Fly fishing the Mono Rig Q & A — Lines, Rigging and the Skeptics

by | Sep 30, 2018 | 33 comments

** This is part one of a Troutbitten article series covering common questions about the Mono Rig. Part two is found here. **

This winter I’ll begin writing a book about the Mono Rig, compiling much of the material written here on Troutbitten, organizing it into a cohesive presentation and filling in the gaps. As I look ahead to that writing, I’ve been reading back through all the questions I’ve received about the Mono Rig. Many of the same queries pop up time and again.

This short series of articles separates those common questions into groups. All of these questions and answers will eventually make their way to a full FAQ section on the Mono Rig page. If you have any questions you would like to add, feel free to send them my way.

This first article is about lines, rigging and skeptics.

Consecutive articles will cover questions about gear, casting, tight-line-indicator style, streamer style and dry fly style.

But first, real quick, let’s define the terms . . .

The Mono Rig

The Mono Rig is a long leader fly fishing system. It is used for fishing nymphs on both a tight line and under an indicator, and for fishing streamers, wets, dry flies and dry dropper rigs. The thick leader butt section of the Mono Rig functions as a fly line substitute. Contact, control and strike detection are dramatically improved by taking away the weight and sag of a fly line, providing the angler a better opportunity to convincingly present flies to a trout.

A Mono Rig Formula

This long leader rig is just one example of what works. It is tailored to my own needs, to suit the conditions that I encounter daily. It’s also designed to be modular. I regularly remove the 1X Rio section and use the Amnesia and Gold Stren for my sighter. I often swap out to a shorter 20lb butt section. And I make many modifications to the tippet section while on the water. This formula is a starting point for your own exploration.


24 feet — 20 lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 10lb Maxima Chameleon
Tippet Ring (1.5 or 2mm)
12” — 12lb Red Amnesia
12” — 10lb Gold Stren
14″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material (Optional)
Tippet Ring (1.5 or 2mm)
36″ — 4X Fluorocarbon Tippet
— Tag for upper fly —
20″ — 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet
— Point Fly —


Now let’s get to the Q & A . . .

Photo by Bill Dell

Lines and Rigging


Question: Why is your Mono Rig so long?

Answer: I make the butt section long enough so the transition to fly line (nail knot or similar) rarely comes off the spool. I don’t like that transition in the guides. I like being all in with the mono instead of working with part mono and part fly line. I also enjoy the sensitivity of mono in my line hand.

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


Question: Why do you switch leaders instead of switching spools? Why can’t I carry an extra spool and switch between the Mono Rig and a regular leader?

Answer: Because you probably won’t do it. Honestly, that’s why. I carried extra spools for about a year, with intentions of swapping out spools for different styles. But in reality the time commitment for changing spools and restringing the line through your guides is a major deterrent. If it isn’t easy, we won’t do it. We all just want to fish. So with the extra spool system, no one switches rigs as often as they should.

Instead, I carry a couple different leaders and a few pre-rigged tippet sections on Loon Rigging foam, and I make changes that way. It takes about a minute to switch, so I’m much more willing to change to the best possible rig.

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


Question: Why not spool up the whole reel with mono?

Answer: Two reasons: First, the line memory of that much mono creates tangling problems as it comes off the spool. Second, I like having the freedom to switch over and use fly line wherever it works best. So I want regular fly line on my spool. And I use it often.


Question: Can I drop-shot with the Mono Rig? Can I use split shot? What about three flies?

Answer: Sure, yes, and why not? The Mono Rig works on these three principles: take away the weight and sag of the fly line, build in a sighter, and limit the diameters of tippet under the water.

You can rig the tippet section any way you like, with tags or trailers, with split shot or weighted flies, with drop shot or otherwise. You can also add indicators, change the nymphs to streamers, or swap the top nymph for a dry fly and float it. Under all those variations the Mono Rig still works, because of the three principles mentioned above.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymph Rig


Question: Do you like competition fly lines?

Answer: No, not really. I prefer a mono butt section for the Mono Rig rather than a comp line. Three reasons:

First, the comp lines are thicker and heavier than 20# Maxima Chameleon, so they sag more. And sag equals drag — less control over the drift.

Second, I don’t like the transition between fly line and leader in my guides. No matter how streamlined the connection, I don’t like it there.

Remember, comp lines were designed as a work around for new competition rules. Most lines are a solid mono core with a very thin fly line coating around them — essentially getting as close to a long mono butt section as possible. And if given the choice, most competition anglers would go back to a longer butt section if rules permitted it.

Third, I like having as much versatility in my system as possible. With a comp line on my spool, I cannot change leaders and enjoy the performance of a regular fly line.

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


Question: What if I want to switch to a traditional leader for dry flies?

Answer: The modular components are a big feature of the Mono Rig. You can swap out different butt sections, transition pieces, sighters and tippet sections to suit the conditions and the flies you want to use.

I often swap out the whole Mono Rig for a traditional dry fly leader. I do it at a tippet ring below the fly line. (I suggest storing spare leaders around plastic leader wheels instead of rolling them around your hand, because they won’t tangle.) Full leader changes can be made very quickly, in about a minute.

READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency: Leader and Tippet Changes

Photo by Austin Dando


The Skeptics


Question: Isn’t this like a chuck and duck rig?

Answer: No, not at all. Most of us use the Mono Rig with far less weight than a standard chuck and duck rig. The Mono Rig is designed so it can cast a single #16 beadhead nymph with efficiency. But it can also cast a heavy pair of stoneflies or a large streamer with some heavy split shot.

So you can rig it like a chuck and duck rig, but the Mono Rig is more versatile than that.


Question: Isn’t this just like spin fishing?

Answer: No. Spin fishing for trout is performed with thin monofilament lines, while fly fishing is traditionally done with a relatively thick and heavy fly line followed by a tapered leader. The 20# monofilament used for the Mono Rig functions somewhere in between those extremes. It has some properties and abilities of both spinning line and fly line. It’s still castable like a fly line because it has enough mass to carry itself and some lightweight flies to the water, but it’s light enough not to sag too much. In essence, the Mono Rig is a fly line substitute.

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


Question: I fish a Euro Rig a lot. But my friend insists it should be called a Mono Rig. Why? What’s the difference?

Answer: I agree with your friend. Words matter. There is nothing specifically European about fishing a long leader. Guys like Joe Humphreys and Dave Rothrock were doing this a long, long time ago (and those are just the local guys that I know about).

The term Euro nymphing grew from the competitive circuit, but long leaders were never exclusive to the competition scene. Guys strung up mono on a fly rod as soon as monofilament was first extruded. Mono Rigs are actually pretty old school.

Further complicating things, it can’t be Euro Nymphing if you’re using split shot, indicators or anything else attached to the leader. And if you’re fishing streamers on the end of the line, then that’s not Euro nymphing either, right? That’s why I don’t call it a Euro rig. It’s a Mono Rig or a long leader system.

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


Question: Is this really fly fishing?

Answer: Yes, it is. But if it bothers you, then don’t fish the Mono Rig. I’m using a fly rod and flies that I tied at the vise, presenting them with fly line casting principles, and I’m retrieving by hand (not casting out and reeling in every time). For all of those reasons and more, it’s fly fishing. I’ve never understood why the fly line itself should define fly fishing. To me, it’s the aforementioned elements. The Mono Rig functions like a fly line — just a lighter one. And I believe the Mono Rig functions closer to a traditional fly line than a tungsten core sinking line or some other lines that might say “fly line” on the label.

READ: Troutbitten | Where the Lines are Drawn


Question: Does it really work that well?

Answer: Yes. Most anglers triple their catch rate. That’s no joke. And when you catch more fish during a trip, you start to feel like you are making stuff happen instead of hoping it will happen. It’s a lot of fun to have so much control of the outcome.


Question: Does adding the indicator to the Mono Rig make it like centerpinning?

Answer: Yes, it can. The same principles apply, really. But the drifts aren’t as long.

So why not just centerpin? Well, because I like the versatility of fly fishing. I can easily remove the indicator and be back to a tight line system. Or I can swap leaders and fish big dries. Or I can fish wets, streamers, etc., all because I have the fly rod in my hand.


Question: Is this long leader legal in fly fishing only areas?

Answer: I can’t speak to the rules in other states, but for the Fly Fishing Only designated waters in Pennsylvania, the maximum leader length is 18 feet. The list of these waters is small. And there is no leader length restriction on any other regulated water, such as Catch and Release or Delayed Harvest.

One of these Fly Fishing Only waters is in my backyard (almost), and I fish it often. I simply swap out the longer butt section on my Mono Rig for something shorter, to comply with the rule. And when I move upstream, outside of the regulated water, I go back to the longer butt section. It takes only a minute to change.

The 18 foot Mono Rig still provides the same advantages at short and medium distances. Only the long range effectiveness is limited.

READ: Troutbitten | Efficiency: Leader and Tippet Changes

Photo by Bill Dell


Next time . . .

** Here is part two of this short series, titled Rods and Reels, Casting, Sighters and Split Shot **

In future articles I’ll address more Mono Rig questions about gear, tight-line-indicator style, streamer style and dry fly styles.

If you have questions you’d like answered and added to the Mono Rig FAQ, post in the comments section below or email me.

Fish hard, long liners.


** Find all Troutbitten articles about the Mono Rig here **


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. Well done, Dom. Your upcoming book will be a boon to many anglers. I can’t wait to get my copy.

    I fished today using a basic mono rig (point fly and dropper). But, what was interesting is that the stretch of water I was fishing made it very difficult to see my sighter. So, I put on a backing barrel with a tag that went up, towards the rod, and all was good. But, upon further reflection, I began to think about why I use a sighter at all. The backing barrel was very visible, and the way it shook gave me much information about where my flies where and what they were doing..

    The backing barrel makes such a great sighter, I’m tempted to go out next time without a traditional sighter at all. What are your thoughts, Dom, about using a backing barrel as one’s sole sighter?


    • Thank, Alex.

      Absolutely. I’ve done that a good bit while adapting a dry leader to some quick nymphing scenarios.

      It’s highly visible, as you said.

      Personally, I think the Backing Barrel with a tag shows me more than a straight sighter alone does.

      Given the choice, I fish both. A long sighter gives me a look at how much sag is happening in the rig, and a better look at angles than just a Backing Barrel.

      Know what I mean?

      • Great point. Seeing how much sag there is in the rig is a good way to know if your flies are on the bottom. BTW, the BB with a tag also does a good job of that by twitching as the flies bounce along the bottom. But, you’re right. Together, a sighter and a BB make a great way to gather as much information as possible about something that is out of sight.

  2. Domenic, I’m looking forward to your book. Each article you have posted about the mono rig gets clearer and easier to visualize. It’s interesting in the backpacking world how “ultralight” is such a popular trend. You are describing an ultralight fly line. “The ultralight rig”. I have been learning to spey cast and anglers have readily accepted a system where you change heads (the forward end of the fly line) to match different fly presentations, Same thing with the mono rig.
    Keep em coming!

    • That’s a great point, Stephen. Very similar concepts.

  3. Whoops. I did not know there was a maximum leader length of 18′ on the FFO catch and release areas in PA. No idea. I use a 30′ Hends French leader. Two of the streams I fish are subjected to this. The question is, why? How is that an unfair advantage? Are they afraid someone’s going to set up a trotline or something? I don’t see the point.

      • I think the two I’m thinking of are are FFO. They are on that link, Ridley Creek and the Little Lehigh. I like the FFO areas. They really keep the riff raff out (to sound like an asshole). I’m not going to switch out my long leader though. Don’t tell anyone. 🙂

        • Personally, I’m not a fan of FFO regulations. I don’t like the idea of excluding groups of anglers. I grew up fishing spinning gear and bait. I have friends who like fishing spinning gear, bait and lures too.

          • Great job with all your articles Domenick. I just found this out this spring that the 18′ leader restriction has been removed last year for the FFO areas. It is not listed in the 2020 PA Fishing Summary.

  4. Domenick,

    Thanks so much for all of your great information.

    Question: Considering the very tip of your fly pole as the starting point, and the very end of your leader as an ending point, (Tenkara-like) what would be an average line length when you are fishing a Euro-type nymphing rig. I realize this can vary greatly, but what kind of range are we talking about here?

    Thanks so much.


    • Hi Dave,

      That’s another good question.

      I won’t give an average, because that’s completely stream dependent. But the effective range is 5-30 feet from where the angler stands. That’s for tight line nymphing. If you want to cast further, you can make that happen with the Mono Rig. Remember, the Mono Rig has many variations. You can throw streamers a lot further than 30 feet. And if you need to nymph further than 30 feet on the Mono Rig, you can add an indicator (the right one), and reach up to fifty feet. Beyond that distance, I wouldn’t choose a Mono Rig. At super long distances, I use a fly line and let it do its job.

      Tight Line Nymphing with an Indicator — article is here:

      Lastly, I think it’s always best to get as close as possible to the target, no matter what method we use.



  5. This seems kind of like long line Tenkara but with a reel

    • Hi Bill.

      There are some similarities, but the Mono Rig is a much more versatile option. But yes, you can cast Tenkara flies with the Mono Rig quite easily, but now you have a fly reel (which is wonderful).

      You can find a lot more about that in an article I wrote a while back, titled, “The Trouble with Tenkara.”

  6. Dom, have you tried other brands of sighter material (Orvis, Cortland, for example) besides the Rio that you mention on your diagram above? If so, what are your thoughts on their effectiveness (i.e., visibility)?


    • Yes, I tried other brands early on. My friends and I had trouble with color bleed when the material got wet on the spool. That’s no good. I never had that trouble with RIO.

  7. Dominick, when will your book on the mono rig be Available? I have tried this system, but seem to have problems mastering the casting of this rig. Hope your book will answer my questions about the cast. Tank, Gene

    • Hi Eugene. The book project will take a long time. Don’t wait for that!

      Couple tips for casting the Mono Rig:

      Start with more weight than less weight.

      Stay CLOSE. Work on the short game, at 15 feet away before trying anything else.

      10:00 and 2:00. This is the number one thing that anglers miss. Casting the Mono Rig is much like casting fly line. Just false cast less. Accelerate and stop hard at 10:00 and 2:00. You need to create some rod tip speed. Get the line and flies MOVING, enough so you feel the weight of the flies when the line stretches out — it should flex the rod tip.

  8. Wondering why you changed up your mono rig formula? Adding more knots does help with visibility. I use different leader formulas depending on water levels – in low & clear it is just 20-12 maxima chameleon then 16-18” of sighter (usually red amnesia then green). in high water it is 20lb maxima then 3 feet amnesia then 18” bicolor cortland or rio indicator.

    • Good question, Greg.

      I don’t really care about the knots for visibility. The backing barrel with a short tag always leads my eyes to my sighter, no problem.

      What I changed was adding the bi color material in there. I like having a thinner piece while tight lining. It’s limp. But I still want the thicker pieces in there, because if I’m doing a lot of indy work (tight line to the indicator), then I often clip out the bi color and use the amnesia and gold stren as my sighter, as I always have. The thicker, stiffer materials help turn over the indy a little better. It’s not necessary, but I like it.

      • I fish some very small brook trout streams with a 6’2” 2/3 weight. Are there other formulas for shorter brook rods?

        • Hi there.

          There’s really no need to change the formula at all for the length of the rod. It’s about what is out of the guides, whether that be a six foot rod or a twelve foot rod. The formula overs all of it.

          Make sense?

  9. Do you still use the Gudebrod #20 Dacron Backing material for the backing barrel? Do other brands of Dacron Backing perform just a well?

    • Hi David.

      I do still use Gudebrod 20lb Orange Dacron backing for the Backing Barrel. Gudebrod is out of business, but I have a good stock of it from a while back. Other backing works, but I like Gudebrod for how little it frays and for how crazy bright it is.

  10. Hi Dom, what’s the rationale for fluorocarbon rather than nylon tippet?

  11. Domenic, I really appreciate reading your excellent articles on the mono rig. Using the mono rig and the knowledge I gained from reading your articles has greatly increased the catch of trout this year. I have two questions:
    1) Your mono rig works excellent but what is the reason for having a 20# butt section to a 10# section and than back up to 12# amnesia rather than taper the leader from a 20# section to a 15# section to 12# amnesia? I am just curious.
    2) Did you ever use the mono rig on an 8wt flyrod for steelhead fishing?

    • Hi Lamar,

      Thanks for the questions:

      The pound test does not really matter in this case. What matters is the diameter and the flexibility of the material. So, 10 lb Chameleon is actually thicker than Amnesia. Make sense?

      Yes, I’ve used the same rig with eight weights. And you can surely do that, as long as you have your casting stroke dialed in. Just remember, it’s casting, not lobbing.

      Hope that helps.


      • Lamar,
        I’m glad you asked Question 1 above as I have been wondering that myself. Thanks Dom this makes a lot more sense to me now!

  12. Can you do an article specifically about fishing pools and slow water with the mono rig? Faster water and the mono rig seem to be a natural marriage but I can’t seem to dial in on how to effectively use it in slow water and I’m beginning to wonder if I should just switch to conventional fly line when faced with slower water.

  13. When I first tried the mono rig I didn’t like it immediately. The temperature was in the 30s, my fingers were too numb to feel the mono well, and I was on a good sized stream, but in a tight quarters section. I recently read in one of Dom’s articles that tight quarters make the mono rig difficult to use. I tried it again on more open water, and it worked well. Fishing visible patterns like eggs really lets you see the sink rate of your fly, and they appear to sink faster on the mono rig. Also, I don’t rely on feel to detect strikes, but I do seem to feel more of them on the mono rig.

    A Former Skeptic


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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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