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Take Me to Your Leader!
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

would like to take a look at the terminal leader end of your fly line. What is a typical set-up for the surf when targeting our most sought after species stripers, blues, weakfish, and false albacore? You may find that if you ask the same question to another pro you may get a slightly different recommendation than mine. This is so because a lot of what we do in this sport is a matter of personal preference. If your way is consistently producing fish than it works so stick with it. Here is my take on the terminal end.

In saltwater fly fishing your leader is commonly referred to as that section of line that connects your fly to your fly line. This usually is constructed entirely of monofilament or fluorocarbon tapered sections or a combination of both materials used together. The tapering puts the heaviest pound test connected to the fly line whereas the lightest pound test or tippet is connected to your fly. In the northeast the overall leader lengths that most fly fisher will use range from three to ten feet.

When you think about your fly line one can only wonder how it is even possible to catch a fish when you consider the line's distinct visibility when it is laying out on the water. Volumes of literature have been written about fly presentation and delivering your fly in the most natural manner possible. Using a fly line seems to be quite to the contrary. So how does one compensate for this apparent lack of discreteness when shooting a line into the suds. The answer lies in your leader.

Fly fishers have experimented over the years with different leader lengths and construction to find which setup has proven to be most effective in each specific application. Numerous applications abound with different types of knots being employed that will only complicate things if you try to study them all. For the northeast surf we can basically keep things simply and clean.

A general rule to follow when hitting the suds is that if the water is clear and calm a longer leader will be needed. If the water is rough and discolored the fly fisher can get away with a shorter leader. Longer leaders should range in the eight to nine foot ranges while shorter leaders should be in the four to five foot ranges.

Nail KnotIn the northeast your workhorse line that you will be attaching these leaders to will be an intermediate line. It would be to your advantage to fish a clear, coldwater striper line to help further minimize the line's visibility when laid out on the water. Even though you will be using your intermediate line the majority of the time you should not eliminate floating or sinking lines from your surf arsenal. Both have their place in the right application.

When using an intermediate or floating line your leader length should be eight or nine feet. Since intermediate lines sink at the rate of one and a half to two inches per second, the weight of the fly will also sink uniformly with the line. Using the longer leader will present your fly as natural as possible as you increase the distance between the fly and the very visible fly line.

When fishing a sinking line however your leader length should never exceed five feet. This will ensure that your fly is at the same level as your line. When a fish strikes your fly your hook-up ratio will be significantly improved because the amount of slack in the line will be greatly diminished. In other words there will be better contact between your fly and the line

With a sinking line if your fly is not sinking at the same rate as your line then it will ride above the line. This will prevent you from being in direct contact with it. As a result you will miss strikes and definitely miss detecting bumps that often occur by a curious predator.

Let's now look at how your leader should be constructed. For an intermediate or floating line taking a nine-foot piece of monofilament and tying directly to your fly line is not the correct approach. When done in this manner you will notice that at the end of your cast the leader will fall straight down into the water in a pile. In other words it will not turn over.

In order to allow the leader to turn over and continue to transmit energy from the fly line, your leader will need to be tapered. A fly line's taper allows the energy that you generate from the rod to transfer more efficiently through the line. To continue this taper through the leader will only increase your overall casting performance. A nine-foot piece of mono tied directly to your fly line will barely transmit any energy at all.

Albright Knot Tapered leaders can be purchased but can quickly add up to be rather costly. It is relatively easy to tie your own by knowing a few basic knots. One leader formula that is used by our guide service and other flyfishing pros begins with a twelve inch section of forty to sixty pound hard mono nail-knotted or albright-knotted to your fly line. At the end of this section is tied a perfection or surgeon's loop. With traditional fly lines a nail knot will work when attaching this section of leader to your line but with your mono core lines an Albright knot is recommended. The nail knot being a friction knot may slide off these new mono core lines if it cuts through the coating. The Albright will prevent this from happening. You can use a drop of super glue or zap-a-gap to seal the nail or Albright knot.

As mentioned this short heavier section will allow for the fly line's energy to continue more efficiently through the leader since it is more comparable to the fly line's specifications than apiece of mono of much lighter weight. In other words, it acts like a continuation of the fly line. I like to albright or nail knot this section to the fly line rather than loop to loop it to a whip finish in the fly line. This is so to prevent any hinging at the point of this connection. Knotting at this point will help to better turn over the leader and allow for a smoother transfer of energy.

This heavy butt section also serves a second purpose that comes into play when fishing jetties. It will also provide some extra abrasion resistance if a fish is hooked close to the rocks and decides to run your leader across its jagged edges. A much lighter pound test at the butt section will reduce your chances of landing a fish and probable result in a break off. The heavy butt section will also allow you to grab onto it and lift the fish onto the rocks without it breaking or cutting into your hand.

Perfection Loop At the end of the heavy butt section you can begin your loop to loop connection. This butt section will remain permanently attached to your line and is only changed if it becomes frayed, damaged, or weakened. To finish your leader tie another perfection or surgeon's loop in one end of a two to three-foot section of thirty-two pound test hard mono leader material. Twenty-five yard pocket spools of leader material can be purchased at your fly fishing pro shop. They are relatively inexpensive and will be available in all different pound test.

To attach this two-foot section to your twelve-inch butt section, pass the twelve-inch loop end that is attached to your fly line through the end loop of the thirty-two pound test leader. Now take the tag end of the thirty-two pound leader and pass it back through the twelve-inch end loop. Pull both lines in opposite directions and tighten the connection. You have just made your first loop to loop leader connection.

You will now continue the tapering of the leader by blood knotting remaining sections of decreasing pound test to give the leader an overall length of eight to nine feet. You can taper down from 32-27-20 or replace the 32 pound test with 27 and blood knot 20-15 to this.

Using blood knots will ensure the cleanest and straightest connections between your leader parts. You will notice when tied correctly that the two tag ends of the blood knot will be perpendicular to one another when the knot is pulled tight. This knot prevents your leader parts from coming off at an angle to one another and reduces to a minimum the chances that some small pieces of algae or detritus will get hung up on them.

Blood Knot Using a blood knot will also allow for a quick replacement of your tippet section when it becomes to short after you have changed flies several times. Always remember to wet your knots (saliva works well) before you cinch down on them. This will reduce the amount of heat that is generated from the friction between the two lines. This will prevent any microscopic melting of your mono that you cannot see.

If you find that you need to shorten your longer leader system to some degree because conditions warrant it, such as a very windy day, use Lefty's method. He suggests shortening a portion of the mid-section rather than the tippet or butt end. To lengthen your leaders simply add more butt section. If you increase the length of the tippet this will make it more difficult to turn over the fly.

The last connection that you will have to make to complete your leader construction will be to attach your fly to the end of the tippet section. Most anglers use an improved clinch knot or trilene knot for this, but don't overlook using a non-slip mono loop knot to connect your fly.

A loop knot will allow your fly to undulate more freely upon retrieving or when it is held in a current. These side-to-side undulations will mimic the profile of a staging or suspended baitfish. This may be that little extra that is needed to draw a strike from a stalking predator with your fly. The loop knot should always be used when fishing weighted flies such as jiggy fleyes, clousers, or half and halfs. It will allow these flies to drop down more freely when you pause on your retrieve.

Surgeon's LoopAs mentioned in the beginning of the article a sinking fly line will facilitate the need for a much shorter leader. In this case a two-section leader will work well. The butt section can be two or three feet of twenty five pound test followed by a two or three-foot section of twenty pound test. Or twenty to fifteen pound test will also work. Fashion the leader together in the same manner as stated above. Many times a straight shot of twenty-pound test is all that you need. We have taken plenty of fish by just keeping it this simple.

To further reduce the visibility of your leader in the water you can replace the monofilament tippet section with fluorocarbon leader material. Fluorocarbon is virtually invisible in water because of its refractive properties. Using it in place of mono will present your fly in a more natural manner.

In most surf conditions that we encounter in the northeast fluorocarbon is not absolutely necessary to hook bass, blues, or weakfish on the fly. It is however warranted when the speedsters of the suds arrive in the fall, the false albacore. These keen eyed fish are very selective and at times will not touch any type of fly pattern that is connected to mono. Fluorocarbon is also tougher than mono and will sink faster. You chances of breaking off will be reduced when a fish raps itself around your leader or pulls you against the rocks. For this reason many fly fishers use it all the time. Even though it is more expensive than mono the price is worth it if it increases your chances of landing that trophy.

Another important leader consideration that will require an adjustment is when toothy blues are around. These excellent fighting fish will quickly do away with any fly you diligently worked on at the vise. To avoid having your flies bitten off you will need to use a four to five inch section of a wire bite tippet connected to your fly. These wire tracers are very light-weight and have a very small diameter. A ravenous school of blues marauding bait will not pay attention to the wire.

Many times blues will show up rather quickly on the scene without any warning. It is best to have several old flies in your box with a wire tippet already attached that you can pull out at a moment's notice. The wire tippet will be attached to your fly using a haywire twist that will form the loop. Use this twist to form a loop at both ends of the wire. You can then quickly attach your mono tippet to the tag end loop with an improved clinch knot. Trying to make these wire tippet loops while in the midst of a blitz will be very frustrating and may result in missing the school as it passes you by.

Care of your leader materials is a final important detail to pay attention to. Saltwater, the sun's ultraviolet rays, and heat can quickly cause your spools to deteriorate and breakdown much more quickly thereby reducing their so-called shelf life. Keep your pocket spools clean and free of any unnecessary contact with the above elements. And even though one of the characteristics of fluorocarbon is that the sun's UV rays do not damage it like mono, it would be a good idea to keep it out of the sun anyway.

If you take some time and practice tying these leader connections and knots before you hit the suds it will only help to round out your own personal fly fishing repertoire. Fish your flies with confidence and visualize what they are doing underneath the water. Before you know it you may even hear one of those trophies shouting "take me to your leader". Good Fishin!.....Flyfishing that is!End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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