Ask an Expert | For Euro Nymphing or the Mono Rig, what leader material do you like for the butt section?

by | Jan 24, 2018 | 35 comments

Fly fishers are a funny bunch. We ask questions, get answers, then go off and do our own thing anyway. Truth be told, some of the best innovations come from our unique brand of intemperate independence. We’re at our best when we modify ideas and build on the creations of others, when we’re testing and developing with an open mind and adventurous spirit. Sure, in some ways it’s all been done before, but not quite in the way that you do it, right?

This leads me to the topic of long leader butt sections, both the material and design. It seems that every good angler does something a little different with their leader, and everyone has a good reason why.

If you’re not familiar, then know this: there’s a rogue faction of fly fishers out there who’ve decided that employing fly line is not always the best way to present a fly. The system is known as a euro rig, tight line rig or long-ass leader. And many of us fish a variation called a Mono Rig.

Here’s a primer, if you need it.

READ: What is Euro Nymphing? And what is the Mono Rig? | Troutbitten

READ: The Mono Rig and Why Fly Line Sucks | Troutbitten

When I started ditching fly line, around the turn of the century (that’s fun to say) I followed the aforementioned process: I asked a lot of questions, got a lot of answers, then went off and did my own thing. I found a mad-scientist’s joy in altering leader formulas and materials. Through the years I bought nylon, fluorocarbon, braided lines, running lines and more, in all brands, in all colors, and at every price range. My obsession has plateaued, though. Because the truth is, I keep coming back to one leader material that works well for me.

In conversation with the best fishermen I know, it’s one of my favorite questions: What is your preferred butt section material for the long leader stuff?

Below, I’ve condensed the replies from a host of experts who inhabit various corners of the industry. Some of these guys will chuckle at the term expert, and I use the word liberally here for a guy like Burke. Although he did give me this picture of him to boost his credibility.

“I mustache you a question.” Man-selfie by Pat Burke.

There, now Burke is an expert.

First, a summary of my own findings . . .

I like it

I roll with 20# Maxima Chameleon. Since I use the Mono Rig for both tight line and indicator nymphing, since I also use it for streamers, wets and the occasional dry fly, I’ve settled on a butt section that handles all of those situations. 20# Chameleon suits my style. It meets my preferences. You can read a lot more about why it suits me in these other Troutbitten articles about the Mono Rig. 

But I’d rather tell you what the other guys shared with me . . .

Things that Matter

Here are a few generalizations about why different anglers choose what they do.

Weight — Sag equals drag, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid here. Lighter lines sag less. However, you should understand that the mass of a line is what allows us to cast these rigs with fly-line-style casting. With a good, tight form, you can cast a 20# butt section with no flies or weight attached, much like a fly line. But you can’t cast 8# nylon that way because it’s too light. Make sense? The limit seems to be around 14# or 12#, depending on casting stroke, material, and angler determination. Without some mass to the butt section, you end up lobbing and not casting much. There’s a difference.

Stiffness — the stiffness of the line also relates to its casting performance. A stiff butt section material allows a thinner line to cast more like a fly line. It’s tough to make extra-limp lines perform the same way, given equal diameters.

Coiling / Handling — We don’t want the mono to coil as it comes off the reel. All of these lines should be stretched at the beginning of the day, and once they are, some lines have more memory than others. Most often, stiffer lines coil more, but not always.

Visibility — Lastly, seeing the line is important to some anglers. If you grew up fly fishing with a visible fly line, like most of us, then taking away that visibility and tracking might seem like a handicap. You either get used to it (and watch the sighter or other colors built into a taper), or you choose a hi-vis butt section.

Boundaries

Remember, we’re only talking about the butt section here, not the full leader. We’re focused on the long section before the taper, before any sighter or tippet section. The euro rigs / mono rigs we use have long butt sections that essentially replace traditional fly line — we’re often holding the butt section with the line hand. And yes, as you’ll see below, some build a taper into this section.

Now let’s get to the experts . . .

 

Amnesia

Torrey Collins

My favorite butt section material is clear Amnesia. It’s easy to work with, and if you give it a quick stretch, any curl comes right out. I like Maxima Chameleon too, but it can be hard to see when you’re viewing the brown line against trees that are essentially the same color. I used to use clear Maxima before I switched to the Amnesia. I always keep a bag of clear Amnesia in my car from 25# down to 10#, that way I can build a butt section for any type of leader on the spot, if need be.

Davy Wotton

Most times l choose clear Amnesia  because, when stretched, it stays perfectly straight. And due to its oval profile, it rarely twists.

You can also mix and match for your sighter, if needed, with color bands of clear, red and green Amnesia. I generally build my systems from Amnesia of 20/15/10/12 lb increments, depending on what l need. It casts really well for an extended long leader system.

Incidentally, in my opinion, people make this a far more complicated affair than it needs to be.

Bill Dell

I prefer red amnesia because it doesn’t retain much memory. I just stretch it a little, and it’s good to go. I also think the big draw for me is the visibly.

** Note **  Amnesia is a flat mono (it’s actually oval). There are other brands of flat mono, but Amnesia is the most popular.

Chameleon

Pat Weiss

If I wasn’t hampered by FIPS leader rules, I would have a butt section of 20# Maxima Chameleon to hand. I prefer that the butt section of my leader be straight and stiff for the proper energy transfer during a cast. It also helps telegraph feeling from the flies to your hand, which is especially helpful with heavier flies and deeper water.

It also allows me to fish small to medium sized dries quite well at short to intermediate distances.

George Daniel

I use 15# Maxima Chameleon for all butt sections on any nymphing leader that I plan to cast (not lob). The 15# diameter provides enough turnover power, but it’s thin enough to decrease sag in the leader when tight line nymphing.

Devin Olsen

There’s no material like Chameleon. It is stiffer than most monofilament lines, so it transfers energy better at a smaller diameter, which helps reduce mass and sag. In addition, once stretched, there is little to no memory, which reduces tangles and increases accuracy and strike detection.

Pat Burke

I’m using straight 20# Chameleon. I use enough of it on the spool that fly line never sees my guides (maybe 50-60 feet). I used to boil it occasionally, just to bring the line back to life after using it for a while, because it develops memory and kinks. But since it’s not very expensive, now I just pitch it at the first sign of any wear. New line works the best.

Stren

Dave Rothrock

I use fluorescent 20# (.018”) clear blue Stren for my standard leader butt sections. This material would be categorized as soft mono, and while it is not truly fluorescent, it tends to show up fairly well in dimmer light conditions.

I use my standard  leader for most of my fishing, and that means I can change from deep-drifting nymphs,to drifting dries on the surface, or whatever else I choose with, at most, altering my tippet.  I actually have three leader formulas: one which starts with .016″, my “standard” which starts with .018″ and my longest  leader which starts with .020″.

By using soft mono, one can get away with a larger diameter, and this is important to allow good energy transfer to present a dry fly as well.  

When I was first introduced to the leaders now used in what most come to refer to as Euro nymphing, I chose a design that would also perform adequately for dry fly fishing and beyond.  Let’s keep in mind that the concept I use today was “born” in the Lehigh Valley in southeastern PA in the ’70s, about the same time some Polish anglers gave birth to the concept on their home waters. It could just as well be referred to as American or even Pennsylvania nymphing.

Matt Grobe

I use two different butt sections, depending on what type of water I’m fishing. I like the Hends Camou French Leader that is 900 CM long when I can get closer to the fish and don’t need a long cast to have a productive day. In any other situation, I use 40 feet of 14# Stren Original in Lo-Vis Green. That extra length allows me to cast further, without fly line getting into my guides. I do not like to build a taper because the knots become problematic in the guides.

** Note ** There are many other brands of nylon that perform similarly. However, some cheaper nylon lines are too stiff and hold a lot of memory.

 

Competition Fly Line

Comp lines are super thin “fly lines” specifically designed to function more like a long mono rig than a traditional fly line. And yes, competition fly lines are a good choice for a Mono Rig butt section.

Lance Egan

For clarity, I’m not a fan of the mono rig as I understand it’s used, because I much prefer to handle fly line. So I use a thin competition style fly line and pair it with about an 18-22’ leader. I vary the butt section diameter based on cast-ability. If I want better turnover and accuracy I use 20# Chameleon. If wanting less sag, and accuracy is less of a worry, I might drop the butt all the way down to 8# Chameleon (or various diameters between). The rest of the leader tapers from the butt.

Nick Meloy

I do prefer a comp line. Mainly for technique and for FIPS rules. It casts nicely when I’m throwing a 2.0 or 2.5mm rig and floating my sighter, or dries.

Beyond the comp line, I use about a six foot tapered section before I hit my sighter. If I don’t use a comp line, I double or triple that, with the taper happening at the front end.

 

OPST Laser Line

Last one here. Back in the fall sometime, Lance Wilt told me about the shooting line from OPST called Lazar line. I couldn’t get it straight whether Lance learned about the line from Joe Goodspeed, or Joe got it from Lance first. Fishermen like to keep secrets, and as Lance puts it, “I’m 80 percent sarcasm.” So who cares, I guess.

I bought the 30# OPST Lazar Line, and it’s the first new (to me) line that I’ve liked in many years. It’s just slightly thinner than 20# Chameleon, highly visible, and has a little different feel than Chameleon.

Feel is what this is all about, really, isn’t it? It’s where our personal preference comes forward.

I’ll offer that the 30# OPST Lazar Lineis slightly softer than Chameleon. It also holds a coil a little less, and that’s always a good thing.

Joe Goodspeed

I’ve used lots of different things over the years, and last year I found something that I felt had distinctly advantageous performance and properties — the OPST is my preference for fishing larger bugs by feel at a distance, while still having some control to handle the line.

Lance Wilt

The first time I fished with Joe (Goodspeed)  he had OPST on his reel. I’m 80 percent sarcasm, for future reference.

 

Other

People ask me all the time if they can use this thing or the other for a butt section. Of course you can. Try it, and you’ll quickly know why you like it or why you don’t. Again, that intemperate independence, the adventurous spirit, has moved fly fishing a long way forward.

There are three line types conspicuously absent from this list. No one whom I asked mentioned them as a favorite, and I don’t don’t like them either.

I’m not a fan of braided mono or furled lines for a butt section. The braid tends to hold water, adding unnecessary weight and causing drag. Braided / furled lines are also too limp. I thought I almost liked a braided mono running line once, but I was mistaken.

Fluorocarbon weighs more than nylon. So it gives more punch to the cast, but it sags with the extra weight too. Fluorocarbon also tends to sink when you need to lay some leader on the water at longer distances. However, many Tenkara lines are fluorocarbon (and Tenkara techniques are pretty similar to tight lining). I have a #4 line (that’s number 4, not four pound — it’s a Tenkara thing), and I used it as a Mono Rig for a while. It coiled too much for me. Remember, Tenkara lines are not intended to live on a reel spool.

Lastly, thin running lines (the fly line type) have the opposite problem. Most have a braided Dacron core and are too limp for my preference. They’re also thicker and weigh more than 20# nylon.

And there you have it . . .

This is one of the longest Troutbitten posts ever. So let’s wrap it up.

I encourage you to try everything, if for no other reason than you’ll learn something and have fun doing it — you’ll learn a lot, in fact. Take some ideas from the guys quoted above, and get after it.

Fish hard, friends.

Feel free to share your own preferences in the comments section below. We’ll all be interesting to see some different thoughts.

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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35 Comments

  1. Interesting read! I recently swapped out my butt section from maxima #20 to a Yamatoyo #4 level line that I had laying around. The chameleon just wouldn’t uncoil for me and was starting to get frustrating. The level line straightened right out with zero effort and casted quite well with both dual nymphs and a weighted streamer. Figure I’ll run it through the paces for a while before I make a solid judgment, but I quite enjoyed it on the first run.

    Reply
    • Nice. I have the #4 Sunline. Mine is stiff, though, coming off the reel. Does it bother you that the fluoro sinks a bit when fishing long distances? You could grease it I guess? Keep us updated on how you like it.

      Incidentally. if you stretch Chameleon, just a couple feet at time, not hard — just stretch each section to its limit, it’ll lay flat, even in cold weather.

      More on that here:
      https://troutbitten.com/2017/07/19/tight-line-tips-stop-mono-pull-fly-reel/

      Cheers.

      Reply
      • As of yet, I’ve had no issues with the fluoro line sinking when I don’t want it to. Then again, I haven’t tried any long distance stuff with it yet so I can’t really speak to that. As for the line memory, I think it’s more a function of the make. I have a 4.5 Sunline, and it coils considerably worse than the Yamatoyo, even on my tenkara rod. With the chameleon, I just can’t seem to get it to straighten out no matter how much I stretch and pull at it. I’ll spend 10-15 mins straightening it out one section at a time and when I reach the water, it’s already started returning to a coiled state. Perhaps that means it’s time to cut a new length, I’m not sure.

        Reply
        • Hey Evan, thanks for the comment.

          Yeah, I only mind the fluoro sinking at distance, when I DO have to lay some butt section on the water. Even then, I could grease it if I wanted.

          I love the performance of Chameleon, so I keep coming back to it, but it’s not for everyone (and that’s a good thing.)

          Any of the lines above need to be stretched. Even Amnesia performs better once stretched.

          You shouldn’t need to spend 10-15 minutes stretching your leader either. I’ve had so many people comment and ask about line stretching and coiling trouble that I wrote and article and did I short video about it. Here it is:

          https://troutbitten.com/2017/07/19/tight-line-tips-stop-mono-pull-fly-reel/

          I hope that helps. As you’ll see, stretching the leader is a very simple, quick process, and it’ll make all of the butt section materials above lay out nice and flat.

          Let me know if that works out for you.


          Dom

          Reply
  2. Whoa and double-HA! I can see guys swimming around in their own brains trying to figure out what brand of butt section to use. All of those “experts” and all of those choices. The fly fishers with low self-esteem will be out their buying everything. All make good points, though, I’ll stick with my mono rig because I’m set in my ways and nearing the age of Velcro shoe fasteners. You can’t go wrong listening to Pat Weiss or Dave Rothrock. I’ve fished with both of those guys. They catch fish with such regularity it seems they’re doing something illegal. Good information, and I say experiment, it’s part of the joy.

    Reply
      • Hi Domenick, I’ve been using #20 Chameleon. My mono rig formula is about the same as yours.

        Reply
  3. Team Berkley Big Game #20

    Reply
  4. #12 chameleon. I think a smaller pound for trout makes more sense. I’ve thrown heavy streamers and nymphs just fine.

    Reply
    • Right on. Heavily weighted flies are easily thrown with lighter butt sections, just like you can throw a Rooster Tail Spinner with #6 Berkley Trilene — because the weight carries the line to the target. See what I mean?? The trouble arises when the fly is TOO LIGHT. It’s in those situations where you need the butt section and leader to have enough mass to actually cast like a fly line and PUSH the lighter fly to the target. Twelve pound can get it done sometimes, but it’s often a challenge. I would argue that it’s almost impossible to cast light flies with anything less than twelve pound for a butt section. It’s a lot of fun to try all this out in the backyard or on the stream. Seriously, you’ll find your own limits pretty quickly.

      Make sense?


      Dom

      Reply
    • Has anyone tried the floating braid lines? Supposedly stiffer than braid and has the low stretch sensitivity.

      Reply
  5. Great read and thanks for the post !!! I have been Fly Fishing now for 1 year. I am currently in the process of setting up a reel and rig to start tight lining, this article could not have been more timely. Thanks for the insight. Sorry I do not have any insight to offer at this point.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Cool. Stop back after you give it a try for a while and tell us your preferences.

      Reply
  6. Never heard of the opst line before. Do you think the bright colors would spook fish?

    Reply
    • In my opinion, no not one bit. Not when it’s in the air, anyway. But even when you have to lay it on the water a little, I don’t think the trout care. Remember too, it’s thinner than a fly line.


      Dom

      Reply
  7. What knot do you use to tie your mono leader sections together? Will a double or triple surgeons knot work?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • I use blood knots for the larger diameters and double surgeons for the tippet diameters.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  8. Can you still use tippet rings with the oval amnesia line? Will same knots work?

    Reply
    • Yes, Absolutely.

      Reply
  9. It’s coming up on a year since this was written. I am curious for those who use the OPST Lazar line if they have any more feedback. It isn’t the cheapest line for a leader – is it worth it? Any other comments or insights? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Jim. I’ll follow up on my own thoughts above. OPST is a little softer, so it casts less like a fly line than the 20 lb Chameleon. For me, casting like fly line is the goal. I don’t want to lob things around out there. I want to cast because I have far more control over the fly and the tippet that way. A soft butt section doesn’t turn over or form loops as well. But the OPST Lazar Line is visible. And that’s it’s best quality, in my opinion. Personally, I don’t care if I can see my butt section, because I watch the sighter. But many anglers seem more comfortable when they can see the butt section.

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • I don’t know what it is of the many factors that go into casting (rod, individual casting style, etc), but after trying the rig with Chameleon as the butt and OPST as the butt I felt I was able to cast much more efficiently with the OPST. It was no problem for me casting a light nymph with a bushy Stimulator dry for the suspender. Just a single light nymph also cast equally well for me. I am planning some further testing after having fished with the Chameleon again yesterday.

        Reply
        • I will be testing with just a single unweighted fly as well.

          Reply
          • After fishing the OPST again I have determined that Dom is right about it being too soft to cast like a fly line very well.

  10. Great stuff. I enjoy reading all the different ways to approach our single-minded goal to catch more fish. My question to you Dom, is it “heresy”, or just not practical to what I would call “hybridize” the different materials, say to get the best of all the worlds presented here? For example, have Chameleon for the butt section (stiffer for the best turnover), but then use Amnesia for the transition (perhaps in a “sighter color”), and end up with Flouro or Stren? Would the different materials not work in the knot connections…or not make any difference at all, ending up being a waste of money buying different brands? Just thinking outside the box a little….

    Reply
    • Hi Glenn,

      So first, I’d encourage you to try all the ideas that you have. That’s one of the fun parts of this whole thing.

      But I will point out that this article is about butt section materials for the Mono Rig. The butt section is what essentially functions as a fly line substitute. So I would choose one of these materials for the butt.

      You wrote:

      “For example, have Chameleon for the butt section (stiffer for the best turnover), but then use Amnesia for the transition (perhaps in a “sighter color”), and end up with Flouro or Stren?”

      That’s pretty much what we do. After the butt section, use a short transition to the sighter, then the sighter can be made of many different materials and go to the fluoro for tippet.

      Make sense? Or did I not understand your question?

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • Great, and thanks for your reply! I will now play the mad scientist and experiment, hahaha. The only other thing I would pick your brain about is whether you have noticed problems in the knot connections slipping when attaching different materials (such as Chameleon to Amnesia, or Amnesia to Stren, etc.) I also have read some anglers warn about certain knots slipping if you try to drop down material diameters too quickly (too thick- knotted to – too thin – equals knots slipping and/or poor tippet and fly turnover). Your thoughts? Much appreciated…really like your blogs!

        Glenn

        Reply
        • Hi Glenn. No, I don’t have many problems knotting different materials together. In the Mono Rig formula, that 20 lb to 10 lb blood knot can be a bit tricky, but with four wraps on the 20 and five wraps on the 10, then wetting the knot and pulling evenly, it’s not a problem.

          Good luck experimenting. Have fun.

          Dom

          Reply
  11. I remember when this 1st came out. Now that we’re three years out and in the microthin craze I wonder what everyone would say now? Would be interesting to see if / how people have changed.

    Reply
    • Good point. I would also like to know if people believe they catch more trout now than they used to. I know that as I go through changes in leader design and experimentation, I always realize that the leader doesn’t catch more trout. That’s up to me.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  12. im surprised ive heard no mention of how bad the mono rig is to fish with in the rain..ive learned the hardway..the 20lb chameleon sticks to my rod like glue in the rain making it pretty much useless to use because its that bad..i have another spool with me with comp line on it unless i go to heavy nymphs and start lobbing them..what does one do to eliminate that problem? thnku

    Reply
    • Hi Kevin,

      This is not much of an issue for most of us. I can assure you, I fish in a LOT of rain. And I just don’t have the problem you are describing. It can stick a little in when the rod is wet, sure. But it’s not significant enough for me to care.

      Couple things, maybe:

      Do you have knots in the guides? Knots hang up far more than mono on a wet rod. I build my rigs to keep all knots out of the guide — always.

      When you use that comp line, do you use super short leader? If not, then you still have knots in the guides. And now you also have the transition to the fly line.

      Are you trying to use extra light nymphs? If so, why? If you use medium to heavier weighted nymphs, that’ll solve your problem. And you don’t have to lob them. You can cast them an get wonderful tuck casts. I promise.

      Are you sure the line is stretched flat? Any coil in the line could complicate the issue in the rain.

      Lastly, an old school solution for your problem is to wrap the rod with 3X mono, spiraled forward from cork to rod tip. Do this before threading the leader through the guides. It works like a charm. I’ve done this three times, and it will solve your issue. But because I don’t encounter the problem much, I don’t go to the trouble.

      Hope that helps.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply

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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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