Tech Talk – Leaders By Bill Carnazzo
Growth and expansion of our sport has led to increased specialization of rods, reels, lines, and leaders—and, of course, flies which seem to daily multiply like…well…flies. For example, visit Rio’s web site (or grab their catalog) and take a look at the plethora of lines now available: There are multiple fresh water floating lines for trout, salmon, steelhead, and bass; saltwater lines for bonefish, tarpon, permit, and other species; lines that sink at various rates from 1 foot per second to 7 or 8 feet per second; integrated lines and shooting heads/shooting running lines; and, of course, the nearly infinite, daily morphing series of lines for two handed rods. The same problem is presented by rods, reels, and leaders. How, then, is a flyfisher (beginner and otherwise) supposed to figure out what all this means, and what he/she really needs? Good question.
There are two basic parts of a fly fishing leader: the “butt” section, and the tippet section. The purpose of the butt section is to provide a transition from the fly line to the tippet, and to achieve a smooth turn-over of the leader when the cast is completed. The purpose of the tippet section, to which the fly is attached, is to continue the taper from the fly line down to the fly. Fly line/leader connections and specialized leaders for subsurface fishing will be the subject of future articles; for now let’s concentrate on the leader itself within the framework of a general purpose system.
Packaged leaders, which average $4.00 apiece for monofilament and about $9.00 for fluorocarbon, are all tapered from a heavy thickness at the end that attaches to the fly line to a fine point at the tip; the diameters at the butt and tip ends vary according to the type of fishing involved and the fly line you intend to use. They also vary in length, with the most common lengths being 9’ and 7½’. For example, for trout fishing the most popular packaged leader is 9’ in length, tapered to a 3 x (.008”), 4x (.007”), or 5x (.006) diameter at the tip. These are also available in 6x and even 7x diameters, but these are specialized and, to some extent, impractical. I will explain the latter comment below.
Tippet spools, consisting normally of 25 meters of material, provide a way to lengthen packaged leaders where necessary, or to return the leader to its nominal package diameter after a number of fly changes or break-offs. The spools are available for 0x through 7x diameters (I’ve seen 8x spools, but I can hardly see the spider web strand). Monofilament spools average $3.00 to $4.00; fluorocarbon is much more expensive.
If you were to purchase multiple packaged leaders in a variety of lengths and tip diameters, your investment will be significant. There is an alternative which you should consider: make your own leaders. You will sharply reduce your investment and achieve more flexibility if you do so; and, to boot, it is very simple to do. As an example, let’s build a general purpose 9’ leader from the ground up.
Ability to tie a perfection loop
Ability to tie a double surgeon’s knot
1 spool of 30# Maxima monofilament
1 spool of 20# Maxima monofilament
1 spool of 10# Maxima monofilament
Monofilament tippet spools of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6x
While this sounds like it will cost a lot, you can make a lot of leaders from these spools and reduce your per-leader cost to a fraction of the cost of packaged leaders.
To begin, you’ll need 3’ of 30#, 1½’ of 20#, and 1’ of 10# Maxima. When cutting the material, give yourself a few extra inches for knot typing purposes. Tie a perfection loop at one end of the 30# and then tie the three pieces together using double surgeon’s knots. At the end of the 10# piece, tie another perfection loop. You now have a good butt section that should be approximately 5½’ long. I usually tie up a half dozen of these and put them in a plastic bag for future use.
Next make your tippet section, which should be 3½’ long in order to achieve our 9’ leader. Select tippet material of the size appropriate for your situation, cut it from the spool, and tie a perfection loop at one end. Loop this piece to the butt section and voila, you are ready to fish. If conditions dictate a thinner (or thicker) tippet section, just replace the tippet section with the appropriate new size. If conditions dictate a longer tippet, just add more from your spool using a double surgeon’s knot. If going from the 10# end of the butt section to, e.g., 6x tippet bothers you, just taper the tippet section with decreasingly thick 12” pieces of tippet. The butt section will last a long time with this approach, and you will not need to buy multiple packaged leaders.
The mono/fluorocarbon debate
here are a few factors to consider when deciding whether to purchase monofilament or fluorocarbon tippet spools. The first factor is cost: Fluorocarbon costs approximately 3 times as much as monofilament. Secondly, will you be fishing surface flies or subsurface flies? Fluorocarbon sinks more rapidly than monofilament, so if you are going to use dry flies monofilament is a better choice. Third, fluorocarbon appears to be more durable in terms of abrasion resistance, due to its hardness. Fourth, fluorocarbon is thinner and less visible than monofilament, if size and visibility matter under the circumstances. Fifth, fluorocarbon is not susceptible to deterioration in UV light, but monofilament will break down over time. As a general rule, monofilament spools should be replaced each year. Finally, some professionals insist that fluorocarbon is stronger; I’m not convinced on that point, and there are a lot of differing opinions on the subject.
My approach is simple: I use fluorocarbon tippet for nymphing leaders and monofilament for dry fly applications. For the butt section I stick with monofilament.
Finally, keep in mind that you can purchase monofilament and fluorocarbon in larger spools if you so desire, to further minimize your cost. Outlets such as Fisherman’s Warehouse and Sportsman’s Warehouse carry these, but you should research the specifications for the various brands before picking one. My advice: stick to the name brands to avoid wide swings in quality.