11 Truths About Fly Leaders That Make Fly Fishing Easy

11 Truths About Fly Leaders That Make Fly Fishing Easy

Fly fishing can be rather complex when it comes down to the technicalities of rigging up your fly rod. Some of the most frequent questions we get for rigging up are about fly leaders and tippet. Below are some of our best answers and the truths to the most common questions.

Table Of Contents

How long should a trout fly leader be?

The best fly leaders are between 6-feet to 12-feet long. Figuring out the optimal length for you depends on where you are fishing. If you are fishing on a small stream heavy with brush, consider a smaller leader between 6-feet to 9-feet. If you are fishing on a wide river with clear water, use a longer leader between 9-feet and 12-feet.

When you need to extend your leader in a pinch, add a foot or two of tippet to the end with a surgeon’s knot. We typically do this when we notice trout shying away from our dry flies. Adding this extra length of wispy tippet will help the dry fly drift more naturally than with a stiff leader and keep a subtle presentation when cast.

Can trout see fly leaders?

The short answer is, yes, trout see fly leaders. Trout have very good eyesight and can spot the line indentation within the surface and drifting through the water. 

The real question is does it truly matter? In certain sections of streams, it does seem to help to use thinner tippet and leader. However, I strongly believe that trout don’t care. I think it comes down to how natural-looking the presentation of your fly is. Thinner leader and tippet move more naturally in the water due to their lack of stiffness, which makes your fly fishing flies drift downstream unimpeded like the real thing.

How do you set up a fly leader?

You can set up a fly leader rather quickly with a store-bought tapered leader. Most tapered leaders come with a pre-tied loop at the end. Use a loop-to-loop connection knot to connect your leader to your fly line within a minute.

A loop-to-loop connection knot is when you feed the fly line’s pre-tied loop through the leader’s loop and then thread the end of the leader back through the fly line’s pre-tied loop. Pull tight and you’re done! Simple.

On the other hand, you can use a Nail Knot to secure your fly line to your fly leader. You can watch how to make a Nail Knot below. This is more complicated but provides a near-seamless connection.

If you’d like to hand-make a custom fly leader, take a look at this guide by Troy Pearse.

How do you tie a leader to fly line without a loop?

The best way to tie a leader to fly line without a loop is to use a Nail Knot. The Nail Knot is a compression knot that doesn’t slip and is extremely durable. Here are the steps to tie a Nail Knot:

  1. Put the fly line and a tooth pick in your left hand.
  2. Align the fly line and tooth pick together so the ends match at the same length.
  3. Place the butt section of the fly leader next to the fly line in your left hand with the fattest end towards the left.
  4. Now place the skinny end of the leader in your left hand with the skinnest end towards the right.
  5. Align the skinny end of the leader so that it is slightly longer than the tooth pick and fly line.
  6. With your right hand, start wrapping the right side of the loop around everything (thick end, skinny end, tooth pick, and fly line) and work back towards your left hand.
  7. Make a minimum of 4-5 turns with the wraps side-by-side.
  8. While holding the wraps in place with your index finger, grab the skinny end and pull the loop tight to form the nail knot.
  9. Use your index finger and thumb to pinch the nail knot.
  10. While pinching the nail knot, pull the thick end and skinny end one at a time to tighten the nail knot.
  11. Roll the nail knot back and forth while pinching as you pull tight.
  12. Once completely tight, let go of the nail knot.
  13. Snip the tag ends as close as you can to the nail knot.
  14. Done!

Do you need tippet with tapered leader?

You do not need to use tippet with your tapered leader. Leaders right out of the bag can last a few outings without needing to add a fresh section of tippet on. You will only really need to add tippet when the leader becomes too thick to tie to your fly or it becomes too short. Adding another 12-inches to 24-inches of tippet will allow your leader to last longer and extend it to a comfortable casting length.

Can you use regular mono for fly leader?

Regular monofilament fishing line will not make a good fly leader just by itself. It simply lacks the taper that fly fishing requires for casting. However, regular mono will work as a great tippet – tippet is pretty much-rebranded fishing line.

On the other hand, if you’re custom making a fly leader, regular monofilament will do great as a section within your custom leader.

Can you fly fish without a leader?

No, you can not fish without a leader. Fly fishing leaders are an essential part of fly fishing and critical to casting. It all has to do with the transfer of momentum and a leader is designed to do use that momentum to cast the fly. Without the leader, you would not be able to make a good cast and you would likely scare any fish in trying.

Let’s say that you forgot your leader or don’t want to spend money on one, you could simply craft your own. All you would need is a few different fishing lines or tippet in varying thicknesses and make a few knots. Within a couple of minutes, you could fashion yourself your own custom leader and hit the water.

Can you tie a fly directly to a tapered leader?

Yes, you can absolutely tie your fly directly to the tapered leader. That’s what the leader is there for.

You’ll only ever need to add tippet to your leader once it becomes too thick and or short. Once that happens you can snip a 12-inch to 24-inch of tippet and attach it with a Surgeon’s Knot. I recommend looking at the thickness of your leader and trying to use a tippet thickness that’s just slightly thinner.

For example, if you estimate your leader’s thickness to roughly 3X, I’d add a new section of 4X or 5X to the end of the leader.  From there, you could extend the length even further by adding a second section and continuing the taper with a 5X or 6X section.

How long should your leader and tippet be?

Your leader should be between 6-feet to 12-feet in length with most being 9-feet. This varies based on the size of the water you are fishing and your personal tastes. Some fly anglers prefer shorter 6-foot leaders for rolling over heavier flies such as bulky streamers or bass bugs. Others may prefer to use a longer 12-foot leader for delicate dry fly presentations to rising trout.

It’s better to use at most 12-inches to 20-inches of tippet in a single section at a time. But really, the amount of tippet you use depends on how much length you’d like to add to your leader. I’d recommend avoiding using over 3-feet of tippet in a single section. This will help make your casts more accurate and avoid tangles or knots. If you need to go longer, try using two or three smaller segments in decreasing sizes to keep the taper.

Is fluorocarbon stronger than mono?

No, fluorocarbon is not always stronger than monofilament. Fluorocarbon is just a denser alternative with a faster-sink rate to mono which makes it great for nymphing. It also is much more transparent and clear which makes it practically invisible to fish.

What’s the difference between a leader and a tippet?

Tippet is a type of fly fishing line that is consistently the same weight, poundage, and diameter throughout the entire line with the purpose of being used in snippets. Every time you change a fly and snip the excess off, you are losing more length on your line – a simple concept. After a load of snagging trees, catching fish, and changing flies, your line becomes rather short. An easy way to add more length is to attach a section of fly fishing tippet.

Fly fishing leaders are a tapered section of line for the use of tying on fly fishing flies that is directly attached to your thick, colored fly line by either a loop-to-loop connection or knot. Fly leaders can be hand-woven, hand-tied, or mechanically made but are always tapered having one end thicker than the other. Leaders have this taper for a reason: to transfer the momentum and energy from the rod to the fly during casting. Usually, you’ll find leaders in lengths of 7.5-ft, 9-ft, or 12-ft for anglers who fish in varying conditions with 9-ft as the standard.

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