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Opinion: So far, the best leader system has been a hybrid

A hybrid leader system has managed to solve all challenges

By Skip Clement

The critical element when tying multi-knot leaders is that MANY knots are potential fault lines, which translates to always tying correctly – easier said than done.

NOTE: If you’re a professional fly fishing guide or offshore fly fishing captain the mistake probabilities mentioned are not applicable. 

The other nuance here is that you need slobber. Slobber means generous amounts of spittle applied to each turn, and one last slobber before final seating. If at home and tying up leaders someone once mentioned having a bowl of water on the ready for ritual dunking, but some of us are not that organized or religious.

The number of turns properly seated counts for everything

Follow instructions, seems obvious enough but not for everyone. Always heed the number of turns –  remembering as you go down in diameter more turns are required.

The biggest mistake when attaching a leader to the fly line is that it will usually isolate at the connection of the fly line to leader butt. When the end piece of the fly line diameter is substantially different from the butt section of the leader (the mistake is usually that the fly line is thicker), the cast fly will not layout correctly and will most likely collapse into a pile short of the target. And if you don’t pick up on the cause of why your casting effort continually collapses, you’re in for a frustrating day.

Witnessing this line collapse will cause the “told you so” plaintiffs standing next to you to sing out in a cappella, “Loop connections always hinge.” Sorry, the casts will not hinge if both fly line and leader that are looped together and are close to being equal weight/diameter.

The most practical connection at the juncture of fly line to the butt of the leader is loop to loop. Most of today’s fly lines come with a built-in loop, but if not, tie your connection loop with a double (two knots) “Speed Nail Knot.” It’s fast and easy to tie. If there is no loop in the leader butt, tie one using the Perfection Loop.

Professional fly fishing guides/captains tie their own leaders – tying hundreds for their clients each year. Image above is a typical Bob Clouser smallmouth leader set up.

Loop to loop is here to stay

For subsequent leader building sections keep connecting with Blood Knots, but only if the two diameters you’re linking are reasonably close. If vastly dissimilar or a wire bite guard try using an Albright Knot and to the hook eye itself a Haywire Twist.

NOTE: Using the Tie-Fast tool will make line to line connections that are both stronger and easier to tie than a Blood Knot… especially so if lines are of different diameters or materials.

An alternative to all of the above, or at least most all, would be to have a Tie-Fast Tool. It ties a nail knot-like connection with back to back seating that jamb together similar to but stronger than a Duncan Loop. The Tie-Fast tool has other useful applications for making fly fishing connections both easier and stronger. The tool is comfortably pocketable.

There are many formulas for leaders. I’ve long ago gone to arm’s length – the center of my chest to stretched out to fingers for each length of leader section. I don’t have time to fool around with 1.5-feet or 2.75-feet or classroom formulas based on algebraic algorithms.

My leaders are almost 100% in these length categories: short for offshore (5- to 7-feet +/-); nymph rig lengths depends on water depth; 9-feet +/- for streamers, attractors, and poppers. In sunny, clear water fishing for Spookus easyus (Albula vulpes) and for fellow flats dwellers 12-feet (except for sharks – much shorter with a wire bite guard). Freshwater tends to hold at +/- 9-feet and 12-feet.

Alternatives

Fightin’ words around a professional fly fishing guide’s or offshore captain’s campfire are “tapered leader.” The flaw of a tapered leader is that you have to keep clipping the end off to add a new fly, which changes the pound test rating and shortens the overall leader length. However, there is a simple solution.

Remove approximately 3-feet from the end of a 12-foot tapered leader and add a 3-foot length of tippet directly to a tippet ring tied to the end you just clipped off. Attach using a clinch knot or preferred knot. Voilà! Now you’re back to a 12-foot leader at whatever pound test you want.

Tippet ring advantages

Tippet rings also save on the cost of leaders. If you attach a tippet ring to either an extruded commercial leader or a compound hand-tied leader, the bulk of your leader remains the same length when you add a tippet. By contrast, if you add a conventional leader with a blood knot, sooner or later you’ll need to rebuild your leader to accommodate additional tippets. With a tippet ring, you could theoretically go an entire season with a single leader and several spools of tippet.

Dropper fly – with a tippet ring securing the tippet to the leader, adding a dropper fly to your leader eliminates all that fuss. Just tie a second (usually shorter) tippet to the tippet ring with a clinch knot. Now, fasten your dropper fly to the new tippet. It’s that easy. You now have a low-maintenance, two-fly leader that you can re-rig in the blink of an eye.

Tippet rings also allow you to join two very different diameters of leader material together. I’ve been using tippet rings for low-water Atlantic salmon fishing for two seasons. I typically use a hand-tied fluorocarbon leader tapering down to 30-pound-test secured to a tippet ring. I then tie a 12-pound fluorocarbon tippet directly to the tippet ring with a clinch knot.” – quote unknown

Where to get tippet rings

RIO Products tippet rings come in two different sizes: Trout size (2mm with a strength rating of 25 pounds) and a Steelhead size (3mm with a strength rating of 45 pounds). Any game fish in the world could be landed and released with a 20-pound test anything line, ring, snap or swivel so a 45-pound rated tippet ring – an even 25-pound test is overkill.

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