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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
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 wasnt interested in saving money by tying my own and I wasnt 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...
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.
Can I suggest a leader formula?
Absolutely! There are always new formulas that surface, most are re-makes/re-names of the ones already in LeaderCalc. However, if you find a formula that is quite different than the ones in LeaderCalc, email The Global FlyFisher using the email address in the black box below. We most certainly take your suggestions for new and unique formulas for inclusion in future versions 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, please type the email in the black box below in your email client, 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?
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 the email address in the black box above 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?
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. Its 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". Thats where using your own hand-tied leader and your own hand-tied fly successfully fooled and hooked your quarry. Theres 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 isnt 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. Lets assume there are 10 spools of 25 meters: thats 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! Youre paying 1/10th the price for a customizable leader!
The Leader Concept
Ill give you the bottom line now: No matter how experienced you are in fly fishing, dont 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 fishs 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:
The fly line is designed to efficiently
transmit and maintain the energy from the cast. In contrast, the
leader is designed to absorb
Types of Tapered Leaders & Their Characteristics
There are literally thousands of leader designs. They can be roughly categorized in the following manner:
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:
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!
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.
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.
Types of Leader Material
Clear Monofilament Nylon
What the Manufacturers Dont
Tell You Stiffness Rating
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. Ive 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.
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:
of Proper Leader Length
(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 surgeons 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 surgeons 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 surgeons 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
Discussions of the Blood
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
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.
Non-typical Leader Designs
The Accompanying Tool: 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!
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