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How to make a Fly Fishing Leader – Tips for the Beginner

How to make a fly fishing leader

When it comes to setting up your fly rod for fly fishing the last piece of the puzzle is how to make a fly fishing leader. As a beginner you will need to master this fairly well as you don’t want to lose caught fish due to poorly prepared leaders. Like all aspects of fly fishing it depends on the target species to what your leader will look like. As we have been on the process of learning how to trout fish we will stick to a leader for a 10ft rod of seven weight set up. How to make your own leaders for fly fishing and make them well will add to your enjoyment of the sport and get you out of difficult situations when you are having problems with your fly fishing leaders.

Generally speaking a trout leader setup is made from lighter material than the fly line. This is due to a couple of things, one we want to present our flies with a nice flutter down onto the water and not a splash and secondly we need to use something that the trout find hard to see.

how to make a fly fishing leaderYou may wonder how effective a trout’s eyes really are. I can tell you they have very keen eyesight and can spot a small dark fly in the dead of night. When fishing for sea trout the darker the night the better and those trout could pick up your fly when it was difficult to see your hand in front of your face. So to try to counteract this we need to decide on line diameter and color.

This again depends on the target fish. A trout of 1-2lbs can be caught effectively on 3-4lb mono whereas a trout of 6-8lb would need something around 5-8lb depending on how hard you want or need to play them. I say “need” as fishing catch and release requires that you get the fish to the net as quickly as possible and so releasing without completely exhausting it. Some species do not do well when exhausted and need longer times to gain their strength. Catch and release is another topic we shall cover in another post.

So we have matched our breaking strain to our target species. Next we need to try and match the water color. Mono is by far the cheapest material, it can have good success when matching color and kept small in diameter but fluorocarbon has been proven to be better. However this comes at a price as fluoro can be expensive depending on the brand. I tend to use both.  If its wild brownies in a trout river who have a scarce food supply both will work as the trout is starving and should take most flies swimming past its nose. However in a river where there is ample food supply then the fluoro will provide better stealth to fool the trout into thinking your fly is food.

I mentioned color and this has to be taken into account. Not all water is the same color. It varies from brown through greens to blues to clear with many tones in between. If you can match the line color to the water you have a better chance of fooling the trout. As a beginner I would carry three spools of mono clear, green and brown. This should cover most situations.

To get good turn over on a fly cast a leader should ideally be tapered especially when trout fishing with dry flies or small wet flies. The tapered effect of the leader allows the fly to delicately fall down onto the water so minimize splash. If fishing with larger flies some tapering is useful but not really necessary as I would usually be fishing with these in large waters with good flow or in the sea.

It depends on the weight and size of fly along with the rod setup you are using. This is something to experiment with once you have mastered how to make your own leaders. You can make them whatever way you find they work for your particular way of fishing along with the targeted species. Fishing is so diverse now that what might work for me could be completely wrong for you. We have been talking about trout fishing and for this example we will continue to assume we are fishing the seven weight 10ft rod.

When starting out it is beneficial to not make the leader too long as this can cause a whole set of problems especially if there is a challenging wind. For this reason I would recommend a leader of approx 8-9ft. I would also suggest only trying with one fly but for this article we shall show you how to tie in a dropper so you can make up leaders of one, two or three flies. I have seen Scottish anglers on loughs with teams of 4-5 flies but I think this is just full hardly unless you are very skilled as one gust of cross wind and your leader will turn into a birds nest.

So the first thing to do is choose your leader material. There are a whole bundle of options but for simplicity and budget we will use basic clear monofilament of 8lb breaking strain. There are two main ways to make the leader. The first is to use one piece of mono and cut it into two pieces then join them to form the dropper. The other is to use one full length piece of mono and add a second short length to it to form the dropper.

I have to say when Salmon fishing I would always use the second method as it means there is no break in the main line so your led fly has minimal connections. The first method I would use for trout up to a certain size as it allows for making the dropper sit out at a right angle proud from the main line to aid in disguise. This is not so necessary with Salmon as they are not usually leader shy.

First method – Take your piece of leader material and runoff 9ft. Cut the material in two and tie two blood knots together leaving one tag end long say about 8 inches. When tightening make sure to wet the knots so not to burn the material and weaken it. Now you should have a dropper sitting proud of the main line and a tag end. trim the tag end close to the knot.

Second method – Take a piece of leader material again 8-9ft and take another piece about 12 inches. Form a three turn water knot with the two pieces of material around the middle of the long length. 4-5ft. Make sure again to moisten before tightening and trim the tag Surgeons Knotend.  To make the dropper sit perpendicular trim the lower tag end and to make it sit close to the main line trim the upper.

Lastly you want to form a loop at the end of the leader. I use a three turn surgeon’s knot again as it never slips. To join the leader to your fly line you simply do the loop to loop connection making sure the loops are properly laid before tightening down. A wrongly formed loop to loop will cause it to hinge and can weaken the connection.

So there you have it a few things to look out for and how to make a basic leader. When you get more advanced you can slip in material of different diameter to form tapered leaders which will give better turnover of the flies.

Need more info on fly fishing check my review on fly fishing unleashed!


A great book with diagrams showing you how to tie the most common knots used in fishing. Every fisherman should have one! Get your copy here!


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