** Note ** This is Part Two of a Troutbitten short series about what tight line anglers might be missing by following competition rules. This all reads a lot better if you first back up and read Part One, which introduces the topic and focuses on the rule about attaching nothing to the leader but the flies. Find Part One HERE.
To date, the fly fishing industry has largely turned to the competition world to find its authorities on euro nymphing. Therefore, the wealth of resources available in videos, articles and books is heavily influenced by the inherent bias of anglers who follow FIPS Mouche competition rules (the governing body for international comps). However, the common angler has no need for such restrictions. And following comp rules takes away much of the versatility and efficiency offered by long leader systems in the first place.
Many tight line anglers follow these rules by default, assuming that these are the elements that make a tight line system work. But they are not.
I believe there are two main FIPS rules that hold an angler back from all that is possible with a euro nymphing rig or a tight line system like the Mono Rig. In part one, I addressed the first rule. It dictates that nothing may be attached to the leader other than the flies. Now, let’s get to the second rule. . .
TWO: The Leader Length Restriction
FIPS rules dictate that the length of a leader may be only twice the length of the fly rod. (Article 28)
The implementation of this rule changes many things. It starts a chain reaction of compensations in rigs and tactics that, in some cases, are not the best solutions for the situation on the water.
Story of a Comp Line
The leader length restriction was put in place in 2012. Until then, most competition anglers chose long Mono Rigs for nymphing. They employed lengthy butt sections of 20-50 feet that sagged far less than a fly line and provided more sensitivity. Long leaders were standard fare, because honestly, nothing beats a Mono Rig.
So with the new rules in place, leaders were shortened to around 20-22 feet (twice the length of the rod). And that’s a drastic difference in length. Medium to long distance nymphing always suffers with a leader this short, because a standard fly line sags, causing drag as it hangs from the rod tip (it even sags within the guides.)
Fly line limits the performance of a tight line system.
So the industry responded with a work-around for the restrictions on leader length. They developed competition nymphing fly lines (aka: euro lines or comp lines.) These skinny fly lines are an attempt to simulate a Mono Rig and achieve the same performance. Comp lines are very thin, with an 8-12 lb mono or braided core and a slender fly line coating. But the end result is never as thin as a standard Mono Rig of .017”, because FIPS restricts the comp line diameter as well (.022” is the thinnest allowed for a fly line.)
Competition fly lines function a bit like a standard fly line and something like a Mono Rig. They’re a good middle ground. And they’re the only viable option for competitors to stay within the confines of FIPS rules, while still gaining the benefits of tight lining.
So that’s the short story of comp lines. This quick bit of history matters. Because it’s important to understand how we got here. And it helps to know why so many euro nymphing leader formulas are designed the way they are. It’s often because they are built for attaching to a comp line.
The Versatility Loss
If you commit to using a competition fly line, you’re cutting your technique options for the river in half.
With a comp line on your spool, you are limited to the styles that suit such a line, because there’s no quick way to change back to the push and the power of a standard fly line.
Sure, carrying extra spools with different lines seems like a fine idea — until you actually try it a few times. Then you realize that it’s simply impossible to change the spool and string up a new line and leader with any speed. Changing spools always requires a walk to the bank, and it’s a five minute process (more like ten, usually). We all hate wasting time, so we avoid making the switch, and we limit our options.
Incidentally, I believe this is exactly why we now have so many euro nymphing anglers out there who tight line at the exclusion of everything else — because the comp line limits versatility.
By contrast, if we keep a standard fly line on the spool and use a Mono Rig for tight lining, then swapping between dries and nymphs and streamers requires nothing more than a leader change. And with a regular fly line on the spool, we still have that option.
In fact, I consider this functionality a key part of the Mono Rig system. Swapping out to a dry leader is something I do on many trips — often multiple times throughout the day. This is true versatility. And it’s missed by using a comp line, plain and simple.
Competition fly lines weigh more, so they sag more. And there’s no getting around this reality. With the extra weight, they can have a bit more punch, so they may be easier for some anglers to cast.
Ironically, a 20# butt section of Maxima Chameleon functions more like a fly line than does a comp line. It’s stiffer, so it casts “better,” than a competition line, which is more limp because of its thin core. This is especially true when a tight line rig is cast rather than lobbed.
Regardless, the key tenant of all tight line rigs is to avoid the sag caused by a fly line. Restricting the leader length takes away the advantage of a long butt section. Using a comp line can get you part of the way there, but not all the way.
Knots In the Guides
If the leader is 20-22 feet, then the leader-to-fly-line junction is somewhere in the rod guides at most short and medium distances where good fishing happens.
Personally, I’ve always done whatever necessary to avoid knots in the guides. Yes, I can tie clean blood knots in my leaders. And yes, I’ve coated those knots. I’ve also used a needle knot and a super glue splice to get the cleanest leader junction possible. But the knots are still there, and it’s just not as clean. Nothing shoots and slides through the guides like unbroken monofilament. And that’s why I design my Mono Rig with a butt section long enough to reach the furthest distances and a taper short enough to fish close, both without having any knots or transitions in the rod guides.
The fly casting stroke for using mono is slightly different than the stroke necessary for casting fly line. So a shorter leader, restricted to just 20-22 feet forces the angler to adapt that casting stroke for different lengths — sometimes the comp line is in play and sometimes it is not.
I prefer to fish one material. I like one set of properties, flexibility and weight.
But when using a comp line with a twenty foot leader, the casting stroke needed at twenty feet is slightly different than the one needed at thirty. Is that the worst thing ever? Nope. But it’s another disadvantage of a shorter nymphing leader.
I’ll mention here that perhaps the best feature of a comp line is the feeling of having a fly line in your hand (albeit a very thin one.) Some anglers prefer this rather than handling a mono butt section. Granted, feeling comfortable with monofilament in the hands can take a day or two, but a well chosen mono, like Maxima Chameleon, stretched before use and stored on a large arbor reel has its own advantages in the hand, and I prefer it. That leads to the next point.
The Mono Rig butt section in your hand is more sensitive than any fly line. But if you follow FIPS leader length restriction, you’ll spend more time with a competition fly line in your hand rather than monofilament.
I like the extra sensitivity of mono. I get more tactile feedback through the line, and I’m better in touch. Although most of my strike detection is visual, I can feel subtle contact with the nymph or split shot better with mono in my hand.
There are a few growing trends in euro nymphing lately. And they are the direct result of compensating for the FIPS leader length rule. Following these adjustments makes perfect sense if an angler is competing, but they may be less useful if you are not.
Some anglers choose micro thin leaders, paired with the necessary comp line, to accomplish the same minimal sag at distance that can be achieved with a Mono Rig.
Sag is really just a math problem. When a comp line must be used, a thinner leader adds up to less overall weight. But the tradeoff for that thinner leader is less versatility and fewer casting options.
Floating the Sighter
Remember, a comp line is heavier, so at long distances, the resulting sag encourages the practice of floating the sighter. Done with precision and purpose, floating the sighter is a marvelous tactic with any leader setup. But keeping line off the water is usually the better principle.
Floating the sighter becomes necessary when sag overpowers the pull of the weight below (fly or shot). This causes drag. And it happens about five feet sooner with a shorter leader and comp line vs a Mono Rig. (That’s a very rough estimate.)
Lastly, the trend toward extra-long rods has coincided with the leader length restriction. And it makes sense, if your leader must be shorter. Longer rods can hold more line off the water. But at some point, the returns on that rod length may not outweigh the disadvantages for the common angler who values a versatile tool more than a specialized one.
READ: Troutbitten | Use a Versatile and General Fly Rod
Find Your Way
These days, many of the euro nymphing leader formulas passed around, written about or featured in videos are built around the restrictions of FIPS. Since euro nymphing is so closely associated with the comp scene, the experts called upon are often entrenched in the rules. They share their leaders but sometimes fail to communicate the limits they are working under. Likewise, they may not mention what you are missing by following FIPS restrictions.
That’s unfortunate. Because the vast majority of us have no use for FIPS rules. We operate under no restrictions, and we should take full advantage of the tactics available.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N