Home » Untying the Mystery of Fly Fishing Leaders, II

Untying the Mystery of Fly Fishing Leaders, II

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.

Last week I shared six simple concepts that I find helpful when thinking about leaders. For someone who is just getting started, or for someone who has decided to go one step further than just using knotless, tapered leaders, these are quick techniques that I’ve integrated into a lot of my fly fishing.

Again, these are not intense and over-engineered formulas. If you want to jump into that game immediately, go for it. There are all sorts of great resources out there. These are just meant to basic leaders that will help you understand the relationships of taper, length, and diameter to casting and presentation.

Here are three ideas for leaders:

  • General Trout

This leader will work for dries, nymphs, and streamers. It will turn over most flies in most situations. Essentially, it replicates the knotless, tapered leader’s formula. However, now you have knots to help you determine when you ought to add more tippet.

  • Streamer / Warmwater

The most simple of all leaders, this is basically a slightly fancier way to do a level piece of material. Better than a straight piece of mono, having a butt section will help turn over heavy flies and make mends easier.

  • Dry Fly

Aside from complex nymph rigs, I am most picky about how my dry fly leaders look. I want a gradual taper with a long, delicate end.


For all the above, to change the terminal (end section) diameter (X-size) you just have to increase/decrease every other diameter up the leader. So for a 6X dry fly leader, the next section up is 5X, followed by 4X, and then using a 6X tapered butt section.

These aren’t super scientific, so don’t feel like the measurements have to be. 3’ might mean “from my chest to the tip of my outstretched arm.” If your eyesight is decent, tippet diameters don’t have to be gauged using a tool. And don’t just throw out the thin half of your knotless, tapered leader. If the situation allows you to fish with the leader out of the package, do so until you have to make a change. Then cut it back and retie.

Across the variety of angling scenarios I encounter, I use a pretty wide variety of leaders. I’ll fish furled leaders, Euro nymph leaders, and hand-built fluorocarbon leaders. Much of what I’ve learned to successfully create leaders that cast and fish well has come from experimentation. By using – and tweaking – the formulas above, you’ll begin to appreciate some of the dynamics between leaders and fishing.


  1. Ryan says:


    What I want to know, is the end of the butt, and start of the belly/middle of the tippet what is that transition? I build leaders via maxima, but struggle to attach 0x tippet to 10lb maxima. This is the end of that butt section and I find maxima and 0x struggle to make good knots. On a knotless leader, slightly easier. Maybe my maxima is too stiff. What then is the tippet size between 10lb maxima and 0x? Based on diameter it should work but is somehow doesn’t.

    • Matthew says:

      That is weird. Even with some manufacturer or material variability, there should be only a few thousandths of an inch difference.

      I’d tend to agree that stiffness could be the issue. I’ve always used the same material for butt sections, relying on length and diameter to build up stiffness.

  2. Gerry says:

    When joining two sections of leader of different materials/diameters/stiffness, a surgeons knot will often slip. I tie them together using an improved clinch knot against each section. The result will be a blood knot that will not slip.

    • Matthew says:

      Great point Gerry.

      I didn’t mention it above, but one of the “great“ things about the leader charts in the post is that all you need is surgeons loops.

      Certainly when you are working with heavier tippets, or mixing materials, a blood knot is superior.

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