Fly Fishing with Streamers on the Mono Rig — More Control and more Contact
“Whoa! You’re just slingin’ it, aren’t ya?” John said. “How far out there can you cast?”
He looked befuddled as I took a step downstream and launched another cast with the long leader and a pair of streamers.
“About fifty feet.”
“How big can the streamers be?” John asked.
“Damn!” John shook his head and chuckled as he watched chunks of olive rabbit fur arc through the air and land inches from the tree stump. I paused for two seconds and then started stripping. John howled with approval. “That’s excellent!”
Weight and Stuff
For the streamer game to work there has to be some weight in the system. Somewhere on the rig, or in the fly, you need tungsten, brass or lead to get the streamer through the surface and down to the fish.
In fact, all fishing casts are about weight. With conventional tackle, the weight of the lure, bait, bobber or split shot pulls line off the spool and sails to the target. In traditional fly fishing, the casting weight comes from the fly line itself. Fly line was designed to cast light or wind resistant flies; it weighs enough to push those light flies to a target.
With conventional tackle, the weight is in the lure. But with fly fishing tackle, the weight of the fly line does the work. Or at least that’s the way it used to be . . .
The original sin of fly fishing is additional weight. As soon as weight was added, in any form, that’s where things branched off. Weight is the original deviation from traditional fly fishing, and everything else has followed. So in my mind, drawing arbitrary lines about what is and what isn’t fly fishing anywhere else makes no sense. Added weight is what changed everything.
With enough added weight, you don’t need the help of fly line pushing flies out there. Instead, the weight of the flies or split shot will pull the leader to the target — just like conventional tackle. Enter: the Mono Rig.
The 20# monofilament in the Mono Rig serves as a fly line substitute, and when casting small lightweight nymphs, the weight in the 20# monofilament actually helps to push nymphs out there (like a fly line). There’s some pulling and pushing going on. But when we change to streamers, it’s mostly pulling. Even a small water-soaked streamer weighs enough to pull the Mono Rig behind it.
Bottom line — streamers are lures. Just sayin’.
So why not fish them that way?
Here’s a Mono Rig setup for streamers:
26 feet — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 12lb Maxima Chameleon
20 inches — 12lb Red Amnesia
4-6 feet — 2X or 3X fluorocarbon tippet
Notice that my Mono Rig for streamers has the same butt and transition sections as my standard rig that I use for nymphs. Part of the Mono Rig’s strength is its versatility. When I want to fish streamers, I simply clip and swap out everything from the sighter down and store it on a Loon Rigging Foam. I have two streamers rigged up on another Loon foam, with 2x fluoro and a stiffer sighter. Tie those on at the tippet ring, and I’m ready to go. The full process takes about a minute.
Here’s an important point: The junction from fly line to leader is what limits your casting range. No matter how clean the connection, the nail knot (or other) sticks a bit in the guides as it shoots. (Yes, even a needle knot.) This is the main reason my butt section is so long for the Mono Rig. I rarely nymph at long range, but when I switch over to streamers, I want to be able throw some distance before the junction ends up in the guides and slows me down.
Do you need fly line to push streamers to a target?
Whether we add a weighted streamer or use split shot on the tippet, there’s enough weight to easily cast it with the Mono Rig. I do not need the help of a fly line pushing the streamers to the target. The weight in my rig efficiently does the job of delivering the fly.
And this is an important point. If I use traditional fly line to cast streamers, then I need a rod that can not only handle the weight of the streamers but also the weight of the fly line (which is heavy). Such a payload taxes a light rod. But a pair of sizable streamers is easily cast on most 4 weight rods when there’s no fly line involved. I’ve even seen 3 weight, euro nymphing style rods adequately handle a pair of streamers.
Control | Contact
So why would we use a Mono Rig over fly line? What’s the advantage?
Just like a tight line nymph rig, we gain more control over the presentation of the flies, and we have better contact throughout the cast and the drift. With fly line in the game, we cast and manage the fly line itself. With the Mono Rig, we cast and manage the streamers more directly.
With the Mono Rig, we can stay tight to the streamer after the cast, we can dead drift it with precision for the first five feet, keeping all the leader off the water. Then we might activate the streamer with some jigs and pops for the next ten feet of the drift. And for the last twenty feet, as the streamer finishes out below and across from us, we may employ long strips. All these options are open.
But here’s the real key: at any time throughout the drift we can lift the long leader and hold the streamer in position — maybe dead drift it for a few more feet. We can also sweep the rod tip upstream or down and immediately change the orientation of the streamer’s head. All of this is possible because we are in control of the streamer directly, without having to manage any fly line in between.
That contact — that control — is the game changer.
You can cast streamers on the Mono Rig with a very traditional ten-o-clock and two-o-clock casting stroke. It works, but you need to accelerate the cast. Be aggressive and build up some speed.
By now, I’ve taught enough anglers this tactic to realize where the struggles inevitably arise. And it helps to break away from the traditional stroke and do things a little differently.
Think about this: Keep the rod flexed all the way through the cast. Stay in touch — feel the weight of the flies throughout the cast, without pausing. Make arcs and loops instead of straight lines. Get the arm moving more. And by all means, get the line hand involved.
Like everything else in fly fishing, staying close is the easiest way to learn the game. At short range, you get the timing down. You learn to feel the tug of the streamers on the rod tip. You learn to keep the tip loaded and fire the flies to the target. Stay close. Get the streamer out there, get it down in the water, and then activate it.
Often, I like to fish what I call a crossover technique (a mix of nymphing and streamer fishing). I cast mostly upstream and dead drift the streamer for a few feet. Then I lead it faster or jig it slightly before letting it dead drift again. Sometimes I finish out the drift with a swing, but just as often I pick it up when the flies are across from me. Then I cast back upstream to the next piece of structure.
It’s all part of the old school streamer thing. On the next cast I might go directly across stream to a submerged log near the bank. I let the streamer fall and then strip it, leading the fly with my rod tip down and across.
At short range, if I’ve stripped in a few feet of line, I shoot it on the forward cast through my trigger finger.
I do plenty of overhead casts at short and medium range too. The casting may still look traditional, with hard stops around 10:00 and 2:00. I just keep the loops and arcs wide open.
Use small arcs and rod loops in the cast at short distance. At the end of the drift, pick up the fly and keep the rod tip flexed throughout the casting motion. A short arc upstream is all that is necessary.
Again, stay close and start slingin’ it.
Longer casts come naturally once you refine the basics at short range. And many anglers learn it in about fifteen minutes.
Chucking the rig 40-50 feet up and across some pocket water, then working the flies back on a tight line through every nook and cranny in the current seams is what I dream about in my fishing dreams.
I like long-distance streamers at all angles and with every retrieve or style you can think of. It just depends on the conditions.
When you have the casting clearance, long casts are best with big and wide arm motions, with large loops and wide arcs. Accelerate the line. Let the weight of the flies do the work. Experiment, and you’ll find the way.
At the longest lengths, a double haul can work wonders. It’s easy to learn, and gives the rod a little more flex on the back and forward casts, helping to propel the flies forward.
Here’s a good look at the double haul from a nine year old kid.
When your back is against a woodsy bank, when you have no room for a backcast but you need to cast the line forty feet across stream, how do you roll cast a Mono Rig?
After stripping the line in, let the streamer dangle about five feet below the rod tip. Now hold the rod to the side. Rock the flies back and forth a little, then flip the streamer to the target with the rod tip, letting the weight of the streamer pull the extra line through the rod guides and feeding it with your line hand. It can be done with an underhand or overhand motion. Variations of this can send the streamers fifty feet or more.
This technique is a lot like . . .
Pitchin’ and Flippin’ with Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston
If you’ve never chucked a fathead minnow with a Shimano rod, thrown a jointed Rapala, or flung a Rebel Craw — if you’ve only ever used flies and a fly rod — then you’ve started in the wrong place.
That goes double if you want to be a good streamer man.
I don’t know all the bass stuff, but I have friends who do. And I used to be pretty deadly with an ultralight and some live minnows on the local trout. I’ve also spent enough time with crank baits and spinners, and I learned a few things about what trout chase and why they chase them.
Streamers are lures. And using the Mono Rig to cast them like you’d throw a Rapala on a gear rod is super effective.
Why all this works
What about drag? Isn’t drag a good thing in the streamer game? Aren’t we trying to use drag to simulate baitfish movement?
Sure. But with the Mono Rig, I control the angle and the amount of drag in the line, or I can let the fly dead drift. I have greater control over the path and the motion of my streamer with a long leader. I’m not at the mercy of what the fly line wants to do in the currents.
In most cases, I have only one thin diameter of tippet under the water. That’s a big deal. It works for streamers in the same way it works for nymphs. (Drag on the line is uniform, so control and contact are better.)
Fly line sags because it weighs too much, so it lays on the water. And it’s tough to be in true direct contact with my fly. With the Mono Rig, I can stay tight to the streamer so I have better sensitivity, control and strike detection.
Many streamer strategies use the belly of a fly line in the water as part of the technique. A downstream curve formed in the fly line pulls the leader and the streamer along a curved path, hopefully imitating a baitfish. The same thing is done with the Mono Rig. 20# monofilament does belly in the current if you let it. Nylon floats. But you have more control over the belly in a Mono Rig versus fly line.
Every retrieve done with a fly line can be done with the Mono Rig, and with excellent control over the path of the streamer by simply adjusting rod angles.
Mono Rig vs Sinking Line
What’s heavy, sags and drags in the water? A sinking line.
The Mono Rig allows for direct contact and more control over the path of the streamer. The thin diameter cuts through the water better, and the flies get deeper quicker.
The long leader is also easier to cast than a sinking line. There’s less false casting, less arm motion, and it’s easier to lift streamers out of the water to recast. Simply put, the Mono Rig is less work to use, and the streamer is in the water more often.
What about unweighted flies? Many anglers believe that unweighted streamers move more naturally in the currents. I agree. Sometimes light streamers are the answer. But I don’t need a sinking line to get them down. I just add a cannonball.
Don’t like big split shot? Try a short T11 sinking head spliced into the leader — kind of like a running line and spey shooting head setup. You’ll get similar results to a sinking line without all the extra mass of fly line to deal with. Sounds a little different, I know. But try it.
Slow down, Hoss
I realize I’m getting a little far out on a thin branch here.
There is no silver bullet in fishing. There are times when a sinking line with streamers is the way to go. If I’m going to cast more than fifty feet, then I’d rather use the sinking line. I do enjoy fishing sinking lines on big water, especially from the boat. And sometimes it’s just fun.
More often though, I stay with the Mono Rig. I get deeper quicker, and I have more control over the path of the fly with a more versatile technique.
Is it fly fishing?
If you’re fishing streamers, you’re already well past the original sin.
Sinking lines have “Fly Line” printed on the box, but when tungsten powder is baked in with the plastic coating, is it really any more of a fly line than 20# monofilament? Maybe.
And what does it matter where the weight comes from? Tungsten cone, lead wraps, split shot, T11 head, or sinking line? What’s the difference?
Then why not just use a spinning rod?
Because I have the fly rod in my hand. Honestly. That’s why.
Go ahead and give it a rip. I’ve tried my favorite streamers on a spinning rod, and they fish just like the minnows and lures of my youth. My preference is still with the fly rod because I’m hand lining, and I think it’s far more versatile.
I value that versatility above all else, because of how and where I like to fish. I often switch from two small nymphs to a pair of streamers and then to dry flies, so I like a rod and a system that can do everything.
Last things …
— Shooting the extra line on streamer casts is the main reason that I like the super long and knot-less butt section on the Mono Rig.
— Some guys don’t like stripping 20# monofilament with their line hand, and they say it’s slippery. Man up! Just kidding. With every strip, I twist my hand a bit. That solves the problem.
— Seriously though, if you don’t like monofilament that much, a competition fly line as the butt section is a good way to fish the Mono Rig.
— The sighter is an excellent tool for judging where the streamers are and guiding them through the water. Keep the sighter in the rig.
— The Mono Rig allows you to fish larger flies on a lighter rod. A 4 weight rod can handle a 5 inch streamer if it doesn’t also have to handle the weight of a fly line.
— Quickly switching over to small streamers is the main reason I use 4X or 5X for my tippet section. I fish small streamers on 4X or strong 5X. But when I want to fish medium or larger streamers, and I want to strip a lot, I swap out everything from the sighter down for two streamers, ready to go on the Loon Rigging Foam, as described above.
Fishing streamers on the Mono Rig is a natural and intuitive method that brings more control back to the streamer game. It just works.
Fish hard. Get after it.
Enjoy the day.
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