For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?

by | Oct 14, 2016 | 9 comments

Nymphing is usually the best way to meet trout on their own terms. And throughout the seasons, simple nymph patterns catch the most fish. That’s especially true here in the fertile limestone spring creeks of Central Pennsylvania, but no matter where I’ve fished (whether a tailwater, freestone or limestone river) nymphing produces the best numbers. And often, a dialed-in and targeted nymphing game will also produce the best size. The biggest and best fish are underneath, so that’s where I put my flies.

With so much time spent with a nymph at the end of the line, what’s the best fly rod for nymphing? And when we switch to streamers, can we do it with the same fly rod?

Yes. Absolutely.

** NOTE ** Scroll below to find my favorite fly rods for the Mono Rig and Euro Nymphing.

Improvise | Adapt | Overcome

As the river changes, so does my strategy for approaching fish and getting a fly to them. From season to season, from day to day, from seam to seam, changing and adapting to the conditions is the most important variable for success.

On a late summer morning, I may need a pair of small nymphs cast into broken water at the head of a pocket. The following week, after a bit of rain, the same fish may be more responsive to a larger stonefly pattern or a streamer paired with a small nymph. I’ve come to know what changes are required on my favorite stretches of water. And I enjoy adapting my rig (the flies and leader) for what will best catch a trout.

These things may change: the size and type of flies, the tippet length and diameter, the addition or subtraction of a suspender. But one thing remains constant as I wade upstream into the current — my fly rod.

chris-kehres-brook-trout-belly

Photo by Chris Kehres

One Rod to Rule Them All

While wading, I use the same fly rod all day long. If it was convenient to carry a second or third rod, or if the truck was closer than it usually is, I would still rather use one tool to get the job done.

By working with one versatile fly rod in my hands, I learn it completely. I develop an accuracy and familiarity that cannot be gained by changing rods for every situation.

Sure, I’ve tried various methods for carrying two rods, but there’s no system efficient enough to satisfy me. As I pull on my waders and lace up my boots, I make a decision: Which fly rod will I take? For me, it’s a simple choice between a few main rods. I use the three weight when I expect to nymph with light tackle, the five weight when I have good reason to cast larger streamers, and the four weight to be prepared for anything. (My four weight comes with me on the majority of my trips.)

The Mono Rig and Euro Nymphing

I’ve come to believe that the Mono Rig is the best choice for nearly all subsurface fishing. And I’ve written extensively about Mono Rig tactics over the hundreds of articles in the nymphing category here at Troutbitten.

READ | Troutbitten | Category |The Mono Rig

To summarize, a super-long mono leader gives me more control over presentation by removing the unnecessary mass of a fly line, dramatically cutting down on the negative effects of drag. With the Mono Rig, I have improved strike detection and better command over the direction of the drift. I can stay tight to my flies, streamer or suspender. So I choose a fly rod that casts the Mono Rig in all the different ways that I use it: with light to heavy nymphs, tight line and with a suspender, dry dropper, or fishing small and large streamers.

Euro nymphing is a term used to group together the tactics of tight line or contact nymphing with nothing attached to the leader but the flies themselves. That means no indicators and no split shot. And while I love euro nymphing as a baseline approach, I refuse to limit myself with any such restrictions. Because indicators fished on a tight line, using split shot, and fishing streamers on a Mono Rig are all deadly variations of long leader tactics.

READ: Troutbitten | Beyond Euro Nymphing

chris-kehres-brook

Photo by Chris Kehres

Do you need a specialized fly rod?

No.

I’m happy to tell you that nearly any fly rod can handle a Mono Rig. With a bit of adjustment to the casting stroke, you can make it work. Of course, some rods are more fit for the job than others. And some fly rods limit the possibilities and versatility of the full system.

Let’s talk about that . . .

What to Look for in a Fly Rod?

I think it’s important first to realize what your needs are. Maybe you’re not interested in casting suspender rigs or streamers. In that case, a light competition-style fly rod may be your best choice. The comp rods, or other rods marketed as Euro-Nymphing fly rods, are long and light. Rarely do they exceed a 4 weight, and 2 or 3 weights are more common.

The lighter weight rods also load easier, so the minimal weight of the leader (Mono Rig) can actually flex a 3 weight rod more than a 5 weight rod. That can be helpful if you are casting very light nymphs at long distances, but it can make casting and accuracy difficult when you add a suspender or switch to heavier nymphs or streamers. It’s important to understand that euro nymphing rods are specialized tools that give up some versatility.

Some of the lighter weight competition rods also lack the backbone to fight the biggest trout. This is especially true in the cheaper versions of these specialized rods. You can land just about any size of trout on any weight rod if you play the fish right, but many of the lighter rods bend too deeply into the butt section for me. Some of them don’t have the power to quickly fight large trout in heavy currents, and I just feel under-gunned.

Fly Rod Flex

When you ditch the fly line and switch over to the Mono Rig or euro nymphing, slower action rods may feel more natural because they load easier — the leader itself causes the flex. But a fast five weight fly rod can efficiently cast light nymphs too, with the right casting stroke — it just feels different because the rod doesn’t load as much. I find the flex of a rod to be a very personal choice. It’s different for everyone, but most anglers get used to any fly rod in short order.

Slower, full-flex fly rods don’t suit my own, impatient style. I like a medium-fast or fast rod for all methods of fly fishing, and the lighter, slower rods don’t work for me. My casting style and my Standard Mono Rig are built for casting with power, using the leader to push flies to a target with tuck casts that punch the fly and trailing tippet into pockets and undercuts with authority.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing the Mono Rig — It’s Casting, Not Lobbing
READ: Troutbitten | Thoughts on Rod Tip Recovery

Fly Rod Length

Length, however, is more universally helpful. Going a bit longer is one of the best things you can do for your nymphing game. It’s startling how much reach you gain with an extra six inches at the rod tip. And an extra foot of rod length extends your reach much further than just twelve inches into the current.

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Rod Length vs Fly Rod Reach — Devin Olsen Does the Math

Anything less than nine feet is a little short for the Mono Rig. Going over ten feet is great for the added reach, but keep in mind that longer rods usually flex more. Again, it’s a personal choice, and I’ve written a full article on the subject.

READ: Troutbitten | The Pros and Cons of a Longer Fly Rod

pat-burke-brown-trout-eye

Photo by Pat Burke

The Point

To fish the Mono Rig and get into tight line or euro nymphing, you probably don’t need more than the rod that you already have. Most fly rods will get the job done, and many standard, popular rods are perfect for it.

As you experiment with tight line tactics and become comfortable with the Mono Rig, you’ll discover how far you want to take it. Adding a suspender is easy and allows you to fish types of water that you can’t effectively tight line. Switching from nymphs to streamers is also easy, and the added weight makes the Mono Rig a breeze to cast. Lighter rods are well suited for tight lining with average nymphs. Heavier weight rods will make casting suspender and streamer rigs more comfortable and efficient. Once you decide what you want to do with the Mono Rig, you will find your own point of compromise.

My Favorite Fly Rods

The preamble in the text above is necessary for understanding the choices that I list below. I want versatility and power in my hands, with every rod that I carry.

As a full-time fly fishing guide, I cast most of the fly rods on the market through the season. My clients bring everything. And it takes just a few minutes of casting their rods to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the tool in hand.

These are My Favorite Fly Rods for Fishing the Mono Rig and Euro Nymphing:

** Note ** The partnerships and the support of this industry are part of what keeps Troutbitten going. You can read my policy on gear reviews HERE. And if you decide to buy these rods (or if you buy any other products through these links), Troutbitten receives a commission of the sale, at no additional cost to you, when you click through any of the links below. So thank you for your support.

Best All Around Fly Rod for the Mono Rig

The Hardy Ultralite 10 Foot 4 Weight

This is my favorite rod on the market today. It’s my go-to choice for most of my trips to the river, because it does so many things so well. The Hardy Ultralite handles all my nymphing rigs, from Micro-Thin Mono Rigs and small nymphs, to my Standard Mono Rig with an indicator and a pair of heavy stoneflies. It casts streamers on the Mono Rig beautifully, and has enough stiffness in the upper third to invite twitches and jerk strips.

The Hardy Ultralite has a nimble rod tip that recovers quickly. That makes it one of the most accurate fly rods that I’ve ever cast, and it allows for crisp rod tip animations to the fly while performing crossover techniques. When the trout are rising, the Hardy Ultralite is my favorite performer with a George Harvey dry fly leader.

The ten foot length gives me plenty of reach while nymphing, without jamming me up with too much length while stripping streamers.

The four weight provides enough power to push Dorsey yarn indicators or bushy dry dropper rigs to a target, even when paired with lighter nymphs. And when fishing large streamers on a Mono Rig, the rod is stout enough not to lag on the backcast.

After years of searching, The Hardy Ultralite is my number one recommendation for maximizing the versatility of the Mono Rig.

** Buy the Hardy Ultralite at Trident, and support Troutbitten **
or . . .
** Buy the Hardy Ultralite at Backcountry, and support Troutbitten **

 

Best Fly Rod for Euro-Nymphing

Orvis Helios H3F 10’6” in a 3 weight

The Orvis Helios H3F 10’6” in a 3 weight is my favorite specialized euro nymphing rod. The entire H3F line has an impressively light in-the-hand feel, and they are the most sensitive fly rods I’ve ever used. Every tick on the bottom and even the line through the guides is felt so readily that it can be startling at first.

I simply love 3 weight H3F. For feeling contact, for painting the riverbed with a point fly or drop shot, and for tracking a pair of sixteens through a pocket water seam, the Orvis H3F 10’6” three weight is unequalled.

The H3F matches my preference for crisp casting without over-flexing the rod at any point through the blank. It’s remarkably tight for a longer three weight, it flexes in all the right ways, and it recovers super smooth.

When my focus is on tight line and euro nymphing, this is the rod I reach for. The Orvis Helios H3F 10’6” three weight also handles medium weighted indicator rigs and medium streamer sizes with ease, while casting dry flies beautifully. For a specialized rod, it has a lot of versatility built in.

** Buy the Orvis H3F 3wt 10'6' at Avidmax, and support Troutbitten **
or . . .
** Buy the Orvis H3F 3wt 10'6' at Trident, and support Troutbitten **

 

Best For Streamers on the Mono Rig

Orvis H3F 10 foot 5 weight

In truth, I do more of my tight line streamer fishing on the four weight than I do the five, same as most of my euro nymphing happens on the four weight, because that’s what is most often in my hands. But when I set out to fish streamers all day, when my plan is to throw the long flies on a Mono Rig, I choose something with more backbone.

The Orvis H3F 10 foot 5 weight is my favorite fly rod for fishing streamers on the Mono Rig. The extra rod strength, especially at the tip, allows for bigger rod tip motion. The jerks, jigs and twitches that are so important to good streamer action. The super sensitivity of the H3F line, the light feel and quick recovery are the perfect match for how I fish streamers. And yet, when I’m miles away from the truck and the trout won’t touch a streamer, transitioning to euro nymphing or fishing suspenders on the Mono Rig is effortless with this rod.

Remember, these are my favorite fly rods for pairing with the Mono Rig, so we are not casting the weight of a fly line. And on a jerk strip, we’re not pulling a sinking line through the water, it’s only the Mono Rig and the weight of the flies and/or split shot.

I grab this rod when I’m climbing in a boat to chuck streamers for many miles. And when I set out to cover a ton of water on foot, throwing fur and feathers at undercuts and logjams, the Orvis Helios H3F 10 foot 5 weight is my favorite tool.

** Buy the Orvis H3F 5wt 10' at Trident, and support Troutbitten **
or . . .
** Buy the Orvis H3F 5wt 10' at Orvis, and support Troutbitten **

 

Others

Yes, the fly rods listed above are all top of the line, expensive offerings. They are my favorite rods on the market, but there are other excellent brands and models well suited for the job. Some of these are listed on my Recommended Gear page, along with a short entry for why I choose them.

READ: Troutbitten | Recommended Gear

Best Budget Fly Rod for Euro Nymphing

The Cortland Nymph Series

Cortland’s Nymph Series fly rods are my best recommendation for coming in under $300.

I like the versatility of the four weight, and I hand this rod to my guided guests quite often. It has a more forgiving rod tip — a little softer than my other rods — and I often notice that anglers get a feel for the casting the Cortland easier than they do on higher end rods.

Even the three weight has enough backbone to turn the biggest trout in a fast fight, and it’s a good tool for euro nymphing.

** Buy the Orvis H3F 5wt 10' at Orvis, and support Troutbitten **

Best Mid-Range Fly Rods for the Mono Rig and Euro Nymphing

Orvis Recon

The Recon series is hard to beat. With so many of the same characteristics as the H3 lineup, Orvis’ Recon fly rods are my favorite choice at the middle price point. Light feel in the hand, crisp, with plenty of backbone, the Recon fly rods are a great daily companion on the water.

For tight line tactics I like the three, four and five weights, all as ten footers, with the four weight being the best all-around tool.

** Buy the Orvis Recon at Trident, and support Troutbitten **
or . . .
** Buy the Orvis Recon at Orvis, and support Troutbitten **

 

Don’t Wait | Learn Now

Buying a specialized fly rod for tight lining and fishing the Mono Rig isn’t necessary. And a rod that is too specialized can actually hold you back from exploring all the tactics available on a Mono Rig.

READ: Troutbitten | Use a Versatile and General Fly Rod

The rods listed above are my favorite options. They are my best recommendations for when you are ready to make a purchase.

If you want to spend some money on a new rod, then do it. But you don’t need the latest tech-dry shirt to go for a run. You don’t need a carbon-fiber frame in between the tires to enjoy a bike ride. And you don’t need anything more than your own fly rod to start casting the Mono Rig. Have fun out there and catch fish.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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9 Comments

  1. To me a 5wt seems so heavy (and 9’6″ seems short), I have one but it’s now my bass rod. I fish either a 10′ or 11′ 3wt and have been wishing for an 11′ 2wt. Handling big fish is no problem. Maybe because I got back into fly fishing with Tenkara and wispy 14′ rods seem normal to me. I’ve landed a few 20″+ trout and a few bigger carp on mine. But you don’t need to take my word for it. I’m sure you know #troutyeah… his Grey’s 2wt has landed several lifetime’s worth of trophy fish. He certainly doesn’t baby them. Admittedly his skill plays a big part in that.

    What I like about the long/light rods (besides saving my arm/back) is the versatility. The reach is a must have. And I completely agree about carrying more than 1 rod (sucks, hate it) and nymphing being the most effective. So while my rig is obviously optimized for nymphing, if need be I can still cast a little puff of CdC with my nymphing leader. And while it’s not particularly satisfying to “sling meat” it will lob a sculpin if I need to.

    One important consideration you didn’t mention was what reel… I used to think they didn’t matter much at all until I got the 11′ rod. You need one big enough to balance these longer rods. Don’t size it to the line or fish. A Hardy DD7000 seems huge compared to the average trout reel, but it perfectly balances my 11’er and has the added bonus a fast retrieve and it keeps my mono from getting too curly. Balance is really important with these long rods… they are downright unpleasant if paired with too small of a reel.

    And on the theme of bigger is better… carry a big net too. I laughed when I first saw Josh’s. But I” now a believer. Makes landing fish (big or small) with these long rods way easier and faster. Which is good for all involved. The 17″x22″ Frabill is the ticket.

    Reply
    • Right on. Thanks for the input, Mark. Sounds like the standard competition setup. I fish a lot of suspender rigs and throw a pair of streamers a good bit. With the extra long and light rods I just feel undergunned when I do that. And for anyone getting into tight lining and the mono rig you don’t really need a special rod. That’s the point.

      Reply
  2. Good points, Dominic. There are a ton of people who continue to out-think themselves when it comes to gear. I’ve always been a St. Croix fan and I built myself an SCIV/SCII last year and I love it. I guess it’s a moderate-fast blank, and it’s 9 feet long. It’s a bit wobbly at the tip, which I guess means it doesn’t damp well, stop shaking at the tip? But, to me, it’s a great nymphing rod and throws a dry fly equally well. I can also fish smaller streamers like woolly buggers. I actually have a Grey’s Streamflex 3/4 wt. ike Mark mentions above. I believe, that’s 10 feet long. I took it out West one year and I liked it, but I found myself grabbing my 9-foot mostly by the end of the trip–I don’t know why. I’m not against 10-foot rods, but to me that extra foot makes a lot of difference. I would have never believed it but the extra length also makes my arm and shoulder tire more quickly.

    Reply
  3. I’ve been using a Syndicate 3wt. 10ft. competition nymph rod. Tight lining with no fly line out, 2ft. section of chartreuse/pink sighter tied in above the tippet.
    This set-up works perfectly for me here in Pennsylvania as well as the Madison River in Montana.
    I have found the extra tip sensitivity of the Syndicate and its overall light weight work well for me for increased hook-ups. Also, the 3wt. has no problem handling the large trout on the upper Madison. I believe that might be due to the substantial butt section that is .380″.
    As you pointed out, it is definitely not a must have, but I think it increases the performance of the no fly line set-up for me.

    Reply
  4. One thing I always hear about long light euro nymphing rods is that the tip sections of these rods are designed specifically for shock absorption / tippet protection. Any thoughts on this versus what one would typically find in the tip section of a 10 foot 5 weight rod?

    Reply
    • Hi Randy,

      Good thoughts.

      Those rods are designed for shock absorption, yes. But they are no more designed for protecting tippet than any other trout rod, necessarily. Long line nymphing requires no thinner or weaker tippet than other styles of nymphing. So there’s no need for a special rod to protect tippet more than normal. But the shock absorption factor is a built in feature to those rods, yes. And that’s because competition fishermen want to be sure to land every trout, even the small ones. And a flexible tip helps keep the comp angler from “bouncing” a hooked trout. This is one of those areas where the competition scene drives the mass market. I don’t much care if I lose small fish, and I imagine that you don’t either. The flexy tips on those rods struggle to push larger patterns like streamers. They make long lining with an indicator a chore, and even make some dry dropper setups more difficult than it should be. So I usually like a rod that is NOT developed for “euro nymphing.” I like a more well rounded rod, as I wrote about above. Specialized tools are too limiting, to me.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  5. I’m curious, now that 2016 is a long way back, have your thoughts about rod selection changed? What’s your go-to rod today?

    Reply
    • Hi Alex,

      Good question. First, you can find my favorite gear in the Menu > Shop > Recommended Gear. There’s a shot description of each of my favorite rods and why.

      What I want in a fly rod hasn’t changed much, but the offerings have. In general, there’s a wider variety of good nymphing rods out there now. Many (most) of the early rods that catered to tight line and euro tactics had soft tips that just flexed too much and did not recover fast enough for my needs. As you know, I do a lot of different things on the Mono Rig. And I want a rod (and leader) that is powerful enough to also be versatile. We have that now. Companies like Orvis, Hardy, T&T and Sage are building a full range of nymphing rods. For me, it’s their 4 weights that usually do the trick.

      For years, it was the Sage Z Axis that I couldn’t find a replacement for. Now, my favorite rod is a Hardy Ultralite 10 foot 4 weight.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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