Dry Flies on the Mono Rig

by | Sep 25, 2019 | 7 comments

For many years, I never much considered casting dry flies on a Mono Rig as a viable option. I enjoyed the art of casting a dry with a traditional fly line. And if you asked me about dries on a long leader system back then, I’d shake my head and tell you something about using the right tool for the job. But in the last few years, much of that has changed. And now, I suggest that a long Mono Rig is, in fact, the right tool for the job — sometimes.

By no surprise, dry fly drifts are dramatically improved with a Mono Rig. Substituting traditional fly line with a long leader eliminates much of the sag and resulting drag caused by the weight of a fly line. Of course, that same weight, built into the fly line, is what aids in the casting of our unweighted, bushy dries with built-in air resistance. And while the Mono Rig is excellent in many circumstances — small to medium dries fished within about thirty feet — there is no substitute for the good work that a fly line can do, pushing larger flies around and casting at distance.

There’s a time and place for everything. And fishing dry flies on the Mono Rig has become one of my favorite ways to approach trout, not just because it’s a convenient and quick variation when swapping over from a tight line nymphing rig, but because it is stunningly effective.

The Rig

Here’s the Mono Rig adjusted for a dry fly:

24 feet — 20lb Maxima Chameleon
2 feet — 10lb Maxima Chameleon
— Tippet Ring (2mm)
10 inches — 2X nylon tippet
6 inches — 3X nylon tippet
20-30 inches — 4X, 5X, or 6x nylon tippet


Let’s not complicate this. There are nearly fifty articles about the Mono Rig here on Troutbitten. So what I’ll write next is predicated on the assumption that you already have a good grasp of the long leader tactics.

READ: Troutbitten | The Mono Rig

Fall is here.

In short, the Mono Rig is a hybrid system for fishing all fly types: nymphs (tight line and indicator) streamers, wets, dry dropper, and yes even dry flies on a long leader. How long? Long enough to keep fly line out of the guides. Importantly, the Mono Rig is designed to cast with fly-line-style performance, without the extra weight and the consequence of a fly line. And it requires good fly casting skill to get the most out of the Mono Rig. This is not lobbing.

In fact, casting dries with mono requires the most finesse of all the variations in this Mono Rig system. The leader simply will not function without solid casting fundamentals driving it to the target. Fast acceleration and crisp stops between the two points of ten-o-clock and two-o-clock are a good starting point.

The Mono Rig is built for versatility and function. This is not a leader limited to Euro nymphing. At the core of the Mono Rig is a butt section functioning as a substitute for fly line. And the choice of that butt section is super important when casting dries. The butt material is thick enough, with the necessary mass to push a dry fly to the target. Thinner butt sections collapse when asked to do this same job.

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

The key difference between casting nymphs vs casting dries is the absence of weight. While nymphing, the included weight helps deliver the line and the fly to the river. But once that weight is gone, the leader must do the job by itself. And it must push against the air resistance of the dry — hence the need for the proper butt section.

Notice that the Mono Rig base stays the same. The butt section and the transition remain unchanged across all the variations in the system. The changes happen only from the sighter down.

For comparison, here is the Mono Rig formula for nymphing:

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–


Note that the rig above is designed for tight line nymphing. You can simply clip off the nymph and tie on a dry fly to the fluorocarbon tippet. You will  catch fish that way. I do it quite often. When I see just one or two rising trout, I might make the quick change, bang out a couple dozen casts, hopefully catch a couple trout and then go back to the nymphs.

But there are two inherent problems with that approach: the sighter and the fluorocarbon. I don’t want my brightly colored monofilament lining the trout and turning them off. (I think that’s self-explanatory.) And fluorocarbon is not well suited to delivering beautiful slack-drawn s-curves to the dry.

So when I find a good reason to switch to dries, I prefer to make a quick adjustment to the Mono Rig.

I snip the transition piece at the tippet ring (at the top of my sighter), and I wrap the flies, the tippet and the sighter on a Loon Rigging Foam. That’s just one clip and a few wraps. Later I can tie it all back on with one knot.

Then I unroll a pre-tied section of nylon, with a short taper and tippet section built for casting dries on the Mono Rig. And I tie the transition piece of the Mono Rig to the tippet ring at the top of the 2X nylon. Now I’m ready to fish dries on the Mono Rig.


No Taper Necessary

The taper in the formula above may seem rudimentary. It is. Because any elaborate taper to the dry fly here is hardly necessary. In fact, a long taper makes casting more difficult.

In any leader, part of the taper’s job is to dissipate the power from the fly line. But remember, we don’t have an excess of power here. The Mono Rig can push and turn over dries up to about a #10 Parachute Adams, for example. But in that large size range, the dry fly itself, with significant air resistance, does plenty to dissipate the power of the long leader.

Understanding that previous point is the key to knowing how to adapt the tippet section to your fly. The formula above is merely a starting point. It is well suited to casting a #14 Parachute. If the fly is larger, a shorter section of 5X — or stepping up to 4X — may be in order. I generally leave the 2x section untouched, but I may shorten the 3X piece if turning over the dry is difficult.

You really could skip the 2X and 3X altogether. But I like the taper there to more smoothly transfer the curves and loops built into the cast and send them to the terminal tippet.

How does it fish?

Casting a dry without the punch of fly line behind it seems odd a first. It’s a different feeling. But given a few minutes to assimilate a new feel in the rod, the possibilities quickly reveal themselves. You can keep a lot of leader off the water after the delivery. What would be fly line drifting and dragging on the surface can now be held off the water. The leader that does ride on the surface drags considerably less than a fly line, simply because it’s a thinner diameter. And at short range, you can even tight line the dry (think Tenkara).

The butt section of the Mono Rig unfolds very much like a fly line.The casting stroke remains the same (just keep it speedy). The Stop and Drop still applies for creating s-curves. Aerial mends and curve casts are still an option, though not quite as smoothly manipulated. Reach mends on the water are actually easier than with a fly line, because there’s not as much weight to lift and mend. (I usually grease part of the leader when I dress the fly.)

Also, a specialized rod is not necessary for casting dries with the Mono Rig. However, a rod with some finesse at the tip helps provide a little more feel to the cast. Basically, if you like the rod for tight line nymphing, you should like it for casting dries on the Mono Rig too.

Where and Why?

I first used the Mono Rig for dries as a quick change solution, just to get a few casts in without swapping over to a Harvey dry leader. Then I found myself spending many hours with the mono because it put fish in the net. Now it’s become another core variation to the Mono Rig. And in a way, it completes the system.

Does it replace my favorite George Harvey leader? No. The Mono Rig doesn’t cast dries very well past thirty feet. It won’t cast bushy flies, and it’s hell in heavy wind.

But while the application may be limited, the benefits are significant. Put simply, the Mono Rig incurs far less drag on the water’s surface. And as every dry fly fisher understands, that’s a very, very big deal.

Fish hard, friends.


** 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. Thanks for this article. When you fish the Harvey leader then, do you tie it directly to a conventional fly line?

  2. Great article, thank you! One question, do you use this rig with a conventional 9ft, or are you using it on a longer 3wt EN rod. Or is the answer, it can be both, but one casts better than the other given the extra length.

    • Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the question. I think I’m going to go back to what I wrote in the article above:

      “Also, a specialized rod is not necessary for casting dries with the Mono Rig. However, a rod with some finesse at the tip helps provide a little more feel to the cast. Basically, if you like the rod for tight line nymphing, you should like it for casting dries on the Mono Rig too.”

      You can do it on any rod, really. Just like tight line nymphing.



  3. I’m wondering if the Dry Fly Rig shown in this article, cast with a 10 – 11 ft EuroNymphing rod can be modified with additional tippet sections to taper down to 7-8X tippet to make 20 foot casts with very tiny (size 28 – 30) dry flies for picky Tailwater Trout?

    Also wondering if the mono rig with an appropriate modification to the terminal leader be used to make 20 ft casts with 2 or 3 unweighted wet flies attached? Again, relying on the long 20lb leader butt to rollover and power the cast?

    • Hi Harvey.

      Yes. I wouldn’t add much taper, though. I might come right off the 3X with the 7X. Or, replace the 3 with 4 and then go straight to the 7. Again, long tapers are generally no good for this.

      Regarding the wet flies, it all depends on the air resistance of the materials. The water weight of the material matters too. For example, I often throw 2 wet flies at night with a Mono Rig. The flies are bushy and big. But the bodies are heavily dubbed. Once they are wet, the rig is very easy to cast.

      Both of your questions really need an “it depends” ind of answer. I sense that you have a good grasp of the principles, though. So a little experimentation on the water should help you find the sweet spot.

      Know what I mean?



  4. Dom, I guided a fellow yesterday who fished a 10ft 3wt. “mono” rig and was pretty good at it (He caught 17 trout including a 15″ brown and a 16″ wild bow during our time together). I also wanted to get him into some dry dropper fishing, so I carried my go to 8.6ft 4wt dry fly rod. It worked pretty slick. When he broke off the dry fly (in a trout), I simply handed him back the mono nymph rig. By the time the nymphs were stuck or in a tree, I had the dry dropper ready to go. Of course this 2 rod arrangement only works if you have a personal “Gilley”. I have a 10.6 ft 3 wt. EN rigged with your mono set up, however, as you know from fishing with me, I am primarily a dry fly guy. I am always trying to find a riser and “match the Hatch” is my joy. Yet, there are times I want to tight line nymph (absolutely no risers). My solution is to fish a 10 ft. dry fly rod and to have an 18ft. mono rig at the ready to attach to my DT fly line (loop to loop). Both dry fly and nymphing leaders are stored on fly line spools. It’s a less than 5 minute change over.


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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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