Change or die. Take what the river gives you and adapt. See the signals, make the changes, and catch fish. That’s the way she goes. That’s trout fishing.
I like winter because it’s simple. In the coldest months I carry a small set of nymphs and streamers that do the job. I rarely chase midging fish on top, so I spend 95% of the wintertime running flies close to the bottom, and I love it.
It’s the middle of March now, and real Spring is either here already or it’s damn close. We’re approaching the season of confusion, a time when trout will feed on everything: dry flies, nymphs, emergers and streamers.
I fished ten hours yesterday and caught trout on all four fly styles. I changed rigs to meet the conditions. For much of the afternoon, I worked with a Blue Winged Olive hatch. I fished it with a tight line dry-dropper method on the Mono Rig, then I swapped out to a dry fly leader and fished with fly line, casting tiny dries to risers straight across the wide flats.
You can’t shape the river, so let the river shape you. Change or die.
Years ago, when I first showed my Dad the Mono Rig, we spent a sunny Saturday morning nymphing up a bunch of fish on a tight line as he quickly got the hang of the long leader. Around noon we stood at the bottom lip of a long glide, and we saw tail rises, signaling that trout were taking emerging caddis.
“Get me back to my fly line,” Dad said.
I chuckled. “Sure thing.”
You can cast dries on the Mono Rig, without a fly line. Some of the competition fly lines cast small dries well enough too. It can be done. But after a while it always feels like too much of a compromise.
If you’re jonesing for big, burly fly line casts that punch a #12 Humpy into the wind, there’s an easy way to make the change.
The Connection …
Use a piece of 20# Maxima Chameleon to tie a Needle Nail Knot to the fly line. Leaving about 6 inches from the tip of the fly line, tie the 20# Chameleon to a very small tippet ring using a four turn clinch knot. (I use 2 mm tippet rings — yes the 20# Maxima fits through.)
That’s the base. That part stays in place.
You can quickly swap out leaders by tying the butt section of a leader with another four turn clinch knot at the tippet ring. Yes, you’ll lose an inch of two of the butt section every time you change leaders, but it’s a small price to pay for convenience and a smooth transition.
It helps to slice the 20# Maxima with a razor blade, forming a fine point in the end before you slide it through the end of the fly line. Here is an excellent video from Midcurrent where George Anderson demonstrates the Needle Nail Knot exactly as I tie it. (Follow the link. I can’t embed this one.)
And here’s another video of the Needle Nail Knot. Note that he feeds the thin end of a tapered leader through the end of the fly line. Follow the same process, but feed the 20# Maxima through. It will fit if you slice the end of the Maxima into a point with a razor blade.
Another alternative is the super glue splice. Devin Olsen recently published a video with the best footage I’ve seen of that connection. I have a hard time trusting super glue to the thirty-inch wild trout I plan to catch someday, so I go the extra mile and add the nail knot style wraps after going through the end of the fly line. Either method is very good and slides through the rod guides perfectly.
The Needle Nail Knot can be a little tricky, but those three videos should get you there.
Why this way?
… Because loops are horrible in the guides. They hang up and stutter too much. Conversely, the barrel wraps on either side of the tippet ring go through the guides as cleanly as a blood knot. Sure, I like to keep the transition out of the guides as much as possible, but when this connection does go through, it’s no big deal.
My friends poke fun at my OCD for fishing efficiency. It’s a healthy obsession, I guess. But I’ve watched enough fishermen to know that if change isn’t quick and painless, we avoid it. We stay with one rig rather than tying knots and digging through the pack for another leader.
Change or die.
I spent a couple decades refining a system that can adapt to every condition. It takes years to dial some things in — lately, it’s been the slidable dry-dropper, and I only recently feel like I have it down. Saving the time it takes to cut off or tie on extra lengths of tippet is worth it, because when an easy solution is available, we’re more ready to make the change.
Having to switch fly reel spools just to get back to fly line sucks. I did it long enough to know that it takes far too long. It’s not something anyone wants to do more than a couple times a day. However, changing leaders with a clinch knot is dead simple and takes about one minute.
Here’s one of the most common questions I’m asked about the Mono Rig: “Why not fill the whole reel spool with monofilament?” Answer: If I have fly line on the reel, then I can use it. Whenever I like, I simply swap the long Mono Rig leader to a regular dry fly leader. No limits.
Likewise, if I have the reel rigged with a competition fly line I don’t have the option of using a standard fly line unless I change spools. That’s another reason I choose monofilament over competition fly lines. With comp line on the spool, that’s what your stuck with — options are limited.
The Dry Leader
I fall in line with the George Harvey / Joe Humphreys philosophy on leaders. I use a formula that starts with 20# Maxima Chameleon as the butt section. That’s significantly thinner than most manufactured tapered leaders, and it’s important. The butt sections of off-the-shelf, extruded leaders always seem too thick to me.
Joe Humphreys writes that our butt section should match the flexibility of the fly line, not the diameter. I agree. #20 Chameleon nicely matches the flex in the end taper of 4 or 5 weight fly line, and I’ve been tying Harvey/Humphreys leaders since I started fly fishing.
The .017” of 20# Maxima makes much smaller barrel wraps (of a clinch knot) that glide through the guides cleaner than clunkier knots tied with thicker butt sections.
My dry leader is based on the Harvey formula, and looks something like this.
24” — 20# Maxima Chameleon
18” — 15# Maxima Chameleon
18” — 12# Maxima Chameleon
12” — 10# Maxima Chameleon
8” — 8# Gold Stren
12” — 2X nylon tippet material
12” — 3X nylon tippet material
14” — 4X nylon tippet material
20-48” — 4X, 5X or 6X nylon tippet material (to match fly and conditions)
For this article, the important part of the above formula is the butt section. The 20# Maxima ties a thin, four turn clinch knot to the tippet ring and passes easily through the guides if and when it has to.
I touched on this point in an Efficiency Part 2 post from a while back.
Wrapping leaders around your hand and storing them in a leader wallet is standard operating procedure. But if you do it with 30 feet of the Mono Rig you’re asking for trouble. You’ll be standing in the river untangling and cursing instead of fishing.
Try using old Maxima spools for storage. Wrap up the leader and throw a rubber band around the rim— or use your wife’s hair-tie-pony-tail-holder-thingy. When you want to remove the leader, leave the elastic band on the spool and pull the leader off. Easy peasy.
Change or Die
Changing leaders and adapting is part of the whole Mono Rig system. You aren’t locked into one style of fishing. You can adapt and shape your system to the river.
Nymph man, streamer junkie, wet fly swinger, or dry fly guy — you can be anything you want to be in this long life.
Good luck out there. Fish hard.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N