Increasing Leader Length for Sight-Fishing
Updated: Jun 30
Freshwater or saltwater, sight-fishing is my favorite way to catch fish with a fly rod. I never get tired of the intrigue of the hunt and the excitement of a visual bite.
Sight-fishing can demand more stealth overall because it's typically done in clear water that's quite shallow. Wearing colors that match the sky/background, keeping a low profile, and limiting false casting can make an angler more successful. Of course, slight 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 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, many anglers like clear lines and say they offer a significant 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, but I now find myself typically using leaders 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 between the fly and the line 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 more effectively hit fish in the back of a school. When the fish at the front of a school don't want to eat, I'll then try presenting the fly to fish in the middle or rear of the pack. To do this, I cast the fly ahead of the fish and don't start retrieving until the fly is in the middle or rear of the school. The longer leader gives me a little more buffer zone between the end of the fly line and the rest of the school. This can be especially critical in situations where the fish are coming at more of a head-on angle, 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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