Fly Fishing Leaders: The Simple and Short
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Fly fishing leaders don't always follow the same style and length ranges.
A tapered leader of about 7 1/2 feet to 10 feet in length is a pretty typical setup used by many. Depending on the configuration, leaders like these can be designed to fish dries, nymphs, or streamers and for both freshwater or saltwater angling. Of course, there is not one single way to go about constructing leaders. Fly fishing leaders can range from short to long and from complex to super basic. Leaders are all crafted with certain purposes in mind, with variables like fly size and fish species all coming into play.
Under the "Fly Fishing Basics" menu on our home page, our "Leaders" page goes over the core aspects of tapered leaders and what goes into them. That's a great spot to learn some of the fundamentals of how typical leaders are made and what they do. Many people may never want or need to venture away from that more "standard" leader style, but it can be beneficial to know other options.
With that said, let's look at two very simple options to keep in mind when building your next fly fishing leader...
The Level Leader
A non-tapered or level/straight leader is as simple as it gets. To make this type of leader, take a length of monofilament or fluorocarbon line, attach one end to the fly line and the other to the fly. Done! You read that right; this leader is just one single piece of line and nothing more.
A few good and bad points about using straight leaders...
- It saves money. Only one spool of line is needed to make many leaders. You won't need to buy multiple spools or any packaged knot-less tapered leaders.
- Extremely easy and fast to construct...because there's really not much to construct!
- It can be a good choice for big fish because there's only two knots involved and you can run a single strong line for the whole length.
- It can help a fly to sink a little faster because any thicker leader sections are eliminated. Swimming action and drift may also be improved.
- Turnover can be poor, especially if too long and light of a leader line is used. The fly line's energy simply won't transfer into the leader as well as with a tapered leader. Using thicker, stiffer material helps, as does a shorter leader length. The type of fly matters as well. A weighted fly has some heft to it and will have more of a tendency to shoot out at the end of a cast, whereas a lightweight and bushy fly will not.
- A welded fly line loop can get torn up if using a light line looped to it. A thicker leader line has less of a tendency to cut/chafe the loop.
- If targeting large fish, going with a super heavy straight leader might seem like the perfect solution. But, remember that your fly line and backing have a certain strength they break at, too. If the single-piece leader has a higher breaking strength than the fly line and/or the backing, that could end badly whether there's a failure or you actually need to break the fly or fish off on purpose for whatever reason. One good thing about a more typical leader is that a lighter section can be incorporated which is nice insurance against breaking off the entire leader or even the whole fly line.
When I Use Them
I first heard of straight leaders being used by tarpon anglers many years ago. While I do like having some sort of tapered leader for tarpon and pretty much at most times in general, I will occasionally use a straight leader when I know I won't be casting far and am not engaging in very technical casting. For me, this usually means tossing streamers or wet flies for bass and panfish or saltwater fishing when chumming fish near the boat. Another time would be when fishing a very short leader on a sinking line, as explained below.
The Very Short Leader
With floating lines, a 9-foot leader is considered a very common length. A longer leader like this gives the fly more freedom to sink or drift while also keeping the fly further away from the fly line which can be a very visible color. On the other hand, sinking lines are a bit different and often require different leader setups.
Whether we are talking sink-tips or full-sinking lines, whatever part of the fly line that sinks is usually made in a muted color that will not stick out like a sore thumb. Because of this, fish are often less line shy so the leader length can be shortened. Really short leaders as short as about 3 feet can be used very effectively with sinking lines when you need an aggressive sink rate and especially if the water is dirtier. That stained or downright dirty water helps mask the already stealthy sinking fly line even further.
When faced with additional factors like current and high flows, the short leader is very efficient at fishing deep because it helps pull the fly down faster and/or keeps it down. Additionally, a short leader allows for a nice direct connection and better fly control/feel since there's less opportunity for slack and the fly is so close to the end of the fly line. With such short leader setups, this is a great time to use a straight leader (as we already discussed) since turnover isn't really an issue.
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