The idea of tapered leaders often appears confusing to beginners. After all, not only are they available in monofilament form, we have to consider polyleaders too and then there are those of a furled or braided construction as well. That’s only half the battle as regardless of what leaders are made from they come in a bewildering range of lengths, often extending to 15 feet or so. Suddenly, it’s easy to see how all this information lumped together can become overwhelming! However, armed with a little understanding, we can select a leader to benefit the type, or style of fly-fishing we prefer.

brown trout

Using the correct tapered leader will allow you to present a fly perfectly and aid the distance of your cast, resulting in fine specimens like this.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A TAPERED LEADER?

Some would have it that tapered profiles actually channel casting energy down their length from the rod and fly line. If this was the case then all this energy funnelled into the ever-decreasing diameter of a tapered leader would see the leader speed up and flap around uncontrollably. What a tapered leader does is dissipate excessive power so more stable and controlled turnover of the business end will be realised. We only have to watch a leader unroll in the air to convince ourselves here. As the leader straightens during delivery, it slows down rather than speeds up. This clearly indicates that the power or energy is dampened and reduced as the tapered leader unrolls.

Poly leaders

Polyleaders have various densities.

POLY TAPERED LEADERS

Poly tapers consist of a monofilament core with a polyurethane coating. Not only can this coating be tapered to suit, but – depending on its density – a wide range of sink rates are achieved from a full floating leader to ultra-fast sinking ones. Typically, they’re sold in 5, 7, or 10-foot lengths and are looped at either end. In many respects, these are perhaps the most versatile leader arrangements currently available as they allow anglers not only to present a dry fly at the surface, but also plunge heavy nymphs into the inky depths. Furthermore, because of their matt finish there is less likelihood of flash. That said, a tippet section of monofilament still needs adding that still reflects light!

TIPPET LENGTHS

As it’s impossible to physically knot a fly on to a braided, furled, or polyleader then we need to add a length of monofilament to the business end, which is known as a “tippet” (diagram 1). Even when using a mono taper leader it’s advisable to include a tippet section as this way you’re not constantly chipping away at the leader’s taper when changing flies. Tippet lengths vary depending on what you aim to achieve. For example, a long tippet section on your dry fly leader will cause the tippet to flail around and land in a series of wiggles due to most of the leader’s impetus being dissipated where the taper ends (diagram 2).

In turn, this gives your fly freedom of movement. Faced with a fierce headwind, a tippet might only be a couple of feet long now and will be added to the cropped-down stepped leader mentioned above (diagram 3) for more consistent turnover. It’s no use attaching a lengthy mono tippet to a sinking leader as this tends to hang back to prevent your fly realising any appreciable depth (diagram 4). In many respects, the shortened tippet section is far more advantageous now. I’ve regularly added all of an 18-inch tippet to a 10-foot fast-sinking polyleader when attempting to reach deep-lying trout (diagram 5).

Tippet Lengths

LOOP-TO-LOOP IS BEST

These days braided, furled and polyleaders come with loops at either end. With a loop on the end of our fly line this means we can quickly switch to the leader of our choice by a loop-to-loop connection. Not all mono taper leaders are looped, and even if they are, sometimes we alter them to suit our needs, which means we have to form a new loop in them. The perfection loop is what many favour due to its near 100% knot strength (diagram below).

1 . Make a loop. Tag end passes behind loop.
2. Make a second loop and pass tag end between the two loops.
3. Now pass the second loop through the first.
4. Pull on the second loop and the tag end then trim off the tag.

FURLED/BRAIDED TAPERED LEADERS

Furled and braided leaders consist of multiple, fine fibres which are knitted together to form a strong, singular core. The beauty with both is that their mass tends to be greater than monofilament, which helps with turnover, especially in more adverse conditions. Furthermore, progressive tapers are easily realised now, and dissipate excessive energy more evenly. These woven-type leaders can also be manufactured from all kinds of threads with different sinking densities, so now we have leaders which will sink at various rates.

braided tapered leaders

It goes without saying that our floating line can be made into a rudimentary sink tip, to get our nymphs and lures that bit deeper. While furled/braided leaders are aerodynamically sound, the actual weave can see minute droplets of water become trapped inside. This appears more apparent on braided leaders due to their hollow centre. First up, floating leaders are prone to becoming swamped and that in turn affects a clean, swift lift when setting the hook using dry fly. Secondly, residual water trapped in the leader is inadvertently thrown off during false casting. This fine spray alighting on smooth water over a feeding fish might cause it to shut down and stop feeding. One answer here is to use one of the many floatants/grease supplied by some leader companies. This works well enough though extremely long leaders, which are often retrieved into the tip ring when netting fish, see a smearing of grease deposited on rod rings. In extreme cases your fly line can become contaminated, making it more reluctant to shoot freely!

KNOTTED MONOFILAMENT TAPERED LEADERS

Commercially, these days monofilament knotted tapered leaders are considered old hat. Those who prefer to build their own tapered leaders will obviously have to knot monofilament lengths together. This obviously results in several connections along a leader’s length. One advantage here is that these knots (known as nodes) provide extra impetus when it comes to leader turnover in breezy weather. So, if you’re faced with a gruelling headwind, a knotted taper is often a shrewd choice. Obviously, extra connections in a system mean more chances of failure too, which is something to be mindful of if using knotted tapers. Also, on rivers (or stillwaters for that matter) where suspended weed fragments occur, this filamentous algae can foul each knot. That in turn affects presentation and of course – in the event of a trout grabbing your fly – the hook-set can suffer due to weed hanging off knots as you lift to tighten.

SINKING TAPERS

With floating lines, sinking tapers get your flies deeper to feeding fish. Braided, furled and polyleaders have sinking densities. But, just because they’re available in several sink rates, polyleaders are popular with many anglers. Sinking profiles can be married to sinking lines to improve turnover.

FLOATING TAPERS

Regardless of whether you prefer a mono, furled, or poly version, floating leaders are perhaps the most adaptable available to us because not only do they allow flies to be presented on the surface, but we can fish imitations a little way beneath the waves too. My overall preference is a mono tapered leader, which can be tailor-made by cropping to length. For this reason, a progressive taper (diagram 8) is better than a stepped taper (diagram 9) in this instance. That doesn’t mean stepped tapers are obsolete, they have worth for delivering large, bulky flies into a breeze. This is especially true if you reduce the level tippet section by a good few feet (diagram 10).

Floating-Tapers

KNOTLESS MONOFILAMENT TAPERED LEADERS

By far the most common and perhaps popular profiles are knotless tapers fashioned from monofilament. To avoid confusion here, it’s as well to clear up the term ‘monofilament’, which basically means a solid singular fibre, or filament. So, whether it’s nylon, copolymer or fluorocarbon they are all classed as ‘monofilament’. Being of solid construction, monofilament tapers expel water during casting. Obviously, they tend to float quite readily too, making them popular with dry fly enthusiasts. Even when nymphing, these floating properties help with depth control by holding our nymphs high in the water column for longer. Obviously, once a monofilament leader pierces the surface film, it will gradually sink, especially when weighted flies are the order of the day. One slight disadvantage with monofilament leaders is their shiny finish, which can cause flash on bright days. You’ll see this yourself by glancing around the fishery next time you’re out. If it’s sunny, leaders will be seen flashing backwards and forwards during false casting. While there’s no scientific evidence to support the theory that glinting leaders alarm trout, we should aim to do everything to eliminate anything that could possibly spook them!

Leader-Rings

LEADER RINGS

Furled leaders in particular often have a tippet ring integrated at the thin end (see picture right), allowing you to attach the tippet section using a conventional knot like the single grinner (diagram 11). Some anglers prefer to include a tippet ring at the business end on their monofilament tapered leaders. A reliable knot here is also the single grinner.

leader rings

For more information on selecting the right tapered leader, please feel free to contact the Angling Active team, we are more than happy to help

This article was brought to you in association with Trout Fisherman Magazine.