On many occasions we’ve met anglers fishing less than five feet of high diameter leader attached to the fly line with a gargantuan loop. No wonder their bass bag remains stowed away in the tackle bag! Just a few simple alterations to the leader could change their fortunes.

Problems can begin with the leader to fly-line connection. In the past, this necessitated bulky needle knots (fiddly to tie) until braided loops appeared on the scene. This ingenious system relies on the constriction of the fly-line by hollow braided nylon; although anglers are often lead to believe that it’s the plastic tubing that provides the security.

An uncommon sight on the banks is an oversized loop and several inches of tubing result in an unwieldy link that’s sure to splash when casting and sink a floating line below the surface. Not much help when dry fly fishing! A few minutes with a needle and a fresh length of braid is all that is required to transform the loop, finished off with a short one-centimetre section of tube, designed to stop the braid from fraying. For safety, add a drop or two of Superglue next to the tubing (on the braid side of the line) and the result is a near seamless bond between fly-line and leader. This improved connection will assist-turnover and improve overall presentation.

How To Make A Neat Loop

How To Make A Neat Loop

1. Carefully insert needle into braid wall, push through ½-inch and back out, leaving 2 inches of braid below eye of needle.

2. Thread the needle with the braid and push needle all the way through. Pull the braid as you go and form a neat loop.

3. Carefully remove the braid from the needle and trim with scissors. Remove any stubs by gently enlarging the loop.

4. Add drops of Superglue to secure the doubledover braid.


The next aspect to consider is how the leader will be attached to the fly line loop. The most common method is a simple loop-to-loop connection, but how the loop is formed in the leader and then connected should also be given some thought. Our preference is for a perfection loop (see diagram, below), which does not kink like standard overhand loops often used.

Perfection Loop

Perfection Loop

To connect the leader we pass the braided loop through the perfection loop and then pass the main leader back through the braided loop. To remember the correct connections try saying “thick line through thin line and thin line through thick line”. All being well the two loops will pull neatly together. If this is not the case the chances are that the leader loop was passed through the braided loop and then the leader passed back through the leader loop! This will result in a kinked loop and poor presentation.

We prefer to use the loop-to-loop method when fishing with knotless tapered leaders as the butt is made from very high diameter line. However, if using spooled level leader material, try attaching direct to the braided loop with a standard blood or grinner knot (see diagram, below).


Grinner Knot To Braided Loop

When doing so we thread the leader through the braided loop twice for extra security and then tie the knot, ensuring plenty of saliva is used when pulling the turns up tight. Forget to do this and the leader may now have an unseen weakness, which will only become evident when a fish takes! The main benefit of using a knot, rather than loop-to-loop, is that quick tactical changes become possible.

Wind the leader into the rod, thread up the desired density of fly-line, disconnect the leader from the previous fly-line, attach it to the new one and in less than a couple of minutes the flies will be back in the water. But how far should the flies be away from the fly-line?


One of the most common mistakes is to fish with a short leader. Many anglers feel that a long length of copolymer or fluorocarbon is too much to handle and go short in an effort to reduce tangles. These unwanted ‘bird nests’ are frustrating and time consuming, although it is not usually the leader that is to blame but some kind of casting fault. It’s quite possible to cast leaders of over 12 feet long without any difficulty and present your flies well away from the fly-line.

In windy conditions it may be necessary to drop down to a 10-foot leader and just one fly. However, in many other situations, it pays to learn how to cast leaders in excess of 14 feet incorporating a dropper. Try attaching a seven-foot length of 8lb leader to the fly-line and then use a water knot (see diagram, below) to join an additional seven-foot section of 6lb leader, leaving a long tag, which can be used as the dropper.

Water Knot

Water Knot

The two different diameters of leader material will offer a degree of tapering which can aid turnover, although with the wind behind or blowing from the non-casting shoulder, the effects are minimal. For optimum turnover there’s nothing better than a knotless tapered leader although these cannot be customised in the same way as hand-tied leaders. As a general rule we recommend hand-tied leaders in almost all situations, fishing up to four flies attached to an overall leader of 18 feet when boat-fishing a reservoir.

Bank fishing is tackled with 15-foot leaders, with one or two droppers, and for dry fly a nine-foot knotless tapered leader is knotted to a five-foot section of level tippet providing an overall length of 14 feet, incorporating one dropper. This format prolongs the life of the knotless tapered leader and allows you to present two surface patterns accurately with good turnover.


Knotless tapered leaders should not be confused with polyleaders, a progression from the original braided leader. Marketed as a great way to improve turnover it’s not uncommon for an angler to turn up fishing with a polyleader attached to their fly-line and just a couple of feet of level line knotted to the end! Used as a sink-tip system in intermediate, slow and fast densities, the polyleader is a great way of changing a floating line into a sink-tip, but always fish with a full-length leader attached. Polyleaders look like fly-line and the whole idea of the leader is to present your flies away from anything that may arouse the fish’s suspicion!


Polyleaders in various densities can cover any eventuality when fishing either river or loch.


One more thing to consider is the colour of the leader. Dark brown products such as Maxima Chameleon stand out a mile in clear water conditions so if you use something similar and struggle for takes it might be time to look at fluorocarbon products such as Rio Fluoroflex, Airflo Sightfree etc. Learn to love your leader and the chances are that it won’t be long before a surprised trout is attached to the end!

Jargon busters

Turnover: The moment a fly-line loop straightens. Good turnover results in a fully extended leader, placing the flies at maximum distance from the fly-line.

Butt: The highest diameter (thick end) of a leader that is attached to the fly-line.

Dropper: Formed by leaving a long tag end when attaching leader materials with connections such as the water knot or double grinner knot. Droppers can be used to present multiple patterns on one leader.

Fluorocarbon: Popular leader material, which sinks and offers low visibility. Has similar refractive qualities to water and doesn’t significantly distort light passing through it, resulting in less flash. Has good abrasion resistance and generally easier to work with than monofilament and copolymers due to its stiffness.

If you require any more information on trout fly leaders, please contact the Angling Active team. We are more than happy to help

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