Dry Fly Leaders

Rip Tide

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The leader length depends on the size of the water, but after that it it's all about the length of the tippet.
Start with 4-5 feet of tippet, then test by casting
If you can't get the drift that you want, you cut the tippet back until you do.

When you tie your own leaders you have a lot more control over this
Your basic leader might be 60/20/20 (butt, mid, tippet) but for large and windy it's more 70/10/20 not the 60/30/10 suggested in the article
 

JW51

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For dry fly in clear slow water e.g. Silver Creek, Henry's Fork, spring creeks hard to beat Trouthunters 14 foot. Rene Harrop cuts a foot or so off his 14 foot leaders, as he says the last part may not extrude properly, then adds 4-5 feet more tippet.
 
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dillon

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I posted the link awhile back maily to stress the importance of a long leader for technical 'spring creek like' dry fly fishing. Also interesting and worthy of note are John's thoughts on flouro vs mono tippets. Personally I have never tried a flouro tippet but perhahaps it's worth experimenting with. I copied from the blog for those that choose not to open links. Thanks for bringing it back to the top, JWDOW.


Q: How much tippet do you use when you are technical dry fly fishing? (We’re talking long leaders, 5X, PMD’s Trico’s Etc.).

If you’re answer is less than 3 feet – and most anglers I see are using less than 2 – you’re really hurting yourself when targeting flat water trout on the Missouri, Henry’s Fork, Silver Creek, etc. I generally use 3 – 5 feet of tippet on technical flatwater fisheries. Hopefully my tippet is “invisible” to the trout, and I want that invisible section to be as large as possible.

Long tippets also land softer, allow a small fly to drift more naturally, mend with less disturbance and – depending on brand and material – may increase the amount of stretch or “shock absorption” in your leader (generally a good thing).

I am often amazed at the length of tippet I see on customers rods, especially when combined with a longer than 9 foot leader. I commonly see folks come in the shop with less than a foot of tippet. This person is often coming in asking why the fish won’t eat the fly we recommended. It’s also the same guy who ties 5X to 1X with some kind of sailboat knot.

Other customers worry about and debate the length of the factory leader to buy, yet don’t give any though to how long the “tippet” section of that factory leader is. I’ve only been asked how long the ‘factory” tippet section is a few times in my life. The general answer to that question is – not long enough!

I always add tippet to my leader (yes, even brand new ones), and I don’t know any proficient technical dry fly anglers who do not. And while some folks think it’s ridiculous that I add 4 feet of 5X to my 9’ leader, I know guys who add 6 feet or more. Just depends on their personal experience and the situation they are presented with.

Let take a look at how factory leaders are tapered. I’m speaking very generally here. A long time ago, they were built on some kind of 30/30/30 variation (33% butt, 33% taper, 33% tippet). They looked something like this:


These leaders didn’t cast great at longer distances or push big flies into the wind, but they actually did have enough tippet built into them to use. The rods and lines of 20-30 years ago weren’t going to get out there as far or as fast either.

Then some genius figured out that like a fly line, you could build more aggressive tapers into leaders and make them perform better at distance and in the wind. They started to look more like a 50/25/25 design:


These new designs coincided with the popularity of large, wind resistant foam attractors, ginormous streamers, and the double nymph rig. They were needed. While turnover, speed, accuracy and power were all achieved, something had to give. And what gave was the amount of tippet, as manufacturers apparently want to keep the leaders at a 9′ standard (I assume this is based on the 9′ fly rod?)

I am now starting to see leaders that appear to have a 60/30/10 design, or what I think of as “tippet-less” leaders. They are incredibly powerful and will turnover flies that formerly required an 8 weight. But they literally have no tippet and look something like this:


OK, they do have a little bit of tippet on the end, but to me it’s really a short “attachment” section. These powerful leaders will turn over a very long tippet (much longer than the old 30/30/30 leaders), and I view them as a starting point. I am always going to add some tippet to my leader. I generally buy these tapered to one size larger than my intended tippet (I’ll buy a 9′ 4X and add 5X).

I’m not criticizing manufacturers. I’ve always added tippet, and these new “power-tapers” turn over long tippets much better than a 1990 leader. I love the performance, but for technical dry fly fishing adding tippet is a must. I am also more confident in my tippet spool than whatever mystery tippet is on the end of that factory leader.

The good news is that these newer tapered leaders are great for guys like me. I can add as much tippet as I want and they will still perform. The bad news is that they have so little tippet built in that they are virtually unusable out of the package. I would use them out of the box in larger sizes (1X-3X) for floating line streamer fishing or high-water Salmonflies, but never for August Trico’s, or much else for that matter. I do not get the impression that many customers are aware of this. Bad on fly shops and manufacturers for providing so little information.

So when you’re thinking about your leader, don’t think about the finished length out of the package, think about the finished length after you add tippet. I am typically shooting for a leader in the 13-15 foot range, so I have no problem buying the 9′ standard and adding 4′-5′ of tippet. While I often fish leaders in the 15 foot range, I don’t buy them that long unless I’m shooting for that 20 foot leader.

Increased tippet length combined with proper presentations will result in more takes, and hopefully more fish in your net.

WHAT ABOUT TIPPET?

Another frequent and related conversation around the shop is centered around brand and type of tippet for technical dry fly fishing. Let’s start with type. Mono/Nylon vs Fluorocarbon.

I personally use nylon for most of my dry fly fishing. I like how limp it is, helping me get a good long natural drift. I also like the stretch when I’m into a good fish on light tippet. If I want it to sink I add a little sink agent like Xink. I made that choice years ago when Flouro first came to the market. Back then, it was way stiffer than nylon (too stiff), somewhat difficult to knot, and sank. You might argue that flies didn’t float as well then. I didn’t really need to help them sink. Some of that probably was – and probably still is – in my head.

I know many anglers today that use fluorocarbon for technical dry fly fishing, including the guys at Trouthunter who A. make one of the most popular fluorocarbon tippet materials, and B. live and fish on arguably the toughest dry fly fishing water around.

There is the argument that fluorocarbon sinks and doesn’t throw a shadow that fish will see. This is something that I often experienced when I began guiding on Silver Creek, ID many years ago. I’ve never found the Missouri River trout to be that sensitive to tippet, so I continue to roll nylon successfully. But if I fished on the Railroad Ranch daily I might have a different opinion. So do what you want, but I think this decision is more important than what brand.

As far as brand, I think it’s pretty tough to buy “bad” tippet these days. RIO, Scientific Anglers and Orvis have all introduced a new nylon/mono to the market this year, each touting theirs over the others. Trouthunter is excellent and one of the biggest sellers in our shop, especially among guides. They all seem pretty good to me. The most important thing – as stated above – is to use lots of it.
John Arnold
John Arnold
Owner at Headhunters
Resist.
 

sweetandsalt

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I too fish 5 feet of Nylon mono tippet for the same reasons as John indicates. Regarding tippets; they are about control of a drag free drift...the trout is not intended to see tippet. Fly first with no curl of tippet below it is key to feeding a fine trout in technical water. Long leaders, long tippets, zero hinging.
 

weiliwen

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I can't even imagine using a 14' or longer leader on the tiny Driftless spring creeks I fish! My fly would probably land in the water about 1 out of every 5 casts. I am sure a longer leader/tippet are needed on other waters, but not there.

I use 5' furled leaders, add 18" of 3X, then put 2-3' 5X tippet on the end, and that seems to work for me.
 

el jefe

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I think that article should be renamed, to:

Dry Fly Leaders For Picky Fish And Picky Fly Fishermen On Placid Waters

Dillon accurately qualifies the application of the leader approach in the article, but too many folks read something like that think that's the kind of leader you should be using. For the spring creek conditions Dillon references, that leader is great.

To me, leader education is the must unappreciated facet of our game, and has the greatest effect. I fish a much shorter leader, and fish upstream, putting my shorter, thicker leader right over their heads on my breezy, roiling waters. Works fine. The area those guys are talking about are a one-trick pony type of deal. It's like taking the common rigging on the San Juan and extrapolating that to every other river; it will work on some other rivers, but that is not the same thing as saying that such is THE way to rig. Long, wispy leaders where I fish are the last thing you want to use.
 

boisker

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I don't think the leader length really matters or is the main point... it's the tippet that's crucial... your driftless set up matches the lower end of the length of tippet required, or matches the lower end as described in the article (3-5').

I don't understand why someone wouldn't choose to use tippet on the end of a shop bought tapered leader... it saves you reducing the length of the leader and extends its life
 

sweetandsalt

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To me, leader education is the must unappreciated facet of our game, and has the greatest effect.
This is a truism! The author is referring to his home river, the giant, technical, mother of all trout streams, the mighty Missouri in Montana. As noted, a similar approach is applicable on the Henry's Fork, Silver Creek and, in the East, on the Delaware. Certainly not on a tiny creek or pocket water in a riffle. Basically, the leader must transfer energy in an uninterrupted manor from the cast to the tippet...it proportions, diameter and design defined by the technique and habitat. It is the understanding of leader design and how it can be employed to optimally present a fly that is so important. John's point and Dillon's in posting it is that a well designed leader is capable of turning over much longer tippets than many might suppose or even realize. If your leader inaccurately collapses, you might suppose the tippet is too long but a more probable explanation is the interface of fly line to leader butt interrupts the flow of energy.
 

ddb

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What leader tippet combos do you recommend for windy days on technical waters? Casting to sighted fish requires accuracy and delicacy which gets way hard in a hearty wind.

DDB
 

dillon

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The wind usually blows the bugs off the water and makes it difficult to find a riser. So, we usually wait for the wind to lie down while sipping a wee dram of single malt...
 

sweetandsalt

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we usually wait for the wind to lie down while sipping a wee dram of single malt...
Does this aid our tight loop, wind penetrating casts? Unless we are talking a gale, wind can push flies toward a bank concentrating them. I don't alter my leader/tippet length much...understand casting is impacted by wind but on water presentation techniques can still be performed re-aligning things correctly to achieve a technical eat.
 

drynotnymph

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The best combo for fly fishing in the wind for me is with a 4x leader and tippet. I would also suggest going with a 6 weight rod because the rod weight will play more of a factor in casting in the wind then leader and tippet size. However 4x should get the job done as windy water will disguise using a larger tippet size. Dry flies are still effective in the wind but I have found attractor flies such as a chubby chernobyl and stimulators bring the fish to the surface. Regardless of wind or no wind 4x leader and tippet should work for you even on very technical waters. A lot of fisherman would probably disagree and say you need to go down to 7x but I'm a firm believed presentation and good casting can allow you to get away with using larger tippet sizes on ze dry fly.
Tight lines my friend
 

callihan_44

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i use 9' leaders and about an arms length of tippet , seems to work . Ive always felt the fish were spooked by the fly line being too close to the fly. Most people I know only throw nymphs with an indicator, they are astounded to see me throwing flies and catching large fish
 

satyr

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Yes, I am still amazed to see so many people that will be nymphing in the middle of a major rise. I think a lot of them are afraid that they can't get a good float when fishing dries and so don't try.

I fish a smaller spring creek regularly and would never dream of using anything heavier than 6x, but at the same time I don't use a ton of tippet. I reach cast like crazy so that my line is always above the fly and I think this mitigates the lack of tippet length to some degree. Also, some of the time I will not use a tippet at all. The knot to join the tippet to the line is the weakest point and if the fish I am catching are pretty big I will use just leader because I will break fewer fish off. Again though, I am using 6x so the tippet on the leader is pretty fine. And as it gets shorter I will tie on a new leader instead of adding tippet. This costs more but for someone that doesn't get nearly enough time on the water it is an expense I am willing to incur at times.
 

patrick62

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I rarely do straight-up dry fly fishing.

But when I do, I automatically add tippet to whatever prefab leader I'm using. Been doing it for decades.

If you add too much, you can always trim it down. Better than the other way around.
 

skcwolfgang

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I will fish 13-15 ft total length leaders when fishing small dries on a tailwater. I will usually fish 5-6x depending on fly size, and sometimes add 3 ft of 7x fluoro tippet to the end. I have encountered the 7x fluoro floating at times. I also have noted that the fluoro seems stiff. I have recently bought some snake river mud and plan on using nylon next time out and treating it so it will sink. Sometimes if fish are rising, and I am not getting takes, I have a hard time figuring out if it is the leader/drag, fly selection or presentation that is my problem. Figuring out the puzzle is a big part of the enjoyment of dry fly fishing for me.
 

gormaci

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I use 9-10 ft leader with tippet 90% of the time dry fly fishing. Even Silver Creek and such- no problem
And I use store leaders as the are quite good now (top brands)

BUT I would like to tell you, that for many years I was searching for perfect leader formula. Cutting skinns tightening knots and tying my ass off!!! My search for "perfect leader formula" ended when I realized I do not know how to cast and went to casting school. After few years of classes and proctice and learning how to cast a bit, I realized that the leaders are not that bad.. that I can cast most commercial leaders and place the fly where and how I want to. So, i do not want o be mean, I know that "leader probles" are indeed casting skill problems.
 

gormaci

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One more thing to add: I may be controversial but I do not understand use of 14-16 feet leaders on spring creeks. In my honest opinion properly placed 10ft leader/line/fly will not spook any trout (unless you use 10wt fly line on spring creek !:)
Amazing how often I see anglers casting 12-14-16 ft leader and observing their flies landing on water 5 ft from line tip!!! What is the point of using long leader if it lands like pile of **** (excuse me).y English) If you do not know how to present the fly/leader no formula will ever be good. And I assure you from my experience that I am quite successful fishing Silver Creak, Henrys Fork and such...Yes, of course I spook a fish occasionally but I do not blame a leader when I blow a cast or just miss the target!
Umpqua, Rio, Varivas, New SA, Trout Hunter.. I use them all and they all good. (Of course slightly different leaders for different size flies but in general today's top nylon leaders are pretty good!)
(I can sale some of my Trout Hunter reserves- too expensive, I can do equally well with cheaper stuff. I know it)
Practice casting and knot tying!!! And have fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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