Fly leaders for trout

Here we explain what you need to know about the leader, the vital link between the fly line and fly. Success in deceiving a trout may depend upon choosing the correct type.

You can design a range of fly leaders simply by using various lengths of nylon in their many shapes, diameters and makeups.

Balanced leaders

It’s unwise to connect knotted lengths of monofilament which differ drastically in breaking strain (for example, 10lb/4.5kg line to 4lb/1.8kg). The step down from the heavier to the lighter line is too steep and unbalances the leader when you cast. As a result the fly lands abruptly. In short, an unbalanced leader hinders presentation -which affects a trout’s response to your fly.

For proper ‘turnover’ – transferring the unfurling or unrolling motion of the fly line as you’re casting to the leader and tippet -construct a tapered leader with staggered line weights (for example from 10lb/4.5kg to 8lb/3.6kg to 6lb/2.7kg to 4lb/1.8kg). Alternatively, buy a knotless tapered brand.

Types of nylon

The different kinds ofnylon affect how both the leader and the fly behave. Nylon can be categorized into stiff, semi-stiff, limp and low diameter types.

Stiff nylons are a boon when it comes to making butt sections – the junction between fly line and the working leader. Stiff lines also help to hold droppers at right angles.

Semi-stiff nylons are the most useful, filling many leader functions from mid-sections to droppers.

Soft or limp nylons are best suited to making tippets. Soft nylon is pliable, allowing the fly to move freely and naturally in the current.

Low diameter (extra strength) nylons can be of enormous benefit if they are used correctly. The wariest of fish can be deceived.

Most of the nylons are shiny. It’s a good idea to apply a liberal coating of sink mixture (fuller’s earth and glycerine) to create a matt finish and also to help the line cut through the surface film.

Line colour

The colour of nylon (like fly lines) is a bone of contention among anglers. One thing, however, is certain: a clear line is less visible in a greater range of water conditions. Green nylon in green-tinged water works exceptionally well, as does brown line in the peat-stained water of Scottish lochs and spate rivers. If the colour is wrong, your catch rate may drop.

Fly size and line weight

Another factor concerning leaders in gen- eral is the importance of matching the fly size to the correct diameter of line. A good match ensures that the artificial behaves as naturally as possible. A size 20 Black Gnat on a 5lb (2.3kg) point resembles a piece of thistledown tethered to a section of wire. As a general guide, hook sizes 18-20 require 1M-2D3 (0.7-0.9kg) line. You may need 3-4lb (1.4-1.8kg) line for hook sizes 12-16.

Leaded patterns in sizes 4-10 need line of 5-10lb (2.3-4.5kg). Connecting a leaded pattern to a 3lb (1.4kg) tippet is asking for trouble. The hinging movement as you’re casting creates leader fatigue, weakening the nylon. The fly simply doesn’t fish well when retrieved.

River leaders

A combination of accuracy and delicacy is the criterion for fishing chalk streams or freestone rivers. The longer the leader is, the less accurate casting becomes. However, delicacy increases when the leader is lengthened, and the potentially fish-scaring fly line is distanced from the fly. A widely used type of leader is the ‘Ritz’ formula, created by Charles Ritz – in which as many as five or six nylon sections step down in decreasing breaking strains to the tippet. Using many double grinner or four-turn water knots may appear clumsy and unsound, but most river fly fishing is done ‘dead drift’. Small knots along your leader can aid turnover when casting across or downwind. You also have the ease and economy of using large spools of various diameter nylons for knotting leaders yourself.

Alternatively, use standard 9ft (2.7m) knotless shop-bought tapered leaders. The weight or diameter is rated in ‘x’ numbers from Ox (9lb/4.1kg at the tip) to 8x (%-l ½lb/0.34-0.79kg). You can extend their life by adding butt or tippet lengths. The added sections can be re-tied when they become either too short or damaged — proving to be an economical and practical move.

When you are fishing the dry fly, emerger and even the sub-surface nymph, the length of the leader need not be over 12ft (3.7m). A length of 9/2-10ft (2.9-3m) is ideal for general fishing on medium or large rivers, and 8ft (2.4m) for brooks and streams. Using a leader any shorter is likely to lead to poor, splashy presentations. Sometimes when it’s windy, however, you may need to shorten the leader. A longer leader length of 14-16ft (4.3-4.8m) is difficult to control and may cause tangles and inaccurate casts.

Tapered braided leaders (floating, sinking, extra fast sinking) are an effective alternative for river fishing. All you have to do is increase or decrease the tippet diameter and length to suit the various conditions.

Because they are supple, braided leaders help to transfer energy from the fly line to the leader to the tippet better than straight mono. This aids presentation. They aren’t recommended for casting long distances, though, because they don’t cut through the air well.

When nymph fishing from mid-water down to the river bed, ensure that your leader is over depth, and make allowances for your angle of entry and the river’s rate of flow.

Problems arise, however, when trout are feeding in- fast currents or deep water. Try attaching a fast or extra fast sinking braided leader, weighted pattern and suitable tippet.

Leaders for stillwaters

A long leader is crucial in Stillwater fly fishing since it separates the fly line from the fly. Bulky flies and a floating fly line tend to create wake when retrieved – especially in flat conditions. On days where there are waves, this isn’t as important.

On many occasions when using a floating line, the depths you want to reach may be more than 9-10/2ft (2.7-3.2m), the length of the standard leader with a tippet section added on. In order to fish a depth of 12ft (3.6m), for example, you need an 18ft (5.4m) leader. There comes a point (over 24ft/7m) where a leader simply becomes unmanageable. Consider alternative solutions such as using a sinking fly line.

You can buy a 12ft (3.6m) knotless tapered leader and add on a tippet or butt section. There are even 15-16ft (4.6-4.9m) lengths available, perfect for stillwater nymph and lure fishing.

The knots in the Ritz formula for river fishing can be detrimental on stillwaters, creating disturbances when using a floating line as you pull the line over the surface of the water.

Experiment with the distance between the droppers. In general, spacing nymphs or lures 3-4ft (1-1.2m) apart is appropriate. Dropper lengths should never be much longer than 6in (15cm).

Even level leaders (straight 6lb/2.7kg mono, for instance) have a purpose, for example when loch-style fishing or using large lures, tandems or tubes for fry-feeding trout. It is rare to use line much lighter than 6lb (2.7kg) when casting with lures.

There is without question still a world of exploration in leaders! 25 /