Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Take Me to Your Leader (Get Down Pt 3)

Long leader with weight& swivel got the fly down
So have given out a lot of ideas on how to weight your fly to get it down to the level you want it at. Now how about a look at leaders and their function in sinking flies? Leaders are critical to getting your fly down and I think they are pretty misunderstood by most anglers. I know I used to do a lot of things that just didn’t work. I did a lot of reading, a lot of experimenting and a lot of time on the water (that was the most difficult and horrible part, deepest sarcasm intended) before I got it dialed in.

I used to spend a lot of time on a river in Northern New York that had great fishing in the winter. Yes, it was legal to fish there in the winter and had good numbers of landlocks, browns and the occasional steelhead. One of the critical things when fishing this river was to make sure the fly got down to where the fish were feeding. A properly presented nymph would get crushed by fish and it wasn’t unusual to catch several good fish a day. My personal best day was 13 (on my birthday no less). I was using bead head or weighted nymphs and some weight on the leader  but the critical element was the leader.

Long skinny leader with a streamer in February

If you want your flies to get deep the best leader is a long skinny one preferably with fluorocarbon. I typically use a 10-12 foot leader when I am fishing deep with nymphs tapered to 6lb test (I rarely use the X system, it is way all over the place now with breaking strength and diameter). I will go up a bit in tippet size with streamers. Think about this: a long skinny leader has much less resistance to the water than a thicker one. Less resistance will allow it to get deeper faster and will be less likely to come back up. Fluorocarbon really helps out too. Fluoro has a density similar to water which lets it sink quickly where monofilament has a more buoyant density. When you add the disappearing trick (again with the density) and abrasion resistance fluoro makes a great nymphing tippet. The downside? It is a bit more expensive than mono. Do you need an entirely fluoro leader? Not really. It works pretty well to just put a piece of fluoro on your regular leader.

What about weight on the leader?  Absolutely!  I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve here. Well they are in my vest. I tried keeping weight up my sleeve and it was a pain in the ass to get to. Yea, bad attempt at humor, back to the regularly scheduled blog post. I usually put my weight at the knot closest to the fly. I generally like to have it between 12 and 18 inches over my fly. A blood knot connecting the leader and tippet makes a great stopper for the weight. I know there are people groaning about the blood knot, but a surgeon’s knot will work the same, although I think the blood knot is superior myself. Another trick I have used, especially when fishing Western New York, is to put in a little barrel swivel. That makes a great stop for the weight and helps prevent line twist. It also makes it quicker to tie on new tippet. Try it, you might like it. Of course you can always put the weight right at the nose of the fly too. That works best with streamers- and can give them a great jigging action too.

There are a number of options for weight. There are good old fashioned lead sinkers (if they are legal where you fish). I have to say that I miss using lead sinkers. They sink really fast, were inexpensive, and stayed on the leader. I understand the reasoning behind lead bans, but in fast moving rivers where we would be fishing deep there is little danger of ducks and loons eating them. Tin shot is widely available and used now. Not bad stuff, but it doesn’t like staying on the leader well. Keep a pair of pliers around to close them tight or bite down on them (dentists love that!). I like to use tungsten putty a lot now. I mostly use it during the summer when it is more pliable. Wintertime cold makes it tough stuff to use. You break off a piece in the weight you want, mold it onto your leader and away you go. Works great and if you make a snake around your blood knot it doesn’t hang up as easily.

I was going to get into sinking leaders in this post but that will have to wait ‘til next time on the Price is Right (about fly fishing!)….

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