The elephant flyfishing

The elephant flyfishing

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A recent thread on Sexyloops has caught my attention. Well, actually, all the threads get my attention, but this particular one piques me more than most as it deals with something I feel I might actually know something about. Which is funny because even though I consider myself a life-long fly angling addict, there are only a small percentage of topics on this board to which I can practically relate.

In the wide world of angling, if fly fishing is itself a niche activity, then what I do is a niche within that niche. And, guess what, unless you are a world wandering vagabond like you know who… that niche within a niche label probably applies to you too!

From a larger perspective first though, I wonder if everyone reading this appreciates what an incredible asset this thing called Sexyloops actually is? Maybe it is just me, but I think the fact that this forum covers aspects of flyfishing from a truly world-wide view is really amazing.


Seriously! Just start trying to name all of the species of fish that are mentioned in this year’s posts. Think of the different environments and the different techniques. Even if you forget about the fish, consider tackle, casting techniques, fly tying, etc. It truly is a very wide view of a myriad of topics, all of which are covered by the umbrella term “fly fishing”.


But, on the flip side, I think this global conception creates a very real problem that everyone needs to keep in mind, but is easily overlooked. Approaching “flyfishing” from so many different perspectives easily becomes much like John Godfrey Saxe’s poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”.


There really is no “right” way to cast, or no “best” knot, etc. It all depends on particular circumstances.

So, with that disclaimer in mind, lets consider how to tie a saltwater leader. Specifically, one for general use in South Florida for inshore species. (And specifically not for IGFA records consideration)


By the way, this is an outline from a beginner’s class I present a few times a year.


The leader can be considered to be comprised of three parts: the butt section, which attaches to the flyline, a transition section, and the tippet, the latter being the weakest link between the angler and the fish.


The butt section is the thickest part of the leader and it approximates the stiffness or mass of the tip of the flyline. As a general rule, without getting real specific, the “size” of the material used in the butt section can be guessed by multiplying the number of the flyline by 5. So, if the flyline is a #6, a butt section of 30# mono should be about right: 6 X 5 = 30. If the multiple of 5 is an uncommon mono size, like maybe 35, then round up to the next size, in this case for a #7 flyline, use 40# mono.


So, the butt section is generally specific to the flyline.


Now, lets next jump to the tippet. The strength of the tippet is completely up to the angler. This is where the angler decides how sporty they want to be: do they want a challenge, or are they hungry and want to put a fish in the cooler? Generally, for use around here, the tippet usually is between 10 and 20# mono. You decide.


Once the butt and the tippet have been determined, the transition section can be somewhere between the two. Given a butt section of 40# and a tippet of 10# there are many common mono size options like 30, 25, and 20. They all will work. The idea is to taper the thickness of the leader and, maybe more importantly, allow for decent knotting between the sections. We can get more specific in a bit.


The general formula for the length of each section is 60:20:20. So for a 10 foot leader, the butt would be 60 % of 10 or 6 feet long, the transition 20% or 2 feet and the tippet 2 feet also. A quick and easy way to make any 60:20:20 leader is to “wing span” a butt section piece (for me that is about 6 feet), then fold it into thirds, which will give you a quick measure of 20% for the other sections.


The material to choose for the leader should be middle of the road standard nylon monofilament. You don’t want “hard” or “extra limp” flavors. It is rather important that all three sections be of the same manufacturer and type. Fluorocarbon is not a good choice for general use.


Now, for a number of common inshore species that have rough mouths, a short additional piece of heavier mono is attached to the distal end of the tippet. This piece is called the “bite tippet” and is generally between 6 and 10 inches long, and usually of 30 or 40# mono depending on the size and species of fish being sought. Without this extra protection fish like snook or tarpon would quickly wear through standard 10 – 20# tippet.

Now back to the transition section. The choice of the “in between” section of mono can be made to create different profiles to the leader. A convex profile will turn over heavier or larger flies a bit better, while a concave profile will present smaller or lighter flies with more finesse. The 60:20:20 formula is just a starting point: along with the profile, the sections can be manipulated to better present flies for particular applications.


The overall length of the leader is a bit species or scenario specific. Shorter leaders are better for shoreline casting as they are easier to handle, but longer leaders can be better for sight fishing or whenever the fish are spooky.