because i put it between brackets and i can’t edit. it should have gone after ‘that’s simply not possible’. sorry. 🙂

Around here in Utah anglers have used mono lines for fly fishing pretty much since monofilament became widely available after WWII. First it was used on bamboo flyrods with flies, bait and lures interchangably. By the early 50s many used spin tackle the same way. It was referred to as bounce fishing since weight was put on the very bottom and flies or other bait put on droppers above. The rig was cast up and across stream and allowed to bounce along the bottom with the current. If it stopped or wiggled funny, the hook was set. Many variations are… Read more »

Robert "Dreadkara" Dickerson

Why not just use a centerpin set up???

Robert "Dreadkara" Dickerson

Thanks for the reply. Wish you could go into detail about the versatility and a video would be great too. I’m interested in your take. Plus it would save me money from gettin the centerpin rig seeing as I already have the fly rods and switch rod rigs. 😉

Tworod

I fished in this manner over 30 years ago. Though extremely effective, I eventually gave it up for greater versatility. I found that the two best lines were Dai Riki shooting line and the running line portion of the old SA Mono Core fly line. The Dai Riki shooting line from Bailey’s was stiffer than the leader material and actually cast well but the running line was the best. Thicker than mono but handled very well and didn’t cut into your fingers as readily. It was a great line for fishing tight line with stonefly nymphs on the Big Hole… Read more »

Jerry

Can you give some details on how you use this setup for streamer fishing… I currently am using this setup for Nymphing but also like to streamer fish….

Steve

Mono is by far the best for nymphing! I have tried using about 20 feet before but I had problems with the mono get stuck under my fly line but when I’m nymphing I will add like 5 or 6 feet of tippet on to get down and reduce drag. I have a few friends that take the plunge and go staight mono which they do great with. In high fast deep water where the fish are on the bottom and the currents are conflicting this is really the only way to go. I don’t believe you can get the… Read more »

E. Shannon

Domenick, I recently listened to the Orvis “Lord Of The Flies” podcast which covered tight line nymphing and Googled tight line nymphing afterward to better understand what a sighter was and looked like. You’ve done such a nice job of explaining and illustrating the method and I’m excited to give it a try. It makes a lot of sense and addresses some of the concerns I have had this season regarding traditional nymphing. One thought keeps coming up as I read through this post, and perhaps it is a topic worth addressing in another post: Would Tenkara style lend itself… Read more »

Ryan Calhoun

The mono rig really interests me, I feel like it would solve most of my issues when tightlining. I built a leader using your specs, and I have serious issues with coiling. How do you overcome this? I straightened the entire leader when I built it then reeled it up on my reel. When I get to the stream and peal out a few feet off the reel to fish its just a mess. After I get the small section straightened out, everytime I want to bring more line out I always have to restraighten it with a leader straightener.… Read more »

Chad Coontz

Just now ran across your blog and this post. As a nymph angler I’m intrigued. I’m an indicator guy (bobber). Very rarely do I fish at long distances. I’ve also switched over to 10′ rods for nymphing. Am I correct in saying that I can remove the 24″ of sighter out of the equation and find the right indicator for the job? Ultimately, it’s the 20′ of straight mono that’s the focus of this rig. Keep up the informative posts on this subject.
Thanks, Chad!

Bob

Where can I purchase the 12lb and 8lb amnesia
For the sighted?

Michael G Vaughn

By God, I think this is for me! I already ordered all the stuff to knot this setup together and get busy. Many thanks for making me think again …… 250savage

Chuck

Will mono work with a smaller 7.5 foot rod? I like to fish small brushy SE Appalachian streams. I switched from spinning to fly fishing about 3 years ago but every technique I’ve tried for nymph fishing on the bottom basically sucks in my opinion. I remember going into the local Orvis shop and the guy described a bobber/beadhead/split shot rig and I thought are you kidding me? I should be using a spinning rod for this. My initial thought on using mono was as you mentioned, that a spinning rod would be better. But I was encouraged when you… Read more »

Joe

Hi Dom,

I have a couple of deep eddy lines that are productive during high water. Fish 6-8′ deep. Can’t get that close to it due to the depth.

I’ve been fishing it with a bobber, but I’m wondering if it would work to tight line it. Does anything about these conditions make you think it wouldn’t work well?

I’ve played with it but not successfully and I’m curious if someone more proficient would have more success.

Joe

It does make sense thanks. Sorry I missed your reply for a while.

Another question you probably have answered somewhere but, why not run only mono or 60′ so you never see the end of it?

Thanks
Btw been watching Devin and Lance’s video, really well done and super informative. Thanks for the recommendation, you should get a commission!

Mr Brown

Hi, Thank you for the article. I really liked this topic and it makes me consider how to fishing next season. I used to Czech nymph and still do it depending the spot. I just hate rigging the nymphs and that style with all the wading destroys my sore knees… When ever it is possible I dead drift large streamers for big trout in that kind of way. I seldom use indicators I like to do it by feel. Your mono rig pretty much matches French style. I never considered this kind of rig for casting&stripping streamers. Now I do.… Read more »

Joe

Solid, thanks. Seems like you might have given this some thought…

Joe

Have you read Nymphing the New Way by White? I think it is an easier read than Dynamic Nymphing but not as technical. Good stuff and absolutely beautiful photos.

Tim

Dom, I have been using your recipe for the mono rig and I do like feel when nymphing. I recently tied on a size 10 weighted streamer on my 10′ 4wt and my casting suffered. It just seemed like too much weight and my casts were all over the place. I’m trying to figure out what to adjust.

Tim

Dom, thanks for the advice. Something to think about next time out

Duane

Just found this site, and having a great time running through the articles. Thanks!

Question: How about a “Fluoro Rig”, as opposed to mono/maxima for the long butt?

Domenick, I switched to your system last year and love using it. Thanks for the insight. My only question is this: I was fishing in PA this spring and came upon a sign that said the leader can only be a maximum of 18′. This was in a fly fishing only section of a stream. What do you do in such a case?

Domenick, thanks for the continued information through your articles. I plan on implementing your mono rig system this FY and was interested if you had experimented with braided mono where you suggest using the Maxima Chameleon. I have 20LB Hi-Vis mono by cortland http://tenkaratalk.com/2013/07/cortland-braided-mono-running-line-for-tenkara/ on hand that I wanted to put to use and was uncertain if this product would turn over flies like the Maxima product?

Cheers

In addition how does the Maxima Ultragreen tippet compare with the Chameleon?

Cheers

Love your site man. Thanks ! Question for those of us who don’t tie their own leaders… is there a mono rig I can purchase or should I just learn a few knots and tie my own up ?

Ace LeGoff

I’ve been Euro nymphing for years before I even knew it had a name. This is a ray of sunshine cause fly line does suck. I mainly fish the Esopus creek in upstate New York and I’m very excited to try and adapt my own technique to this rig.

Bob Posliff

Gary LaFontaine’s book ” Fly Fishing the Mountain Lakes ” describes ‘ floss blow line ‘ fishing using flat unwaxed dental floss when it’s windy and the lake surface is choppy. Might be fun to compare this to your Mono Rig method.

Maryellen Lewis

Hello Dom:

From a newbie:

What knot (s) do you use to connect the parts of your Simple Mono Rig Formula?

Maryellen

Chuck

Have you tried using braided superline, like power pro instead of mono? I actually made a dry fly leader by stepping down cheap braided line (150lb,100lb,65lb,30lb,20lb) and so far I like it better than mono. It floats, it’s flexible (less dry fly drag), and it turns over really well. I started experimenting using it for tight line nymphing and I really like it. It’s very sensitive and there’s no coiling and I can usually feel the strike before I see it. If you have a fast rod you might have a problem with breaking tippet though.

Chris Muller

Domenick I would like to know what type of knot/attachment you use to join the 20lb Maxima Chameleon to your fly line.

Seth A Campbell

It is hard to quantify just how appreciative I am for this. It has changed the way I fish and increased my success rate tenfold. I wanted to thank you for sharing it.

Teemu Saarinen

Seems like French nymphing to me (with some modifications).

david hutton

castable tenkara – I love it! I actually know a guy who has been doing this for years, i.e., using mono on his fly rods. Now, he didn’t know anything about Euro nymphing, or any of the other “system” jazz we all like to cook up. I doubt he has knotted together any nifty intermediate leaders sections, for example. He just started doing it as an expedient, and because it was a helluva lot cheaper than fly line. He had a fly rod and reel and needed to make it work. Now, he says, he doesn’t mess around with flies… Read more »

Sy Balsen

Is the Mono Rig legal within Pennsylvania’s fly fishing regulations?

Mike

A few questions:

1) Duh question: You tie the rig directly to the backing?
2) I am assuming with such a rig you can get away with a much smaller reel?

I find this all fascinating and completely germane to a good chunk of my fishing here in Oregon, so thank you!

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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