Leaders and Trolls

Leaders and Trolls

Nick Moore | Wednesday, 17 November 2021

The leader is probably the most important piece of tackle after the fly line, and yet it is an often-overlooked necessity. I do a lot of Stillwater fly fishing, as well as salmon, sea trout, brown trout and grayling, and it quite frankly fascinates me. You can cast a 9’ tapered leader with some wool on the end with just your hands, try that with a piece of level mono and let me know what happens. Why do you think top distance and accuracy competition casters spend so much time and effort with their leader formula?

Stillwaters in the UK are often fished with a team of flies, and these must be spaced properly to ensure as much enjoyment as possible. Even when they are spaced adequately, things can still tangle (such as a fish jumping) so there are no guarantees!

The leader's job is to transfer and dissipate energy, which is very important for accuracy and speed (please see the video below which explains). If you have no taper, and just use a leader that is "straight through 8lb" then the fly line will tuck, and you will lose accuracy, speed and control.

I often see the 'straight through' recommendation in articles and magazines, which is utter bollocks. You can’t cast a team of three into a strong headwind without a taper, the flies will crumple in a miserable heap, which will most likely tangle. Even with a check haul, shoot check or pull back which ensures turnover. With a tail wind behind, like in a boat, the problem is less obvious, but when you start changing wind direction, then tangles will start occurring.

Now, it’s quite possible to cast 1'6" wide loops with a team of three. HOW?! I hear you ask. Well, this is what I do. It was recommended to me, and the difference is night and day.

1. Tackle starts with the fly. We decide on the biggest fly we will fish and move backwards from there. We find a suitable leader and fly line to turn that over comfortably, and finally we pick a bendy stick that we like with that that line. I use a #4 set up for still waters now (SA mastery trout), even on a reservoir. I'm not fishing snakes, so the line weight to fly size is fine.

2. The leader must match your fly line in terms of stiffness and mass, the Rio powerflex ones are really good for the majority of lines (I use the 9' 2x ones for trout fishing), the Wychwood ones are great with the ballistic pro performance. The important thing to note is that when you connect the fly line and leader together, when you bend it, it should make a very nice rolling curve like a 'U'. It should not kink or hinge. I needle knot a leader to my floating lines, and they last an extraordinary amount of time. This is because it’s the first stage of the setup. You can add a tippet ring on the end, or water knot the next section to it….

3. If you are fishing a team of three, then for most Stillwater fishing, 3x is quite suitable. I usually go (from the tippet ring) 2', 3' then 5'. You will save yourself a lot of tangles if you make sure your point to middle fly is at a greater distance than your top dropper to middle fly. That’s for a 9' rod by the way so you can net your fish on the point, with a longer rod you can increase the spacings.

5. Taper your flies, make sure your fly leg is straight, and either check haul or check the shoot to ensure turnover. Don’t just let it go and hope as it’ll be a disaster and you'll spend a great deal of time either undoing knots, or making up a new setup.

Ok, so what to do when you only want to fish one fly? Well that’s easy, you have your tapered leader already there, I add about 7' of tippet material for dries, and shorten it up for streamers which makes things very simple. The only time I’ve had to replace a leaders is when It's been wrapped up in a tree, so they last quite a long time.

Tight lines everyone, have a look at the below video to see the effects of casting a fly line without a leader, a mismatched leader, and a leader that matches the line in terms of stiffness and mass.