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

September 30, 2018


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 — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 12lb Maxima Chameleon
Tippet Ring (2mm)
6” — 15lb Red Amnesia
8” — 12lb Red Amnesia
10” — 10lb Gold Stren
20″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material
Tippet Ring (2mm)
4-6’ — 4X or 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet

(The 15lb Red Amnesia above is not a typo. It closely matches the diameter and flexibility of 12lb Chameleon.)


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 really. 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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Alex Argyros

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… Read more »

Stephen Cifka

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!


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.

David M Christiansen


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.


bill piatek

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

Alex Argyros

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)?


Eugene Walk

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


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.

David M Christiansen

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

Domenick Swentosky

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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