Wednesday , July 18 2018


Leader design based on fly line selection and fishing conditions


When I talk about my leaders the first thing I generally hear is “You build your own leaders?” Most fly fishers tend to stick to buying tapered leaders and adding tippet. I prefer to build my own leaders for the following reasons:

  • Much better quality & customisable taper than most store-bought tapered leaders
  • You are able to easily adjust the length of the leader by adding/removing sections based on the conditions you are faced with
  • The knots within the leader are great anchor points when utilising a revolving dropper system

If you put in the time to tie these up at home and in ‘bulk’ you will be set for a season on the water. I found the benefits mentioned above by using home-tied-leaders to far outweigh those of of store-bought leaders. Sure it requires some discipline and prep time, but I will never look back. In stillwaters with a lot of weed the multiple knots within the system can snag, but using the correct knots, keeping the tag-ends short and applying a small drop of Loon UV-Knot Sense to each knot this to me is a non-issue.


First thing, choose either monofilament or Fluorocarbon. This option can spark real debate, however it’s really a personal preference. I prefer mono due to it being 3X less expensive!

Here are my leader formulas I use to build leaders; you will note these are based on the type of fly-line I am using. It is crucial that your leader allows you to present the specific fly (or flies) accurately and stealthily and then to fish these at the correct depth whilst remaining in-touch with them throughout each cast. Using an overly-long leader on a fast sinking fly-line will simply result in the actual fly-line dragging on the bottom whilst your flies are still attempting to sink through the water column. Similarly, a short stout leader when presenting minuscule midge patterns will only equate to sloppy casts and spooked fish.

  1. Floating/ Dry-line
  • 9ft intermediate braided leader (my preference)
  • 0X (14lb): +/- 220 cm (Hold the line in your LEFT hand and stretch your arm out to your RIGHT shoulder, you require x 2 lengths)
  • 1X (12lb) : 110 cm (Left arm stretched out to your RIGHT shoulder)
  • 2X (10lb) : 90 cm (Left arm stretched out to your RIGHT collarbone)
  • 3X (8lb) : 70 cm (Left arm stretched out to your LEFT collarbone)
  • 4X (6lb) : 50 cm
  • 5X (4lb) : 30 cm
  • Total of 18.7ft (570cm) and 27.7ft with the braided leader

Note: Should you wish to switch over to dry-flies, simply remove the braided leader from the system and extend the tippet section upfront if need be.

  1. Intermediate/ hover/ sink tip lines
  • 0x (14lb) : 110 cm (LEFT arm stretched out to your RIGHT shoulder)
  • 1x (12lb) : 90 cm (LEFT arm stretched out to your RIGHT collarbone)
  • 2x (10lb) : 70 cm (LEFT arm stretched out to your LEFT collarbone)
  • 3x (8lb) : 50 cm
  • Total 320cm or 10.5ft
  1. Sinking line
  • 0x (14lb) : 70 cm (LEFT arm stretched out to your LEFT collarbone)
  • 1x (12lb) : 50 cm
  • 2x (10lb) : 40 cm
  • 3x (8lb) : 30 cm
  • Total 190cm or 6.2ft


There are many knots you can use to ensure a secure connection between sections, but these are my personal go-to-knots:

  • 0X is joined to the fly-line or braided leader with a Perfection Loop.
  • 1X to 3,4 or 5X tippets are attached using the Double Surgeon’s Knot (Ensure the tags are cut as close as possible)

If you notice that you are initially struggling to cast your own leader, I recommend shortening your leaders by taking out the 1X or 3X making it 0,2,3,4 X or 0,1,3,4 X. However, note that you can’t take out sequential sections! To read the Stillwater Lessons part 1 on knots: Click here!

There are multiple videos available on each of these knots, simply search Google or YouTube.


After using Braided Leaders for several years now and slowly converting most that fish with me, I found the advantages of using them are:

  • Offers an extra 9ft of “leader” thay you can quickly build into your current leader setup
  • It acts as a shock tippet on those aggressive smash takes
  • On a floating line especially it gets your but section to sink at a similar rate to your tippet



  • RIO, Orvis, TroutHunter, Hardy, Cortland, Stroft, Scientific Anglers and Frog hair to name but a few. I personally use Orvis Super Strong (only because I’m an Orvis addict)
  • Don’t forget a cheaper option is good old Maxima Ultragreen. They make all these breaking strengths and though it is lager in diameter it will work just fine!


  • Buy 100m rolls of each diameter
  • Try a braided leader!
  • Fish the longest leader that you can handle on a floating line; it allows you to choose which depths to fish
  • If the wind is blowing head-on, take out a section of tippet and replace it when conditions are more favourable
  • Fish the smallest diameter tippet you can, it will increase your catch rate!
  • Replace your entire leader as often as possible. I suggest every outing, rather be safe than sorry – you don’t want the leader to be the cause of a lost trophy!
  • Tie up spare leaders at home and carry them along, I generally tie them onto old tippet spools.
  • Always check for wind knots!

We are generally all set in our ways but I truly hope you will try these out. Let us know how you go!

In our next article we will be discussing rig setups and how to make the most of your (new) leader setups. It will be focussed on versatility and the ability to quickly and (almost) effortlessly adjust your rig based on the conditions and specific fish you are faced with.

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