What is a Leader in Fly Fishing? [Complete Guide]

What is a Leader in Fly Fishing

Although wonderful, fly fishing can be very confusing for beginners who don’t even know where to start. From reels that just accommodate the lines, to the lines and all of their parts, there are a lot of special items that can’t be found around regular fishing equipment.

The line itself is weighted and that weight enables you to cast almost weightless lures. Naturally, you can`t connect those to such a tick line, and that is why we have leaders and tippets.

So, what is a leader in fly fishing? The leader connects the fly line with a tippet and the fly in the end. It is tapered, which means that its diameter goes from thicker (on the line side) to thinner (on the tippet side). Although the name is the same, it is not the same as leaders used for other techniques.


 

These leaders can vary in length, thickness, and even the material. Various manufacturers make them, and you should carefully choose to get the best product at an affordable price.

Here I will tell you more about fly leaders, their purpose, and how to choose the best one that will be compatible with the rest of your equipment.

But before that, let`s start with some basics and definitions that should clarify any doubts you may have.

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What are the Three Main Parts of a Fly Fishing Line?

Before I tell you more about what is a leader in fly fishing, I have to mention the fly line and all the important parts.

In the end of the line, there is tippet. Tippets are thin, flexible, and almost invisible connections between the leader and the fly. They are used to make the presentation more natural and less suspicious to fish.

Tippet is connected to a leader, which I will describe in the following chapters.


 

This leader is connected to a fly line, which is by no means similar to a regular line. Fly lines are thick and heavy. Weightless lures like flies wouldn’t be able to pull the line when casting. So, in order to cast, the line has to be “heavy”. In regular fishing, weight of the lure pulls out the line, which is thin and light.

And finally, there is a backing. It is a long connection between the line and the reel which is thinner than the line.


 

What is a Leader in Fly Fishing? And Why is it Used for …

Leaders are tapered lines, made from different materials, that are used to connect your line and a fly. Most often, they are 7.5-9 ft long, but they can be shorter or longer, depending on your specific needs.

Many of these are monofilament nylon, but other options exist too, like fluoro, or even braided ones. The third option lacks the important “invisibility” feature. It is important that the leader is much less visible to fish than your main fly line.

Tapered shape serves 2 purposes ...

One is to make a smooth transition between thick lines and tiny flies. Another is to enable casting and energy transfer that results in efficient and relatively gentle landing of a fly into the water.

Usually, anglers use tippets at the end of a leader, to make presentations more natural, and to prolong the leader lifespan.



What is the Difference Between Leader, Tippet and Fishing Line?

I already mentioned main differences, but here are a few more details.

Tippets can have same, or thinner, diameter than the leader tip. They are also shorter, and their length is usually from 2 to 4 ft, but that can be adjusted if necessary. Anglers choose this length based on experience and personal needs. Tippets are also made with a single strain of nylon.

I already described leader lines, and told you that those are also frequently made from a single strain of nylon. Now, many inexperienced anglers could conclude that those are the same as regular mono/fluoro lines, but that would be a mistake.

First of all, leaders are tapered. Secondly, fly leaders and tippets are made differently, and are more flexible than regular mono lines. Although these differences may seem meaningless, when presenting almost a weightless fly, it is important to use proper equipment.

What is a Leader in Fly Fishing - Infografica

Is Leader the Same as Tippet in Fly Fishing Line?

Tippets and leaders are not the same, although both are used as connection points, and when connected together, they create a smooth transition between a thick line and a tiny fly. Their length is not the same, and the tippet can be thinner than the leader.

Both tippets and leaders vary in sizes, and those are described with a number and a letter X. The smaller the number, the larger the diameter.

Thinner tippets go well with very light flies, although some anglers use them with larger flies too for very cautious fish.

Leaders have certain weights and strengths, and are chosen in accordance with the fly. I will tell you more about these sizes in the following chapter.



What Size Leader Should I Use for Fly Fishing?

Let’s start with the length ...

Most manufacturers produce them in a few different lengths, from 6-12 ft. However, as a beginner, you should start with those that are 9 ft long. That is perfect for learning purposes and some basic trout fishing.

Prolong it with a tippet if the fish is very cautious. Shorter ones are often used with larger lures like streamers, for bass fishing. Use those in a 6 to 7.5 ft range for more control.

Leaders, same as tippets, are marked with X. There are conversion charts available online that will tell you how much is that in pound test. For example, 3X is 8lb. As a beginner, for some average setup, use 4X. That is sufficient for normal size trout. The strongest leaders, marked with 03X are equivalent to 25lb and can be used for the largest fish you can catch when fly fishing, while the smallest ones, 8X (1.75lb) are made to be used for panfish.

Here is a small secret that can provide an estimate when it comes to choosing the right fly-leader ratio. Multiply the leader X number by 3, and you will get an average fly size for it. For example, 4X is great for 12 fly size.

Should Leaders be Stronger than the Main Fly Line?

Balanced equipment is the key to success ...

Rods have to be paired with lines and their weight, and flies have to be carefully paired with leaders and tippets, which really doesn’t leave you enough room for mistakes.

Many anglers have multiple leaders and tippets in their tackle box, so that they can change flies on the spot if necessary.

This means that strength of a leader doesn’t have to be stronger than the line, at least not when fishing in some normal conditions.

The most versatile rod and line weights are 5, and those can work excellent for the majority of recreational freshwater fly fishing, for average size fish like trout. Pair it with leaders that suit the flies, which have to be chosen in accordance with those that appear in the nature.

What is a Leader in Fly Fishing - Line

How Long Should a Leader be in Fly Fishing?

I already answered this question, but here are a few more details ...

Short leaders, below 9ft, are great for large flies, aggressive predators, and for fishing in places full of obstacles. They can also be very useful in very windy conditions, when you need more control over the lure.

Longer ones (even up to 15 ft) are great for fish that gets spooked easily. Just keep in mind that handling those is not easy, and that may not be the best idea for a beginner. These long leaders are useful when fishing in extremely clear waters during windless days.

Medium length, around 9ft, is perfect for beginners. It is long enough not to spook the fish, yet short enough to enable easier casting.



What is the Best Leader for Fly Fishing? [Type and Brand]

As I always say, it is better to spend a few more dollars in the beginning, because that will save you money in the long run. Always buy from good manufacturers and avoid stress and disappointment. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy the most expensive ones, and there are a lot of options for every budget.

Here are a few manufacturers that make good fly fishing leaders:

Rio Powerflex
Orvis Mirage
Scientific Anglers

No matter which one you choose, you will be satisfied with the performance. When you gain a bit of experience, you will see which brands works the best for you and you will have a favorite one, same as every other fly angler.

And when it comes to the type, it depends on your needs ...

Do you want it to float or not? Do you want to spend more or less money? Mono may be better for beginners because it is cheaper and easier to tie.



Can I Use the Fluorocarbon Line as a Leader?

Fluoro is almost invisible, has great abrasion resistance, and it is very strong. This, in theory, makes it great for a leader material, but that is not completely true, at least not for every situation. Fluoro, unlike mono, sinks, and that may have a negative influence on small dry flies and their presentation.

Also, fly leaders are tapered which means that you can`t just take an average fluoro line and use it instead of a tapered one. Some anglers will do this by using lines of different diameters but that is a huge hassle, tying knots is hard, and the whole setup is not worth the effort. Use fly fishing equipment.

If you want to use fluoro as a leader material for fly fishing, buy a fluoro fly leader. Rio Fluoroflex is a good option.

What is a Leader in Fly Fishing - Fish

Conclusion

Fly fishing equipment is very special, and can be very confusing for those who are just discovering secrets of this amazing activity. What is a leader in fly fishing is an important question, because it serves as the main connection between a fly line and a fly at the end. Hopefully, you got some answers in the previous chapters.

To make it easier for yourself, always choose products made by reputable manufacturers, and read the instructions that will tell you what size of a leader (or any other equipment) to use with a certain fly.

And try not to use regular lines instead of fly leaders and tippets as that will lead to nothing but disappointment!

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