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  1. #1

    Default Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    For bonefish and permit on tropical flats and striped bass on the glacial moraine sand flats of the North East, I fish the same leader for the same reasons; I am presenting crustacean or baitfish imitations in clear water to wary fish. Either Nylon monofilament, Fluorocarbon are a combination of both can be used in the same way. I considered for a while that, since Nylon is less dense than Fluoro, I would build the upper end of my leader with Nylon to help keep it above grass and bottom obstacles on skinny flats and use fluoro for its greater abrasion resistance and lower index of in water visibility for the lower portion. In practice while fishing it made no difference so I have concluded that an all fluorocarbon construction, with its far less stretch and, again, superior abrasion resistance is the way to go. It is confusing to describe leader/tippet material in pound test because both Nylon and Fluorocarbon and different brands or even versions of material from the same company can have significantly different pound test ratings relative to diameter so I will describe section of the leader in diameter. In all leaders, diameter is really more relevant than pound test as two salient features, the smoothly uninterrupted transfer of energy from line to leader butt and appropriate tippet size relative to the fly size being used are mass/diameter/flexibility issues irrespective of breaking strength which is even less relevant in the salt than trout fishing applications…all our tippets in the salt are strong because, well, they are thick.

    Butt Material: Seaguar .024 = 40 pound test
    RIO Hard Mono .024 = 25 pound test
    RIO FluoroFlex .025 = 50 pound test and .023 = 40#

    While a simple 8 or 9’ leader is easy to turn over and fine for fishing bay anchovies or baby bunker during the Autumn Blitz while migratory game fish bust bait aggressively near the surface, bass just out of the wintery deep coming onto the flats in spring to feast on the fresh supply of shrimp and crabs on the more rapidly warming water of the shallows and, even more so, the always nervous bonefish and permit on flats that are warm all the time are best approached with a long cast and long leader. So, with small variations in section length determined by circumstances, my leader specs out to between 11 and 15 feet.

    For #8 and 9-weight floating lines a butt section of .023 to .025 is correct to avoid a hinge and allow your cast’s energy to flow uninterrupted from fly line to leader. This translates to approximately 40 to 50 pond test depending on Fluorocarbon version. The butt section is between 4 and 5 feet long and can attach to the line via loop-to-loop of a small perfection loop on the butt to the factory welded loop on the line or by nail or Albright knotting it directly to the line. If you chose, and I increasingly do, to use the welded loop, I recommend mechanically re-enforcing it with a 12 to 18 turn nail knot of #20 Fluoro over the doubled portion of the weld. In this way the thermochemical bond of the weld which loses a small % of line strength (approximately 30 pound test for the average saltwater tropical line minus about 15 to 20%) is assured to never split open. For the nail or Albright I like as many turns, 12 minimum, to distribute locking strength of the knot over a suitable are of compressible fly line jacket and core. All coil type knots gain their structural integrity by the number and snugness of the coils locking against one another and too few can, in extreme failure, strip the bit of jacket beneath the knot off the core. This is less common today as adhesion is better but used to occur more in the good old days of less sophisticated fly lines.

    Using a 4-turn blood knot, affix a 12 inch section of .20 -.021 to the .024, then another 1 foot section of .018 or .019 to that, basically you are tapering in .003 inch increments. So you are going from 4+’ of 40 lb. to 1’ sections of 30, 25 and then the 20 lb. section can be a bit longer 18 – 24 inches so as to provide extra length for re-attachment of tippets, so, as you cut off a too short or damaged 15 pound tippet section you do not have to replace the 25 pound too often. The 1 foot increments of the mid sections of the leader create a steep taper with 4 ’ of butt and 4 feet of tippet. The long heavy butt assures strong and positive turn over, the steeply tapered mid-section in turn speeds the turn-over of the tippet with a weighted fly landing accurately and relatively softly in front of the fish. 5-turn blood knots can be used for the smaller mid-section pieces of material and a 6-turn blood or Ligature knot can be used for the tippet. The blood is fine but the slightly bulkier and a little more complex Ligature is stronger.

    Ligiture Knot

    Tying a knot correctly is obviously important but drawing it fully tight is at least equally so. Slippage is what cause knot failure. It is hard to tighten blood knots in heavy Fluoro so I employ leather gloves or a pair of dish towels so as not to cut my hands. I do not yank but pull really hard and you will observe the knot taking one more turn or so and really fully tightening by pulling extra hard. Trim the tags short but not quite flush. The best tippet to fly knot for shrimp and crab type imitating flies is the non-slip loop knot. A very strong knot it allows the fly to move more unencumbered on the pause and drop since it is not fixed to the eye of the hook. And I make an exception to the rule with this knot; it is one knot I leave the tag end a little longer in part because it does not protrude and the squared overhand knot is one place where biting the material can take place.

    Often a guide implores the angler to strip, strip faster. Frequently he sees the fish better than you or I and is striving to get the fly where the fish will see it. In front of the fish a strip or two is intended to get his attention. Crabs and shrimp are not quick little baitfish and swim more slowly and not as far…their instinctual tactic when danger approaches is to dive toward the bottom seeking survival by disguising themselves in the soft marle or sand. When you pause your fly and it wafts toward the bottom, an action aided by the non-slip loop knot, is often when the fish charges and eats lest the desirable food organism gets away.

    Non-Slip Loop Knot

    Want to get fancy? Jon Huff at “Streams of Dreams” fly shop in NJ, turned me on to Clear Cure Goo ClearCureGooIndex a low viscosity, UV curing product used by some saltwater fly tiers instead of conventional or cyanoacrylate adhesives. A powerful little UV flashlight is employed rather than the sun. One can apply, wick away excess and in seconds cure a clear slightly flexible coating to the leader knots from the reinforcing nail knot to the perfection loop and blood knots on down to seal and smooth them out. This is not an affectation in that those little tags are hand knotted leaders single issue in that they can pick up weed...not that that is common bonefishing. I’ll apply this at home on new leaders before a trip but it is hardly a necessity and I do not include it in my traveling leader kit which is a zip-lock loaded with a full set of butt to tippet Fluorocarbon spools, a spare nipper and an extra couple of spools of fly line…Tropical flats are gnarly with barnacle encrusted mangrove roots and razor-like coral outcrops. I have rarely needed to replace a leader which is more likely to last the life of the fly line with simple forward end re-building, but you never know. It has yet to happen to me but I have been in destinations where a bonefish has taken an anglers whole line into the mangroves and cut thorough the backing necessitating replacement of the whole rigging.

    It is my technique that if a bone runs toward the sheltering security of the mangroves, I put the down and dirty to him and will turn or bust him off before I let him take me into that maze. But because of the integrity of my carefully prepared and constructed rigging and leader, a break off is exceedingly rare.
    Last edited by sweetandsalt; 12-14-2014 at 04:31 PM.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Excellent post S&S! Thank you. I also use the Mono butt, flouro tippet. Wondering if you have tried the poly leaders? I have had good luck with them but still find myself going back to tapered Mono/flouro. Another point you touched on a little is the importance of getting to know a certain brand and sticking with it. Very advantageous to know exactly what you can get away with once you become familiar with the abrasion resistance and breaking strength of that line.

  4. #3

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    I like the concept of poly leaders and have experimented with them both for bonefish and trout and...rejected them. They have way too much mass and kick heavily on the end of the line, for me an uncomfortable, even disconcerting sensation.

    I have also eliminated hard Nylon for the butt sections of my bonefish leader because I found no advantage to them and have become interestedd in limiting stretch in my line/leader assembly to enhance direct connection to the fly. I don't care for non-stretch lines trout fishing but have become convinced they are an asset in the salt.

    Regarding brand; I have used Seaguar large spools for my leaders for a long time, I was an early adaptor of fluoro for the salt though I use Nylon predominantly for trout. However, I have decided that he properties of RIO FluroFlex are superior...take knots better and are a bit more, for the thinner diameters I have switched for the 25# and down. As I use it up, I will switch over to RIO for the large diameter material as well.

    Again, presuming sound knots, the key in all leaders is zero energy interruption due to hinging at the butt or any other section.

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  6. Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Great post! I was encouraged by your other post to try building my own for salt. just invested in some of the new hatch fluro leader material. Will let you know how it works. Their 50 lb rates at .24 and the 40 at .22. For 8-9 weight rods would you favor the 50 lb just for the diameter? would the 40 work as well without causing hinging?

  7. #5

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Go with the .024 and perform the "parabolic test".

  8. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    south florida

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Though I don't wade for bones anymore, many of the areas I used to fish sported bay grass on the bottom - a very delicate and limber-leafed sea grass that gets picked up very easily on any knot, and at best moves unnaturally if a knot slides through or touches even one strand.

    So what I did was to use a long butt section then attach a tapered 9' leader to that. When it got too short, I would add a new tapered leader if I had one handy, or cut it back and add 5 feet or so of new tippet until I got to the fly shop. I would also sometimes use tapered permit leaders and attach 6' or more of tippet to them - giving me one knot 6' ahead of the fly.

    Just another of countless options. Cheers, Jim

  9. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Merritt Island Florida

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    All these years and this is the first time I have ever seen the Ligiture knot. I will to give it a try.

  10. #8

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Salty, What is you experience with the Ligiture Knot thus far?

  11. #9

    Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Great stuff thanks for the insight

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  12. Default Re: Saltwater Flats Leader Design

    Thank you for the formula!

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