“Get me back to my fly line” — Connecting and disconnecting the Mono Rig

by | Mar 21, 2017 | 33 comments

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.”

Here’s how.

Change leaders at the tippet ring with a simple four turn clinch knot

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.

Dry fly leader on a Maxima spool — and my wife’s hair tie thing.

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.

Photo by Bill Dell


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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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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  1. Dom,

    Wasn’t sure where to ask this, but the change or die post is probably good as any!

    How many weights do you tie your nymphs in. What I mean is if you want to use a frenchie, do you tie a real sinker and a light one or lots of variations?

    As always thanks


    • Hi Joe,

      Lots of different ways to approach it, and they probably all work, but I’ll give you mine.

      Most of my nymphs I tie in sizes 12-18. (Some patterns, like stoneflies, I tie larger, and some, like midges, I tie smaller.) But let’s talk about the 12’s-18’s. All my tungsten beaded 12’s weigh the same. Likewise, all of my 14’s and so on. So my #14 Walt’s Worm on a 2X long hook weighs the same as my #14 Bead Head Pheasant Tail on a scud hook. I accomplish that by varying the number of lead wraps and being consistent with my hook and bead selection.

      For many of my patterns I also tie them with brass beads and lead wraps because sometimes I want the size but not that much weight. In that case, a #14 brass beaded nymph ends up weighing about what a #16 tungsten beaded nymph weighs. I vary little things on the patterns like hot spot, ribbing or thread color to tell the difference between the brass bead and tungsten bead versions.

      Of course, material sink rate matters a lot too, so I have to keep that in mind. The shaggy Walt’s Worm doesn’t sink nearly as easily as the slim Iron Lotus, and that makes a huge difference.

      Lastly, I should mention that I use split shot to vary the weight quite often. If all I need is another grain or two of weight, I might just add a #6 split shot about 5 inches up from the weighted fly.

      I discussed my theories on split shot and weighted flies in this post.


      I use both, and I mix and match sometimes, although my first choice is usually weighted flies.

      Make sense?

      • So super simple!?

      • It does, thanks. I’m tieing weighted flies and realizing I’m not sure how much to weight them. I need the water around here to clear up so I can go experiment!

      • Why don’t you use the glue connection? Doesn’t it slide through the guides better?

        I ask because it kind of wigs me out to jot have a knot

        • Hi Joe, I’ve done the super glue splice, and I think it’s a great option. The Needle Nail Knot is almost as streamlined, especially when you use #20 mono for it. The wraps kind of sink into the fly line. It’s very smooth.

          As I wrote in the article, I just have a hard time trusting glue with my mythical thirty-inch fish. I understand that the glue holds, and the tippet would break first, but I just feel a lot better wrapping those nail knot turns around the line. In my opinion it’s worth it.

  2. The RIO video shows feeding the thin end of a leader through the hole the needle leaves in the tip of the fly line. Since you’re tying a piece of 20# maxima – do you just feed that through the hole or do you have another trick?

    • Thanks for the question Bob,

      I added another link (a video from Midcurrent) to the post above to help clarify.

      Yes, I feed the 20# Maxima through the hole. It helps to slice it on an angle and make a skinny point in the end of the 20# Maxima first. Then slide it through and tie the nail knot.

      It usually takes me a couple tries. But I only do it once or twice a year because that part stays put.

      Thanks again for the question.

  3. Change or die. I like that, may be just what I need as I haven’t been changing enough lately. Also great video of George Anderson tying the needle knot. I will definitely try this. Thanks for sharing, I look forward to each new post.

  4. Isn’t that mono rig almost like centerpinning.

  5. Dom, As you know, my CET (Crippled Emerger Transformer) dry patterns, all use polypropylene as wing material. I enjoyed your Dorsey indicator article…and if I can get a few “Discs” from my dentist (also a fly fishing buddy), I’ll build some. However, you missed one key point regarding why they work so well. Polypropylene is lighter than water.and will float whether or not it captures air. As a result, I rarely need any floatant on my flies.(or indicators). Polypropylene is So much better than “the ass of a duck” many fishers are enthralled with.

    • Good stuff, Bill. That’s an interesting quality of the polypropylene.

      Well the ass of a duck does move better than the poly. I use both CDC and poly, but for different things. Yeah, since I started using the macrame yarn for my wings I have drier dry flies than I ever used to. And I can catch one fish after the other without even dressing the fly. I love that for quick action. I use CDC (I’ve recently been loving the simple Puffy), but having to rinse, dry and repowder the CDC after every fish is not my favorite thing.

  6. As a beginner to fly fishing this post is exactly what I needed to finally muster the courage cut the welded loop off my brand spanking new fly line. So first off, thanks for that Dom!

    Having never built my own leader before I just want to make sure I’m understanding the formula correctly. Is the entire leader formula minus the last 20-48″ 4X, 5X or 6X nylon tippet material the equivalent of the tapered leaders I’ve been buying in 3 packs and trying to preserve for as long as possible because they’re so darn expensive??

    And secondly, what is the purpose of the 8” — 8# Gold Stren section in the leader formula? Why is it a different material from the rest of the leader formula?

    • Hey Randy,

      Yeah, the dry fly leader listed above will take the place of the leaders you buy in a fly shop.

      The 8lb Gold Stren functions as a sighter in the middle of the leader. I’ve gotten so used to incorporating sighters into my nymphing and streamer leaders that I tie a subtle one into my dry fly leaders too. Gold stren is something I can see but it’s really not very bright. You can learn more about sighters here:


      Make sense?


  7. Is there a disadvantage or reason for not using a perfection loop on the mono rig leader to fly line?

    • Yes, Jesse. I hate loop to loop connections because they hang up in the guides worse than any other connection. You have to realize that with these extra long leaders, the connection will be in your guides far more often than if you are using, say, a nine foot leader. So it’s important to keep the fly line to leader connection as smooth as possible. Make sense?

  8. Dom you state this: One major benefit to tying your own leaders is the ease of adapting them. Often, I cut the butt section of .017″ Chameleon to under two feet. And on the following trip I may lengthen the butt section to four feet, just to suit the conditions.”
    Under what conditions would you lengthen or shorten the butt section?

    • Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for the question.

      So, the quote you mentioned is from another article titled, “Three Parts of an Ideal Indicator Leader.”


      It’s about another leader, not the Mono Rig, that I use during specific times.

      For that leader, I’m using fly line to do the job of pushing flies (and indy) to the target. BUT, I also don’t want to use more fly line than necessary because it sags, is heavy and gets in the way of having full contact and control. So, if I can lengthen the butt section by a couple feet, that’s two more feet of fly line that I can do without, and my drift will improve. By contrast, if I need to punch the rig into a tight spot or at long distance, I may do better to cut the butt section back and utilize us the fly line for what it does well.

      Does that make sense?


  9. Neil Brough I’m more of a softbait and spin guy so I’ve been reading ur text on the mono rig with interest as I’ve been taking the fly rod out to use and gain more confidence my question is the tapered leader u create with different tippet what knot is ur preference .
    Cheers Neil

    • Blood knots, Neil.



      • Ok thanks next Q so after the mono leader is tied do u attach to around 25 yards of camelion #20 and join to fly line , and your setup is complete.
        Cheers Neil

        • Hi Neil.

          No. The Harvey leader is my dry fly leader. It attaches to the fly line. The Mono Rig is for underwater presentations, contains a long butt section of about twenty feet and attaches to the fly line. Lots more info here:


          Email me if any of this is still confusing. Happy to help.



          • I thought the Harvey leader attaches to the tippet ring, The “Base” or 6 inches of line which connects to fly line on one end and tippet ring on the other. Was thinking this is why changing from mono to dry rig was so easy

  10. Hey Dom, quick question about your modified Harvey Leader formula.

    Is there any worry about your 6′ of tapered Chameleon and 8″ of Gold Stren would spook the fish vs. Clear mono?

    Am I overthinking it?


    • Hi Tim,

      No, I really don’t have much worry about it at all. I do use Gold Stren because it’s subtle, rather than a bright orange line or something. I don’t see trout spook from it. But I also keep it short. So I DO care about the possibility that it could spook trout. And if I were to fish clear pools for very long, I’d probably keep that piece clear. I simply include it because of all the variations I do with the dry leader.



  11. Here’s another possible way to simplify the change over I have been using recently. I have whatever my dry fly leader for the day will be rigged to my fly line (in my case, welded loops with a Rio extrudued leader). To the end of that leader, I tie in a tippet ring.

    When I want to fish the fly line, I tie tippet and flies to that. When I want to fish the mono rig, I tie the butt section of that directly to that tippet ring.

    That way, changing from dries to the mono rig only requires clipping and tying one knot at that tippet ring – no need to switch leaders. The standard leader just stays in the real hooked up to the fly line and is tied to the butt of the mono rig. Going back to fly line you just untie the mono rig and reattach your tippet/flies to the standard leader.

    • Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for sharing.

      I understand what you are doing.

      For me, that adds more steps that what I do. I also wouldn’t care for having the extra knots and connections in the guides while fishing or especially during a fight. I HATE knots and connections in the guides. But that’s me.

      Glad you have a good system. That’s what it’s all about!


  12. Hey Dom, I’m a new fly fisher but I’ve been so excited by the versatility presented by your Mono Rig system and have been working my way into it myself I have 2 questions that come to mind after reading this article.

    1. Why the needle nail not to attach the short section of 20# chameleon vs. a regular nail not?

    2. I don’t quite have all the supplies to tie my own custom tapered dry fly leader like you describe above, so will it work/is it feasible for the time being to set my fly line up with a short permanent 20# butt section as described in this article and then just tie manufactured tapered leader onto the tippet ring instead of a custom leader, or is that not advisable? I was theorizing that perhaps the greater thickness of the manufactured leader butt section could cause problems.

  13. Hi Dom,

    I’m writing to ask what rough percentage of the time you put a fish on your reel with some drag resistance (vs. stripping it in) when you have some of the 20lb Chameleon wrapped around the conventional fly line on the spool? I’m asking because I seem to be getting my mono rig line stuck down in between the gaps of the fly line on the spool and it appears to have cut up my fly line coating a bit when the reel drag has some tension and I bring a fish in on the reel – so I’m wondering if I’m missing something. I have a full cage frame so I know it isn’t the “pull through” challenge that you have covered in depth. I have read you comment that you “use the same mono rig” when fishing for Steelhead on a 6 wt rod. I’m guessing you must use the reel/drag for Steelhead and I’m wondering if you ditch the conventional fly line underneath on the spool in that case and go with 20lb Chameleon on top of backing?

    Best wishes,


    • Hi Jeff,

      Cool question.

      ” . .. what rough percentage of the time you put a fish on your reel.”

      All the time. Here are more thoughts:



      ” . . . I seem to be getting my mono rig line stuck down in between the gaps of the fly line on the spool.”

      I’ve seen that. And it’s always because the fly line is reeled too loosely on the spool. Any line that goes on a fly spool should be done so under pretty good tension. Try the pinky cradle described in the Mono Pull Through article that you read. That will solve the problem.

      ” . . . I’m guessing you must use the reel/drag for Steelhead and I’m wondering if you ditch the conventional fly line underneath on the spool in that case and go with 20lb Chameleon on top of backing?”

      I also use it for fighting big fish at night. And I never have the trouble described because the fly line is on the spool nice and tight. But no, DO NOT just spool a reel with Chameleon. That’s really asking for trouble, in my opinion. Too many coils. It also limits your versatility, as described in the article above.

      Make sense?


  14. Thank you for the quick thoughtful reply. Yes – what you said makes sense. I don’t think the main reason for my problem is a loose fly line because I’m typically fairly good at keeping tension and managing line (I had already read about the pinky cradle). I feel my problem is because I downsized my butt section after watching a Lance Egan video on being able to tight-line at increased distance without sag drag by using a thinner diameter leader. I can’t recall ever having the problem on the spool before when using the .017 diameter OPST or Chameleon. Lesson learned.


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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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