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Old 08-07-2013, 03:06 PM
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Default Leader Options for Technical Dry Fly Presentations

It is somewhat premature for me to address this ideal dry fly leader subject because my field test data is incomplete, but I will report on my observations up to this point.

I have used Orvis braided leaders dry fly trout fishing, modified to my specifications, for the past 27 years. Modified? I take a mid-sized (designated for #6/7 line weight) to mate with my #4 or 5 line, cut off its loop and Zap-A-Gap splice it to the tip of my line from which I have also severed the loop (if it came with one). Performing the "Parabolic Test"; grasping the line and leader butt equal distance, 4 or 5 inches, to either side of the splice, I bend the assembly into an inverted "U" shape. If the mass/stiffness of the line tip and leader butt form a smooth, uniformly symmetrical "U", an efficient, uninterrupted transfer of energy will be transmitted from your cast into your leader. This applies to ANY leader design: hand built Nylon or Fluorocarbon, knotless, poly-leader, braided or furled. If there is an interruption of energy transfer; the leader butt is too soft or small in diameter, you get the "George Harvey" leader effect; it automatically collapses in loose coils. If you want to control your leader and tippet and wiggle your own curves into it, there must be a seamless transfer of energy. One can achieve uniformity of energy transfer with a monofilament butt, approximately .022 thousandths of an inch for a 4 or 5-weight line, but Nylon of such a diameter has quite a bit of coiling memory which annoyingly effects accuracy negatively. It can be straightened and then a hand built leader with a steep taper works well. But both braided and furled leader butts enjoy an absence of memory so they can lay out limp. Can they, however, both lay out straight and, more importantly, provide the articulate control required for a technical dry fly presentation?

Click the image to open in full size.

For experimental control purposes, my West Coast fishing partner, a contest winning caster skilled with both single-handed trout and two-handed steelhead rods, and I each fished our Sage ONE 9’/#5 rods rigged with RIO Gold during our recent, month long Idaho/Montana adventure. His terminal tackle was a furled thread, dry fly leader with 5’ of 5X and mine was a braided butt with 0X mono nail knotted to its tip then built down to 5’ of 5X as well. In the above image I have striven to illustrate the “parabolic test” with looped and Albrighted Fluorocarbon, nail knotted monofilament and, at the bottom, spliced braided butt. I will try to photograph a looped furled leader latter to illustrate how the samples we had did not form a “U” but something more like and “L”. That is, the mass + softness of the butt end of the furled leader collapsed at the juncture at the tip of the fly line. On the water it was clearly observable that the braid layed out and behaved as an extension of the line’s taper while the furled leader collapsed softly in the direction of the wind representing a hinge rather than a turnover, indicating a poor transfer of energy. Once on the water though, my partner was skillfully capable of repositioning his leader, thus fly, into a trout’s feeding lane. The Sage ONE is among the most adroit at performing such on-water corrections due to its incomparably precise and sharply reflexed tip. But having your cast direct the tippet and fly accurately to where you want it to land gave the braided leader a substantial advantage. Frankly, though we did not include a properly matched and straightened, hand-built, Nylon monofilament leader in this comparison, my opinion based on experience is that it would have placed second.

Nothing is perfect and braids have several disadvantages. By virtue of being hollow, they can pick up water and spray it during casting. I am sure thread furled leaders, tough solid, absorb some water as well. Regardless of leader type, I am in the habit of casting away from my surface feeding fish not only to ameliorate water spray but any potential visual anomaly that might put the fish off his feed. Also braided butt leaders require a certain degree of angler craftsmanship in splicing, nail knotting, then blood knotting terminal sections and the rebuilding of these sections as the braid generally can last the 2 to 3 year lifespan of the fly line.

During our travels we visited Beartooth Outfitters on the Madison River. The proprietor, Dan, is a tackle guru and leader authority with three decades of experience in designing and building leaders. He makes his own design braided butts by splicing a loop in the braid at the line connecting end, dying the monofilament braided material a dull grey then bathing it in a solution to enhance its floatation and water repellency reducing the spray effect. He blood knots the tapered Fluorocarbon sections himself all winter long. A
true labor of dedicated love:

Returning from our trip, I did a little internet homework and found a commercial maker of furled leaders that eschews thread and utilizes monofilament. Further, he line-size rates his leaders up to and including saltwater sizes. Dan, at Beartooth, as well, fishes his braids for bonefish, a notion that never occurred to me. The furled mono gentleman specified that positive transfer of energy is an important aspect of his design. He is off “field testing” and, upon his return, promises to engage in a thorough dialog about the advantages of his design over not only other furled leaders but braids as well.

So, as with any great experiment, rather than a definitive conclusion, there are, instead, new questions. I will continue to pursue comparative analysis of dry fly optimized leader designs and update this report, I hope, soon.

What are your thoughts and experiences with presentation intended leader designs and materials?
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