Tight Line Nymphing with an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant
I dislike arbitrary limits. Placing restrictions on tackle and techniques, when they inhibit my ability to adapt to the fishing conditions, makes no sense to me. I’m bound by no set of rules other than my own. And my philosophy is — Do what works.
I guess that’s why I’ve grown into this fishing system. Most of the time I use what I refer to as the Mono Rig. It’s a very long leader that substitutes for fly line, and I’ve written about it extensively on Troutbitten. Tight line and euro nymphing principles are at the heart of the Mono Rig, but there are multiple variations that deviate from those standard setups. Sometimes I use split shot rather than weighted flies. Sometimes I add suspenders to the rig. I even throw large, articulated streamers and strip aggressively with the Mono Rig. All of this works on the basic principle of substituting #20 monofilament for fly line.
Tight line nymphing is my default approach on most rivers. I like the control, the contact and the immediacy of strike detection. But sometimes adding a suspender (an indicator that suspends weight) just works better.
Often, I add a dry fly to my tight line nymphing rig. “The Duo” (European fishermen’s term for dry/dropper) is widely popular because it’s a deadly variation of the standard tight line approach. But dry/dropper rigs have their issues. And choosing a Thingamabobber or a Dorsey Yarn Indicator for the suspender not only solves those issues but also includes extra benefits.
This isn’t about which method is better. Invariably, the answer to such questions in fishing is, “It depends.” Everything has its place. This is about how to use tight line principles with a suspender rig. I hate arbitrary limits. Do what works.
What’s wrong with bobbers?
The standard method of fishing suspenders has some major drawbacks. Using a nine foot leader, a bobber and fly line requires mending. That mending puts anglers out of touch with the nymphs, and it disturbs the water surface, potentially spooking the trout we’re trying to catch. Worse yet, we have less contact, less control and less strike detection.
But fishing suspenders on the Mono Rig eliminates most of those troubles.
By using tight line principles to fish with suspenders, we regain control, dramatically improving strike detection and virtually eliminating surface disturbance (especially with the Dorsey).
Here’s the setup
Mount a slidable suspender on the top of the tippet section, just below the sighter. Then make a cast that lands the nymphs upstream of the suspender and in the same current seam. Keep the leader off the water and stay tight to the suspender. The suspender stays tight to the nymph.
What’s the Difference?
First, compared to tight line nymphing, this setup takes the lead point from the rod tip to the suspender.
Without a suspension device the nymphs are guided by what we do with the rod tip (I wrote about this here). By adding a Thingamabobber (or Dorsey, or dry fly, etc.), and keeping the leader off the water, the nymphs are largely controlled by the suspender. The nymphs are on a leash, and the suspender is boss.
Second, the amount of tippet under the water is fixed in a suspender rig. Maximum depth is set by sliding the suspender up or down, not by raising or lowering the rod tip, as in tight line nymphing. That’s more predictable and perhaps more consistent for all but the most expert tight liners. This is especially true in slower water.
There are many reasons to switch to a suspended drift. Wind is perhaps the most common obstacle to tight lining, and it’s easily tackled by adding a suspender. Whatever the reason, there are times when trout respond to nymphs drifted under a suspender over tight lined nymphs.
Who knows why? Sometimes it’s best to let the fish decide.
Here’s what a suspender does better than floating the sighter …
… It actually suspends things. Mono sighters laying on the water surface can only support a few grains (about a #16 tungsten beadhead nymph). So while floating the sighter, it starts sinking when the load of the flies reaches the tip. Suspenders, though, can float as much weight as you want.
Floating the sighter is an excellent and versatile technique, often used without the intention of suspending the nymphs below. However, when I do want to hang nymphs underneath something on the surface, I usually opt for a suspender.
Why? Because it can support all the weight I need it to. And because when I stay tight to the suspender — when I keep the leader off the water and in the air — I have just one point of contact on the water. In most situations that amounts to less drag than having my whole sighter on the surface.
Impossible lead angles
This one is important.
With a suspender rig, you can get lead angles not possible with tight line nymphing. You can fish below (downstream of) your position and still have the flies tracking behind the suspender on a dead drift.
I cast up and across, carefully landing my nymphs in the same seam as the suspender. The nymphs gain contact with the suspension device within a few feet, and with a high rod angle, I keep all of the leader off the water that I can. I’m in touch with the bobber but not affecting its course. As long as I don’t bump the bobber, the position of the nymph tracking behind the suspender remains the same. It’s the same when it passes across from me, and it remains the same below my position. For as long as I can stretch the drift downstream without bumping or dragging, the nymphs continue to track behind the suspender.
I’d love to be able to wade into position and tight line every great spot on my favorite big rivers, but too frequently that cannot be done. However, by casting and drifting with a suspender rig, I get very long drifts at great distances. I cover more water with every cast. My effective reach and fishing radius is dramatically extended. Less casting. More drifting.
These kinds of suspension drifts are possible with the standard leader and fly line approach, but the Mono Rig offers the substantial advantages of control, contact, improved strike detection and stealth.
When fish approval ratings are lower than expected with tight line tactics and I’m not convincing trout like I think I should, my first adaptation is to attach a suspender to the top of my tippet section.
I make it a habit to fish as close as possible to the trout. And I’m commonly within a fifteen foot range. Even at distances right under my rod tip, I often find success by just adding a suspender.
At short range, very little about the casting stroke needs adjustment. Simply add the suspender and keep slinging it. Stay tight to the indy, keeping all leader off the water.
After dialing in the short range game, you’ll inevitably want to go further.
For many years, if I needed to cast a suspender with nymphs more than about 20-25 feet, I swapped out the Mono Rig and fished with a more standard approach — using fly line to push the rig to the target. But one September float trip with Pat Burke convinced me that I was wasting my time changing leaders.
Pat and I had been discussing the differences in both approaches for months. Once I saw it first hand, I was thoroughly convinced.
From my seat at the oars, I watched Burke attach a Thingamabobber to the tippet section of his Mono Rig. Then he started launching long, deadly accurate casts — one after the other. All the leader was held off the water, and the bobber performed insanely long drifts parallel to the boat. There was no fly line on the water to mend, and the bobber bounced along, untouched, in one perfect current seam, nymphs trailing behind.
The next day, I waded into position near the top of a large, deep hole. Instead of swapping out to a standard leader, I stuck with the Mono Rig to fish the long range water that I couldn’t wade. In a couple hours, I learned the necessary casting adjustments to sling suspender rigs at significant distances.
It takes swift, forceful motions. Slight double hauls and open loops help. But it’s not hard. Water hauls can also be helpful (using the tension of the rig stretched out on the water downstream to load the rod and then cast upstream). Generally, if you start at short range and graduate to long range, the transition is intuitive.
Note: a long range suspender rig can be heavy, especially with a Thingamabobber and a pair of weighted flies ready for deep water. And it may not be well suited for extra long and light euro nymphing rods. This is one of the reasons I prefer 4 and 5 weight rods for the Mono Rig rather than 2 or 3 weight competition nymphing rods.
Differences: Dorsey | Thingamabobber | Dry fly
I use three types of suspenders: Thingamabobbers, Dorsey yarn indicators, and dry flies. I’ve used everything else too. Honest . . . everything. I’m a tireless tester. But I know when I’ve found what I’m looking for, and I don’t carry much excess in my vest.
I like dry flies for suspenders during a hatch and when fish are likely to come to the surface. It’s a really fun way to fish dries, and trout take both the suspended nymph and the dry. But dry flies as suspenders aren’t easily slidable (although it’s possible). They also require more maintenance to keep floating, so I often find it more efficient to fish a yarn indicator.
The Dorsey yarn indicator is not the standard yarn indy that’s crafted with rubber O-rings and wound thread. It’s altogether different — just macrame yarn and a small orthodontic rubber band. Nothing more. It’s infinitely adaptive: just use more or less yarn. It easily slides when you want to adjust for depth, but it stays in place while casting. The Dorsey is extremely sensitive, it lands like a feather and doesn’t spook fish. Nothing could be lighter, and the hydrophobic yarn sheds water on the backcast. Yes, the Dorsey is nearly perfect.
The trouble with both yarn and dry flies is the air resistance. With the Mono Rig at long range, the resistance of yarn and hackle can be too much to push through the air — especially when the nymph payload is light. When that happens I switch to a Thingamabobber.
The weight of the Thingamabobber helps to chuck the rig out there at distance. Ummm . . . yeah, just like a bobber. The medium Thingamabobber weighs in at about ten grains. That’s just a little more than my #10 tungsten beadhead stoneflies. Kinda hard to be believe, I know. Sure, that weight makes the Thingamabobber less sensitive, but the extra weight on the line helps the Mono Rig carry the nymphs to some pretty long range destinations.
The Thingamabobber also sticks into the water surface better than yarn or dry flies. That’s good and bad. Because of this feature, I use it for the super long drifts that extend below me. It’s not so easily knocked off course by a little drag.
For years I worked on a way to make the Thingamabobber easily slidable on tippet sections but still quickly attachable. Finally, I got it. I pre-rig all my Thingamabobbers with a short stem of DMC embroidery floss, and I mount them with the same rubber bands used for the Dorsey.
A couple more tips for suspenders with the Mono Rig
— Balance the suspender type and size with the weight of the flies: e.g., small Dorseys with light nymphs. They’re more sensitive that way.
— Use the smallest suspender you can. They’re more responsive to strikes and cause less surface drag. The little things matter.
— At long range, some of the Mono Rig will have to lay on the water for the first few feet of the drift. That’s fine. And don’t forget that you can mend the Mono Rig on the water. Use a reach mend. Grease the sighter and some butt section with green Mucilin.
— It’s easy to give the flies just a bit of slack by pausing, mending, or holding back the suspender.
— Adjust for depth! Slide the suspender and/or add weight. When conditions change, so must your rig.
— The New Zealand Strike Indicator system is a great alternative to the Dorsey. But it’s not as adjustable. The small rubber tube in the system limits the size of yarn to be used. You can use both smaller and larger chunks of yarn with the Dorsey. The New Zealand strike indicator is also a bit heavier, but not by much.
— When casting up and across, use a push mend to line up the suspender and flies in one current. Stop the rod tip high and forcefully. Then push the rod just a little further forward. With luck and practice, the suspender will kick ahead of the flies, landing both in the same current seam. This is easiest with a Thingamabobber.
Or … just go back to the fly line
Fishing suspenders with the Mono Rig is easy, up to about thirty feet. It may take some practice to get into the forty foot range, and fifty feet is really pushing it. It’s all about the weight at the end of your rig, the rod length, how tall you are, and in how deep of water you’re standing. From a boat, you can achieve far greater distances than when you’re waist-deep in the river.
Personally, I don’t push it much past thirty-five feet. At that distance, I’d rather swap out the Mono Rig for a standard leader and let the fly line do its job.
Everything has a useful purpose. Do what works.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N