Leaders and Tippets
When it comes to catching a fish on a fly, there is one section of the fly fishing system up which is of utmost importance. The balance needs to be right to present the fly, it needs to be fine enough not inhibit the swim of the fly and also not arouse suspicion in the trout, yet it needs to be strong enough to hold the fish once hooked and withstand fraying and ware and tear from the fish, rocks and other external influences. The leader really is the business end of a fly fishing system, and yes, it can be a complex business, yet one does not need to be a science degree to have a few set ups which will cover most fishing situations. The myriad of leader materials, diameters, breaking strains and set ups can be broken down, lakes or rivers some common principle apply and they can be used as a template to success. Traditionally leaders were made of silk and were given an X factor for the diameter of the gut. With the advent of modern materials such as nylon and tapered knotless leaders the X factor now generally refers to the diameter of the tippet of the tapered leader, or the general diameter rating of a particular material. (Although most spools now refer to diameter in decimal points of inches or millimetres). The attached table is a general guides to diameters and breaking strain. It still varies between the thousands of materials available, but works well as a general guide.
Apples and Apples
How often to you hear people make a statement like ‘this 8lb would pull a 4wd out of a bog’ when referring to their favourite leader material. The leader may be packaged as 8lb, but the diameter is really the point to consider. As you can see with both materials, there can be a large variance in diameter for a matching breaking strain. So the 8lb which ‘pulls your 4wd out of a bog’ may not be quite the product you think if it is compared to a truly comparable product of equal diameter.
Straight Leaders LAKE: On a fair day, with a nice gentle breeze at your back, a leader can be as simple as a straight piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon straight to the fly. Presentation and turnover of the fly are all but assured as the wind will aid in this and straighten out the leader for you. One of the basic principles of drift fishing in a boat is that you are always fishing down or down and slightly across the wind. Loch Style leaders are generally designed with straight monofilament or fluorocarbon for this reason. Multiple droppers, up to 6 or even 8 flies on a cast can be tied on a loch style straight leader, although a maximum of 3 flies is permitted in Tasmania. The diameter / breaking strain you select should match the size of your quarry, and the likely wear issues you will face while fishing. A simple leader for Tasmanian boat fishing is 15ft with 2 droppers no longer than 300mm and no shorter than 100mm in length. From the fly line the leader is 3ft (90cm) to the first dropper, then 5ft (1.5m) to the next and 5ft (1.5m) to the point. RIVER: Short line or Czech Nymphing at its basic form only requires a 6ft (1.8m) leader with two flies. Once again a level leader can be used, in the diameter appropriate to your quarry and conditions, and it is simply 4ft (1.2m) to the first fly and 2ft (600mm) to the point. As a short leader is being fished, turn over even with heavy nymphs is easy as they are basically lobbed with an open short cast. A three fly leader can be used for this technique by adding a third fly on a further 600mm from the point, and making a dropper where the point used to be. Droppers for these set ups should be between 100mm & 150mm long.
The tapering leader is where the world can get complicated. The mechanics of a tapered leader relate to an even transfer of power from the fly line through the leader to the fly /flies on the tippet. Of course there are so many variables and external influences in the weather and conditions we fish in that no one size ever fits all. Tapered leaders are used for delicate presentation of flies, for casting into and across wind, for presenting to spooky fish that require a long leader. Of course the level leaders I have already detailed can also have a taper added to them to assist in turn over if conditions are less than ideal, this is done by simply using a thicker butt section to commence the leader. Pascal Cognard, the French triple world champion varies his leaders according to set formulas for windy and still conditions. The digressive leader clearly has a longer, heavier butt section to aid turnover of the fly in windy conditions, while the progressive leader has a longer more even taper throughout ensuring a smooth transfer of energy when there is less resistance from the wind. Fortunately we mere mortals have factory tapered leaders available to us; the point to take is that a factory leader can be easily modified to present a similar progressive or digressive leader depending on the conditions on the day. You do not have to buy different length leaders, just a few spools of varying diameter tippet and a little thought and experimentation will see you right. If conditions are windy, modify the leader with heavier and shorter tippet sections to aid turn over, and if it is calm, finer and more even sections can be added before the tippet section is added. The important thing is to graduate down and not go from a thick butt directly to a fine tippet, a surprisingly common mistake.
Fluorocarbon and Monofilament.
There is an endless argument and everyone has their own opinion about which is best and why they should be used this way or that. I can only put my spin on this argument here and hope it helps in your own decision making. Looking at the first chart it is quickly apparent that for a given diameter copolymers are stronger in breaking strain than fluorocarbons, so at first glance it would seem a no brainer to then use copolymer for most applications. However both copolymer and fluorocarbon have their strengths and weaknesses. Copolymers are supple and strong for their diameter. I choose to use these for dry fly and for light nymphing for smaller trout where small nymphs can be presented delicately. I particularly use fine copolymers for single dry fly on rivers where a very fine tippet can be fished with a small dry fly #16 - #20. Last season I caught a brown trout in excess of 3lb on the South Esk River with 0.12 mm, 3.6lb (1.8kg) copolymer tippet on a #16 Quill Body Spinner. This fish was under willows on the far bank and caused merry hell once hooked, but side strained out from under the willows and then kept out of the weed with a high rod, the tippet was more than ample. For dry fly on lakes with multiple fly rigs, I still use copolymer, however I use a less supple brand as droppers can twist badly with a very fine/supple material when long casting. If fishing a single fly on a lake I will revert to the finer, more supple brand of copolymer. Fluorocarbon really comes into its own lake fishing with lures, and where abrasion resistance is needed. Heavy fluorocarbon .22mm (around 10lb) can be used for lure fishing even on bright days. Using bead head lures counteracts the stiffness of the material will not affect how the lures swim and the diameter does not show up to fish, lighter fluorocarbon is required for smaller wet flies such as nymphs. The general ‘toothiness’ of trout on lakes takes its toll on tippet material and a thicker diameter and general toughness of fluorocarbon which can have its benefits when sub surface fishing on lakes. Occasionally I will use fluorocarbon on rivers where there are larger fish or there are particularly abrasive rocks such as pumice, but generally I prefer copolymer due to its suppleness allowing nymphs to move more naturally and dries to be presented on finer tippets. Fluorocarbon tapered leaders are hellishly expensive and the general consensus is that fluorocarbon and monofilaments do not tie well together. Generally this is rule is right, however if you intend to join a monofilament tapered leader to fluorocarbon, do it with heavier fluorocarbon around .22mm or .25mm. At these diameters a sturdy knot can be tied, which will hold better than a lighter tippet. Whatever you decide to do with leaders and tippet materials, a few simple rules will see you be able to make good leaders which can be fished effectively in many conditions. • Don’t buy materials based on breaking strain alone; compare diameters to make sure you are comparing apples with apples. • Think about whether you want a supple (being fine diameter and soft) or stiff (being relatively strong and abrasion resistant). • Shorten overall leader length and make a ‘steeper’ taper for windy conditions. • Likewise graduate the taper for smoother, better presentations is calm weather. With a bit of thought about what you want to achieve, making a leader to suit the conditions will make bringing that awkward trout undone all the more pleasurable. Likewise keeping a leader simple and easy will also save frustration and time when all you intend to do is fish down the wind. After all it’s only a simple fish you are trying to catch! Pascal COGNARD 5.75m nymphing leader Filament Length in cm Diameter - mm digressive progressive 0.45 75 45 0.40 65 50 0.35 55 55 0.30 45 60 0.25 35 65 0.20 50 50 0.15 50 20 0.08 – 0.12 200 200 Pascal COGNARD 5.75m nymphing leader *Source Czech Nymph and other Related fly fishing methods. X rating Diameter – inches Diameter – Millimetres Breaking strain Fluorocarbon Breaking strain Stroft Copolymer 8X .003 inch .10mm 1.4lb 2.2lb 7X .004 inch .12mm 2.6lb 3.9lb 6X .005 inch .14mm 3.2lb 4.8lb 5X .006 inch .16mm 4.7lb 6.6lb 4X .007 inch .18mm 6.2lb 7.9lb 3X .008 inch .20mm 7.8lb 8.6lb 2X .009 inch .22mm 9.8lb 11.3lb 1X .010 inch .25mm 11.2lb 14.2lb 0X .011 inch .28mm 12.9lb 16.2lb Note – Fluorocarbon in particular can vary enormously for given diameters, so check your own brand against this table. Brand Breaking Strain Diameter Stroft Copolymer 7.9lb 0.18mm Maxima 8lb 0.25mm Airflo Ultra Strong 8lb 0.205mm Scientific Anglers 8.8lb 0.20mm Copolymer / Monofilament Brand Diameter Breaking Strain Fulling Mill 0.255 8lb Riverge Grand Max 0.21 9.5lb Scientific Anglers 0.20mm 8.6lb Sight Free 0.21mm 8lb Fluorocarbons