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Choosing a Fly Fishing Leader

The right fly fishing leader sure makes a difference…

If you fly fish, you already know that a tapered leader is a necessary component. It’s not only the visual buffer between your thick fly line and your fly, it’s also the crucial connection to your fish. Without a fly fishing leader, we really couldn’t fly fish at all.

But did you know your tapered leader also plays an important role during your fly cast? It sure does, and the right tapered leader will really make a difference both during your cast, as well as after your cast, when you’re actually fishing. Let’s dig a little deeper into the secrets of the right tapered leader and how it will make your fly fishing life better.

If you’ve ever cast a fly line without a leader attached, you’ve probably noticed how unstable your fly line was during the cast. You probably also noticed that your fly line “hammered-over” abruptly to a finish at the end of your cast and that’s all due to the lack of a fly fishing leader. Don’t believe us…just give it a try at home.

Related to the fly cast, a tapered leader performs two important roles: Firstly, it creates drag while in the air much like the feathers on an arrow. This slight, but important drag pulls back on your fly line’s loop, not only compressing the loop for better aerodynamics, but adding stability as well. Secondly, your leader acts like a shock absorber at the end of the cast, scrubbing off excess casting energy and providing a subtle presentation of your fly, which is the real secret to fly fishing.

Doesn’t every tapered leader do this? Sort of is the answer, but there are additional considerations. Firstly, most fly anglers use a nine foot leader that isn’t very supple. In fact, the finish (outside coating) of most quality leaders is smooth and hard, which is purported to make for a stronger leader and also aid in “kicking over” your fly. The problem is, this shorter, stiffer leader creates very little drag during the cast and allows your hard-coated, performance fly line loop to open, which is not good for an efficient fly cast. This same leader also doesn’t fish that well either.


What is needed to solve the riddle is a longer, softer, tapered leader. The increased surface area of a longer leader adds the necessary, additional drag and draws back on your fly line’s loop, stabilizing the fly line and creating a naturally tighter loop, which results in a far more aerodynamically-efficient cast. Contrary to what you might have been told, a longer leader is actually easier to cast. You just have to understand and embrace the simple principles of fly casting.

Better yet, when a longer, softer, tapered leader lands on the water, not only will your presentation be more subtle (so you don’t spook fish), it will actually fish better than your typical, hard-coated, nine-foot leader. If you think about it, any moving water (creek, stream or river) has a lot of micro-currents pulling and pushing your leader this way and that. A longer, softer leader is far less effected by these micro-currents during your fly’s drift and therefore, requires less mending while your fly is drifting.

As for “X-rating” or your tapered leader’s tippet diameter, you don’t need to go super light to still trick a trout. Ralph Cutter (Super-cool guy and owner) of The California School of Fly Fishing knows this. You just need to give a trout a very natural drift and with a longer, softer leader this is possible. You can nerd out HERE by reading Ralph’s point #3. It really makes sense if you think about it. Good stuff Ralph. Thanks!

With all this in mind, our answer to more efficient fly casting and easier fishing is a our Leland New Zealand 12′ 4X tapered, nylon leader. It casts like a dream and fishes with ease. Better yet, it makes choosing a trout fly fishing leader super simple. Just loop it onto your favorite fly line, or heck…check out one of our favorites, Leland’s New Zealand Trout Fly lines. Now, every fly cast will be efficient and accurate providing a subtle presentation and natural drift, resulting in more earned fish.

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