Using leaders right

Using leaders right

Viking Lars | Saturday, 30 April 2022

The right leader for the right conditions, fish, fly size and fly line is imperative not only to better, more precise, easier casting, but sometimes also success. I’ve been experimenting with leaders for a long, long time, and if you have never, please try it, it makes much more of a difference than most people are aware of.

It begins with the typical fly, from that you choose a leader and then a fly line. Then you choose a rod you like for casting that particular or type of line, then finish with the reel that has to match the rod in weight and size (weight is a critical point, I think) and finally the amount of backing needed. And remember that big strong fish need more backing and a better brake system. The entire setup is of course one, big compromise.

What’s most important? It’s either the fly line or the leader and it’s probably a 60/40, although I’m not really sure in the favour of which. A close-to-perfect fly line and a perfect leader? A close-to-perfect leader and the perfect fly line? I’ll have to think about that.

Most people today use factory made leaders and for a very good reason. They cast well, they’re easy to use, they actually can last a long time and you avoid the big, clumsy knots in the thick parts of the leader.

When talking about factory made leaders, I often experience that many actually misunderstand how to get the most out of them. The basic principle is that they’re made to be used right out of the zip lock bag. If you need a 2X 9’ leader, get one and start fishing it straight away (well, tie it onto the fly line first - and don’t forget a fly). Don’t buy a 9’ 0X and tie on a tippet. The leader is made with a built-in tippet, so to speak, A relatively long, level section of the tippet size you want. Once you’ve used up say 2/3 of that part, start tying on new tippet. If you lengthen from the long, level part, you’ll get poor turnover. If that’s what you’re after, then it’s the right thing to do - and sometimes it’s an advantage. A not-too-effective turnover is great for dry fly fishing.

If you’re after a long leader with good turnover, definitely do not buy a 9’ leader and lengthen it to say 12’ or 15’. You end up with a butt section way too short to ensure the best turnover possible. Instead, buy a 12’, use 2/3 or the level tip section and then tie on a new section.

You can of course lengthen by tapering down tippet sizes, and some times I do too and one step-down doesn’t have a huge impact (as long as it’s not done straight out of the bag). But much more than that and the butt section becomes too short in relation to the total length of the leader.

It makes a bigger difference than most think. Keep in mind the general 60/20/20-guide. 60% butt, 20% taper down to the desired tippet size and 20% tippet. If you lengthen too much, you lose the 60% butt section, so to speak. This is a good starting point for any leader, whether 9’ or 15’.

If you get a kink or a knot in the thicker part of the leader, just untangle it, straighten as well as you can and keep fishing. It’ll still be stronger than your tippet.

And on the subject of straightening, most people do so by pulling the leader hard and tight between the hands and keeping it like that for a while. It works well. I drag the leader fairly tightly over my thumb several times, generating some heat. I do that 6-7-8 times depending on thickness and then just keep it straight between my hands as it cools down again. That leaves me with a perfectly straight leader.

All for now - have a great weekend!


PS - please consider not using fluorocarbon. It’s non-degradable if you lose a piece. It’s also harder to tie good, strong knots in fluorocarbon than nylon.