Fly fishing for trout can be a most-subtle affair. The flies can be maddeningly tiny, the tippets gossamer-like, and the fish so spooky that they bring tears to one’s eyes. Of course, subtlety is one of the elements that makes trout fishing, especially in challenging waters, so appealing. Solving the riddle with finesse and artistry is what it is all about. One of the subtle problem-solving skills that can see great success when dealing with touchy trout is the greased leader tactic.
The greased leader tactic is meant to accompany smaller sub-surface imitations, although it can also be used with tiny, visually-elusive dry flies. The idea is to use the leader to suspend the fly and provide information about drag, as well as helping to signal takes by the fish. In other words, the leader becomes a nine-foot long monofilament bobber (float). If you simply can’t stand the idea of a bobber, regardless of form, just employ the term “fly suspension device.”
Well, a greased leader isn’t really a bobber. A greased leader certainly does allow you to suspend flies at pre-determined depths, but there is nothing wrong with that, especially when those pre-determined depths are necessary to catch fish. A greased leader also helps you to gather and verify information about where the fly is, if the fly is dragging and whether or not that fish 50 feet away in strong glare sipped your size 22 midge pupa a foot below the surface.
A greased leader requires only two components: a leader and some paste-style floatant. The thicker floatant sticks to the leader better and is easier to handle. To grease the leader, first rub some floatant between your thumb and forefinger and then grasp the butt end of the leader with said thumb and forefinger. Now, draw the leader through your thumb and forefinger smoothly and evenly. You can repeat the process to insure uniform floatant coverage. You can also roll your thumb and forefinger back and forth to keep the floatant application dynamic.
Before you go wild greasing your leader, be sure that you determine at what depth you want to suspend your fly. Grease the leader down so at least as much remains un-greased as the depth that you desire your fly to hang. Allowing a little extra leeway in the un-greased portion of the leader gives you some cushion to compensate for the pull of currents, stiffness of leader material and sink rate of the fly. If you really want to get you fly hanging straight down off the greased portion of the leader, try a right-angle leader set-up.
A greased leader falls gently to the water’s surface and is visible in a variety of lighting conditions. Of course, the fact that most of the leader floats, means that it makes a noticeable surface impression when seen from underwater. This may be an issue when dealing with extremely spooky fish in glassy stillwater environments. That doesn’t mean you should discount the greased leader as a viable tactic in such places. I have used greased leaders on many of the world’s most famous “challenge waters” with great success. If the tactic proves to be in issue in a particular circumstance, then try switching over to a different micro-indicator set-up.