Home » Untying the Mystery of Fly Fishing Leaders, I

Untying the Mystery of Fly Fishing Leaders, I

Have you ever taken the time to look through some of the more thorough resources on leaders? Some anglers have spent a lot of time intricately thinking through the dynamics of material diameter and length. You can really fall down the rabbit hole. There are individual formulas for every weight of fly, depth of water, and speed of current.

But just like anything else in fly fishing, you don’t need to get that involved to be successful.

For years, I simply used knotless tapered leaders. I’d add tippet as necessary. Holding up the terminal end of my leader, I’d match it to the diameter of the equivalent tippet. I’d eyeball what I thought I’d need to return my 9’ 6X leader to its original makeup.

I casted just fine, and I caught fish. Still, there were limitations that I could feel. While the majority of flies turned over and presented just fine, I would struggle with tiny dries or heavier streamers. As that went on, I decided to put more energy into figuring out leaders.

Here are a few tips for getting started:

  • Start with a knotless, tapered leader. The butt sections of packaged leaders are worth the five or seven bucks you pay for the whole thing. The taper of the thick portion is incredibly versatile and serves as the foundation for practically all leader setups.
  • Loop-to-loop connections are good. A lot of people hate them, but I’ll use the welded loops on the end of fly lines until they start to show wear. For trout and most warmwater applications, I’m not scared. They allow you to change leaders or add heads quickly. When my welded loop looks compromised, I’ll snip it off and attach a section of mono using nail knot.
  • I like to use the first six inches of a knotless tapered leader’s butt section. I’m confident I can tie a great perfection loop, but I have never had a loop from a packaged leader break. So, clipping off the first six inches, I’ll flip the segment around and tie a nail knot so that the loop becomes the terminal end of my line.
  • Lighter also seems to be better. That is to say, I think a shorter, more tapered butt section is better in a wider variety of applications (what you’d find on a 9’ 5X as opposed to a 9’ 3X).
  • Buy a leader wallet. With your loop-to-loop configuration, you can have a plethora of different leaders at the ready and in your pack.
  • Know your knots. Nail knot, perfection loop, surgeon’s knot, and blood knot. You should be able to do them at home an on the water.

Obviously, you’ll still need to tie tippet on the terminal end of your butt section. This is the on-the-stream, customizable end of the equation.

Next week I’ll share some “formulas.” Again, these aren’t super complicated. But with the flexibility of a good butt section and some loop-to-loop connections, you’ll be able to handle practically any fly fishing scenario.


In all honesty, I use a lot of furled leaders these days. For over half of my fly fishing, be it for trout or in the salt, I’ll use a tapered leader with a level length of monofilament or fluorocarbon running to the fly. It works remarkably well. But there are times when I have multiple rods rigged up, or when circumstances demand, that I’ll turn to a constructed leader.


  1. Dwyne R Patrick says:

    Like you I’m 90%+ furled now and since I’m doing most of my own I carry bother normal and “stiff” versions. Would not go back to tapered or built mono leaders.

    • Matthew says:

      Furled leaders are definitely my preference!

      But there are, like you said, those situations where a built leader has its advantages. I’ll talk about those next.

    • Matthew says:

      Hi Quinn. I’ve used them for nymph rigs, but that’s about it. I think they excel in that application.
      My streamer formulas are so simple, I think they’re unnecessary. And I don’t like them at all for dry fly presentations.

      • Quinn Wigington says:

        So I don’t mind them for dry fly fishing because like I said in my previous post, my leader lasts longer because of it. Don’t know why that’s the magic bullet, but it works for me. I haven’t really seen any type of fish rejection because of the ring. Is that the reason why you don’t like them for dry flying?

        • Matthew says:

          A lot of it has to do with the type of dry fly fishing I’ve done. Fishing out east on spring creeks, I’ll use a long leader with a good length of 6X. That is the only real set up where I do get intricate with my leader formula. Consequently, a “hinge“ is problematic.
          Good questions though! I’ll elaborate a little bit more next week.

  2. Rick says:

    Know your knots is great advice; might I suggest considering the new Infinity Tippet Knot as a superior option to the Blood or Surgeon’s knots for splicing tippet and leader material. It is simpler, quicker, and as strong or stronger than the traditional splicing knots. Take a look:

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