Fly fishing rod

Salomone: Length of the leader |

The choice of leader length should be based on the type of fishing and the conditions that are expected to be encountered.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy Photo

I recently observed a man in the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop as he stood in front of the leader’s picks. He would catch one, then stop before pulling it off the hook. Then he would take another to study the shiny package. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by the massive selection of leaders in different materials and lengths.

Finally, he placed his selected pack of leaders on the counter and boasted, “I’ll take the 9 footer,” as if reciting a profound verse from Shakespeare.

Leaders are something that anglers take for granted and default to without much thought. The 9ft monofilament leader is as generic as it gets. On the shelf, fly fishermen will regularly discover leaders in 7 ½ feet, 9 feet and 12 feet in monofilament and fluorocarbon. It is the angler who varies the length of his leader for different fishing conditions who will have the most success.

Nolan Sawtelle shows off his brown trout.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy Photo

There are many ways for anglers to vary the length of their leader. Using a leader and tying a fly directly to the leader is a functional approach and will get you on the water. The angler who adds extra rig material to the end of their rig before tying the fly will have better presentation.

A properly constructed leader with the addition of a tippet will cast easier. The tapered leader dissipates energy down the line, returning the volley more efficiently. Adding tippet material to a rig completes the set and creates a better presentation – and that goes for dry flies, nymphs and dry dropper style rigs.

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When reviewing rig selections, new anglers may need a little guidance to arrive at the right choice. Ultimately, the type of angling determines the selection. An average day fly fishing on the Eagle River is easily accomplished with the common 9ft leader and tip. When conditions become difficult, such as dry fly fishing in clear or shallow water, an additional amount of tippet should be extended. This increases the overall length, returns the dry fly from a distance, and helps mask approaching anglers.

During high water on the Eagle River, nymph anglers will find it necessary to add leader gear to a 9 foot leader in order to reach the bottom. In this situation, I will buy leaders that taper down to a thicker section such as 3X, then add a decreasing diameter of tip material, such as 4X or 5X. Experiment with the size of tippet you use. Often during high water anglers can get away with much thicker tip material.

Fly anglers who excel in tight fishing situations, such as the conditions found on Deep Creek or along open spaces on Brush Creek, benefit from a shorter rig length. Some would say that the 7 ½ foot leader is a tool for angling in aggressive fish angling situations like largemouth bass, pike or lake trout. In my experience, these fish require a more specific leader build, which is suited to the increased stress placed on the gear.

The 7 ½’ leader is the perfect tool for small dry fly fishing in water. I have a collection of smaller rods in the 6ft, 6½ft and 7½ft lengths where a short rig excels in performance well above the generic 9ft. Short casting strokes quickly load a rod and the matching leader flips the fly for delicate presentation. My 2 and 3 weight fiberglass flex rods love a 7 ½ foot monofilament rig for pinpoint casting accuracy and better line management. A short leader is easier to fix in small water conditions.

In dry fly fishing situations in small waters, the 7 1/2 foot leader is perfect, as it allows for short casting strokes that flip the fly for delicate presentation.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy Photo

The selection board’s 12-foot leaders begin to tackle extremely unique fishing situations. A 12ft leader is a fantastic presentation tool for ultra scary fish in crystal clear water like those found in spring creeks. The 12ft leader is a tool I use to nymphae in calm waters when I need to go deeper in the water column. Adding tippet to a 12 foot leader becomes taxing to cast. Anglers will want to practice casting such a long rig to avoid fouling.

The length of the leader should be determined by the type of fishing and the conditions you will encounter. Varying your length will increase your success and dial you into your gear with more privacy. The generic 9ft leader is a good place to start. Where you go from there is up to you.

Fishing along the confluence of Piney Creek.
Michael Salomone/Courtesy Photo