Hi Everyone. I have a few questions regarding leader sizes/ lengths and fly sizes. I'm new to flyfishing and have a 9ft, 5wt setup. I've been fishing for smallmouth in the DC area this summer.
So, my question are 1) what is the ideal length of leader should I be using for this type of fishing? I've been using a 7.5 foot leader and attaching tippet as necessary.....and 2) what size flies are ideal for my 5 weight? Or better yet, how big a fly can I cast with a 5wt?
A 5wt rod will be fine. To me I feel that in your situation a 7wt would be over kill. Is your line a floating line or sink? If it is floating I like the 9ft leader for bass type of flies in rivers. If it sinking line I will use 7.5. I cannot tell you if this is by the book, but this is what works for me. I would say to use which ever one YOU can cast most accurately and effectively.
It depends on your casting skills, the line taper, the rod action and the distance you're trying to get.
A bass bug taper would help turn over the bigger flies as would a leader with a bit heavier butt section. No the trick is to find someone who makes a 5 wt. bass bug taper, as far as I know Sci Angler, Orvis nor Rio make one. The heavier butt leader is easy; buy one or tie one. Leaders of 7 to 9 feet on a floating line are good.
If you keep your flies #2 or smaller you should have no worries. Cone heads and the like should present no problems as long as you don't go too wild. Make sure you're casting is up to speed with some practice sessions before you try using live ammo.
On a 5 wt, with your wf line and a 9' 3x leader you should be able to throw unweighted flies up to size 8 without too much difficulty, and get them to lay out properly instead of collapsing in a heap of leader at the end of your flyline. If you can do that as a beginner, you're on the right road.
Heavier flies like a #8 Conehead Woolly Bugger, and wind resistant #8 poppers may give you a little more trouble at first if you are just starting out. Larger flies may be more of a problem, especially if they are heavily weighted or wind resistant. Keep in mind a sparse unweighted #4 like a Mickey Finn or Black Nosed Dace (bucktail streamers) may be easier to cast than a #6 weighted or a wind resistant fly (like Poppers, Dahlberg Divers, EP Minnows, Clousers etc) so consider aerodynamics and weight in addition to hook size when you are shopping. And if you tie, keep them sparse for easier casting and better action in the water.
As your casting stroke improves and you start generating higher line speed, you should be able to throw these better too, and you should be able to sneak up to size 6 with a 9' leader on the right X size tippet for the fly size. (Divide hook size by 3 to get approximate tippet size, for example size 6 hook/3= 2X tippet) Right now it sounds like like maybe the fly line is running out of gas at the end of the forward cast. A bass bug taper can help. But before you buy one try shortening up your leader and see if that helps.
Since you probably want to throw larger flies for bass, 6's for sure and maybe 4's and the occasional 2, as well as weighted flies like Clousers etc., I'd suggest shortening your leader to 7 1/2 feet tapered down to 1x on a floating wf line. Since a tapered leader is supposed to turn over the fly, the lighter the fly, the longer and lighter the leader can be. For heavier and/or bigger flies, a shorter and heavier leader might be the easiest solution on a 5 wt rod. 1X would match up well with size 4 (and even 2) hooks, but since bass are usually not leader shy, you should be able to use 1X on size 6 and 8 stuff too, and it would be a good match with wind resistant 6's like bass poppers and bass bugs, weighted patterns like clousers and crayfish patterns, and heavily weighted # 8 buggers. Ir might also be a good choice around rocks and lily pads anyway. And you can just add 2 ' or so of 3x tippet for panfish stuff on size 10 (and probably 12 hooks) if you do that.
If you are using a 5 wt wf sinking line or sink tip for bass I would just use a straight shot of just 3' or 4' of 12-16lb test mono. No taper, no nuthin'. This will keep your fly down where you want it on a sinker (instead of riding up on a longer leader) and that would make casting larger and/weighted subsurface flies even easier. A sinktip is also a sneaky and very effective way of getting unweighted streamers down to fish instead of using harder to cast weighted flies.
So you got a 5wt. Its an over all good well rounded wt. Now you say you want to hit bass with it. hm...lets begin easy. First off you must know what water and structure you are fishing in. Any area that has a lot of hard cover, weeds, rushes, liliepads, or wood would not be a good place to bring the 5wt. See the thing is bass often wont jump untill they are pulled from their cover. Their main mode of getting away is to dash back into the cover. If you cannot stop them with the rod you have, you face having to drag them out of the weeds...something 99.9% of 5wts cannot do. If you are fishing over rocks, sand, or in areas of a river like a hole, a 5wt would do very well. Just remember that if you hit a big fish you must be ready to chase after or fight your best fight you have ever done. For example a friend of mine just got into some smallie fishing on a river in minnesota. The 5wt rod he was given to use at the time (not his own rod or equipment) he felt was a bit light for the fish they were getting. He has fished for trout in montana for many years and does have a good grasp on things. Now let us talk about lures. For the most part a 5wt rod will do just fine for the flies you would want to cast for a bass. Muddler minnows, popers, and small clouser minnows are top for bass. Since all bass can be taken on topwater a popper would be best since they are easy to cast and you get to see the strike visually. If your in heavie cover and are using something like a mag clouser minnow (heavier weight and larger size) or some of the other weighted minnow or crawfish patterns out there a 5wt might be a bit too flimzy for them. I personally use a 5wt and a 9wt. The 5wt I use with my lighter mylar minnows, clousers, topwaters, small crawfish, and a few other smaller flies that are prefect for bass. If I need to use something that can get through weeds a bit better or just get closer to the bottom and stay down I grab for more weight, that is when I turn to my 9wt. My 9wt I picked up for pike fishing and it hulls out the heavier/bulkier flies very well. If you talk with a lot of fly guys that do fish on and off for smallies one big thing that will come up is hooking. See a 5wt and a larger hook dont go very well together. I have had problems hooking smallies with my 5wt and anything over a size 4 hook. Since I use a lot of size 1 to 5/0, the 5wt dont have the power to drive in the bigger hooks. I stay with size 4-8 when casting my 5wt. The best advice I can give you after you have read this is look over where u are fishing, give you 5wt a try and see if going up to a 7 or even an 8wt rod is needed.