What is arguably the most important part of the presentation of your fly to any body of water is your Leader and Tippet. You can make the perfect cast on the perfect spot just ahead of that fish you see. It may swim right up to your fly, but then at the last moment spooks and swims away. What was it? Did your fly not look just right?
Most often it's your Leader.
When talking about the stretch of line that connects your fly line to your fly, some use leader and tippet interchangeably. To be clear, leader is tied to your fly line and tippet ties to the fly. I only use leader because I hate tying all the knots. To simplify things I will be referring more to leader, mainly because it’s I ever use, I don’t use tippet because I hate tying all the knots. I have almost always used single strand monofilament leaders with a gradual taper. A Recent innovation is a loop that some now come with pre-tied on the butt or leader end that makes attaching to the fly line even simpler. A purist would have a 9ft piece of 6x leader and a 3ft piece of 6x tippet.
In General, the smaller the fly the smaller leader you will need to use. Also, the flatter the water the smaller the fly should be to keep from spooking the fish, so the longer and thinner the fly leader the better in order to fool them. Fortunately, leader manufacturers label their products to help you choose the right fly leader for your specific fishing. For instance, a bass fly leader should be relatively short and stiff to turn over the large flies you will use. Saltwater fly leaders will be relatively stiff, strong and very abrasion-resistant to withstand the large, sharp teeth of saltwater fish and the powerful runs made by those fish.
A standard leader length for most game fish is 9ft and most that I use are that length while the diameter may change. Leader diameter is labeled in X's (i.e. 4x, 5x, 6x). A good guide to these when you're starting out is to use the corresponding x to the weight of your rod. So, if your rod is a 6wt then use a 6x leader. It's backwards so the larger the number the smaller the diameter. And if that isn't confusing enough SO ARE THE FLIES!! We'll cover that next.
And knots!! If you ever find two fishermen that agree on what knots to tie consider yourself very fortunate indeed. I'm saving that topic for another time also.
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Until then, Tight lines!!
The Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman: Complete Series