** Note ** Revised and updated, January, 2020
Euro nymphing has created a buzz in the fly fishing world. It’s an extremely productive and enjoyable method of fishing because the rig and the tactics put the angler in excellent control. Euro nymphing is a contact system — designed to keep the angler in touch with a nymph while precisely dictating its course downstream. With so much control over the fly and the attached line, doing the right things with that contact can be challenging — but the rewards are there for anyone who dedicates the time and effort toward a method with endless opportunity for refinement.
Likewise, the Mono Rig is something I started writing about in 2015, here on Troutbitten. Euro nymphing is part of the Mono Rig, but the full Mono Rig system encompasses so much more than just nymphing on a tight line. The Mono Rig is a complete system for fly fishing, by substituting (relatively thick) mono for fly line. It includes fishing with streamers large and small, indicator nymphing, dry-dropper and even dry fly fishing. Why substitute mono for fly line? Because removing traditional fly line puts the angler in contact and control like nothing else. Importantly, effective fishing with a Mono Rig is not about lobbing and slinging flies. It takes excellent, refined fly casting skills to get twenty-pound monofilament to do a job normally reserved for the fly line. But when those skills are learned, the Mono Rig makes available to the angler a full contact system of fly fishing. It’s amazingly effective, and it’s fun. For most anglers, the Mono Rig is truly revolutionary.
The fly fishing industry has rushed to create products that cater to anglers learning to euro nymph. Most of these rods and lines are excellent. But they are also limiting — because they’re specialized. And the marketing is confusing. Many anglers believe they need a ten foot or longer, three weight or lighter, fly rod to euro nymph. That simply isn’t true. And as I’ve detailed across many articles here on Troutbitten, a more general or versatile rod is a better tool for the complete angler. In short, competition fly fishing has driven the innovation of euro nymphing products. But if you aren’t bound by the FIPS rules of competition, then you might enjoy all the options and advantages that a Mono Rig system offers — and your best set of tools may be different. The truth is, you’ll do better without a euro line or a competition fly line. Opt instead for a long Mono Rig attached to a standard fly line, giving yourself more versatility. Likewise, an array of tactics is better complimented by a more versatile fly rod.
The terms euro nymphing, tight line nymphing, contact nymphing and Mono Rig are often intertwined. For certain, there is much crossover and overlap. But there are also major distinctions. This article is an attempt to clear up some of that confusion, and to reveal or highlight all that is truly possible with a contact system.
This is Euro Nymphing
(Let’s start by flushing out the term and the tactic of euro nymphing. A look at the Mono Rig follows after the break.)
Language is complicated. The words we choose have enormous power to shape and communicate what we think about things. The particular words matter. Our chosen words carry an intended meaning, but they bring baggage with them too. Along with what we might really mean, our words are accompanied by restrictions, connotations and unintended relations. Those add-ons tend to get inside a term and shape the perception of a concept as soon as it’s presented in print or spoken aloud.
Such is the case with the term euro nymphing.
First, the term euro nymphing is inherently restrictive. And that’s unfortunate, because tight line rigs are excellent for throwing streamers too. Second, euro nymphing carries the baggage of being something “other,” something specific to a certain region of the world. And I dare say the term subtly adds to the (unfortunate) undertone of elitism in fly fishing.
Lastly, the tactic known as euro nymphing comes with certain exclusions, namely the absence of split shot or a traditional indicator attached to the line. That’s bad too, because the basic euro rig is an excellent place to attach split shot and/or indicators that will (at the right times) out-fish a tight line presentation. Euro nymphing is a wonderful tactic that catches a lot of fish. I’m just saying that it has limitations that are, to me, unnecessary.
The term euro nymphing appeared on the fly fishing scene a little less than a decade ago, and interest in the tactic has spiked in the last few years.
Euro nymphing (the term and the tactic) grew from the competitive fly fishing circuit and is generally used to define a group of upstream and cross-stream nymphing tactics, mostly presented tightline, with leaders long enough to eliminate the influence of traditional fly line. The “euro” part is a reference to four specific varieties of nymphing: Polish, Czech, French, Spanish. Once thought of as separate techniques, the styles are all mashed together into the term euro nymphing. (You can learn more about the detailed differences here.)
For my money, none of those specifics matters a lick. I don’t care where the tactics came from or how far across the river I need be fishing to call what I’m doing Spanish nymphing or anything else. I just want to use whatever leaders and techniques give me the most control, precision and accuracy to catch more fish. And I think a lot of anglers share that same sentiment.
The eternal jockeying for who-came-up-with-what-first is silly to me. Fishing is like songwriting — it’s all been done, and there’s nothing left to do but rearrange chords and lines into something no one has heard or seen for a while. Therein lies another weakness of the term euro nymphing. “Euro” is a regional attribution for a technique that has probably been used since 1938, anywhere fishermen had access to monofilament and long rods.
I won’t attempt to cover euro nymphing, tight line nymphing, or Mono Rig techniques here, because I’ve already done that in a long, ongoing series here on Troutbitten:
I will, however, mention again that euro nymphing (and euro rigs), by definition, are restricted to weighted flies, no split shot, and no indicators. And that’s too bad, because a broader usage of contact rigs opens up a whole new world to the curious and ambitious angler.
That brings me to a more liberated term and fishing method — the Mono Rig.
This is the Mono Rig
While euro rigs are restricted to weighted flies and tightlining without traditional indicators, the Mono Rig is not.
Over time, I’ve found the benefits of the Mono Rig to be beneficial for almost every river fishing situation. I use a Mono Rig about ninety percent of the time. And I know other guides and good anglers who’ve come to the same realization — that the Mono Rig is extremely versatile. It opens up the fly fishing game to a world of possibilities.
I use the Mono Rig to tight line nymph and to fish nymphs with indicators. I use it to throw big and small streamers, to strip and dead drift them. I also use it to cast wet flies and surface flies at night, for dry-dropper, and occasionally, for single dry flies.
The Mono Rig encompasses everything — all techniques in one leader. No limitations. Streamers, indicators, split shot, dry-dropper — nothing is off the table. With the freedom to fish whatever works best, there are no restrictions. Do whatever you enjoy at any time. Fish what the trout ask for. The Mono Rig is much more than a standard euro rig.
However, the term Mono Rig has its own baggage. “Mono Rig” sounds like we’re not fly fishing anymore, right? We must be knuckle-dragging, just slinging and lobbing weighted rigs around with long rods. Surely a Mono Rig can’t cast like a fly line, right? And how can a Mono Rig still be fly fishing? The truth is, we use the Mono Rig as a fly line substitute. The casting approach is very much like casting a fly line, only now the added weight, the sag and drag of fly line, is defeated. This is not lobbing, and it takes refined fly casting skills to fish a Mono Rig to its potential.
So I use the term Mono Rig. And I learned the tactic from Joe Humphreys. In his 1981 book, Trout Tactics, Humphreys writes this:
. . . Actually, my ace line system for deep nymphing and line sensitivity is monofilament. . . . nymphing with monofilament is a very effective way of fishing deep, fast water — about the most effective there is. When you want to shoot for distance and get your nymph down to the bottom, I feel monofilament is the answer.
. . . Any technique employed for nymphing with a fly line can be aptly accomplished with flat monofilament. The tuck cast, the tuck and mend, and the conventional cast can all be done with monofilament.
. . . The advantages of monofilament for nymphing (and for fishing streamers) are many. But, above all, the diameter of the line is small, so there is minimal air and water resistance, which means less drag. And that means better sensitivity to the fly.
. . . When weighted nymphs or additional weight is adjusted properly on the leader, and the line is tight from rod tip to fly, you can feel almost every rock and pebble on the stream bottom through the monofilament, even at distances beyond thirty feet.
— Joe Humphreys, Trout Tactics, 1981
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I read those words about a decade after Humphreys wrote them. And long before the introduction of the term euro nymphing, Humphreys introduced the effectiveness of the Mono Rig to a generation of fly fishers.
Humphreys, famously, does not use indicators. But I do. Using a Mono Rig with an indicator is a tactic I will never be without. Importantly, the key tight line principles are carried over to an indy style. It’s an altogether different method of fishing indicators than most anglers have seen.
Every fly fisher draws his own lines in the sand regarding how he chooses to fish. For me, I draw no line that might separate me from whatever is most effective, provided I can safely catch and release trout without harm.
The Mono Rig works because the traditional fly line is replaced with a long leader. Because, for most underwater presentations, fly line is simply not the best tool. That’s it. And by adding in a sighter and limiting the diameters of tippet under the water, a deadly-effective contact system is created for fishing any type of fly.
Or . . . Whatever
Call things what you will. Can you add split shot to a euro nymphing rig? Can you add a Thingamambobber to a euro nymphing rig? Can you fish streamers on the same rig? Of course, but by the common understanding of the term, that makes things pretty confusing. Therefore, I refer to all of these tactics (and more) as the Mono Rig system.
And as the general understanding of these fly fishing techniques grows, it’s probably helpful to consider the terms we use to describe them.
Lastly, by exploring all that is possible with a contact system — by learning every facet of the Mono Rig — you will be equipped to meet trout on their own terms, wherever they are found and however they want to eat.
In the end, I hope all the stuff here on Troubitten helps you fool more trout.
Fish hard, friends.
What are your thoughts? I invite you to share in the comments section below.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N