Tight Line Tips — Stop the Mono Pull-Through on the Fly Reel

by | Jul 19, 2017 | 16 comments

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.

The best fishing companion, Sloop John B. — Photo by Austin Dando

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.

Photo by Austin Dando

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.

Issue solved.

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.

The Pinky Cradle — Photo by Austin Dando

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

Dear Sage:

Please bring back the 3850.

Warmest regards,
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.

READ: Troutbitten | How to pick a fly reel — And why I choose the Sage TROUT


The Sage 3850 — Photo by Austin Dando


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.

Photo by Pat Burke


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. You may try to investigate “centerpin reel” it is reel used for float fishing in rivers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9V4l1bEgy0

    It eliminates problem of line pull through as it is constructed in a bit different way than fly reel. However I am afraid that most models will be too heavy for light fly rod. I will try mine (pretty cheap low shelf model) some time next week with my 10 ft #3 nymph rod.

    • Hi, and thanks for the idea. I looked into centerpin reels as a solution a while ago, but they will not work for my purposes. First they are too heavy for a fly rod. Second, they are a one trick pony. I couldn’t fish dries and do some of the other things that I like to do every day on the water. I just like having one rod and reel that can cover all the situations I encounter in one day.

      Thanks again.

  2. Or you could just pull out your old Pflueger Medalist fly reels. They are all full cage and completely stop the problem. Don’t have one. They can be bought on Ebay at pretty reasonable prices.

    • That might be a pretty good idea. Two things though: my Medalist is heavy compared to my other trout reels, but I know some of the new Medalists are lighter. Other thing is the Medalists are not large arbor. I find that a large arbor really helps in keeping the coils out of the line.

  3. Domenick,

    First I want to thank you for this article and for your writing/blogging in general. I find your topics very interesting and relevant to my fishing experiences.

    I wanted to add one more tip to avoid a mono pull through. This tip may be viewed as an extension of the pinky cradle or a separate, additional tip. My tip is to make sure you reel in your mono under tension aka don’t reel in slack line. The tension can be the weight of the fish or it can be self created by pinching the mono in between your fingers (from the hand that is holding the rod).

    I was reminded of this tip from my days of spin fishing. Reeling in the memory of mono plus slack line always resulted in my line wrapping around my spool.

    Hope this helps.


  4. I must be doing something right. I have never had my line slip through the crack and around the spindle. And I don’t use high end reels, either. For now, I will just keep doing what I have been doing. Of course, now that I have jinxed myself……

  5. I posted this in another article but this looked like the spot to put the info on a fullcage trout reel. It’s a Swedish company, Danielsson flyreels
    I got the F3W 7ten for steelhead and loved it so much I got the 4seven for my trout rod. They also have a smaller reel that is 4.8 oz
    The quality of the reel equals that of a $600 one in my opinion. They only sell their reels off their website so theirs no middleman and they have what appears to be a permanent sale which brings the price down to about $200 shipped to the USA. They also have other higher end models

  6. I have an old Hardy Marquis that solves the problem.

    On another note, if you were building a rod would an extra guide (replacing the pinky cradle) help? Has anyone done this?

    • Hi Keith,

      I like the innovative spirit. I get where you’re coming from. For me, that would really interfere with shooting line, though. And we all need to do that.

      I’ve gotten so used to the pinky cradle that I never even think about it anymore.


  7. In the past Danielsson manufactured reels for SAGE. Perhaps the 3850 (or a relative) is available to purchase from them directly.

  8. The Orbit Hydros has a slot on the outside of the reel I threaded a OPST line through. Solved the problem. Works great.


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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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