Leaders for Fly Fishing: The Critical Connection

There isn’t much that’s more frustrating than getting into position to drop a fly in front of a fish and having your line and leader** turn into spaghetti.  Any self-respecting fish darts for cover, and the odds of catching a fleeing fish is slim to none.  A leader that matches your fishing situation helps you catch more fish.

Leader length is really important.  On a spring creek, pool, or pond you’ll usually need a longer, finer leader.  Those slower moving waters give a trout more time to look things over.  Long, fine leaders have delicate tippets, and it’s easier to beguile a fish.  If you start fishing in deeper water or in faster moving water, the clarity is worse.  Shorter leaders work better because they’ll help you swim or drift your fly more naturally.  In faster water, trout have to make their mind up quicker, so you can get away with a heavier pound test.

Stiffer leaders are helpful when turning over big, wind-resistant flies for freshwater or saltwater bass.  A light leader doesn’t have the backbone to flip a spun deer hair or balsa wood popper.  Use a stiff material to help present large flies properly.

As you mix and match your materials, make sure that you look at the diameter and not just the pound test on the decal.  The 20-pound test diameters for Stren Fluorocarbon is .018, while Berkley Trilene is .017 and Orvis Mirage Fluorocarbon is .015. Knots don’t seat properly when there is too big of a difference in the diameters.  And they pull when a fish tugs at the other end.

Match your leaders to the situation and you’ll lay out a great presentation every time.  At least you will until the wind blows, and more on that later….

(**Fly leaders are tapered monofilament strands that connect the fly fishing line to the fly. They’re designed to cast (present) flies the way the fish expects to see food items.)
Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at www.tomkeer.com or at www.thekeergroup.com.