I’ll start things off by saying if you have any interest in trout or other freshwater fishing (with an emphasis on running water) you should go straight out to a good bookshop or amazon and buy “Drag Free Drift” by Joseph Kissane. It’s a wonderful resource and will certainly get you thinking.
I’ve fished with plenty of people who struggle time and again with presentation who will change everything under the sun but fail to realise their leader could be the source of the problem. I’ve done it myself plenty times. A great cast can be quite easily ruined by a shit leader. Too short and it kicks, too long and it doesn’t turnover, too stiff and it drags, too flexible and it doesn’t cast well… there are so many potential pitfalls.
There are plenty different types of leaders – home tied, shop bought tapered, French, furled, czechpolishenglish whatever the next ‘fad’ will be but at the end of the day your leader should be a function of the fly you are using, the fly line you are using, the weather conditions, the water conditions and what you are trying to do with it.
Here’s a little guide to sorting it out:
1) Fly line – match the thickness of the butt end of your leader reasonably to the fly line, I’d play around with anything between half to the same width as the fly line tip.
2) The fly – if it’s air resistant or weighs a ton you’re going to have to shorten up and thicken up for more mass.
3) Weather – if it’s windy as hell you’ll probably need to shorten up or thicken up as before.
5) Water conditions – this is where things get a bit more interesting as really the above should have been self explanatory. The water conditions are particularly important as the speed of the current, the depth of the fish, the complexity of the surface currents will all impact on your leader choice. For more depth skip the taper and have a longer section of level tipper – it’ll go down quicker. The speed of the current will affect how you play on the surface or below and you’ll likely be able to get away with murder in faster water as your drift will be much shorter and quicker. In slow water pay meticulous attention to the length and suppleness of your tippet. I’ll pick up on this in point 6 below.
6) What you’re trying to do – if you don’t want drag free then cast that puppy how you need to or stop playing with the super soft materials and use something stiffer that’ll impart action easier. If you do need drag free then lets follow on from step 5. If the currents are slow and complex this is the critical point you need your leader to play ball. My approach is usually self tied or shop bought for the first 9-10’ and then add a length of tippet that’s going to land in a bunch of lovely S shapes all by itself when you’re casting. That’s absolutely crucial to good drifts.
These are purely guidelines and a lot of experimentation is needed to find out what works for your cast, what works for your water and just in general how you like the presentation. The key though is to experiment. Put in the effort to find out what works and it will pay dividends.
Then we can throw in the big boys in the salt and pike in fresh too where we beef up the breaking strain and flies become much harder to cast. Make the focus on castability and usability here and then tailor the specifics such as connections to wire as need be.
I had a revolution in my fishing after reading that book- give it a chance and I hope you do too.