Design and Function of the Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig

by | Mar 14, 2021 | 18 comments

I’ve now fished a Mono Rig for a couple of decades and written about it for over six years. In that time, we’ve all watched the fly fishing industry fully embrace tight line tactics, with the darling of the lot labeled as euro nymphing. All of this is wonderful, because anglers in contact are anglers in control. These systems are fun and effective under the water, because we know where the flies are, and we choose where they go next. That’s good stuff.

With the flourishing acceptance of contact rigs, there’s a welcome, ever growing collection of knowledge and information about these leader styles and how they are used. When I wrote the first Mono Rig article on Troutbitten many years ago, a Google search showed literally no other usage of the term for fly fishing. Now the same search returns thousands of results, and there’s a wide variety of leaders and systems that use the term, Mono Rig. But while experimentation and progress is a fantastic thing, I now receive more confused questions about my own leaders than ever before.

This article identifies exactly the purpose and usage of what I call the Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig. Here the design and function of my favorite leader is identified — and it may not be what you think. Even long time Troutbitten readers will likely find surprises in the text below.

** Note ** There are many supporting pieces dropped within this article. (All links appear in orange.) Remember, Troutbitten reads more like a book than a blog. And this article is not intended to stand alone. Reading the supporting material will answer a lot of questions. It will flesh out the tactics and color in the grey areas.

READ: Troutbitten | The Full Mono Rig System — All the variations, with formulas and adjustments

READ: Troutbitten | Beyond Euro Nymphing

The Standard?

The Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig is what I refer to most often throughout this site as just, “the Mono Rig.” However, because I do fish and write about thinner Mono Rigs with different designs on occasion, I now call this leader the Standard. It is built for versatility without compromising presentation. It’s a hybrid system with an answer for everything, ready for fishing nymphs on both a tight line and under an indy. It fishes streamers large and small, with every presentation style. It’s ready for dry dropper, wet flies, and it even casts single dry flies. All of these styles benefit greatly with a tight line advantage. Much more on all of that is under the “Function” heading below.

Here’s the basic formula, shown for a pair of nymphs:

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 (Backing Barrel with tag, attached here)
Tippet Ring (1.5 or 2mm)
14″ — 1x Rio Two Tone Tippet Material (Optional)
36″ — 4X Fluorocarbon Tippet
— Tag for upper nymph —
20″ — 5X Fluorocarbon Tippet
— Nymph —

Photo by Josh Darling


What follows are the key points in the structure of my favorite leader. There’s a reason for every element in the formula.

All Mono Rigs are designed to use only the leader and no fly line out of the rod guides. The Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig is long enough that the fly line does not leave the reel on all but the longest casts.

It is also designed to keep knots out of the guides. This is one reason the taper is short and the butt section is long — for shooting line cleanly while casting streamers or indy rigs at distance.

The butt section is thick enough and powerful enough to perform the functions of a fly line, if an angler casts it that way. (The leader can be cast with fly line style loops, even with no fly attached.) But it’s also thin enough that sag is minimized when hanging off the rod tip.

The transition piece of 10 lb Chameleon is kept short to minimize knots in the guides. But it’s there to extend the range of sagless presentations, especially important when tight lining with lighter flies.

The sighter is built to preserve power in the rig. Amnesia and Gold Stren are stiffer than bi-color sighter material. And while the stiffer material is not quite as visually sensitive, keeping power in the leader is especially important for suspension tactics. Bi-color material is often added to the sighter to extend the sagless range of tight line and euro nymphing.

There is enough power in the butt section, transition and sighter to fully complete a turnover cast with very light or very heavy flies. This allows not only for a variable tuck cast but also for the ultimate placement and alignment of tippet, nymphs, streamers, dry dropper or indy.

Tippet Rings at each end of the sighter offer quick changes of tippet sections or sighter-and-tippet sections, using rigging foams for storage.

The Mono Rig is easily swapped out for a leader change. It stores easily when using a leader wheel.

The Backing Barrel, mounted on the Gold Stren section, dramatically improves visibility of the sighter, and it adds a third dimension to the sighter’s sensitivity.

The tippet section is variable in length and diameter, depending on the flies and tactics needed. Longer lengths are used to get deeper, and thinner diameters are used with the smallest of flies.


The Standard Mono Rig is a hybrid fly fishing system. It is designed for casting flies and not lobbing them, meaning the leader has enough mass to cast like a fly line and push flies to a target, yet it’s light enough to also be pulled to a target by heavier flies.

The Standard Mono Rig is a deadly effective contact/tight line method for fishing every type of fly:

— Nymphs: Both tight line and indicator styles

— Streamers: Large and small, presented at any depth, angle and speed

— Dry Flies: Using dry dropper tactics or directly casting small dry flies

— Wet flies: Swung or drifted

The Standard leader is extremely versatile without sacrificing efficiency or effectiveness. While it is very much a do-everything leader, this is achieved without compromise. There’s a best-practice solution for everything we do on the water, for all the tactics listed above. (More on that below.)

Photo by Josh Darling

Specifically . . .

“Light, heavy, pretty far and kinda close” aren’t really good enough descriptions for such a technical topic. And I’ve made an effort, especially over the last couple of years, to nail down these details.

READ: Troutbitten | Series | Know Your Weights and Measures

So here are the specifics regarding what this leader can do. These distances and weights are quoted using a four weight fly rod of ten feet.

READ: Troutbitten | For Tight Line, Euro Nymphing and the Mono Rig, What’s a Good Fly Rod?

Tight Line and Euro Nymphing

Drag free drifts are achieved without any relevant influence of line sag at 30 feet with 75 cg, 25 feet with 30 cg, and 22 feet with 10 cg. The leader performs best with an upstream, tuck cast style, while casting across only as far over as the rod tip can reach to lead the flies down one seam.

READ: Troutbitten | One Great Nymphing Trick

For reference, here are weights of the nymphs in my box. Yours may vary greatly.

Suspension and Indicator Rigs

By adding a suspension device to the upper part of the tippet, tight line principles are extended to an indicator system. The angler is in touch with the indy, and the indy is in touch with the flies underneath. The indy acts as a hinge point and a lead point. By remaining tight to the indy (with no leader, or with limited leader on the water) the speed of the indy is dictated more by the flies than by the speed of the top current. However, the path of the flies is dictated by the indicator.

In this way, the range of a tight line system is greatly expanded. Light or heavy flies can be fished beyond 30 feet. The tight line to the indy variation helps to balance and even out the drift, often presenting nymphs more naturally than a pure tight line look. It also allows the angler to extend a drag free drift downstream without swinging the nymphs out, and it offers an effective way to beat the wind.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing with an Indicator — A Mono Rig Variant


Taking tight line principles over to the streamer game changes what is possible with the long flies. An angler may dictate the depth, angle and speed of the flies at any moment. Small, large, light and heavy streamers are easily fished at 30-40 feet and further, with only minor adaptations to the casting stroke.

VIDEO: Fly Fishing Streamers on the Mono Rig, Episode 1 — Overview
VIDEO: Fly Fishing Streamers on the Mono Rig, Episode 2 — Casting

READ: Troutbitten | Fly Fishing with Streamers on the Mono Rig — More Control and More Contact

From the Troutbitten video, Streamers on the Mono Rig, Episode 2 — Casting. Photo by Josh Darling.

Dry Flies

Dries are presented in two ways. Tight line dry dropper style allows for precise landing and drifting with no drag, since all the line and leader is held off the water. Depending on fly choices, tight line dry dropper range extends to 30 feet. Dry flies can also be presented as a single dry at the end of the line. Flies must be fairly small and streamlined, and comfortable casting range is limited to 25 feet.

Casting dries without a traditional fly line is easy if the casting stroke is solid. And the benefit of drifting without the drag of fly line on the water’s surface is something to see.

READ: Troutbitten | Dry Flies on the Mono Rig

There’s a Solution for Everything

Need to fish light flies at long distances? The Standard Mono Rig has a sighter thick enough to float about 15 cg of weight. When floating the sighter this way, standard casting form is preserved, without the necessity of a water load, because the leader is built for power. So a #16 beadhead nymph can be tucked in, even at 30 feet. Alternatively, floating the sighter for the first five to ten feet of the drift with weights over 20 cg is a great strategy at distance. Again, a tuck cast provides the necessary presentation and ability to keep everything in one seam.

READ: Troutbitten | Ask George Daniel — Floating the Sighter

Can’t reach the target seam? Attach an indy below the sighter, and use tight-line-to-the-indicator tactic, allowing the indy to lead the flies down one seam on a natural drift, rather than the rod tip.

Too windy to tight line? Use a hard indy, like a Thingamabobber, to punch through the wind and carry the rig to the target, again with tight line principles preserved.

Need to throw a pair of #18’s in pocket water? Extend the sighter with a piece of 1X bi-color, and go with all 6X and a longer tippet. This lengthens the sagless reach of the Standard Mono Rig.

Want to show the trout a bigger meal? The Standard rig is built to push streamers under limbs and into tight targets, with good, crisp casting loops. It’s a good match for any size of streamer.

Photo by Josh Darling

A Lot More

The Troutbitten Standard Mono Rig is built for versatility without sacrificing presentation. It’s a full system of fly fishing and not a leader built for a set of specialized techniques. It is not competition legal, because the leader is longer than two times the length of the rod. It’s also a leader and system designed for attaching the additional weight of split shot on occasion and adding an indicator whenever conditions dictate.

READ: Troutbitten | Split Shot vs Weighted Flies

READ: Troutbitten | Euro Nymphing: What Your Missing By Following FIPS Competition Rules — Part One

The Standard Mono Rig is an extremely useful, adaptable tool. And it’s what I have in my rod guides for most of my time on the water. There’s absolutely a place for the specialized tools of thin and micro thin leaders.  And I use a Harvey Dry leader quite a bit as well. I carry all of them as part of my overall approach on the water.

There is so much more here on Troutbitten about the Mono Rig. Follow all the orange links above (both in-text and in the READ links). I also recommend digging into the following article for more specifics on the adjustments mentioned here. As a pair, these two articles are really the keystone to the Mono Rig.

READ: Troutbitten | The Full Mono Rig System — All the variations, with formulas and adjustments

And as always, all of the Mono Rig articles can be found here:

READ: Troutbitten | Category | The Mono Rig

Troutbitten Leaders

Lastly, after years of sheepishly answering that I don’t sell leaders on the site, I’m happy to announce that Troutbitten Leaders launch this Wednesday. Offered will be the Standard, Thin and Micro-Thin versions of Mono Rigs, as well as my favorite George Harvey Dry Fly leaders.

Fish hard, friends.

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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. Glad to see the tremendous influence you’ve had on the fly fishing community over the past 5y. I’ve been reading this site since late around late 2014/early 2015 and I remember when Burke used to write and there was even an article about “stinky bass” (It’s been on my list for the past 5y to fish a mono rig for smallmouth streamers…maybe this summer). Have been fishing the mono rig (I used the original formula for a long time – 20 then 12 then amnesia/stren/amensia sighter without the limp sighter) since 2015 and I remember I would get a LOT of funny looks on the well known trout streams in my area. Now I go and people left and right are using chameleon. I know microthin is the craze but you just cannot beat the versatility of 20lb chameleon and a stiff sighter in my opinion – especially for when dry fly fishing at somewhat of a distance needs to be a serious option – let’s be honest, changing out 30 feet of leader takes time no matter how quick of a system you have. If I could only have one system it would be a 20lb chameleon butt section just like you say.

    • The mono rig works great for stinky bass!

  2. C’mon Wednesday! Really interested in trying out this leader without buying 5 different types of line!

    • Totally up for purchasing the Mono rig without having to build it myself!

  3. Like you, I prefer to nymph essentially upstream. And yet, most of the videos I’ve seen of top comp anglers (Devin Olsen, Lance Egan) nymphing show them fishing more across stream (Pat Weiss appears to be the exception). Do you have a theory about why this is the case?

    • Hi Alex,

      I always like your questions. They help to flesh out some important information.

      Couple things:

      The good comp anglers that I know personally all have an intimate understanding of what happens when fishing across seams. It’s physics. It can’t be beaten or changed. On a tight line, flies track toward the rod tip. We can watch this and prove it. See where the fly enters and see where it exits. So often, when fishing too far across, the fly tracks over a foot, three feet, maybe more. Thin leaders certainly help with this, but not enough, in my experience.

      If you have fish that will buy that unnatural presentation, then go for it. Some stocked trout or eager trout with a short feeding season are actually attracted to the cross stream drag. Likewise, when allowing the flies to pass below our position, they start to drag across and then even swing out and up. Some trout at certain times like it. Wild, picky, selective, cautious trout usually do not.

      My preference is to do whatever it takes to keep the nymphs in one seam. That is my baseline. And that is the most natural look. There’s just no doubt. If that doesn’t work, then I deviate from there.

      I do think that video somewhat skews our view of things. Even in the films we’ve done, I notice that things don’t always look as upstream as they are. Also, remember, I like an upstream approach, but not directly — not that often. Let’s say my favorite angle is upstream 20 feet and over ten feet. That puts the flies tracking right back to my rod tip, over the same seam they landed in. And I can drift that fly all the way to across from my position, and then recast.

      Thanks again for the question.


  4. I ordered the line to make the mono rigs this weekend. I’ll get my practice in making knots. If I’d waited a bit, I’d be buying your leaders!

    I’ve never fished the mono rig before, and look forward to it. A friend of mine took it to heart and made one and he used it with good success the last time we fished together. I’m hooked based on that result.

  5. Hey Dom….Total convert here. I love the mono rig. I recently tied a new leader and made the transition piece 15 lb Chameleon instead of 10 lb, hoping to make a smoother turnover and less chance of creating a possible “hinge.” So it goes from 20 lb Chameleon to 15, to 12 lb Amnesia, to 10 lb Stren. Haven’t tried this new leader yet. Can you think of any reason why it’s a bad idea?

    • Hi Brad,

      Glad to hear it. You know I’m all about experimentation.

      You asked, so I’ll answer. There is no hinge effect at all. Although 20 lb to 10 lb sounds like a big difference, it’s not. The diameters are what matters. And that’s .017 to .012.

      “Can you think of any reason why it’s a bad idea?”

      No. It’s not a bad idea. I used to go with 12 and then 10 — a foot of each. Two things: Every bit of thicker leader you use sags a little bit more. And if you change out your sighter section and down, then every time you tie on the new section, you lose about an inch of that 10 lb. It’s just something to think about.


      • Yeah makes sense. Thanks, man.

      • Hi Dom,

        highly appreciate your site, cheers for that.
        Since I’m located in Europe I am a child of metric units- consistently struggling with the imperial ones…

        In above stated comment you mentioned “diameters are what matters”.
        Here is where I am confused: 12 lb Amnesia has greater diameter than 10 lb Chameleon, so tapering from butt to Amnesia goes from .017 => .012 => .013 (!) => …
        Is this step compensating changes in material stiffness?
        Why don’t you rather go to 8 lb Amnesia (.011)? => For the sake of visibility?

        I was looking for your “outdated” recipe (with transition in several steps), unfortunately didn’t find it – could you kindly share it?

        Cheers from the rivers in southern Germany!

        • Hi there.

          The confusion lies here: 12 lb amnesia does not have a greater diameter than 10 lb Chameleon. They are equal, or the Chameleon is slightly thicker. Doesn’t matter how they list it. Using a micrometer tells the tale.

          Also, the 10 lb Chameleon is stiffer than the 12 lb Amnesia. And in leaders, that’s what matters, in my opinion, not diameter. Anyway, it’s thicker and stiffer than the Amnesia. Make sense?

          Also, 8 lb Amnesia is too skinny and limp for what I’m trying to do with that part of my sighter.


  6. Hello Domenick

    Have you ever given any consideration as how the mono rig system would work for us tenkara anglers that follow you? On a 9 to 11 foot tenkara rod, I might be limited to a line that is 20′ or less from rod tip to fly . Would the solution be using some percentage of your listed lengths of mono rig?

    • Hi Mark,

      Yes. In that case, I’d simply cut the butt section back to the length you like, leaving the rest of the leader formula as is.

      Make sense?


      • Thanks Dom, that sounds like a winning formula. Thank you for all your hard work on behalf of all us troutbitten suffering readers.

  7. Hi Dom another great article. Stren and Amnesia mono isn’t readily available here in NZ so I use standard indicator tippet instead it works fine but I’d like to try your original rig. Therefore just wondering if you will be shipping your leaders and other items overseas?

    Tight lines AJ


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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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