All good things come with consequences. It’s life’s way of keeping us grounded, I guess, making us work for the very best things and helping us appreciate what’s nearly perfect, since true perfection is too rare to wait for.
Tight line nymphing with extra-long leaders provides control over the drift and direction of the flies that an attentive angler can turn into high fish counts. I use a Mono Rig not just for nymphs, but also for streamers and some dry-dropper work. Eliminating the drag of fly line provides an enormous advantage. But fly fishing without fly line comes with a nagging issue — the mono pull-through.
Fly reels are designed to hold fly lines, much thicker than the twenty pound Maxima Chameleon that I use as a fly line substitute. So occasionally, the long leader slips through the thin gaps of a reel cage and wraps around the spindle itself. Solving this mess once it happens evokes a range of emotions from mildly annoying to full on river-rage (seemingly proportionate to the time wasted and the number of feeding fish in front of you).
The dreaded pull-through happens not only with long mono butt sections, but with some extra thin competition fly lines as well, damaging or shredding a significant investment.
All of this sucks. And one of the most common questions I hear about the Mono Rig is how to avoid the pull-through.
I have four answers — four ways to stop the mono pull through and have you loving life again.
First — Pull line straight off the reel spool
All of my mono pull-through failures come when reeling in. But a friend recently told me it was happening while he pulled line off the spool.
The fix is easy — when stripping line from the reel, pull forward, directly away from the reel and not to the side.
Two decades ago I walked into my local fly shop and complained that my peach Cortland 444 hadn’t lasted more than six months.
“Go get the reel,” said the guy behind the counter. So I brought the rod and reel into the shop.
He told me to strip off some line, and I got two strips out before he bellowed, “STOP!”
“There’s yer problem,” he grumbled with disapproval. “When you pull sideways, the line’s rubbing on the rim of the reel, creating friction and ruining yer fly line.”
I sheepishly thanked the man, walked out the door and never pulled sideways off the spool again. So when I converted to the Mono Rig, I never had the pull-through problem while stripping line off the reel. Issue solved.
Second — Stretch the leader
The loose coils of a leader are easily overlooked by many anglers, and it doesn’t bother them. But I’ve hated it from the beginning. From day one of fly fishing, I’ve always stretched my leaders before fishing.
When working with extra long leaders the coils tend to jump inside the reel cage, causing the mono pull through. So get rid of the coils.
There are a few ways. I’ve seen people wrap the whole leader around a tree and pull like mad. Some run the leader through a piece of rubber. But none of that is necessary. I pull all the leader out through the guides and then simply stretch it between my hands in three-foot sections. I grab the first section of leader coming off the fly line and stretch it with a firm tug, then I slide the next three feet between my hands and stretch.
It doesn’t take the strength of a gorilla to stretch the line either. You can actually feel the line lengthen and stretch between you hands. When it’s tight, stop pulling, then grab the next three feet and do the same. I like Maxima Chameleon because it relaxes easily and remains that way for a long time.
Third — The Pinky Cradle
Even with the coils eliminated, the mono (or a thin competition fly line) can jump inside the gap of a fly reel. I use my pinky finger to cradle and guide the line being wound back onto the spool. When I do this, the line simply cannot pull through the gap. It’s a foolproof solution. If you get into this habit, the pull-through will never happen to you again.
Fourth — A Better Reel
I use the pinky cradle all the time — until I don’t. Even though it’s an ingrained habit for me, there are times when I fail to get the line under my pinky before reeling. Since life’s a son-of-a-bitch, this usually happens after hooking a big fish, and I have ten feet of leader that I quickly want on the reel. The pull-through in moments like these is a disaster. Sad, sad times, my friends.
My Lamson Konic rarely experienced the pull through until I had about five years of hard use on it. Then the gaps grew larger, and the mono slipped through easier. I’ve talked with all the Troutbitten guys about this, along with many other die hard anglers who fish the Mono Rig or comp lines. The pull-through has happened to just about everyone. Some high-end reels have smaller gaps in the cage. Newer reels that haven’t been dropped on rocks multiple times also seem to perform better.
Pat Weiss told me about full cage reels, so I checked them out. Most full cage reels are designed for Spey fishing and much larger species of fish, so they are too heavy to balance with trout rods. But the Sage 3850 is an excellent reel that balances well with both of my main rods for the Mono Rig. The full cage design essentially does the job of the pinky cradle for you. Unfortunately, Sage discontinued the 3850, but you can still find them on eBay. That’s where I got mine.
I will mention that the full cage reel is still not a perfect solution. Although the pull-through cannot happen in the normal way, I’ve had the line slip into the inner back gap of the reel and onto the spindle a few times. It happens when I stash the line under my arm with some slack, to retie knots or attach a new fly. It’s unusual, but it does happen. I still love my 3850.
To Whom It May Concern
Please bring back the 3850.
The Troutbitten Family
** UPDATE: Spring, 2020 ** Sage now manufactures a full cage reel called the TROUT. It’s excellent. And you can find my full write up on the Sage TROUT in the article below.
There’s no denying it; the pull-through is a pain-in-the-ass. When you look down to see the line has slipped through the crack and looped around the spindle, you know you have to remove the spool and fix it. Depending on the reel and the spool release mechanism, it’s either a quick slide off and on, or you’re in for a lengthy bank-sit and some tedious untangling.
However, if you incorporate all four of the above fixes, you’ll have a perfect solution to the problem … almost.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N