Swedish version

Take me to your leader
by Jim Benenson

Many articles have been written about leader design: taper, materials, length, etc. I want to approach the subject from a different perspective, a new premise about the concept of a leader.

A leader is a custom extension of your fly line. I like to think of a fly line as an incomplete piece of equipment that requires me to finish it by adding a custom termination. The design of the line has been carefully thought out by the manufacturer; equal thought should be given to extending those characteristics to the leader. Suppose for example that I that I want to use a WF3F line for dry fly fishing. I would select a line that has a gradual front taper, then add a 2.5 to 3 meter leader that would allow me to make a medium-length cast and a gentle presentation with some soft S-curves at the end. A George Harvey design would be just the right leader to use, whether I tied it myself or purchased it (Gamma Technologies). From the belly of the line on, the goal in this situation is to present the fly gently, with minimum line slap and enough transparency, length, and flexibility at the terminus to not frighten the fish or cause a refusal. The leader carries the concept of the line and the presentation of the dry fly to its final logical conclusion.

However, the above rig would not be appropriate for nymph fishing, for several reasons. The line is light and gradually tapered, and is not suitable for casting an indicator, weight, and one or more flies a short distance. For this application, I would choose a WF5F nymph taper line, one with a substantial belly and a short front taper for powerful turnover, then add a leader with the similar characteristics: a 2 to 2.5 meter leader with a substantial butt and a short transition section, leading to a short, flourocarbon tippet. Again, I have made the leader an extension of the characteristics of the line, geared to a specific fishing situation, one very different from my dry fly rig. I don't want the termination of my nymph rig to give a gentle presentation; I want it to "deliver the goods", to sink quickly, and to put me in direct contact with my flies (no soft curves here that might cause me to miss the strike). Everything from the line belly on is geared toward getting my flies down to where the fish are and giving me a solid hookup.

These are two applications for the trout fishing that I do in New Mexico, US, for rainbows, browns, and cutthroats. Others would use different configurations for different types of fishing: for spring creeks, for steelhead, for salmon, or in salt water, for example. Each situation requires the right equipment and technique, and the right custom termination of the fly line used. The fly line manufacturer has provided me with all but the last few meters; it's up to me to add that custom terminus to complete the "line" to match the type of fishing that I want to do.

I’ll use two of the 5-wt. lines I own to further illustrate the line/leader concept: a Scientific Anglers Mastery Nymph line and a Teeny "Gary LaFontaine" Professional Series line. The nymph line, according to the manufacturer, "turns over split shot, weighted flies, and strike indicators, and has a large diameter for better visibility. It’s easy to mend and built for short-distance shooting". It has a short front taper that terminates in a 0.91 mm. (.036 in.) diameter.

I use a leader that has a heavy butt and a short transition section to match the line’s characteristics: a Borger nymph leader with 0.6 mm, 1.2 m. (.023 in., 4 ft.) butt, a 0.33 mm., 30 cm (.013 in., 1 ft.) transition section, and a 1.2 m. (4 ft.) 2X tippet, ending in a non-slip mono loop. I join a 15-30 cm. (6-12 in.) section of 4X tippet to the leader with a loop-to-loop connection, then add my nymphs to it. The heavy butt continues the turn-over feature of the heavy line, the transition section holds the indicator, the 2X section descends quickly through the water column and holds the weight at the loop knot, and the 4X section fools the fish. This formula serves me well in the shallow streams that I generally fish. In deeper water, I’ll extend the 2X section or put on a sink-tip line or weighted leader.

The LaFontaine line "is the perfect line for dry fly fishing and shallow nymph fishing", according to the manufacturer. (I disagree with the manufacturer about its use for nymphing, unless they mean at the surface.) "…it has to present the fly accurately and delicately". The olive-colored line has a thin profile and ends in a 0.81 mm. (.032 in.) diameter. I use a 2.75 m. or 3 m. (9 ft. or 12 ft.) George Harvey-style leader with this line that goes from a 0.45 mm. (.018 in.) butt to a 5X tippet. The Harvey-style leader is designed to land very softly on the water (just like the line) and terminates in gentle S-curves to allow for a drag-free drift. The line presents the fly "accurately and delicately" and so does the leader.

In both cases I have used a leader that continues the design of the line. I have created my own custom extensions to the lines that are in harmony with the features that are already present.

For comparison, most off-the-shelf trout leaders are designed for general purpose dry fly fishing (if there is such a thing). They are reasonably suitable for that type of fishing, but they definitely are not suitable for other applications. There are many different line designs available to match the fishing that we do, but there is generally just one all-purpose leader design used. That makes no sense. No single leader can give a soft presentation of a dry fly on smooth water and deliver a nymph in fast water without some compromise in the design, and fly fishing is hard enough without having to compromise on that critical last piece of equipment before the fly.

Designing and tying custom leaders is not difficult; it's a great way to spend a winter's evening. Each leader that I make allows me to imagine the fishing situation in which I will use it. Believe me, I have caught many large trout without leaving the warmth of my home! Every so often, weather permitting, I take a variety of leaders that I have tied to a nearby stream and experiment with the design until the leader is performing exactly the way that I want for that particular line, for my casting stroke, for that particular fishing situation. When the behavior of the terminus matches my expectations of how the line and leader combination should perform, I go home and tie up several more leaders with that configuration and note the characteristics on the plastic storage bag. I have a lot invested in my lines and my fishing time is precious, so I want to add a custom leader to complete each line's design and maximize my time (and results) on the stream. Fly fishing is an interesting and complex endeavor, and with a custom leader to complete the line's terminal design, "all's well that ends well".

Jim Benenson 2004 ©




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© Mats Sjöstrand 2004

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