Tight line and euro nymphing is experiencing a groundswell of popularity. These tactics have been around for decades, but anglers are now learning the techniques from better sources, with solid advice and a fresher understanding of what is possible when using a contact rig. Thoughtful fishermen like George Daniel and Devin Olsen have written excellent books on the subject. Lance Egan and Devin have produced three great videos that show these tactics in practice. And George has put much of what he teaches on film.
I like to think that Troutbitten is another good resource for advancing tight line tactics to the forefront. And there are countless other quality sources in the form of podcasts, message boards, etc.
So now, more than ever, with a good understanding of the basics and beyond, anglers love contact systems. These rigs put us under uninterrupted control of the flies, and that is the ultimate attraction.
Another draw is in the versatility of design. Everyone has their own favorite leaders, rods, lines and flies. Variations abound. So there’s room for style and for adapting to your waters and your trout. To the neophyte, all of this might be a confusing mess. But to the initiated, tight line and euro nymphing is the kind of thing that leads us down the best of rabbit holes.
George Daniel recently published a helpful video about the benefits of euro lines vs a Mono Rig in the winter. I thank George for bringing up the topic and offering his own preference. Here’s the video.
Since George published the video, I’ve received countless questions about my thoughts regarding euro lines and mono rigs. While this is also one of the most common questions I’ve fielded through the years, it has a complex answer.
Although I’ve addressed this topic in many articles here on Troutbitten, there is no write up that tackles this choice directly. So let’s fix that.
Here are my thoughts on euro nymphing lines vs a Mono Rig. These views address all seasons, all distances and many variations.
Defining the Terms
Let’s understand some things together. A euro nymphing fly line is a very thin diameter line of about .022”. Sometimes it is tapered, sometimes not. It’s often called a euro line, a comp line or a tactical fly line. But it is not intended to perform like a traditional fly line.
These lines were originally developed as a response to a FIPS competition rule that restricted the length of a leader to twice the length of the fly rod. Before the rule, many (maybe most) competitors used a Mono Rig.
Euro nymphing lines are manufactured with either a braided core (like fly line backing) or a mono core of about 8-10 lb in thickness and flexibility. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses.
Some anglers define a Mono Rig as a leader long enough to keep fly line on the reel, so anglers hold only mono in their hands. (That’s what I prefer.)
But I’d say a Mono Rig is a leader that’s long enough to keep the fly line inside the rod guides — the fly line goes no further than the tip-top (the last guide). I fished this way for many years, with a twenty-foot leader, and I still called it a Mono Rig. Essentially, if you are not casting with a fly line out of the guides, then you are using the performance of a Mono Rig. That’s my own definition. But it gets complicated . . .
Many competition anglers, these days, maximize their leader length to 20-24 feet — two times the length of their fly rod. They attach that long leader to their euro line. So are they fishing a Mono Rig? At twenty feet or less — at the range where the majority of good tight line nymphing happens — I’d say they are. With no fly line out of the guides, it’s a Mono Rig to me. Beyond twenty feet, with a bit of that euro line out of the guides, I guess it isn’t. But it’s also nothing like a standard line either. And it’s much closer to a Mono Rig than a standard fly-line-style nymphing rig.
See what I mean? Life is confusing. But these are the kind of things that most of us who are deep into these tactics find wonderfully complicated.
So, with the terms defined (kind of), let’s dig in deep, comparing the performance of euro nymphing fly lines vs a Mono Rig.
Feel and Handling
Start with George’s excellent point. For anyone struggling to get used to the feel of monofilament in the line hand, a euro line may be your best choice. George’s video is specifically about cold winter fishing, and feeling the thicker, more textured euro line is easier than feeling mono in the winter. It’s true.
A hand-twist retrieve is better with a tactical line, so that’s an advantage. But I use what I call a fulcrum retrieve with my Mono Rig instead, which allows for more control and versatility over retrieve speed, while also putting me in a better position to shoot line. (I’ll write about the fulcrum retrieve this spring.)
Many of us crave the feel of mono in our hands. And we’ve learned to deal with some of the issues. In fact, what some anglers list as issues are non-existent with a little adaptation and attention to detail.
Fly line coating deadens our contact to the nymph. Its soft texture absorbs some of the bumps and ticks of the weight as it’s in contact with the riverbed. Likewise, when a trout bites softly on our nymph, we feel the strike better with a Mono Rig.
Of the two monofilaments, fluorocarbon is even more sensitive than nylon, but fluoro tends to hold a coil too much, so I stay with nylon for the butt section.
Speaking of that . . .
A Mono Rig holds more coils. There’s no doubt. In the nineties, I read Joe Humphreys’ Trout Tactics, and I duplicated his Mono Rig setup. Coiling was my biggest issue. And I didn’t use it much.
Foolishly, I never thought to stretch the mono before use.
Preventing coils is simple. Choose the right butt section material, and stretch it at the beginning of the day. Maxima Chameleon lays flat, even in cold weather. So does Amnesia and Cortland Euro Nymphing Leader Material. Stretch it hard and enjoy a Mono Rig without trouble.
However, anything thicker than about .017” can be problematic, no matter how much you stretch the line.
Euro lines hold less coil, in general. But the mono core euro lines hold quite a bit of coil in the winter too, so they should also be stretched before use. If you want virtually no coil in cold weather, use a braided core euro line. I don’t personally recommend them, because braided core lines have very poor turnover power, and they don’t suit my casting style.
** Twisting ** If you are doing a repetitive oval cast in the same direction, then twisting may be your problem and not coiling. Consider a more traditional cast instead. Take the large oval out. Stop lobbing and start casting. There are many big advantages to this.
In the coldest months, ice in the guides drives many fly fishermen indoors, because ice is a pain to deal with. And one of the great advantages of a Mono Rig is that less ice builds in the guides. The Mono Rig is thinner, so it carries less water. And the relative stiffness of mono tends to knock out much of the ice that does happen to build up.
Euro fly lines form less ice than a standard fly line because they’re skinnier. But they build more ice than a Mono Rig.
With each strip, four fingers grasp the line as it goes around the edge of my thumb. I have no trouble strip setting a Mono Rig this way.
Some anglers have difficulty strip setting with streamers on a Mono Rig. I do not.
First, I don’t always strip set, because it’s not always the best option. Second, when stripping streamers, I grasp the line with four fingers and turn my hand about forty-five degrees before pulling with every strip. (See the above picture.)
That said, there’s no argument that it’s easier to strip set with a euro fly line.
This is a big one. If the euro line does end up out of the guides, it sags more than a Mono Rig of .017’. The euro fly line, at .022” weighs a lot more, so it sags more. Sag equals drag. And that’s a bad thing — real bad.
The Mono Rig angler also has the choice to go very thin on the butt section for even less sag. But take note: micro-thin butt sections are a specialized approach. While they have the advantage of less sag at longer range, they lack turnover power. And they put a variety of tight line tactics out of reach.
I used a Mono Rig that was short enough to have (regular) fly line in my hand for five years. The leader was around 20 feet. And back then, I never fished tight line tactics further away. When I did start to cast at distance, I realized that I despised having two different materials in a tight line cast.
A euro fly line performs differently in the cast than does the leader material it’s attached to. It turns over with a different power, and effectively casting it requires a slightly different stroke. For this reason, I don’t like having both materials in the cast. I prefer the long length of a Mono Rig butt section, because its performance is more predictable.
Similarly, I hate having the junction of the fly-line-to-the-leader in my rod guides. No matter how clean the connection, with a needle knot, a super glue splice, etc., the junction is still there. It’s in the guides. It doesn’t necessarily hang up, but it bumps in the guides, creating friction that becomes a hindrance to shooting line.
If you are only tight line nymphing at close range, this doesn’t matter. But if you expand your range to include tight line to the indicator tactics and streamers at distance, then shooting line becomes a big part of what you do. There’s nothing like the feeling of a long, clean butt section sailing through the guides. And I tie my leaders to make that happen.
If you spool up a euro fly line, that’s what you’re stuck with. Sure, you can swap out spools, but it requires no less than five minutes to switch. So you won’t do it often. No one does. Many anglers carry separate spools with good intentions, but they don’t change often once they realize the inconvenience.
Instead, I keep a regular fly line on my reel that matches my fly rod. Then I attach my Mono Rig with a four turn clinch knot to the welded loop. When rising trout or another situation has me convinced that using fly line is the better option, I simply change leaders. It takes me about one minute to make the switch, and I have no problem doing this frequently, because I’m not wasting time.
Because the euro fly line weighs more, it loads a fly rod more than a Mono Rig. To some, this is an advantage. But to those familiar with casting tight line rigs, most rods load very well with a Mono Rig.
Longevity and Durability
For what it’s worth, the cost of fishing a Mono Rig is negligible compared to a euro fly line. The euro lines don’t last long, because the extra-thin coating on the thin core is an easily damaged wrapper, no matter how well the line is manufactured.
My Mono Rig lasts until I do something dumb to it, like step on the butt section with aluminum treads or get the whole damn thing stuck in a tree.
Casting Dry Flies
A euro fly line casts dries easier than a Mono Rig because it weighs more. And while neither of these rigs will punch a #10 Humpy into the wind, a euro fly line can push more out there.
I’ve heard it said that a Mono Rig can’t cast dry flies. But that’s absolutely false. Sure, a micro-thin Mono Rig with an 8 lb butt section won’t cast dries. But a 20 pound (.017”) butt section, like the Troutbitten Mono Rig, casts small dry flies wonderfully, up to about 25 feet.
If I want to spend much time casting dry flies, I simply change leaders as mentioned above, using the unmatched performance of the standard fly line on my reel. I simply love casting dries with a four weight fly line, and I do it every time the trout give me a chance. With a euro line on my reel, I don’t have that option.
Spooling a reel with a euro line dramatically limits your versatility.
Lastly, does a euro fly line or a Mono Rig cast more like a standard fly line while casting nymphs?
The answer seems obvious. But it’s not. And there are many variables at play.
For many years, I’ve preached a casting approach to tight line tactics rather than a lobbing style. And for that, we need fly line performance from our thin line, be it a Mono Rig or euro fly line.
Micro-thin butt sections for a Mono Rig (like 8 lb) do not have fly line style performance. However, butt sections of about .015” and .017” cast very much like a fly line, if you treat them that way. Good, crisp casting, with speed is the trick.
The Mono Rig is stiffer than a euro line, and that’s where it gets its fly line style performance — even though it’s a thinner and lighter line. By contrast, the euro line weighs a bit more than the Mono Rig, so at slower velocities, it may get a better push, if the technique is solid.
Generally, I have little tolerance for braided core euro fly lines, as they are simply too floppy for my casting style. Mono core euro lines are much closer in performance to a Mono Rig.
I still spend much of my time on the water fiddling with leaders. My standard Troutbitten Mono Rig has changed little over the last few years, because after decades of experimentation, it’s perfect for what I do. But I spend an inordinate amount of time trying other leader formulas. I like to understand what is possible, and I enjoy the exploration of tactics and ideas.
I’ve fished euro fly lines enough to know why I don’t care for them. And there are limited situations where I would recommend them as a first option.
Instead, I prefer the Mono Rig as my day-to-day tool for all tight line tactics.
That’s me. But go ahead and drop your own thoughts in the comments below. Because it’s a wide, wide world out there, with lots of diversity and a bunch of ways to catch trout.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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