For years I experimented with different leader formulas
and designs. I wanted something better for my own use in
my usual fishing situations. I wanted a leader that would
help strengthen my presentation and casting. Ultimately,
for one reason or another, I was unsatisfied with the various
leaders I tried. None seemed to give me all the things I wanted
and expected from a leader. Enter the furled leader. No other
leader did as much to improve my casting and presentation as
the furled leader. This type of leader excelled in every type
of water and with the flies I regularly fish -- from tiny dry
flies on small inland streams and crystal clear spring ponds
to heavy streamers and nymphs on the Great Lakes. My casting
and presentation improved dramatically. So did my catch rate.
Take for example the Tomorrow River, my favorite stream. The
Tomorrow is a beautiful, fairly small spring-fed trout stream
in Central Wisconsin. Along its length through Portage
and Waupaca counties the river changes faces, displaying
characteristics of both spring creek and freestone. The
required casts are more usually short than long and need to be
accurate and delicate. One could say it is pretty tight water
that presents some challenges to one's casting abilities.
In confined areas there isn't the opportunity to have much fly line
out the end of the rod. Often, the length of fly line needed,
plus the leader for the right casting distance would be
insufficient to load the rod for an overhead cast. Roll casting
was more difficult as well with the ability to place so little
line on the water to create enough tension to make the cast.
A conventional tapered monofilament leader didn't help the
situation, often refusing to turn over my fly or destroying
the accuracy I needed. Using a furled leader, however, made
life much easier for me. I could roll cast with confidence
and accuracy. It didn't make any difference if I had enough
fly line hanging outside the tip to load the rod or not. The
suppleness and mass of the furled leader butt turned over,
straightening the tippet and fly every time.
The furled leader improved my presentation in other ways too.
The Tomorrow is very clear. It's trout inhabitants don't take
kindly to sloppy casting fly fishers and leaders crashing and
splatting the water's surface. One never scares only one trout
with a bad cast, you know. Coming to my rescue once again, the
furled leader would pick up with very little water disturbance
and after the cast settle on the water's surface ever so gently,
barely causing a dimple where it landed.
Another reason I like the furled leader is that it helps make
just about anyone's casting look good. It is a perfect learning
tool. Two years ago I took my teen-age daughter on a float
trip down Wisconsin's famous Bois Brule. We were in separate
canoes manned by experienced Brule River guides. Before our
trip I had set up my daughter's fly rod with a furled leader.
Watching her enjoyably casting from her canoe a distance
downstream was a real pleasure. In fact, had I not known that
it was my daughter, I would never have guessed it as I observed
her casting performance. The tight loops and graceful layout of
the line and fly I saw showed attributes of an experienced fly
caster, not a teenage girl on her first trip down the Brule,
I had taken her fly fishing with me before, but she had not
become a proficient fly caster yet. This time most of it was
the leader. My guide even commented on it.
Often, because of the general unfamiliarity with the furled
leader, it is confused with the braided leader. The confusion
is understandable. Literature about furled leaders is difficult
to find. The leaders are not well known in North America or
available through fly fishing retail outlets, while the braided
leaders have been around a long time. Both braided and
furled leaders are quite supple and their appearance is similar
but there are major differences between them. The manufacturing
processes are not at all the same. Braiding is a process resulting
in leaders having a hollow air core. Braided leader butts are generally
much bulkier than the furled leader butts since they have this
hollow core. The air core tends to absorb and hold water,
discharging it in a fine mist pattern during each cast. If one
sees a small rainbow appear momentarily over the shoulder of
another fly fisher while he's false casting, chances are he
is using a braided leader. On the other hand, since the furled
leader is constructed of densely twined strands, and not braided,
the resulting leader butt is entirely solid throughout the
cross-section of its diameter and absorbs or holds no water.
There are numerous advantages to the furled leader design which,
when compared to conventional monofilament (either knotted or
knotless) outweighs any disadvantages. Nylon monofilament leaders
rely primarily on their stiffness to effect a smooth transfer
of power from the fly line to the tippet and fly. A furled leader
uses its mass and suppleness. These characteristics of suppleness
and mass can help to provide important and noticeable effects and
improvements in one's casting and presentation. Tighter casting loops,
resistance to so-called wind knots and the ability to turn over the
fly even at short distances are some of these effects. The 5'-9"
furled leader butt I normally use will easily turn over and straighten
a 3' or 4' tippet. This makes it possible to use shorter leaders
overall without worrying about spooking fish or having some of
the problems associated with using longer leaders. A shorter
leader is very helpful in improving control and accuracy, especially for
those of us with modest casting skills.
Because of their suppleness, furled leaders help to reduce surface
drag. The furled leader also acts as a shock absorber protecting
against over striking and preventing light tippets from breaking
while playing a fish. The leader behaves much like a spring;
storing and releasing energy as force is applied or relaxed.
In a well-designed furled leader this inherent stretching
ability will usually be around 15% of its length. Another
important attribute of the furled leader is durability. These
leaders just don't seem to wear out. They are tough and can
last several seasons of use. On the water, one simply changes tippet
sizes or lengths to accommodate changing conditions or choice
of fishing methods and flies.
There are a few disadvantages to the furled leader. Like any
design, compromises exist. The leader can snarl or tangle,
especially if it is jerked hard to release it from a snag in the
water or a tree branch. Because of the way this leader is made,
it behaves like a very long spring. Springs store energy. When
one tugs hard at the line to release a snag, the leader spring
is being stretched and loaded. As soon as the snag is released,
the leader also releases all its stored energy and might snarl
or tangle a bit. If and when a tangle does occur, gently undo it.
It will untangle easily and the leader will not be damaged at all.
Stretch it gently along its length and the leader will straighten
itself out. The key to casting with these leaders is to relax.
Don't force it. The leaders cast best using a smooth casting
stroke. Because a furled leader is really a tapered butt section
plus a tippet length, the tippet has to be fastened to the butt
to complete the leader. Knotless furled leaders are not possible.
Lastly, furled leaders are more expensive than conventional tapered
leaders. Prices for commercially made leaders range from around $8 - $20.
The higher price is still a good value though because of the furled
leader's tremendous durability and simplicity in adapting the same
leader butt section to different fishing requirements and fly sizes. The
furled leader might not meet the needs of every conceivable fly-fishing
situation. Individual preferences and experience have to be considered also.
In his book Micropatterns, Darrel Martin also does
a wonderful job of pointing out the delicacy of the furled leader
and what a great tool it is for fishing tiny flies. I discovered
that the furled leader has as many benefits working with larger
flies too. There is the delicacy, but also a great deal of power.
The furled leader excels in long casts and punching a fly through
windy conditions often present on open, big-water. I regularly depend on
these leaders while fishing lakes and the Lake Michigan bays along
Wisconsin's famous Door County. Considering this, I use three
different sizes of furled leaders; a light, medium and heavyweight.
All of the furled leaders I use are about 5 feet 9 inches in length.
Adding the appropriate tippet material, I end up with finished leaders
ranging in length from 7 - 14 feet.
The lightweight size furled leader goes with all the small flies
and light lines and rods I typically use on the smaller inland
trout streams or for bluegill fishing -- from one to four-weight
rods, size 12 and smaller flies. The medium size does duty with
larger flies up to about a size 2 or 4, and anything smaller. I
match up the medium-weight leader butt with 5wt. - 7wt. lines.
This leader is always on my main lake-fishing outfit, a nine-foot,
six-weight. That leader will turn over sizable weighted streamers,
nymphs and Clouser-type flies but I try not to ask too much of it.
The heavyweight leader will manhandle big bass bugs, pike flies
and the large saltwater flies on more formidable gear.
There is only one design difference or modification from the light
and medium weight leaders I found helpful to use with the heavyweight
design. That difference is the addition of an "extender" section.
The extender is an approximately 8" piece of stiff monofilament I
permanently attach to the tippet end of the heavy weight leader.
The extender can be used to attach a specific test tippet or a test
tippet and then a shock tippet followed by the fly. All the furled
leaders I use or have seen utilize loops to attach the leader to
the fly line and to tie the various tippets to the leader. There
are no noticeable hinging effects I have detected and, after five
years of using the furled leaders, have found the system to work
It is said of improvements and innovations that they often occur
in circular forms of progress. Another old adage says that there
really is nothing new under the sun. In the case of furled leaders,
that means we are revisiting some old ideas and technology, while
applying the advantages of new materials to achieve a better tool
for presentation. It is exciting to me that the furled leader design
has surfaced and has done so much to improve my own fly fishing skill
and appreciation. It represents the opportunity for an improvement
for others too in their own enjoyment of the sport of fly
fishing -- not just another useless gadget or rehashed technique.
Try it. ~ James E. Hauer