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Why Build A Leader

What is a leader? It�s that clear thread like thing that attaches to the fly line. It�s fat at one end and skinny at the other. It tapers to a skinny end where the artificial fly goes. Fly fishing leaders are made of monofilament or fluorocarbon. A section called Tippet, which is tied to the end of the taper section of the leader, is where the fly is tied on or into the leader. The fat rear end or �butt section� interfaces with the fly line by means of a perfection loop, needle knot or nail knot. At the end of the tippet section the fly pattern is attached using any of the following knots; Improved Clinch Knot, Duncan Loop, Surgeons Loop or Trilene Knot. But there is way more to what a leader does for your fly fishing game than merely allowing the fly to be presented.

Selecting Monofilament

The first step in making a good leader is finding a good monofilament. Be warned, not all monos are equal:

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Building A Leader

Many anglers shy away from making their own leaders, because they fear the complexity. Fortunately, we can simplify the process with a few guidelines:60-20-20. These numbers represent a formula espoused years ago by Charles Ritz. Yes, that�s Ritz, as in the famous hotel company. Ritz was also a fly-fisherman, one of the all-time greats. Among his teachings was a leader design that said the butt section should comprise the first 60 percent of your leader, and the midsection should also be 20 percent, leaving 20 percent for the tippet.


Making a 10-foot leader with a 12-pound tippet to use on an 8-weight rod.

Give it a try, this leader is much easier to make than it is to describe.

Line diameter - Remember the 65 percent rule that I used for limiting the diameters of my mono. The greater the diameter discrepancy, the greater the chance that your knots will slip.

Knots - I like blood knots for tying my leaders together, because blood knots are clean and compact, but surgeon�s knots are also good. A note on blood knots: [The instructional link recommends seven wraps when tying a blood knot, but when using heavy monofilament fewer wraps are needed because the knot will never tighten properly. Use only three wraps with heavy mono and up to five wraps with light mono. The only time to consider seven wraps would be with the very lightest mono such as 1-pound and 2-pound test.

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For the first variation, let�s say we want a 10-foot leader for an 8-weight rod, except we want a lighter tippet of 6-pound Ultragreen. In this instance, we can expect knot problems, because the 6-pound�s diameter is only .009 inches, putting us in violation of the 65 percent rule. The solution is to split the midsection into two pieces: a 1-foot section (or 10 percent) of 18-pound Ultragreen (diameter 0.016 inches) and a 1-foot section (or 10 percent) of 12-pound Ultragreen (diameter 0.013 inches). The result is a four-piece leader that protects knot integrity by using the midsection to �step down� in diameter.

You need to step down even further? Just break the leader�s midsection into three or four pieces as necessary to abide by the 65 percent rule. If need be, steal a foot from the tippet to make room for further extending the midsection.


Variation 2

For the next variation, let�s revert back to the original three-piece leader and assume it isn�t turning over properly, because the fly is too heavy or bulky. The solution is shifting the formula to emphasize the butt and midsection at the expense of the tippet. This is more art than science, so feel free to experiment, but here�s an example. Keep the butt at 60 percent, extend the midsection to 30 percent and drop the tippet to 10 percent (or just take the 60-20-20 leader, then cut back the tippet).


Variation 3

Or perhaps the leader is turning over too hard, so let�s reduce the butt and emphasize the tippet and/or midsection. In this case, we�ll reduce the butt to 50 percent, keep the midsection at 20 percent and increase the tippet to 30 percent.

The possibilities are endless, and that�s bound to be a bit intimidating if you haven�t done it before. But don�t let that stop you. Comfort and the ability to adapt to changing needs will come with experience.

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