How to match fly leader to fishing conditions

Each fishing situation requires a different leader selection. From deep dredging sink tips for steelhead to delicate dry fly presentations,  leader length and size determines how your fly is presented to the fish.

The following is a discussion of leader lengths one might select given their line, fly, method, or water type.

2-4 feet

Calling 2-4 feet of mono a leader is probably a stretch.  Use 2-4 feet when fishing shooting heads or sink tips deep. You want that head or tip down and the fly to follow. With such a short leader you  know your fly is very near the line. A much longer leader will reduce your depth and control of the fly. Unless your flies weight and density match the line perfectly a long leader off of a sink tip or head means your fly could be to high in the water column. Depending on your quarry simply graduate two pieces of mono, ie 25lbs and 12lbs using a loop to loop connection or a sliding nail knot.

6 feet

Ideal for five to ten foot sinking tip lines when swinging weighted flies for steelhead. A six foot leader with a heavy butt and mid section really helps turn over a heavily wieghted conehead leach.  Six to sixteen pound six foot leaders are also great for fishing streamers.  Continually pounding the banks and stripping the fly a few times then picking it up and hammering back to the bank. The short leader simply makes it easier to pick up out of the water with a heavy fly.

7.5 feet

Tremendously popular for summer trout fishing. Utilizing a tippet diameter of 3x-6x the 7.5′ leaderis a great all around length.  If you want to really keep track of your tippet and leader length take a new 7.5′ leader and  before you tie on a fly, tie on some tippet. Because most knotless tapererd leaders are 25% butt 50% taper and 25% tippet you will have just lengthened your tippet. After changing flies a few times you will come up to your knot, again tie on some tippet, you will really lengthen the life of your leader.

9 feet

By far the most popular length of leader. From trout to bonefish keeping your leader roughly the length of your rod is a good bet. Most often used when fishing moderate sized rivers and lakes with tippet diameters ending in 3x-7x. When fishing a floating line for trout the 9′ leader is a great choice.

12-15 feet

The longer leaders, 12-15′ feet are great for lakes and spring creeks. I also really like them when fishing upstream to feeding fish. When I don’t want the line to spook the fish,  just having the leader cast over them is a better strategy. You can purchase already extruded 12-15′ leaders but you can also take a 9 footer and graduate it yourself. I like to start with a 9′ 3x knot less tapered leader and graduate it down to 4x and then 5x.  By extending the leader myself I know what my ending diameter is exactly.  If you are in the midst of an intense hatch on you local water and the fish are acting like they have PHDs lengthen and reduce the end diameter of you leader, it can make the difference.

Spey Leaders as defined by George Cook at Anglers Rendevous

With 15′ sink tips Type 3,6 and 8. I like a 2 or3 section gig as follows:

Winter Steelhead and King Salmon 3 stage tapered:

18″-20″ of 25 lb./18″ 20 LB../18″ 15 lb. Total 3 stage 54″-60″

Two Stage taper; 24″ of 25 LB./24″ 15 Lb.  48″ Total

Blood or Surgeons Knots will fly. MATERIAL: Rio Max+ or maxima Green.

Comments: I only like really short 30″-36″ leaders w/ Unweighted Flies…with Intruder type critters I like a little longer as I think it cast and sets-up BEST. One Exception being the ole Intermediate 15′ tip (Which is a killer tool in the daily wind-fest on the Deschutes) here go w/ a 6-7 and a half foot leader…a good one is a 6′ Rio Steelhead leader at 12 LB (or Stealth out w/ Flourflex + tippet 0x taking you from 6′ +18″ to 7′ 6″ total).

Floating Line leaders: AFS Floating and Intermediate set-ups-7 and a half foot overall leader length w/ the Spey Versi-leader gig.
With the Spey versi-leaders/Air floPoly Leaders from 2.6 thru 7.0 IPS “A 2 stage setup 20-24″ and again 20-24′ (40-48″ Total). 20 lb to 12 lb.

Other Floating lines such as Skagit (Full floating), Powerspey or good ole Windcutter I like what I call the 75%+ Rule for length-that being a leader w/ an Overall length of at least 75% of ROD LENGTH. Examples: Sage 7136-4    13′ 6″ use a 10-12′ leader.
Sage 6126-4   12′ 6″ use a 9-12′ leader. Rio makes lot’s of really good Steelhead grade leaders in both 9′ and now 12′ lengths. No need to tie em’ up when these are perfectly tapered!

Other general notes on leaders.

Full flourocarbon tapered leaders: Great in terms of visibility(lack of), abrasion resistance and sink rate. Not great when fishing a dry fly on a floating line, the leader simply sinks to much. I like to use flouro tippet all the time, but an entire flouro leader is best when you want the fly sink. Superb in lakes when using sinking lines, swinging flies for steelhead, bonefish and subsurface bass fishing.

The end of the leader or tippet diameter: In general use the “rule of three”. Divide your fly size by three to get your tippet diameter.

Best knots: When flourocarbon became popular folks really had problems with marrying it to regular mono or itself for that matter. I had several discussions with the folks at Rio on this one and what we came to was a really well tied, lubricated, slow drawn down BLOOD KNOT is the very best knot when tying similar sized mono or flouro together. I have put this to practice and really believe in this one.–CD

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2 Responses to How to match fly leader to fishing conditions

  1. Brian J. says:

    I’ve found the double surgeon’s knot to work ok when connecting small flouro tippet to somewhat larger mono leader… But maybe I’m just too lazy for the blood knot…

  2. Paul says:

    In my experience, triple surgeons are the ticket. And yes, I’m too lazy for blood knots as well. A triple surgeon isn’t as strong as a blood knot however, so one may want to take that into account.

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