October 18th, 2004

Leaders; To Knot or Not!
By James Castwell


I will be right up-front with you, I'm going full circle with this; you may not learn a darn thing. However it may save you some time or trouble along the way. The fact is, many just use a hunk of mono the right size and length to get the job done. It seems the smaller the fly, the fussier guys get about the leaders until both leader and fly become invisible. They stop there, I think.

I remember one cold rainy summer evening fishing the AuSable in Michigan with Sonny Cogan. We waited until dark, strung up our trusty rods, his white, mine yellow, put a five foot section of 12 pound mono on with a weighted woollybugger at the end. Downstream and dirty was the game. He went ahead of me and I followed to pick up any he had not frightened too badly.

Of course it worked, we got wet and we caught some browns. As I recall, neither of us broke any 'leaders' either. I would shudder to actually know the percentage of trout or fish for that matter caught on just mono for a leader compared to fancy leaders. Oh sure, the saltwater guys do it all the time, but I mean the fresh water guys on streams and ponds.

So over a few years I got sophisticated and only fished with tapered leaders. Not just any tapered leaders, not me, only the 'green' one's from Jack's Fly Shop in Roscommon, Michigan. I always stopped there for flies that were currently 'hot' and whatever else I could rationalize I could not possibly live another day without. These leaders were tied by Jack himself. I still have no idea what mono he used, it never was an issue. The 'secret' was in the formula he used for the lengths. They came in three or four lengths and various strengths. I always picked up a couple every time on my way to fish the Main Stream at Grayling.

Just an sidebar here. Jack sold a special fly cleaning and floating liquid in a small big-mouthed bottle. You would drop your fly in it, shake it up, pull the fly out, air dry it and cast it. It did not take too long for the pretty colored rings from the tri-chlor to fade away and you could actually cast to a fish with it. I mention this not because it worked so well, but due to it's rather unusual color. Light yellow. Jack claims the color was a vital part of it's success. As delicately as I can phrase this; he strongly alluded to the fact that his dog was heavily involved with the job of the coloring operation. This never was proven, but is one of the things that haunts the annals of fly-fishing lore in the jackpine, cedar swamps of central Michigan.

Back to leaders. Save money. Tie my own. Bought enough leader material to tie them, spent a small fortune. Tied my own leaders. Big deal. I copied Jack's exactly. Big deal. The magic was gone, now they were just 'leaders.' No longer a special thing needed for each trip, now just plain leaders. Oh well.

I got around this enigma by switching to 'one piece tapered leaders.' Rationalization convinced me that grass and weeds and slim got tangled on all the tiny little leader knots and I would be better off without them. Only one knot, leader to tippet. Thirty years later I tried to use some of the material I had bought for tying my own leaders, it seemed to have lost something, threw it all out.

I still use tapered leaders for most of what I do. Trout for sure, Bonefish, Salmon. The only time I used a straight section of mono was on a Barracuda in the Bahamas this past spring. As to whether you should tie your own or buy tied or tapered is for you to answer.

Did I forget to mention Poly leaders? Furled leaders? Braided leaders?

No, I didn't forget. ~ JC


Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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