Tips/Tactics

Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston go fly fishing | The Mono Rig for streamers … because fly line sucks

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March 1, 2017

“Whoa! You’re just slingin’ it, aren’t ya?” Toby said. “How far out there can you get it?” He looked befuddled as I took a step downstream and launched another cast with the long leader.

“About fifty feet.”

“How big can the streamer be?” Toby asked.

“Big.”

“Damn!” Toby shook his head and chuckled as he watched chunks of olive rabbit fur arc through the air and land inches from the tree stump before I started stripping. Toby laughed, “That’s just like …”

“… Fishing the baitcaster on the farm pond,” I interjected. “I know.”

Photo by Pat Burke

Weight and Stuff

For the streamer game to work there’s gotta 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. With fly fishing tackle, the weight of the fly line does the work. Or at least that’s the way it used to be.

Original Sin

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 ‘em that way?

Photo by Chris Kehres

The Rig

Here’s a Mono Rig setup:

20-26 feet — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 12lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — Bicolor Sighter Material
4-6 feet — 4X or 5X fluorocarbon tippet material

I fish nymphs on the Mono Rig as a first choice. When I want to fish streamers, I just clip the point nymph from my tight line setup and tie on a streamer. Big or small, they all work.

Whether I add a weighted streamer or use split shot, 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.

Photo by Bill Dell

Pitchin’ and Flippin’ with Bill and Jimmy

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 crankbaits and spinners and learned a few things about what trout chase and why they chase them.

Streamers are lures. And casting them on the Mono Rig is super effective.

Start Short

Just like everything else in fly fishing, staying close is the easiest way to learn the game. At close range, you get the timing down. You learn to feel the tug of weight on the backcast before starting the forward cast. Get the streamer out there, get it down in the water, and then activate it.

I like to fish what I call a crossover technique (a mix of nymphing and streamer fishing). I cast mostly upstream, and I dead drift the streamer for a few feet. Then I might lead it faster or jig it slightly before letting it dead drift again. I usually run a tag nymph above the point streamer in this rig too. They take both flies.

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’ll let the streamer fall and then strip it, leading the fly with my rod tip down and across.

After stripping that line in, I’ll let the streamer dangle, maybe five feet below my rod tip. I hold the rod sideways and flip the streamer to the target with an underhand motion, letting the weight of the streamer pull the extra line through the rod guides.

I use my line hand to vary the length of the cast by controlling how much line I shoot.

Let’s let pro bass angler Mike McFarland show you what the short game can look like.

I don’t care about the particulars between techniques, and I’m not thinking about the names of this stuff while I’m out there. Point is, you can do the same things (and more) with a fly rod and a Mono Rig.

I do plenty of overhead casts at short and medium range too. The casting still looks traditional, with hard stops at 10:00 and 2:00. I just keep the loops and arcs wide open.

Again, stay close and start slingin’ it.

Go Long

I like longer cast with streamers when I have the space. 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.

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.

Long casts often need big and wide arm motions, with large loops and wide arcs. Experiment, and you’ll find the way.

Go Big

The standard modern streamer jerk-strip approach also works with the Mono Rig. You can fish big flies the same as you would with a floating or sinking line. They get down deeper, and you have more control with a long leader and no fly line.

When I fish big streamers, I prefer to swap out the tippet section to 2X. I use Loon Rigging Foams for storage.

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, or I can let the fly dead drift. I have much 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; 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. Allowing a downstream curve to form in the fly line pulls the leader and the streamer along a curved path, hopefully imitating a baitfish. The same thing can be done with the Mono Rig. 20# monofilament does belly in the current but not as much as fly line. And that’s a good thing.

Every retrieve I can do with a fly line can be done with the Mono Rig, and I have excellent control over the path of the streamer by simply adjusting rod angles.

Photo by Pat Burke

Mono Rig vs Sinking Line

What’s heavy, sags and drags? 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.

That’ll get you down.

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. Try it.

Slow down, Hoss

I realize I’m getting a little far out on a thin branch here.

There’s 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. 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.

Is it fly fishing?

Who cares?

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.

Photo by Chase Howard

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 really good way to fish the Mono Rig. (I like the mono core version).

— 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 to streamers is the main reason I use 4X or 5X for my tippet section. I fish small and medium sized streamers on 4X or a strong 5X, but nothing smaller.

— Changing out to streamers on the Mono Rig is another reason why I prefer 4 or 5 weight rods over the 2 or 3 weight euro nymphing rods.

Fishing streamers on the Mono Rig is more natural and intuitive than fighting with fly line. It just works.

Fish hard. Get after it.

 

** 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

Nymphing Tips

Read all Troutbitten Nymphing Tips

 

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olysteve

This is great stuff! I totally agree about finding something versatile that you can adapt to solving the puzzle of fishing a run well, and throwing strikes in front of the fish. I tried your mono rig for the first time yesterday and was astonished at how much water i could cover well. Question, I have been swinging flies for steelhead using a OPST commando head with their Lazar running line. I am wondering if the Lazar line alone might work well for the butt section for a nymphing setup. Thoughts? -Steve in Olympia, WA

Harold Steele

Pitchin’ or flippin’? Pitchin’ is probably what I do, but I just call it lobbin’. I just lob it out there and hope it goes where I want. Just be sure the weight doesn’t hit the rod. Snapped a tip off last year.

I’m going to try this. Is 5x enough for tippet? I can see a 4lb trout slamming a streamer and breaking that tippet in seconds.

What is it like casting a dry fly on this rig if needed? Limitations? Thanks.

I’ve learned so much from your website. Most of the postings I’ve read two or three times.

I wonder if you could add a little bit of additional information about how you set up the cannonball. How big a piece of T 11 do you use? Does it go above the sighter? How do you tie it in to the mono rig?

Thanks

Charlie Ruff

Elliot Dirtzu

Hey Domenick, As others have stated, You offer such a fresh perspective on fly fishing and trout in general, I am learning so much just from reading your blog. Ive been wondering lately, Do you think that on certain streams, guys that use rapalas and spinners have an advantage as far as getting reaction from fish? There are a couple rivers around here (northern wisconsin/UP) that guys end up doing real well for big fish that are holed up in tight cover by using spin gear, while myself and other fly guys end up getting frustrated. Ive recently considered fishing… Read more »

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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