How to Choose Leader Size and Length When Fly Fishing Trout

leader sizes and lengthsThoughts on Leaders:

Many fly fishermen have been buying the same type of tapered leader for trout fishing for years and do not realize the reason why.  Most likely it worked, so why change up a good thing.  Several situations will eventually come up where changing leaders can unlock the key to a fish catching frenzy. You can increase your chances to catch fish more frequently and be able to consistently catch larger fish in difficult situations by learning some leader basics.

Many of my early fly fishing days were spent in Decker’s Canyon area fly fishing the famously challenging South Platte River.  Long and thin leaders proved amazingly effective for tough fish in this stretch of highly coveted Colorado trout water. Sometimes a short stout leader is more preferable for casting large flies in a stiff wind. Every situation is different and your leader can be as important as your fly when it comes to proper presentation.

In general, you are going to select your leader based on some or all of the following criteria like your fly size, most frequent style of your fishing (Dry fly, Nymphing or Streamers), where or what type of water are you planning to fish(Creeks, Streams or Rivers) and how you are planning to fish(wade or float fish).

Here are some leader basics all fly fisherman need to comprehend:

-Tapered leaders are thick on the end of the leader which attaches to the fly line via loop to loop connection or using a nail knot.

-Tapered leaders, depending on length, have about 18 inches oftippet at the thin end.

-Knotless tapered leaders are the way for most fly fishers to go unless you are interested in building your own leaders.

-Leaders come in different lengths which are important when choosing your fishing style or location.

-Save the more expensive fluorocarbon leaders for the guys in salt water. The material is stiffer than monofilament and has no real value advantage for trout fly fishing since you can add fluorocarbon tippet should you want to use it.

-Leaders come in different diameters referred to as the “X” diameter as in “I purchased a 5X leader”. The larger the X number the smaller the diameter and strength.

-Leaders also come in varying pound tests but your best bet is to go with the proper length and/diameter.

-Do not over stretch your leader or you will remove the built in resilience to shock it provides.

-You may slightly stretch your leader as you run it through a rubber leader straightener to remove the kinks.

-Try to match the leader to the approximate tippet size you plan to use most often or go one size larger than the tippet size.

-Tippet size is calculated by dividing your hook size by 3.  For example if I was going to use a size 12 fly a 4X would be the appropriate leader and tippet selection.

-Leaders come in a variety of lengths but the common lengths are six foot, seven and a half feet, nine feet and 12 feet long.

-When selecting a leader size go for the six footer when fishing tight creeks or when tossing streamers but make sure it is at least 8 pound test or greater for streamer success.

 -Select the seven and a half foot leader when fishing in tight quarters like a mountain stream or small rivers or when punching large hard to turn over dry flies to the bank from a boat.

-Nine foot leaders are good for larger rivers or when float fishingTwelve foot leaders are effective in lakes or for the picky trout found in some of our western tail water fisheries like the Big Horn, Green or San Juan Rivers.

Should you need some assistance with your leader selection please stop by the Vail Valley Anglers store here in Edwards, Colorado.We carry a full selection of leader types and sizes from Rio, Trout Hunter and Scientific Anglers. We can provide information on rigging and which leader you should choose.

-Bill Perry
Guide and Content Writer