Salomone: Building a leader for streamers.￼
Knowing how to tie your own can elevate your angling
With the high water in effect, anglers have been chucking some meat in the off-colored conditions, taunting trout filled with hunger pains. Broad, dark streamers catch the watchful eye of weary trout. Heavy current, large flies and big fish require a stout leader to accomplish the task, and that’s not a leader you buy off the shelf. Anglers have to construct a streamer leader. Knowing how to tie your own leader is a skill that can elevate your angling.
I’m often questioned by anglers, “Why do I have so many spools of tippet on my vest?” Strung on a cord that is attached at the top and bottom to prevent swinging is a selection of monofilament and fluorocarbon tippet. From angel hair thin to shoestring thick, the spools cover a variety of diameters and break strengths. What someone is really telling me when they ask that is that they have trouble tying a knot and couldn’t make a functional leader on the river if they had to.
Tying a leader together is time consuming. Some anglers who struggle with knot tying abhor the task and avoid it at all costs. The cost is expensive and limited to the selections that come from the factory. However, with a few spools of proper leader specific material and some tippet anglers can begin to construct custom leaders.
The leaders that come from the factory are engineered with function in mind. The line is tapered to transfer energy from the fly line through the leader to your fly. They come pre-looped to easily attach to your fly line.
When your streamer sticks to a riverbank boulder and you work it loose, you only to end up with a spaghetti mess. Repeated attempts to deconstruct the web of monofilament eventually ends up being cut off. Searching through your vest yields an empty leader wallet. The adventure could end right there.
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Instead of walking to the car, an angler can be back in the game with a few feet of tippet material off your vest and a couple easy knots. A basic knowledge of leader construction and proper proportions can produce a functional leader riverside.
Don’t be afraid to tie a knot. Practice your skills if they have importance. Sitting on the couch watching a sports game can be a good time for knot practice. Know your craft. Basic leader-tying skills will cross over for the fly angler wanting to embrace saltwater fly fishing. Building leaders is an essential skill in the salt.
Mahi-mahi leaders, billfish leaders, toothy critter leaders for sharks and barracudas, even my freshwater peacock bass leaders are hand tied. The leaders I use on the beach for Snook are tied by me. Once you start building your own leaders, the anxiety releases and you establish an understanding of what you want to achieve.
The most common breakdown for leader proportions covers the butt, tapered and tippet sections with a 60-20-20 percentage. This means the butt section should be roughly 60 percent of the leader length, the tapered section should be 20 percent and tippet for the remaining 20 percent. These proportions are not just for steamer leaders but can work as the base for any leader construction. Whether it be a short, lightweight dry-fly leader for brookies in small water or a long, deep-water leader for nymphing in a lake, those proportions hold true.
Construction for an 8′ streamer leader begins with a “perfection loop.” This is the beginning of the loop-to-loop connection with your fly line. The butt section should be roughly 5′ long and 15 or 20 pound test. The tapered section can be made with one straight piece of material or a couple pieces of diminishing diameters stair stepped together using a “blood knot” or a “uni-to-uni knot.” For the 8′ leader, the tapered section should be close to 18″. The tippet section is close to 18″ as well and doesn’t have to be a diminishing size. It could be smaller, like 6X for dry flies but for streamers the tippet could be a stout line like 2X to prevent streamer loss.
Orvis has a selection of videos covering all of these knots.
Leader construction elevates your angling. Custom leaders are a tool to be fabricated for specific purposes. Start with tying a streamer leader of your own. It’s kinda like tying your own flies — who knows what you are going to catch.