Fly fishing the Mono Rig Q & A — Rods and Reels, Casting, Sighters and Split Shot

by | Dec 2, 2018 | 26 comments

** This is part two of a Troutbitten article series covering common questions about the Mono Rig. The first article, Lines, Rigging and the Skeptics, is found here. **

Before digging in, 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 . . .





Question: Is it hard to learn to cast a Mono Rig?

Answer: Not at all. My young sons fish the Mono Rig because it’s easier than managing fly line (and because they get better drifts). Good, accurate casting with a Mono Rig starts by emphasizing the power stroke between ten and two. The rest falls in line pretty easily.

READ: Troutbitten | Put more juice in the cast


Question: How do you cast the Mono Rig?

Answer: It’s really very similar to casting fly line. In fact, at a distance, the long line angler often looks like he’s casting fly line. Remember, the Mono Rig is a fly line substitute. Casts are varied, of course, depending on the weight of the fly and the distance to the target. But standard fly casting strokes, with hard stops at ten and two make up the basic cast.

False casting should always be kept to a minimum.

Slightly over-weighting the rig helps at first.

Start close. Learn to tight line nymph within fifteen feet. Only then go for longer distance. And when you have a good handle on tight line nymphing, that’s the time to learn the Mono Rig for indicators, dry dropper and streamers.

READ: Troutbitten | Over or Under? Your Best Bet on Weight

READ: Troutbitten | Fifty Tips #23 — Don’t Be a Hero. Get Closer




Rods and Reels


Question: Can I fish the Mono Rig on shorter or heavier rods? I have a nine footer?

Answer: Absolutely. I tight lined on an 8.5 foot five weight for many years, because that’s what I had. I still use it a lot (it’s my small stream rod now) because I like it.

There is no reason not to try the Mono Rig on whatever rod you already own. Longer rods allow you to reach further out, and that helps keep line off the water. Lighter rods with more flexible tips help the angler feel the rod flex under lighter weights, and that’s good too. But I also tight line at night on a stiff six weight. Any rod will do the job if you adapt.

READ: Troutbitten | For Tight Line Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a good fly rod?


Question: I’ve read that you use 4 and 5 weight rods that are 9-10 feet long. Why don’t you use lighter and longer rods? They fish long leaders better.

Answer: Well, I cannot agree that they fish better. But they do fish differently.

Two and three weight, extra long rods have grown in popularity in the competition circles, in part, because the thin, flexible tips are better for playing small fish without them coming unbuttoned. These rods also flex more under the relatively light payloads of nymphing with small flies.

In short, they are specialized rods. I prefer a general rod that gives me the freedom to throw a pair of heavy streamers in the morning, fish a light dry dropper in the afternoon, and fish a tight line indicator rig in the evening. Again, for me it comes back to versatility.

READ: Troutbitten | Fifty Tips #12 Use a versatile and general fly rod


Question: I hate when the mono slips through my reel spool. How can I stop that?

Answer: Three ways: stretch the butt section before you fish it, use a pinky cradle when reeling in, or use a full cage reel like a Sage 3850.

The mono pull through happens when the butt section slips into the crack between the frame and the spool of the fly reel. Some reels have a larger gap than others. And the longer you use a reel, the wider that gap can become. On some reels with tighter tolerances, the mono pull through problem is negligible.

Full cage reels eliminate the problem, but the extra frame piece adds weight to the reel. Sage solved that issue by using carbon fiber for the spool on the 3850. But it is no longer manufactured. To my knowledge, the 3850 is the only trout sized full cage reel light enough to be a viable solution for anglers using 2-5 weight rods.

But again, using a pinky cradle solves the mono pull through problem, if you can develop the habit.

READ: Troutbitten | Stop the Mono Pull Through on the Fly Reel




Question: How long should the sighter be? How thick should it be?

Answer: It really depends on what you want to achieve and what material your sighter is. But 16-24 inches of straight mono is a good starting point.

A short sighter of 0X may be a good option for turning over dry dropper rigs. A longer sighter of 3X may be harder to see, but there’s a good middle ground too.

READ: Troutbitten | Sighters — Seven Separate Tools


Questions: The new bi-color tippet material is soft and flexible, so strike detection is better. Why would you still use materials like Amnesia and Gold Stren?

Answer: I do agree that a more supple sighter can signal more to the angler. It shows contact with the nymphs and shows angles better than stiff material. (That’s why a twelve inch backing sighter is so deadly). But with that softness — that flexibility — we lose some ability to push a fly to the target. It makes dry dropper fishing tougher, and it makes pushing a small Dorsey Yarn Indy into a breeze more difficult. For both, a stiffer sighter makes life easier. So the challenge is to find a middle ground.

In the Mono Rig formula above, you can see that I prefer to taper my sighter. Essentially, I use two sighters connected to each other (the Amnesia and Gold Stren is one, and the Rio Bi-Color is the other). Most often, I leave both sighters connected, ending with the 1x Bi-Color. But when I plan to do a lot of tight-line to the indicator fishing, or when want to use a larger more air resistant fly for dry dropper, I often take the Rio Bi-Color out and use the thicker, stiffer sighter.

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


Question: What’s your favorite sighter?

Answer: This one is easy — the Backing Barrel with a tag.

I often include backing barrels into multiple parts of my rigs. Barrels with tags are super visible, while also signaling very subtle takes that neither straight mono nor knot tags (bunny ears) can.

I rarely use the Backing Barrel as my only sighter, however. I prefer to mount a barrel with a single, inch long tag on a piece of colored mono, where all of that functions as my sighter.

READ: Troutbitten | The Backing Barrel


Split Shot


Question: My friends say I can’t use split shot when I’m tightlining/euro nymphing. Is that true?

Answer: No, that’s not true at all. Tight liners for decades have used split shot to great advantage. But these days, tungsten beads provide the opportunity to build enough weight on a hook that even small flies can get down in heavier current.

It cannot fairly be called “euro nymphing” if you use split shot, but that’s another discussion.

Both weighted flies and split shot have their own set of advantages. Unless local laws forbid it, I use every tool available. Why wouldn’t you?

I regularly use both split shot, weighted flies and a mix of both.

READ: Troutbitten | Split shot vs Weighted Flies


Last time | Next time

In future articles I’ll address Mono Rig questions about each of the styles: tight line, tightline to the indicator, dry dropper and streamer styles with the Mono Rig. I’ll also mix in some general questions that pop of frequently.

And if you haven’t read part one of this series, back up and take a look at Lines, Riggin and Skeptics.

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. Do you still use the Gudebrod #20 backing material? Do other brands work as 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.

  2. Domenick, which tippet rings do you use? I suspect mine are cutting my tipped below the sighter, or at least that’s happened a few times this summer. I lost a nice fish that way. Me no like. Any recos?

    • Hi Tomas, I use the tippet rings that I link to on this page:

      I also buy them from Streamside Anglers. I use 2 or 1.5 mm. No need to go bigger. And neither of those brands of rings ever cut my leader.

  3. Awesome! This confirmed some of my recent thoughts. I recently got into nymphing this way, tight line/mono rig and for no other reason than an excuse I bought one of the specialized rods, which works great! However, I find myself missing my 9ft 5wt go to rod when I want to switch over to slinging big streamers or going for long casts. Especially in these winter months. I’m still learning the cast, presentation, and most of all indication and I can say your articles have definitely steered me in the right direction.

    I assume you use the same formula for the mono rig on multiple rod sizes?

  4. Another advantage of he backing barrel is that it’s adjustable. I think that it’s important to have the minimum length of tippet in the water, just enough to ensure a good drift. The backing barrel makes it easy to do this.

  5. Hi Dom,

    Thanks for another great year of content. I was wondering if you know of some good 9,6 4wts? I’m finding that I often use a cheap 9,6 5wt over my more expensive 4wts. I value the length on some prime water here but I know I’d enjoy the fishing with a little more feel on that same 9,6 length. I have a 10 ft 4 wt that is great in big water but it’s too big on some of my local favorites. I see Croix has a Drifter rod that looks interesting but I don’t see a ton of reviews and wonder if it will cast beyond nymphing. I’m bummed I can’t find at least a couple of options to compare. Man this sounds like I’m spoiled.
    Happy Holidays

    • Hey buddy,

      My Sage Z-Axis is a 9’6″ 4 weight. I do love it the most, too.

      I haven’t cast that St. Croix, but I feel certain it will do the other things you want to do as well. From what I’m told, it is not a competition style rod with too much flex for handling some larger streamers on a Mono Rig. BUT, I’d cast it before buying for sure. I like my own St. Croix Avid a lot. High quality rod for the price.

      Anyway, you’re right, there are very few options in that size.

      Let me know what you find, please.


  6. I boiled a slighter for five minutes in water and the sensitivity of the rig was uncanny. I just need more time on the water to see if I can master it

    • Nice, Jim.

      You’ll have to let me know how you like it over time. I’ve done this. I used to fish a curly as well, and I boiled those.

      Overall, I’m not a big fan of super limp sighters. I think if I only tight line nymphed with the Mono Rig, it may be my top choice. But because I do so much more with the Mono Rig, I need a sighter that can push things around a bit. When I add a Dorsey yarn Indy to the tippet section, for example, I don’t want a sighter that is super limp. Same with even dry dropper, and with streamers.

      So I used to switch out sighters more often, sometimes choosing a real limp one, but I found that to be unnecessary if I just used a Backing Barrel with a tag.

      I’d argue that the Backing Barrel with just an inch long tag signals than an extra limp sighter. It’s super sensitive, and is extra visible as well. Once I added the Backing Barrel, my need for a limp sighter went away.

      SO … these are just my own preferences that I share, both in this reply in the article above. Ultimately, every angler out there is going to find his own way that he likes to do things. I just enjoy sharing options with people, the same as guys shared stuff with me.



  7. I have found an excellent full cage trout fly reel and wanted to share. Danielsson Fly reels. They are a Swedish company that have a long history in making reels. My understanding is that they manufactured the original loop reels. I love mine and they are priced very reasonably (about $200 shipped to the US) and I’d put their quality up against any reel out there.

    • Will you send me a link to the trout sized full cage reel?



        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.
        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

      • Would love to hear your thoughts on what you think about Luke’s reel from the info on the website Dom. Any concerns?

        • Well, I haven’t used one, so I can’t really give any valuable feedback. It weighs in a little heavier than most trout reels, but if the rod is long, it might balance well with your setup.

          Actually, I just received the TROUT reel from Sage. It’s full cage. I have the 2/3/4 and the 4/5/6. They are super nice reels, and the full cage doesn’t allow the mono pull through to happen. I need a few more days on the water before I’m ready to say this is the replacement for the 3850. The 4/5/6 has the same arbor size, almost, but is a bit heavier. Again, though, given the long rods everyone uses theses days, it’s might be your perfect match.



    • Danielsson are a phenomenal full cage option. If im not mistaken they invented the large arbour reel and have made reels branded for both loop and sage. They are top notch quality and the ones in my small collection outshine my nautilus and ross. Recently they’ve stopped distributing to fly shops and only offer factory direct sales which has essentially allowed them to cut their prices in half. I would highly recommend!

      • Hi Drew.

        Thanks for the recommendation. But the LW5 4-7 is 6.7 ounces. That’s awfully heavy for a trout reel.

        And that’s the trouble with most full cage reels. They are too heavy to balance well with a light trout rod.

        Is that the model you’re looking at, or do you have another? The trouble with anything smaller in diameter is that the line will come off in small coils. It makes a difference.



        • Dom,
          I own 2 danielssons. The one I use for trouting is their dryfly model It weighs in at 4.6 oz and has an outer diameter of 3 .75″. The unique part of this reel is that is doesnt have a drag but instead has a tensioning system of sorts to keep the spool from overrunning. Personally, I palm the reel anyway so I don’t really mind not having a “true” drag, but im sure it’s a deal-breaker for some. I do have a danielsson l5w 6-9 (exactly the same as the 4-7 but the spools are interchangeable) but I use that on a smaller switch rod.

      • As far as weight goes The 4seven Danielsson balances my 10’ 2 wt syndicate p2 rod perfectly. I also tried this reel on my steelhead/salmon rod because it has euro flyline on it and I wanted to highstick a deep pool. It didn’t quite balance the 10’ 7 wt right but the drag handled a 20# king salmon and a 20+ pound carp beautifully on 1x tippet. The 7ten size reel does balance the 10’ 7wt very well I just need a second spool to put a euro line on.

        • How about a Lamson speedster hd size 3? Weighs 5.3 oz.

          • Yes. That’s a good solution too.

            It’s getting a little heavy at that weight, and a little large.

            But I have been enjoying a Sage TROUT 4,5,6. It’s about the same weight, but a little smaller. I like it a lot. Also full cage.



  8. Hey guys I’m new to fly fishing just got one those combo deals but the reel is rim controlled there’s no drag setting how do I cast without it spoiling all the line out don’t wanna give up but its frustrating do I need a new reel or should I be casting diffrent

    • Hi Scott. The reel should at least have a clicker or something to keep the reel from turning loosely. Are you sure you have it setup properly?

      Plenty of great reels don’t have any real drag system. I love click and pawl reels. I landed the largest trout of my life on one.

      Email me if you have more trouble.


  9. I think this is awesome! I am learning so much about the Mono Rig and haven’t even tried it yet. I’m a believer in knowledge before experience. I do have a question though. I fish a tailwater fishery often and often times its 3-4 generators flowing pushing 16,000+ cfs. I’ve been the guy with the 9′ 5x leader with 3′ of tippet, heavy tungsten #10 fly, a dropper and split-shot under an indicator. Trying to get down deep, fast.
    So, what is the Mono Rig formulation for someone wanting more depth as I speak of?
    Thank you in advance Sir for your help in this matter. And thank you for, a wealth of great information.

    • Hi Darren,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Good questions. But the only thing I would change is the tippet length. Everything else stays the same. Just go longer on the tippet to get down. Understand though, that trout don’t often feed in five feet of water in a river. They find the two foot sections and feed there. That’s my experience. But obviously, some rivers are different. Anyway, adjust the tippet length and nothing else.



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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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