Fly Fishing Leaders and Formulas

Posted by on March 3rd, 1999 in Leaders

It wasn’t so long ago that as a fly fisherman, if you wanted a leader to properly present your fly, you had to tie them yourself. There were endless discussions on what was the right formula for the situation you were fishing. What was right material for a given situation? What about length…or diameter? It went on and on. You couldn’t have three fishermen together for very long before the subject would come up. Even before the myriad of magazine articles, many book authors preached their theory of how a leader should be tied. If you had fished for any length of time you had your own ideas as well.

We can thank Andre’ Puyans for the modern extruded leader. It has many advantages over the old hand tied leaders. Not catching every floating piece of debris the river has to offer for one. Nowadays there are many tippet and leader manufacturers that produce fine leaders, extruded and hand tied, for all the different fish that we pursue with the long skinny stick. Whether you are fishing freshwater, saltwater, warm water, stillwater or even spey casting, there is a leader specifically designed for the occasion.

At High Country Flies we still get many people interested in tying their own leaders. But be forewarned; don’t get involved with the idea of saving a lot of money. That’s because you’ll need 12-14 different diameters of monofilament (typically purchased in 17-30 yard spools) to have everything you’ll need to start tying your own. It is also a very wise practice to replace tippet material in sizes 4x-7x every year. But if you think that you would like to mess around with it to try to learn more about the sport and come up with something of your own, it’s fun.

We have put together a time-honored and simple formula chart. It is based around the old 60-20-20 theory. The butt section or heavy diameter makes up 60% of the entire leader. The middle section of the leader, sometimes referred to as the step down section, makes up 20% of the leaders overall length. The tippet section or skinny piece of the leader makes up the last 20%. The chart below is not the end all of leader formulas, but it is good starting point and you will find that they will work quite nicely.

Create your leader by using a blood knot or a double surgeon’s knot to join the various sections of monofilament.

If you would like to discuss leader formulas, many of us at High Country Flies still tie our own leaders. Just give us a call at 877-732-7210 or e-mail us. You can also read High Country Flies guide Guy Turck’s thoughts on leaders and leader design, which differ slightly from my own.

Howard Cole
High Country Flies