Increasing Leader Length for Sight Fishing
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
Freshwater or saltwater, sight-fishing is my favorite way to catch fish with a fly rod. The intrigue of the hunt coupled with the excitement of a visual bite is something I don't ever get tired of.
Sight-fishing can demand more stealth overall because it's typically done in clear water that's quite shallow. Doing things like wearing colors that match the sky/background, keeping a low profile, and limiting false casting can all make an angler more successful. Of course, small tackle modifications can help as well.
The fly line is my first major tackle consideration. Have you ever fished a clear or clear-tip fly line? I can't think of a better way to start putting together a stealthy rig than with one of these lines. With that said, I personally don't care for these lines because I find it very difficult to accurately track the whereabouts of certain flies in relation to the fish, however a number of anglers do like clear lines and say they offer a big advantage. I don't disagree with those claims one bit, but I find a good compromise to be a subtle-colored fly line. That works for me and catches fish.
While I continue to stick with solid-colored fly lines over the years, one thing I have changed somewhat recently is my leader setup. I've started going a little longer on average.
In many of the sight-fishing situations I've found myself in, my leader choice has been in what I call the "fairly typical" range of 9–10 feet. What I liked best about this length range is that it offers a good combination of length and turnover and it's easy to keep the leader outside of the guides. I've caught a bazillion fish using leaders like this, however I now find myself using leaders that are about 12-feet long for the sight-fishing I do.
The first (and most obvious) benefit to lengthening the leader is that it puts more distance between the fly line and the fly. Even though my leaders haven't drastically changed in overall length, any extra distance surely helps regardless of the fly line's color. The longer leader also provides a little extra margin for error by keeping the fly line further away should my presentation be off the mark.
My second reason for increasing leader length is that it helps me hit fish in the back of a school more effectively. In my "Fly Fishing for Beach Snook" article, I mention casting to cruising fish that are schooled up. When the fish at the front of the school don't want to eat, I'll then try the fish in the middle or rear of the pack. To do this, I cast the fly ahead of where the fish are going and don't begin my retrieve until the fly is in the midst of the center or rear portion of the school. The longer leader gives me a little more of a buffer zone between the end of the fly line and the rest of the school which can be especially critical in situations where the fish are coming at more of a head-on angle to me or the school of fish is particularly wide and I'm making a 90-degree presentation.
Longer leaders aren't just for dry flies and trout. When sight-fishing for spooky fish in clear, shallow water, adding some extra feet of leader length can be worthwhile!
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