Hyper-Compleat Principles of Leader Design - Global FlyFisher

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Hyper-Compleat Principles of Leader Design


The most comprehensive tool for calculating classical and contemporary leaders - and designing your own formulas for knotted leaders


By Steve Schweitzer

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Introduction

Hand tied leader formulas offer the angler an unlimited portfolio of leader options. There have been literally thousands of hand-tied leader formulas developed and published over the years, all of which are based upon the fundamental 3-part principle of butt/taper/tippet. Hand tied leaders cost pennies per inch when compared to commercially machine-tapered leaders, which is a big incentive in itself for tying your own. Hand-tied leaders also offer you the flexibility of designing tapers that best fit your own personal needs, thus not limiting you to the tapers of commercially available leaders. It’s also easier to modify a hand-tied leader on stream to meet your exact requirements by adding or removing some tippet material. But the biggest advantage to tying your own leaders is the "success factor". There’s no feeling greater than knowing you had 100% complete control in presenting the business end of the fly line to a fish. Think back to the first fish you caught with a fly you tied. Amazing isn’t it?! It is my hope that you find LeaderCalc and this accompanying Guide useful and together they help you tie leaders that work best for you.

When I started out tying my own leaders, it was purely out of interest in the "how-to" and not the "need-to." I wasn't interested in saving money by tying my own and I wasn't ready to invest the time to learn another facet of this increasingly complex sport called fly fishing. Plainly speaking, I just was curious. But, as my interest grew, my frustration began.

I practiced plenty of patience searching for bits and pieces from books, magazines, friends and internet resources. So, as I found them, I realized that comprehensive resources on tying leaders were few and far between. There are lots and lots of general articles, but none that had all the information I needed to really understand leader design and mechanics. I began to collect them…and over a two-year period, I amassed a collection of tips, guidelines and formula variations not worthy to keep…to myself. In essence, it is my hope that this document and the accompanying leader calculation tool, LeaderCalc , will help you to understand the method behind the madness of tying your own leaders. At the same time LeaderCalc will help you easily sort through the seemingly infinite leader formulas to find the specific leaders that will work in the fishing situations you encounter most often.

This document focuses on the basic techniques and tidbits associated with non-braided, tapered, mono-filament leaders for freshwater and basic saltwater applications. The LeaderCalc tool does not presently include: big-game leaders, or specialty leaders for toothy saltwater critters. Nor does it include shooting, running, double-taper or straight-line mono leaders.

A FEW FAQ's...

Global Fly Fisher's Leader Guide (in PDF format) is a 28-page document that contains all the text in this article and a comprehensive instruction manual on how to use LeaderCalc2007.

What is GFF's Leader Guide?

GFF's Leader Guide is a PDF booklet designed to be used for classroom or personal use. Since 1997 when LeaderCalc got its' start on the web, we have had countless requests to use the article and software in classrooms, fishing clubs and non-profit use. Taking all those requests and suggestions into consideration, the result is a freely downloadable booklet which includes the text of this article and a complete user's guide to using LeaderCalc2007. No matter what your intended purpose, GFF's Leader Guide is an essential download companion to the LeaderCalc2007 software itself. Go to the downloads section to get the software and leader guide now.

What is New in LeaderCalc2007?

LeaderCalc is the most comprehensive leader formula database of classical and contemporary fly fishing leaders. Currently with 121 leader formulas comprising 450 possible leader-tippet combinations, it boasts the largest collection of leader formulas available today. By entering 2 simple parameters (leader length & desired ending tippet), one can easily see all the formulas that perform the best and match the criteria entered.

Where can I get LeaderCalc?

LeaderCalc is distributed solely by The Global Fly Fisher (http://www.globalflyfisher.com). LeaderCalc is free “SheetWare”. It is not to be repackaged or resold in any form. If you downloaded GFF's Leader Guide and any version of LeaderCalc from a website other than The Global Fly Fisher, it is most likely out of date and pirated by the site you got it from. Please note GFF does not support any version of LeaderCalc downloaded from sources other than this site.

How did LeaderCalc get its’ start?

When I started out tying my own leaders, it was purely out of interest in the "how-to" and not the "need-to." I wasn’t interested in saving money by tying my own and I wasn’t ready to invest the time to learn another facet of this increasingly complex sport called fly fishing. Plainly speaking, I just was curious. But, as my interest grew, my frustration began.

I practiced plenty of patience searching for bits and pieces from books, magazines, friends and internet resources. So, as I found them, I realized that comprehensive resources on tying leaders were few and far between. There are lots and lots of general articles, but none that had all the information I needed to really understand leader design and mechanics. I began to collect them…and since 1997, I have amassed a collection of tips, guidelines and formula variations not worthy to keep…to myself. In essence, it is my hope that this document and the accompanying leader calculation tool LeaderCalc will help you to understand the method behind the madness of tying your own leaders. At the same time LeaderCalc will help you easily sort through the seemingly infinite leader formulas to find the specific leaders that will work in the fishing situations you encounter most often.

What can I expect from this document?

This document focuses on the basic techniques and tidbits associated with non-braided, tapered, mono-filament leaders for freshwater and basic saltwater applications. The LeaderCalc tool does not presently include: big-game leaders, or specialty leaders for toothy saltwater critters. Nor does it include shooting, running, double-taper or straight-line mono leaders. These leaders really don’t fit within the confines of LeaderCalc.

I spot an error. Who do I contact?

We want LeaderCalc and this Guide to be the best product of its’ kind available. If you see an error or omission in this document or LeaderCalc itself, contact Martin and clearly document your finding.

Can I use this Guide and LeaderCalc in my classroom?

Yes, you can use this Guide and LeaderCalc in teaching the art of tying leaders. You do not have to ask permission in advance, just download and go! We respectfully request that this Guide and LeaderCalc be freely provided to your students. At no time should this Guide and LeaderCalc be offered for a fee, or charged for in any manner. If this Guide and LeaderCalc is made part of a class and the class has a “materials fee” or any fee for instruction, the fees should only cover the cost of tuition and leader material. The fees may cover the costs of reproducing this Guide booklet and the LeaderCalc software, however.

Why are the spreadsheets password protected?

There is a significant amount of data and programming logic behind the workings of LeaderCalc. The core database structure, proprietary logic development and programming took place over an initial three-year period and has been updated/modified since 1997. To prevent the actual leader database and logic from being used in developing similar tools, the spreadsheet has been entirely protected. Don’t worry, none of the functions required to operate LeaderCalc are made inoperable. You do not need to unlock the spreadsheet in order to use it.

Can I get the password to unlock the spreadsheet?

No.

Printing

In each spreadsheet tab, the print ranges have already been setup and formatted for you. To print, click the “Print” button built into the spreadsheet tab or choose File:Print:OK. Alternatively, you may click the print page icon on your toolbar. Each printout is designed to print on an 8.5” by 11” sheet of paper and will work fine for A2 sized paper as well.

The font on screen is so small...can I make it bigger?

Yes you can! This is a function of Microsoft Excel ®. Within Excel ®, choose the View menu, and then choose Zoom. Adjust the percentage larger so that the font is more easily read. By zooming the spreadsheet, you may have to scroll side-to-side more.

Prerequisites & Working Knowledge

It is required that you have access to and a working knowledge of Microsoft Excel ® version 5.0 or newer.

How can I get support?

Feel free to email Martin with any questions or concerns you may have. Support is limited to the use of LeaderCalc itself. We do not support any questions regarding the use of Microsoft Excel ®, your PC or Mac computer platform or any printing device connected to your computer. We try to answer every support email in a timely manner. We reserve the right to forego support if it falls outside the scope of using LeaderCalc. Remember, we are just a bunch of guys providing this for free, as well as the entire site of The Global Fly Fisher, so we think our time is more valuable fishing!

Why Hand-Tied Leaders?

Old leaders Vintage hand-tied and machine-tapered leaders from Abercrombie & Fitch, Orvis and Wanigas Rod Company; circa 1960's.
Hand tied leader formulas offer the angler an unlimited portfolio of leader options. There have literally been thousands of hand-tied leader formulas developed and published over the years, all of which are based upon the fundamental 3-part principle of butt/taper/tippet. Hand tied leaders cost pennies per inch when compared to commercially machine-tapered leaders, which is a big incentive in itself for tying your own. Hand-tied leaders also offer you the flexibility of designing tapers that best fit your own personal needs, thus not limiting you to the tapers of commercially available leaders. It's also easier to modify a hand-tied leader on stream to meet your exact requirements by adding or removing some tippet material. But the biggest advantage to tying your own leaders is the "success factor". That's where using your own hand-tied leader and your own hand-tied fly successfully fooled and hooked your quarry. There's no feeling greater than knowing you had 100% complete control in presenting the business end of the fly line to your fish. Think back to the first fish you caught with a fly you tied. Amazing isn't it?!

The economics of tying your own fly leaders are another appealing notion. Quality, machine- tapered leaders go for $3.50 US each. A typical leader kit sells for around $32 US. There are 10 - 13 spools in each kit, where each spool has 20 to 30 meters. Let's assume there are 10 spools of 25 meters: that's 250 meters of material in our example kit. At $32 US for 250 meters, that works out to be $0.13 per meter, $0.11 per yard or $0.04 per foot! If we use a 9 foot leader (2.7 meters) as our standard, that works out to cost us $0.35 for a 9 foot leader (2.7 meters). Compare that to paying $3.50 for a machined tapered leader! You're paying 1/10th the price for a customizable leader!

The Leader Concept

I'll give you the bottom line now: No matter how experienced you are in fly fishing, don't neglect the leader! It pays to know as much as you can about how your leader affects your cast and the presentation and drift of your fly. Just knowing the basics will give you more confidence in your ability to put the fly in front of the fish's nose. During a day of tough conditions in fly fishing, your choice of leader style can spell the difference between success and failure.

Tapered leaders, when designed properly, will present a fly in a stealthy, life-like manner to your quarry. Proper selection of leaders for your fishing environment is the single-most important element in fooling fish to the take.

Leaders serve several purposes:

  • Providing a nearly invisible connection between you and your offering
  • Aiding in the proper presentation of the fly
  • Allowing the fly to respond in a lifelike manner
  • Transferring and dissipating the energy of the cast towards the fly

The fly line is designed to efficiently transmit and maintain the energy from the cast. In contrast, the leader is designed to absorb, disperse and transmit a smooth, but decreasing flow of energy to the fly.

Types of Tapered Leaders & Their Characteristics

There are literally thousands of leader designs. They can be roughly categorized in the following manner:
  • Dry
  • Stillwater or spring creek leaders. Long, limp, wispy, thin
  • Nymph
  • Streamer - straightens very rapidly and offers immediate control of the fly. A short, large diameter design made with tough, stiff materials is the ticket.
  • Bass/Panfish – relatively short and stiff
  • Pike/Muskie - made for toothy fishes
  • Steelhead/Salmon - durability and strength are key
  • Saltwater – Stiff, strong and abrasion resistant, transparency is less of an issue.

The length of the leader, the tippet size and the taper all play a vital role in the success of the leader "turning over" or delivering the fly to the target. Since a leader that optimally turns over a fly is the ideal goal, we can decipher that the taper is the single most critical element of the leader. But, like any puzzle, there are several solutions to an acceptable end result. To complicate the puzzle, there are many intangibles to consider when designing/tying a hand-made leader. Consider:

  • Your casting speed and style
  • The rod's action (fast, medium, slow)
  • Length of required cast
  • Wind conditions
  • Water surface currents for dry fly and nymph fishing
  • Sub-surface water currents for nymphing
  • Water clarity
  • Water depth
  • Water temperature (affects the "stiffness" and pliability of the leader material)
  • Underwater structure that may nick and abrade the leader material
  • The quarry you are after (size, "toothyness",
    fighting style, etc.)
  • The characteristics of the leader material (stiffness, suppleness, color, abrasive-resistance, etc.)

Given the many variables listed above and the countless variables in leader taper design, you can easily see where one could actually tie a leader for each specific pocket, run, riffle and pool in every stream you fish. Example: If I started upstream of a classic riffle/run/pocket/pool stream scenario where I wanted to fish dries, nymphs and streamers, I could theoretically be forced to use a minimum of 12 different leader combinations to fish that one stretch (4 streams sections, 3 ways to fish them each). But if I did that, I would spend more time tying on leaders and flies than actually casting to fish. Thus, the challenge to you is: it is your decision to find the optimum leader for your fishing conditions and styles. Is it possible to design a combination leader that serves many functions? Sure!

Table 1
Recommended Leader Butt Diameters

Line Weight (mm's)
Butt Diameter
(inches)
Butt Diameter
3 .45-.50 .017"-.020"
4 .45-.55 .019"-.021"
5 .50-.55 .020"-.022"
6 .55-.60 .021"-.023"
7 .60-.65 .022"-.024"
8 .60-.65 .023"-.026"
9 .60-.70 .024"-.027"

Components of a Leader

There are three main components of a leader: Butt, Taper (also called mid-section or graduation), and Tippet. The most common formula basis for the leader is 60% butt, 20% taper, 20% tippet. Other formulas such as double taper formulas offer 40%,20%,40%, but for the most part, formulas are derivatives of the 60/20/20 rule.

Butt
According to Charles Ritz in his book "A Fly Fisher's Life", the diameter of leader butts should be 60% of the diameter of the end of the fly line. Other formulas indicate that 75% is the optimum butt diameter, but in either case, a leader butt of .017" to .022" satisfies most any formula. A leader butt of 60%-75% is quite ample enough to transmit and disperse casting energy downward to the tippet. Also consider the stiffness of the butt material. It should approximate the stiffness of the fly line. Use the Table 1 to guide you in selecting the correct leader butt thickness.

Taper
Again, Ritz reminds us that the ideal is to have the longest forward taper as possible while still remaining under control during the presentation. He subscribes to the 60/20/20 rule, where the 60% is strength, 20% is taper and the final 20% is terminal tippet.

Tippet
According to Ritz, suppleness in leader material is only necessary at the tippet, where, in his opinion, 20 inches is the ideal length.

Other sub-parts of a leader are: Shock Butt, Shock Tippets and Wire Tippets. These components are geared toward specialty fishing situations like toothy fresh and saltwater critters. This document will not go into great detail in these areas.

Table 2
Recommended Fly Sizes for Tippets

(inches)
Diameter

(mm's)
Diameter

X-Rating

Fly Size

.003"

.08

8X

#20-#28

.004"

.10

7X

#20-#28

.005"

.13

6X

#18-#26

.006"

.15

5X

#14-#20

.007"

.18

4X

#6-#14

.008"

.20

3X

#6-#12

.009"

.23

2X

#4-#10

.010"

.26

1X

#4-#8

.011"

.28

0X

#4-#6

.013"

.33

01X

#8-#12

.015"

.40

02X

#4-#8

.017"

.45

03X

#1/0-#4

.019"

.50

04X

#3/0-#1/0

.021"

.55

05X

#5/0-#3/0

Types of Leader Material

Clear Monofilament Nylon
Monofilament nylon, or "mono" as it is referred, is by far the most popular leader material in use today.  Extruded nylon and co-polymer nylons comprise the best leader materials today.  Stiffer mono, such as Maxima or Amnesia line offer great material as butt and taper sections.  Co-polymer, being softer materials, such as Orvis SuperStrong, Umpqua, Dai Riki Velvet and Rio PowerFlex, make for great taper and tippet materials.

Fluorocarbon
Fluorocarbon filament leader material was introduced around 1993 by several leading manufacturers.  Fluorocarbon material has several distinct advantages over standard monofilament materials.   It's much more dense than water, thus it will sink faster than standard monofilament leader material.  Fluorocarbon material also has the advantage of being more abrasion-resistant; which makes it a better choice for streamer leaders, nymph leaders and saltwater tippets.  Another appealing trait is it's near-transparent nature - moreso than standard mono.
Fluorocarbon also has a few minor drawbacks, however.  It isn't nearly as strong as standard mono and you must be sure of your knots when using fluorocarbon material.   Fluorocarbon material tends to require more secure knots for sure-hold tippet section.  Try using a surgeon's knot with three loops versus the standard two.   I've found much greater success in retaining knot strength using a triple-loop surgeon's knot when affixing fluorocarbon tippet material to a leader section.

What the Manufacturers Don't Tell You – Stiffness Rating

Manufacturers will tell you the diameter and pound test and maybe even the color, but they don't tell you a stiffness rating.  Mason mono is hard, we all know, and Orvis SuperStrong is soft, but you couldn't tell by the names or the packages.
A simple method to determine if the stiffness of the leader material matches the stiffness of your fly line is to bend a section of each in half with your fingers and "feel" the approximate stiffness of each. You'll easily be able to feel the difference in the resistance to the bend. If you use a butt material that is too flimsy, you'll experience the "hinge" effect when you cast. The leader will not turn over properly and hinge where the fly line and leader connection is made. Get over this hurdle and you're well on your way to a designing proper leader.

Leader Pound/Test Formula

While each manufacturer of leader material boasts a different pound test rating, they all generally are within a predictable range. For example, most 8x tippets are around 1.2 lbs test. Likewise, most 0X tippets approximate 12 lbs test. I've developed a formula to approximate the pound test of the average Monofilament leader material. The formula is based upon the tippet diameter having a direct relation to the pound test a tippet can withstand. Specifically, the formula is
((diameter x 1000)2 / 11) + (diameter x 100)
Knowing that this formula is cumbersome to remember, a quick method formula can replicate similar estimation results. The Quick Formula is:
((diameter x 1000)2 / 10).
The formula is compared to a dataset of 15 different leader monofilaments showing the high test rating, the low test rating and the average test rating.  As you can see by the wide variety of diameter-to-pound/test ratings, there is no industry standard...or even industry average. The formulas I've developed try to 'even out' the playing field and fairly estimate with some degree of reasonableness, pound tests for a given diameter of leader material. The tables below show calculations for 8X through 08X tippets.

Table 3a.
Monofilament Pound Test Estimations - 08X through 01X
Tippet Designation

08X

07X

06X

05X

04X

03X

02X

01X

Tippet Diameter

0.019"
.55mm

0.018"
.50mm

0.017"
.45mm

0.016"
.40mm

0.015"
.38mm

0.014"
.35mm

0.013"
.33mm

0.012"
.30mm

Schweitzer lb Test Formula

34.7

31.3

28.0

24.9

22.0

19.2

16.7

14.3

Schweitzer Quick Method 36.1 32.4 28.9 25.6 22.5 19.6 16.9 14.4
Hi Value in Dataset

45.0

26.4

35.0

25.0

28.0

17.6

21.0

18.5

Lo Value in Dataset

17.6

12.0

13.2

25.0

10.0

17.6

7.0

6.0

Average of Dataset

29.5

21.5

23.3

25.0

17.9

17.6

13.7

9.8


Table 3b.
Monofilament Pound Test Estimations - 0X through 8X
Tippet Designation

0X

1X

2X

3X

4X

5X

6X

7X

8X

Tippet Diameter

0.011"
.279mm

0.010"
.254mm

0.009"
.229mm

0.008"
.203mm

0.007"
.178mm

0.006"
.152mm

0.005"
.127mm

0.004"
.102mm

0.003"
.076mm

Schweitzer lb Test Formula

12.1

10.1

8.3

6.6

5.2

3.9

2.8

1.9

1.1

Schweitzer Quick Method 12.1 10.0 8.1 6.4 4.9 3.6 2.5 1.6 0.9

Hi Value in Dataset

15.5

13.5

11.5

8.5

6.4

5.2

3.8

2.5

1.8

Lo Value in Dataset

4.4

4.0

6.6

5.7

4.8

4.0

2.8

1.9

1.0

Average of Dataset

9.8

8.5

8.3

6.9

5.4

4.3

3.2

2.2

1.4

Leader Design Principles

As mentioned above, the leader absorbs and disburses the energy created by the cast. It is the goal to control energy absorption as best as possible. Given that, we can decipher that the taper is the most single important aspect of a leader. A taper that is too short or stiff will snap your fly over during the presentation and a taper that is too long or supple will "hinge" and not turn over at all. Additionally, a leader that turns over nicely on a short cast, may be too supple to turn over on a long cast. As you can see, there are many things to consider when designing a leader. This article will not go too deep into the theory of leader design, but will consider the following principle rules-of-thumb when designing your own leader tapers:
  • Leaders don't increase the amount of energy from the cast, thus there is no need to use leader material that is capable of transferring more energy than the flyline can develop.
  • 9 foot leaders accommodate 80% of fly fishing situations
  • 4X or 5X tippets accommodate 80% of all freshwater fishing demands
  • Leader length equals rod length
  • Extreme Length: leader length equal to 1 the length of the rod
  • Start with the Ritz 60/20/20 rule and modify from there
  • Butt diameters should be roughly between 60% and 75% of the diameter of the fly line ( .017" - .022" ). 2/3rds is a good rule.
  • The butt stiffness should approximate the stiffness of your fly line.
  • Exceeding more than .002"-.003 difference in material diameters between each section is a good rule-of-thumb. However, .it is quite acceptable to reduce your leaders by 60% of the preceding leader section. Think of it this way: If it is OK for your leader butt to be 60% of the diameter of your fly line, it's certainly OK for each of your leader segments to follow suit!
  • Line Clarity = personal choice
  • Abrasion resistance = the least amount needed as typically abrasion-resistant materials are less supple.
  • Use blood knots for the butt and taper
  • Use a surgeon's knot for combining tippet sections
  • Design rapid tapers and long tippets where they transfer casting energy more quickly and smoothly
  • Smaller diameter or softer materials are less efficient at energy transfer than larger diameter or stiffer materials.
  • The shorter the leader section, the more casting energy is carried forward.
  • More casting speed is required for long and light leaders
  • Slow casters should use short tapers, fast casters should use longer tapers
  • Typical freshwater shock tippets are 10"-12" of 25-30lb mono.
  • Fluorocarbon is much more transparent than nylon and copolymer leader material.
  • Fluorocarbon is not as strong as nylon and copolymer leader material.
  • Fluorocarbon material is more dense than water and will sink. It's not the best for dry fly leader tippets unless it is greased, and the grease will decrease the stealth by making the leader more visible.

Discussion of Proper Leader Length

Clearly, one of the looming debates that has never been solved through the ages is "What is the proper leader length for a given circumstance".  I can give you the answer right now: It's the leader length that you will use and have confidence to catch fish.  So, what I am saying is, after you have assessed the circumstances surrounding catching your quarry, you'll tie on the leader you know you can cast and present the fly in the best possible manner.  Let's explore a few opinions from masters of the art.
George Harvey, Gary Borger, Ray Bergman and others have become advocates of longer leader lengths, especially for dry-fly fishing.  The belief is the longer leaders will deliver the fly and allow it to drift as though it weren't attached to anything.   Others believe longer leaders extend the distance from the fly line to the fly making the connection less obvious. However, longer leaders require longer casts to be effective.  Enter William C. Black.
William C. Black, however, subscribes to the theory that leader length is mis-interpreted, mis-used and over-hyped.  In his book, "The Art of Flyfishing Smaller Streams", Black writes "Theoretically, the longer and thinner the leader, the better the camouflage.  Among flyfishing intelligentsia there is a tendency to regard the length of an angler's leader as commensurate with his degree of skill and sophistication."  Black further reduces his concept to casting requirements.   Using long leaders for short casts of, say, less than 25 feet, is futile.   "Whipping near pure monofilament about (referring to long leaders and only a few feet of flyline) is very much like whistling in the breeze.  Thus, the length of your leader has increasing impact on tackle performance as casts grow shorter."   Reducing Black's opinions then, tells us to be smart about using long leaders.   If you have short casts, where there will be very little flyline to load the rod, there will be very little energy to turn over a long leader.  Shorter casts require shorter leaders, longer casts can activate longer leaders.  Incidentally, Black typically uses leaders from 4 to 9 feet and may use longer slack-line leaders for bigger water where a drag-free float is required.

Symptoms of Poor Leader Design

  • Leader doesn't turn over at all & lands in a curled-up pile? = Leader butt too light. Not stiff enough, or middle taper too stiff or thick.
  • Leader slaps the fly on the water = slow your cast down or use a more supple leader formula.
  • Leader 'hinges' - doesn't turn over well? = Several items to check:  fly too heavy?, casting too slowly?  Leader sections more than 60% difference in diameter size?  Using soft leader material for butt section?
  • Leader turns over OK except for the tippet section? = Tippet is too supple or light for the fly selection.
  • Leader breaks at a knot? = check your knot tying skills!
  • Do fish come to your fly and turn away at the last second? = Your tippet is causing too much micro-drag. Lengthen the tippet segment to allow for a small S-curve or go to a smaller diameter tippet.
Newer leaders Hand-tied leaders in packaged form after using LeaderCalc formulas and LeaderCalc's Custom Label Generator.

Leader Knots

(For complete tying instructions for the following knots, refer to any quality fly fishing book. These are standard fly fishing knots and are illustrated and discussed in most quality fly fishing books.)

According to extensive research done by Jim Vincent of RIO, the blood knot and the triple surgeon's knot prove the strongest knots to use when combining leader material. He recommends using the blood knot for tippet diameters greater than .007"/0.178 (4X) and the triple surgeon's knot for tippet sizes less than .007"/0.178 (4X).

I tie a 3/3 blood knot on my leader butt material, a 4/4 blood knot on my taper material and a combination of a 5/5 blood knot and a surgeon's knot for my tippet sections. For bass, steelhead and salmon leaders, I tie all blood knots.

(a 3/3 blood knot means there are 3 twists of leader material on either side of the knot and so on…)

Discussions of the Perfection Loop
There is some rhetorical concern that the perfection loop affects casting energy transmission. My personal feelings are that it may if the connecting loops are quite large, allowing for plenty of "slop" in the connection. I try to keep my perfection loops as small as possible.

Surgeon's knot
This is a quick and easy knot to tie. A double surgeon knot is ample for most tippet to taper connections, however a triple-surgeon's knot adds an extra insurance against slippage.

Blood knot
This is the standard knot used to connect butt to taper and taper to tippet in all leader construction. It is a cumbersome knot to tie manually at first, but after only a few leaders, you see how easy the blood knot is to tie.

Discussions of the Blood Knot
There are two schools of thought regarding the tightening of blood knots: A quick-draw or a slow-draw. In either method, thoroughly wet the area with saliva or mineral oil. Grasp both ends of the leader connection and pull them in opposite directions. You might hear a small "frog chirp" indicating the knot has tightened. If you hear the "chirp", you didn't lubricate the knot connection well enough. The controversy of the blood knot revolves around the element heat caused by friction during tightening. Is more friction developed with a quick-draw or a slow-draw? Heat from friction weakens leader material. The debate remains, it's your call.

Wind knot
Reduces line strength by an estimated 50%.  We all get them, especially when fishing long, wispy dry fly leaders!

A Handy Tip: Pick up a copy of Orvis' "Waterproof Vest Pocket Knot Booklet" by Doug Truax. It not only has clear diagrams of tying over 10 basic fly fishing knots, but it also contains tips on tippet selection/care, a hook size chart and some basic leader formulas. (the formulas are included in LeaderCalc ) Knotless leaders… …offer one major advantage over hand-tied leaders: no knots! If you are fishing a weedy lake or cress-filled spring creek, a knot with the slightest of tags will catch anything, and I mean anything floating in the water, including the leader itself. But there is a way to minimize the pesky effect of knots. A little drop of clear acrylic fingernail polish or head cement, layered on a couple of times forms a nice smooth finish the shape of a football over the knot. Climax offers a similar product specifically formulated for tying leaders. It is offered as part of their leader kits.
Final Notes on Knots The knots in a leader, according to Ritz, reinforce the rigidity of a leader which assures greater precision in presenting the fly. "Suppleness is only necessary in the point, where a length of 20 inches is, in my opinion, the ideal compromise", writes Ritz.

Non-typical Leader Designs

Straight mono
There is nothing overly complicated or special about straight mono leaders. Just knowing the length of line desired and tippet thickness will get you by. In the Midwest USA, straight mono leaders are useful for salmon and steelheading. Straight mono leaders are also used in slow water nymphing and streamer fishing.

Convex/Concave
Convex and concave leaders, sometimes referred to as weight-forward and double-taper leaders, mimic to a smaller scale the popular concepts of fly line design. The LeaderCalc tool doesn't lend itself easily to presenting these specialty leaders, thus they are presented here in table format. They are ideally suited for a 4 or 5 wt. rod. Since they are thicker in the middle than either end, they follow the popular, but somewhat unconventional leader design rule of 40/20/40.

Table 4.
Two Styles of Concave Leaders
inches/mm's
.017"
.40mm
.019"
.45mm
.021"
.55mm
.017"
.45mm
.015"
.40mm
.012"
.30mm
.009"
.23mm
.007"
.18mm
.006"
.16mm
10-ft. Convex all-purpose
8"
20cm
16"
41cm
16"
41cm
8"
20cm
8"
20cm
8"
20cm
8"
20cm
16"
41cm
32"
80cm
17-ft. Convex nymph
18"
46cm
32"
81cm
40"
102cm
20"
51cm
16"
41cm
12"
31cm
12"
31cm
12"
31cm
34"-42"
86-107cm

The Accompanying Tool: LeaderCalc2007


A snapshot of the main screen in LeaderCalc2007.

The LeaderCalc spreadsheet is a tool to calculate the length and diameter for each segment in a hand-tied leader. It is the most comprehensive tool available. LeaderCalc2007 contains 70+ of the most common and popular leader formulas ranging from delicate dry fly fishing to stout bass popper fishing. The development of this tool encompasses over 2 years of initial research, programming and the countless contributions of many of my internet friends. Since 1997, I've upgraded and added many more formulas, making LeaderCalc2007 the most comprehensive leader design tool available.

LeaderCalc is simple to use! You choose three design elements: Metric or English measurements, the leader length and the tippet diameter. LeaderCalc does the rest. Print the LeaderCalc spreadsheet, save it in a notebook, and you have ready reference to your favorite leader formulas. LeaderCalc also contains a Leader Label Generator so you can professionally create leader labels to slip in little plastic leader ziplock bags. An added feature of the Label Generator is a place for you to store your own notes about the leader formulas contained in LeaderCalc . You can even choose to have your notes printed on your custom leader labels. LeaderCalc is unique and unparalleled in leader design tools!

LeaderCalc Support

LeaderCalc is warranted for use as developed and tested.
NOTICE: Direct all user comments, feedback and problem reports to Martin
Steve Schweitzer cannot respond to all emails.  Problem or error reports will take priority.

Distribution & Use Policy

LeaderCalc, this article and associated help files (Files) are copyrighted property of S. Schweitzer and The Global Fly Fisher (GFF), 1999-current.  The Files are designed for personal use and are distributed free-of-charge for a single personal use installation.  At no time will the Files be made available or packaged for resale.  The Files are exclusive property of GFF and are to be exclusively distributed by GFF and may not be distributed in part or in whole by any other electronic means, including but not limited to, personal website distribution, diskette or re-writeable CD-ROMs. Hyperlinks to the Files from personal websites or other HTML-based forms is acceptable.  Bulk or multiple-copy distribution rights for non-profit clubs & organizations by prior written consent only.


User comments
From: Phil Ewanicki · pewanicki·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted September 5th 2014

No mention of the effect of depth of presentation, size of fly, turbidity and flow of water, expertise of caster, even species of fish? An ideal leader for maximum casting distance is relatively easy to prescribe, but for optimum hook-ups the physical properties of the leader depend upon other considerations.


From: gerald cloutier · gerald.cloutier·at·exp.com  Link
Submitted April 27th 2014

Hello sir,
I am a maxima leader line user. And as M . Bert Brehm asked in november 11 2007, there is not all diameter in this manufacturer. My question is that if you can tell me what is the manufacturer that do the other diameter?.
Thanks for your answer. And i love your leadercalc 2007.


From: Charlie Pike · cpikemi·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted November 29th 2013

Thank you for leadercalc. I am new at flyfishing. Leader construction has been the most confusing part of flyfishing for me so far. Leadercalc has helped a great deal.

I have one suggestion and one question.

My suggestion is to add an "ALL" option under the drop-down for leader length and tippet size. That would allow a list of all available leaders for any given line weight.

My question is; how can I find a source that would show the philosophy or theory behind each individual leader choice?

Thanks again for leadercalc.
Charlie Pike
cpikemi@comcast.net


From: WALLACE.FRASER - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted May 3rd 2013

Thank you for very informative information.


From: Lincoln - Full name and email anonymized  Link
Submitted April 15th 2013

I have attempted to download Leader Calc, and cannot open it. I have downloaded it several times, and keep getting the same result. A prompt comes up that the download is complete but there is nothing there. Please help Thanks in advance.


From: Mike Schmierer · steelhead50·at·msn.com  Link
Submitted March 6th 2010

Are there any changes in leader design for women as opposed to men?


From: Chief_n8dub · chief_n8dub·at·hotmail.com  Link
Submitted September 24th 2009

I can't get the calculator to work. I've installed everything from the disk but it's not calculating anything when i select my length, size & weight.What am I doing wrong?


From: Kalac · pkalac·at·taylormadeproducts.com  Link
Submitted September 10th 2009

Nice work, and I love hand-tying my own leaders,...but the thought of working in Excel to provide for my fly fishing needs is counter to why I fish at all.


From: Paul Kalbrener · PHKalbrener·at·aol.com  Link
Submitted October 22nd 2008

Shane,
I build my own rods, tie my own flies, and make my own leaders. Although I have used factory rods, store bought flies, and Orvis braided leaders, its just not the same as doing it yourself.

take care

Paul


GFF staff comment
From: Martin Joergensen · martin·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted October 22nd 2008

Shane,

People tie their own flies, build their own rods - some even cook their own food!
It's part og the game to do things yourself. then you get it exactly as you want it and can call it home made.

Your mileage may vary.

Martin


From: Shane · mistacarl·at·hotmail.com  Link
Submitted October 21st 2008

Like taking something as simple as fishing and making it sooo complicated. You could read all this study it a cpl days and nights, or go buy an orvis braided leader, connect the furled leaders, match the hatch, and catch fish. It works on the Madison in Montana, South Holston in Tenn(Best River in USA), Nantahala in Bryson City, and the miles and miles of native brookie streams in the appal. mtns. When your catching 40-60 fish, and some in the 30" range, why change?????


From: PK Kopischke · pk·at·creekcompany.com  Link
Submitted October 14th 2008

Thank You, for such an informative and detailed explanation of leaders and the details involved with 'hand-tying' a leader to ones specific fishing conditions.


From: Fedor · fbierwirth·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted July 9th 2008

Hi Steve,

great job. Can imagine that really a lot of work is behind this tool. That's why it is worth to mention that the spreadsheet protection can be removed within 5 minutes with any HEX editor. So it would be better you embed your spreadsheets into a web-site (GFF for ex.).

Best regards.


From: javfario · javier.atero·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted March 14th 2008

Hi, this is a graet help to the fly fisherman here over in patagonia ( CHILE), I have learn a lot in just a few minutes, sorry my english isn't very good. We are a group of flyfisherman from "X" region, Osorno Chile. It would be great if I can recive some more information at my mail. Please contact us.at javier.atero@gmail.com, also I have to say that this specific material is essential for the understanding of fly casting, and it was a lot fun readding this article having a beer. Saludos from Chile.


From: Sandy Moret · flkeyout·at·bellsouth.net  Link
Submitted February 27th 2008

This complicates something so simple to the absurd. I doubt I would have ever taken up fly fishing if all that stuff mattered.


From: Joe Kissane · j-m-kiss·at·att.net  Link
Submitted February 25th 2008

Steve's Leadercalc is a tremendous resource for anyone wanting to develop an understanding of what is involved in tying your own leaders. He was compiling his wealth of information on leaders at the same time I was writing Drag Free Drift, and as I was in the final stages of the manuscript, he graciously agreed to allow it to be included (in an earlier version) as an appendix to the book. Leadercalc is one of the great free gems Global Flyfisher offers readers, and is a credit to this fine resource


GFF staff comment
From: Steve Schweitzer · steve·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted February 9th 2008

Just like in brewing beer, leader tyers should stand by the motto of "relax, take it easy, have a beer!" The leader formulas are to be used as guidelines in building your own. Don't worry if the formula suggests one diameter or two that you don't have. Just substitute with the next closest diameter material and you should see no dramatic effects on the leader performance.


From: Bert Brehm · bertbrehm·at·gmail.com  Link
Submitted November 11th 2007

Apparently, Maxima does not produce .011 in. (0X) (.28mm) leader material, yet many of the leader formulae call for it. I ordered an UltraGreen leader kit with dispenser spools and here is what arrived - .024 .022 .020 .017 .015 .013 .012 .010 .009 .008 .007 .006. Frustrated!


From: Mark · Mark.Kleimann·at·arcor.de  Link
Submitted September 14th 2007

Wooow... Best information on leaders I have ever found.. Thank you so much for your work, you've really done a great job.. There is no better thing around and probably will never be.... So much useful information about the most important thing in Flyfishing, the leader! My compliments


From: Rev. Wayne Reed · jnreed·at·bellsouth.net  Link
Submitted September 3rd 2007

Wow guys you are awesome --- thanks for the help!!


From: Rich LaBombard · rlabombard·at·sourcee.com  Link
Submitted May 2nd 2007

A stunning amount of clear, usable information! Thank you!


GFF staff comment
From: Steve Schweitzer · steve·at·globalflyfisher.com  Link
Submitted April 28th 2007

Sorry to say we do not have a version for the Palm Pilot and there are no plans for making a PP version. I'm proficient at Excel (which LC is created within) and not the Palm OS platform.


From: Bakari Grady · thegrady3·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted April 27th 2007

can i put leadercalc on my palm pilot?


From: Ron Lister · waterfox·at·netscape.net  Link
Submitted April 25th 2007

Thank you for an excellent resource. I do have one technical complaint, though. It would be very helpful to us small-screen users if you were to place your cursor at D12 rather than I14 before you protected and saved the spreadsheet. That would enable a much more useful and less confusing view when using the "freeze panes" feature. Thanks, Ron.


From: Allen Crise FFF Master · flysoup·at·itexas.net  Link
Submitted January 9th 2007

This is a great source of information. It is my 'go-to' for teaching about leaders.
Thank you


From: Brano · flyfishing·at·croatia-apart.com  Link
Submitted October 7th 2006

Thank you for sharing the invaluable info on Leaders and the rest... I owe you big time!
Thanks again and all the best.
Brano


From: Morgan Freeman · morganf·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted September 12th 2006

Congratulations on a great web site. I am a new computer user and finding you was like coming home. Continued success.


From: Juccy Larr · jlar·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted September 11th 2006

Very many thanks for a good work. Nice and useful. Like it!


From: Anonymous  Link
Submitted August 25th 2006

Fantastic. Thanks for all the accumulated info.


From: Frederick Boyle · fredawn·at·rogers.com  Link
Submitted July 13th 2006

Thank you for a super tool.
I've fished for Atlantic Salmon, brook trout, and shad for 16 years now, and have spent many hard earned dollars on leaders that were too short, too supple, too stiff, etc.
Now I am able to tailor my leaders to my personal casting requirements.
Thanks again for sharing.


From: ted weaver · letonia·at·comcast.net  Link
Submitted May 18th 2006

finally found a comprehensive site and formulas for leader tying.

thanks ted


From: Adirondack · hi·at·yahoo.com  Link
Submitted May 5th 2006

awesome article,thanks for the info it helped me design a leader for exactly what i needed.


From: ERIC PIERRO, NJ · fishunt73·at·earthlink.net  Link
Submitted April 25th 2006

I am glad to find so much pertanent information on the ever so important "leader". I had a formula years ago, when I was taught fly tying at a local high school, when I was 16. I am 32 now and have not fly fished in a couple of years. I built a 7.5' 4 wt. Powell a few years ago, and have not fished it yet. This is the year for me to get back in to the swing.


From: F.E.Sangiorgio · fesmd·at·earthlink.net  Link
Submitted December 31st 2005

This is one of the best "leader" articles I have ever read. Beautiful and comprehensive. Well done and my compliments. I plan to share it with my fishing buddy. Thanks


From: jake · jaalf21·at·hotmail.com  Link
Submitted November 5th 2005

Yes im fishing for steelhead in ohio. can i get by with using 9ft of rio and a 20 in flcarbon tippet for a leader.


From: Walter K · free2fish37·at·yahoo.com.au  Link
Submitted October 2nd 2005

Dear Makers Of Leadercalc
I have been using leadercalc for about 5 years, I have found it to be the best download I ever did. It Has completely improved my casting of heaviers poppers and small flies.It has competely changed my understanding of delivery of flies.
Thank you very much
Walter K


From: c. kahle · kahlecel·at·aol.com  Link
Submitted August 14th 2005

Simply put. thank you. When I tookup the sport of flyfishing, I knew absolutely nothing about it, but knew I had to try it. Leaders and how to build an effective one were a complete mystery. Needless to say, your article gave me an understanding that no other source could have given me. The leader calc software has given me fool-proof leader formulas, whether I'm fishing for little brookies, river small-mouths or lake erie steelhead.


From: jim smagala · jsmagala·at·charter.net  Link
Submitted August 2nd 2005

Terrific information on leaders. Thanks



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