Building Your Own Saltwater Leaders

Tackle Tip: Leader-building for floating and Sink-Tip Lines

It’s time to start getting the tackle and flies out and get ready for spring stripers. It’s also a good idea to think about replacing last year’s leaders with new ones. This article, based largely on one we published in Moon Tides last year, will give you the basics to tie up what you need for both 8wt and 10 wt rods (for a 9wt rod, the 10wt leaders will work fine). To decide what you need, consider the following list and then jump down to the tables and knot-tying steps below.

  • If you fish primarily with a floating or intermediate line on or near the surface of the water, you will want a long leader—something in the 8-foot range—to keep your fly line from spooking fish. (For exceptional cases, you can later modify this basic leader to make it even longer for especially clear water and spooky fish.)
  • If you fish mostly deeper water with sink-tips or sinking lines, you will want a short leader—in the 4-foot range—to insure your fly gets down to the depth your fly line reaches.  (Here again you can later modify this basic sink-tip leader design making it longer or heavier to handle special needs like picky fish or rock abrasions.)
  • You want the thick end of your leader (the butt) to be heavy enough to effectively transfer casting energy from the fly line throughout the length of the leader, turning it over all the way to its end. For example, if you fish with an 8wt fly line, you will need a leader whose butt section is at least the thickness of 30lb mono; if you tend to fish with a heavier 9wt or 10wt fly line, then your leader butt should be larger—40 or 50 lb mono is about right.
  • Lastly, if you want to experiment with Lefty Kreh’s even heavier butt technique, try increasing butt size to 50lb butt on an 8wt system or a 60lb butt on a 10wt using supple premium monofilament material like those made by Ande, Trilene, or Sufix.
What all this means is you probably should consider two leader options for whatever line weight you plan to fish: a short one for deep water and a long one for shallows and top water fishing. And you may want to consider a third alternative—a heavy butt leader for weighted or bulky flies.

Leaders for 8wt Rods

  • Tie up some short 4-5ft leaders with 30lb butts for your sink tip fishing
  • Tie up some longer 8ft leaders with 30lb butts to use when fishing spooky fish and near-surface situations.

8WT Short (4 1/2 footer) leader for sink tip lines

Butt
Middle
End
Tippet
 24 inches
 12 inches

 18 inches
 30lb 20lb 15 lb

 8WT Long (8 footer) for floating and intermediate lines

Butt
Middle
End
Tippet
 48 inches
 18 inches
12 inches
 18 inches
 30lb 25lb20lb 15lb
 
Consider two leaders: a short one for sink tip lines in deep water and a long one for floating lines for shallow and top water. You may also want to consider a third alternative—a heavy butt leader for weighted or bulky flies.

 Leaders for 10wt Rods

  • Tie up some short 4–5ft leaders with 40lb butts for your sink tip fishing
  • Tie up some 8ft leaders with 40lb butts to use when fishing spooky fish and near- surface situations.

10WT Short (4 1/2 footer) for sink tip lines

Butt
Middle
End
Tippet
 24 inches
 12 inches

 18 inches
 40lb 30lb 20 or 15lb

 10WT Long (8footer) for floating and intermediate lines

Butt
Middle
End
Tippet
 48 inches
 18 inches
12 inches
 18 inches
 40lb 30lb20lb 15lb

Lefty’s Heavy Butt Leaders

If you want to try out one of Lefty Kreh’s heavy butt leaders (I like these for throwing big wind resistant poppers at blues for instance), tie up an 8ft leader following one of the recipes below depending on the line weight you use. This heavy butt leader will turn over heavy Clouser Minnow flies and bulky Striper Dragons even on an 8wt rod.

Heavy butt 8WT Long (8 footer)

Butt
Midsection
Midsection
Tippet
 48 inches  18 inches 12 inches
 18 inches,
 50lb 40lb30lb 20 or 15lb

Heavy butt 10WT Long (8footer)

Butt
Midsection
Midsection
Tippet
 48 inches  18 inches 12 inches
 18 inches,
 60lb 40lb20lb 15lb

Plain Mono versus Fluorocarbon

If you are fishing the early season’s muddy waters for hungry spring schoolies, the choice probably doesn’t matter much. But for spooky fish and clear waters, fluorocarbon has lower visibility. And for deeper fish, fluorocarbon sinks faster, getting your fly down to fish level more quickly. Whatever your choice, if you use fluorocarbon, you may want to consider using it primarily in the lower segments of your leader (not the butt section), as it does not unroll as smoothly as plain nylon monofilament. For mono leaders I use Ande and for fluorocarbon I like Seaguar

Knots

The surgeons knot will handle most of your leader building needs. It is the easy to tie—simple enough that you can tie it in the dark.

Step1: Overlap the ends of two leader segments and form the beginning of an overhand loop with them.


Step 2: Insert one set of ends (one short tag and one long segment) into the loop.


Step3: Insert the same set of ends (the short tag and long segment) into the loop again and tighten.



To create a loop in the butt end of your leader (so you can connect it to your fly line with a loop-to-loop connection), you can tie a surgeon’s loop knot in the butt, which is easy to tie and strong, or tie a perfection loop knot, which allows very good control of loop size. You will find step-by-step instructions here:
http://www.animatedknots.com

---Dick Brown