Simple Guide To Fly Fishing Leaders

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Leaders are an area of confusion for many beginners.

There are essentially two types of leader:

Tapered leaders

Tapered leaders are bought in a packet. They are a fixed length usually somewhere between seven and twelve feet in length. The most popular length is nine feet. As the name suggests, a tapered leader has a tapered diameter along the length of the leader. The end that connects to the line is thick and the leader gradually becomes thinner as it travels down its length. This taper means that when its cast, the leaders will ‘turn over’ more efficiently. The ‘turn over’ is what we call the last bit movement of the fly line in the cast before the fly hits the water, when the loop of line that is travelling out straightens in the air.

Tapered leaders are useful for fishing flies such as dry flies that are not very aerodynamic and need more help to land perfectly.

The disadvantage of tapered leaders is they are much more expensive than parallel leaders (see ‘tippets’ below).




Parallel leaders

A parallel leader is a piece of leader where the diameter is the same all the way through. The line is just pulled off a spool and cut to the desired length. If you are using a heavy fly such as a nymph or lure then a parallel leader may be all that is required as the weight of the fly itself is enough to straighten the leader during the turnover. These kinds of leader are often used when casting on large still waters such as reservoirs where big flies are used and a delicate presentation is not necessarily required. The advantages of parallel leaders are that they are cheap and easily replaced.


Tippets are the bit that usually confuses people. The tippet is simply a section of line that is tied on to the end of the leader. The section will almost always be of a slightly thinner diameter to the rest of the leader. It is more common to use a tippet with a tapered leader as opposed to a parallel leader. There are a couple of reasons why people will use tippets. The first reason is financial. Every time you cut off your fly and tie on a new one, you will lose several inches of tapered leader. After you have done this a few times, your tapered leader will become too fat (as you have cut off all the thin line) this means a new tapered leader needs to be tied on. Over the course of a day’s fishing that could prove expensive.

The second reason is to aid the presentation. Maybe you are fishing with a very small fly and require a finer piece of line to make the fly look more natural or even just so the line will fit through the eye of the hook.



Other Types Of Leader

There are a few other types of leaders. Examples are braided leaders and poly leaders. Braided leaders are made of a braided material, they usually have a ring or loop on the end where the tippet can be tied. Poly leaders are like a small extension of your fly line and come is sinking or floating varieties – useful if you want to get the fly down a little deeper when using a floating line. It is definitely worth trying all these different leaders but my recommendation is to start simple using either a tapered or parallel leader (as above) and go from there.



Leader Material

Generally, tapered leaders, tippets and parallel leaders are either made or Fluorocarbon, Monofilament or Co-polymer.

Fluro carbon is best suited for fishing wets flies, nymphs and lures as it sinks well.

Monofilament and Co-polymer are better for dries as it floats.  It can be used for nymphs and wets too as the weight of the fly will pull the leader under the water.


Breaking Strain

When choosing a leader you need to select an appropriate breaking strain for the type of fishing you are undertaking. For trout fishing in the UK, it would be common to use leaders between 2lb and 8lb. Have a think about the size of fish and the snags you may encounter and use something suitable. Breaking strains are displayed in lbs on the leader. You may also come across an X scale. The X scale harks back to when leaders were made from stretched silkworm gut. The higher the X the finer the leader and lower the breaking strain.

Here’s an example of a typical leader breaking strain:

XScale Typical Diameter Typical Breaking Strain
03X .015″ 25 lb.
01X .012″ 18.5 lb.
0X .011″ 15.5 lb.
1X .010″ 13.5 lb.
2X .009″ 11.5 lb.
3X .008″ 8.5 lb.
4X .007″ 6 lb.
5X .006″ 4.75 lb.
6X .005″ 3.5 lb.
7X .004″ 2.5 lb.
8X .003″ 1.75 lb.

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