Saturday, July 21, 2012

Building My Dream Smallmouth Rig

Vintage Fiberglass Browning 322980
I am in the process of building my dream smallmouth rig.  After many hours on the water and a little advise from my friends at Fly Fish Ohio and Fiberglass Fly Rodders I have settled on what I feel is my dream rod/reel/line setup for smallmouth bass. 

The Rod
If you have read my blog you know I like fiberglass fly rods....I always have.  Per Joe Cornwall's recommendation I have been looking for a Browning Silaflex 322980 for a few years.  The 322980 is Joe's favorite smallmouth rod, here is what he had to say about this rod in his article Bulletproof Glass, Fiberglass Fly Rods and the 21st Century: 
"This 8 foot two-piece rod is designed for a 6 or 7 weight line. It’s efficient with either, but I like it best with the 7 weight. The Browning Silaflex is the rod shown in the photograph with the smallmouth bass at the top of this page, mated to a Pflueger 1495DA and Pat Ehlers Bass Bug taper line.

This is a marvelous casting tool, one of the most enjoyable rods I own. It’s ideal for chasing smallmouth and largemouth bass, and has challenged and beat pike of more than 36” and smallmouth up to 23”. It can cast a 1/0 flat-wing streamer or a size 10 Humpy with equal aplomb and fine accuracy out to distances of about 60 feet. I like this rod so much that I’d jump on another one just to have a back up!

The guides on this Silaflex are large enough to accommodate a modern fly line. This is a real problem on some rods. Old glass rods used snake guides that were so small they created tremendous amounts of friction and severely limited casting efficiency. Of course, many of these older rods were designed for silk fly lines, which are much more dense than modern nylon lines.  Back then the smaller guides simply weren't a problem!

The one drawback to this rod is the grip. The cork on my example is of outstanding quality, but it was made in a diameter appropriate for someone who can easily palm a basketball. This is easy enough to “fix” with a bit of fine grit sandpaper, however."
I have a few other Browning Silaflex rods in my collection and they are fantastic, but the 322980 is a real gem.

I scored this rod on Ebay for more than I wanted to pay, but the rod is in perfect shape and I know I'll have it for a lifetime.  I broke my budget rules on this one paying $150 with shipping. Still not bad for a "dream rod."

The Reel
Shakespeare Speedex Multiplier Reel

Finding the right reel for my dream setup was more of a chore than the rod.  I needed a reel that would properly balance the Silaflex - that took a little digging.  My initial choice was the most obvious for a vintage rod, a Pflueger Medalist (1495).  The Medalists are the no brainer reel for just about any rod, but I wanted something different for this outfit.  Maybe something a little more I turned to my friends at Fiberglasss Flyrodders for a solution.  CrustyBugger replied with a recommendation for a Shakespeare Speedex reel?  I immediately thought Shakespeare? way!  After a little research I knew I was wrong to rule out this reel.  Here is what Crusty had to say:
There are many good choices, but for smallmouth, I'd go with a reel with an adjustable drag. I also think you'd be very pleased with a multiplier that will balance nicely with your 322980. Look for a version of the Young 1505 or it's kin like the Shakespeare Speedex (made by Young) or Orvis Magnalite (Young version). I put a Speedex on great. You can find Speedex's for very little money. You'll spend more for the Young branded 1505's. Be sure to get the narrow spool version for a 7wt line though. It won't hold a 7wt double taper with much backing left so go with a long bellied WF like a RIO Smallmouth line... fantastic smallmouth line.
I went with the Speedex and found it on Ebay (new in the box) for $37.50.  A great deal for a very nice reel.

G Loomis Venture
The other reel I seriously considered was a recommendation from followers of this site, Bill Trussell and Jestep.  Bill and Jestep spoke very highly of the G Loomis Venture fly reel.  They both gave this reel glowing reviews and my research has completely backed up their experiences.  I chose the Speedex over the Loomis because of price.  The Loomis in size 7 was $125 on Ebay, almost $100 more than what I paid for the Speedex.  The Venture will be added to my collection, but I'm going to wait for a better price point on Ebay.  Like I said above I paid too much for the rod, so my funds were becoming restricted.

This is a very handsome reel, don't you think?  For the price I don't think you'll find a sharper looking reel.

Here is what Bill and Jestep had to say about the G Loomis Venture:
Have you tried the free spool form Gloomis? It picks up the line really fast with just a spin of the reel face.
G loomis discontinued the Venture line. You can still get them on ebay and a few shops have old stock. In my opinion, there is no better reel for the money both in function and aesthetically. I started using the original adventure model about 10 years ago, and that reel still works perfectly. I own all 3 models now for my rods, run a 3wt, a 5wt and the 7 for 8 and 10wt lines.
I want to personally thank Bill and Jestep for the recommendations.  You guys were spot on about this reel - you'll see it attached to a Fenwick FF756 in the coming months!  Thank you.

The Line

Rio Smallmouth Fly Line
 I like buying fly line like I line getting a root canal.  The stuff is getting so darned expensive, but I know it is a key component, so I had to get over it to complete my rig.  Should I go with Airflo Distance +, Rio Clouser, or Cabela's bargain bin Airflo line with shooting heads?  In the end the answer was none of the above.

I ended up settling on the Rio Smallmouth line (7 wt).  I know, I know.....I fell for the marketing junk and went with the $75 line "specially made" for smallmouth bass.  The decision was based on comments from CrustyBugger and from a blog review posted on Lunker Hunt.  Check out the review if you need more information on this is very well done!

I needed another rod like I needed a hole in my head, but that's why I go to work!  Someone commented on my blog this week that I didn't know anything about smallmouth bass and that I should just focus my efforts on my 40 hour per week job.  He went on to state that my efforts were a waste of time.  Maybe this post solidifies his comment, maybe I should quit my job and spend all my waking moments on the water and stop worrying about fly fishing gear.

Whenever you express your opinions about gear, fly shops, fishing spots etc. you always open yourself up to criticism.  I hope most of you understand the gear featured and discussed in this post (and everything else on this blog) represents my opinions, experiences etc.  I would never claim to be an expert on anything (not even things I do at my dreaded 40 hour per week job!).  This setup was purchased largely on the recommendations of others, friends I have met through this blog along the way.  All I can say is this setup is exactly what I was looking for and I am very, very happy.

Special thanks to Joe Cornwall (Fly Fish Ohio), CrustyBugger (and all at Fiberglass Flyrodders folks), Bill Trussell, Jestep and Clif G at Lunker Hunt for your help with this setup!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vintage Browning 5230 Reel

Here is my newest vintage reel, the Browning 5230.  Great match for my Browning 322980, 8' glass rod....  Can't wait to get this set out on the river this weekend!

Thanks to all of the members on Fiberglass Flyrodders site for their help choosing this reel.  I can always count on the members on FFR to steer me in the right direction.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Menominee Mud Bug

Nelson Ham's Menominee Mud Bug
Hook:  90 Degree Jig Hook
Thread:  6/0 Uni
Tail:  Rabbit Zonker (Rear Portion Slit For Added Action)
Body:  Dubbing Brush
Legs:  Sili-Legs
Flash:  Fine Krystal Flash
Head:  Non-Toxic Painted Jig Head (Tin Instead of Lead)
Eyes:  Paint

I visited the Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company in DePere, Wisconsin yesterday and picked up a few Menominee Mud Bugs tied by Nelson Ham.  This is a great pattern for a ton of reasons, but I like it because the head is cast tin rather than lead.  When I read about the tin head I immediately thought the creator must be in touch with water quality and the impacts of is something that always bugged me about the use of lead shot and dumbbell eyes.

I have a degree in Water Quality from the University of Minnesota and have always had a real interest in water ways and living systems.  To make things worst my wife is a hydrologist, so you could imagine our nerd-like happiness to see tin used in place of lead on this dredger.  Turns out the creator of this patterns has an interest in water as well!

Nelson Ham - Mr. Mud Bug
Nelson Ham has lived and fished in Wisconsin for more than 20 years, spending his summers as a fly fishing guide with Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company. Nelson's profession is as a geologist who teaches hydrology, earth-surface processes, and environmental science at a St. Norberts College in northeast Wisconsin.  During the summer he is a driftboat guide, fishing for river smallmouth bass on the Menominee, Oconto, and Peshtigo Rivers.

Here is one of Nelson's articles titled Achigan published in the Summer 2006 issue of Fly and Fish Magazine.30-41-achigan_f

Slit in the tail

We were amazed of the cast-ability of the Menominee Mud Bug, it is a dream to cast compared to weight forward patterns using lead.  This fly is all about details....the action is outstanding because of the slit in the tail section of the fly (see right).  The forked tail enables the tail section to dance nicely.  The texture and flash is also very cool, Nelson has achieved the perfect balance of flash and movement making this one of my favorites of the 2012 season.

Small World
One last coincidence about this pattern....  In January 2011 I participated in a smallmouth fly swap on the Fiberglass Flyrodders site.  I got a box of flies a few weeks later and saw a neat little jig-type fly in the bunch.  I put the box of flies on the shelf and forgot about them.  A year and a half later I saw the Mud Bug at Tight Lines it looked strangely familiar.  On the way home from Green Bay I remembered where I saw it!  Once I got home I found the box and sure enough....there was a Menominee Mud Bug right in my collection! 

How I Fish the Mud Bug
I fish the Mud Bug under a strike indicator, so I can hop it off or near the bottom.  I took it out this morning and had a blast!  The tin headed jigs make this one hard to replicate one-for-one, but if you have a buddy that casts lead maybe you can get them to throw in some tin.  You never know....the Smallmouth Fly Box may be putting up a bunch soon!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hayward Fly Fishing Company

The Hayward Fly Fishing Company
I was in Hayward, Wisconsin today visiting a new prospect and stopped by the Hayward Fly Fishing Company.  Like many of you I have heard about this jewel and decided to stop in and see if it lived up to its legendary status.  Safe to say this place is a bass and musky fisherman's heaven on earth!  The fly selection is awesome!  Bin after bin of smallmouth goodies....just a fantastic shop.

The Murdich Wiggler
I took three flies home with me to discuss on the blog.  One was called the Murdich Wiggler, a neat looking pattern with a flat profile.  The owner (Larry Mann & Wendy Williamson both own HFFC) said it was the hot pattern because crayfish are presently molting and this baby looks like soft shelled crayfish.  His advise was to hop the Wiggler and hang on tight.  I'll be trying this on the Mississippi this weekend.

Murdich Wiggler
Murdich Wiggler - Rootbeer Color
The picture above doesn't do the Wiggler justice.  The hook has a bend giving the pattern a interesting shape.  The beauty of this pattern is in the simplicity.  Nothing more than a slightly modified hook, cactus chenille, marabou and some fine flashabou.  The shank of the hook is weighted with lead and the cactus chenille is clipped flat (better seen on the white wiggler above).  The flat profile and weighted shank makes the pattern "wobble" when dropped of hopped in the water column.  I have seen patterns like this in the past, but these flies are excellent.

The Whistler
The next fly I'm going to detail is a common Whistler....not a ton to talk about since this pattern is a standard in just about everybody's fly box, but it is a very nice example of the streamer.

The Whistler
I like the fact the flashabou is extra long.  I noticed this detail on many of the flies in the shop....a very nice element that is always working for you in the current.  Like a hypnotists waiving fingers saying "Eat!.....Eat!" this Whistler will be a killer----I can feel it.

The Ultimate Reverse Tied Streamer
This last pattern grabbed me instantly, a clear champion that reminded me of Gabe Schubert's reverse tied works of art.  Larry went on to tell me this streamer is a very good producer in their region.  The color scheme was loud, but strangely appealing.  Take a look and see for yourself.

Reverse Tied Minnow
The first thing I noticed about this streamer (besides the color) was the meaty profile.  I was holding it in my hand admiring the chunkiness and Larry said "that fly fishes bigger than it looks."  He asked me if I knew what that meant and I assured him I was on board with the comment....I have been throwing larger flies this season and I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Some flies are so well designed they appear bigger than they actually are!  This pattern has that nice flashabou tail, the saddle hackle trailer, excellent profile and water displacing characteristics etc.  These streamers are hard to get balanced.  Too much hair on one side of the shank and the pattern will not swim properly.  The specimen I took home was perfectly balanced.

Back to the Shop
The three patterns I took home were only a very small sampling of the bass and muskie patterns on the shelf at the Hayward Fly Fishing Company.  The inventory at this place is staggering (in a good way!)  If you are a fly hoarder you need to see the shop!

Larry was very friendly, a real pleasure to speak with and hopefully get to know better.  I wish I could visit his shop more often, but it is nearly 3 hours from my doorstep to his place....not a shop I could just hop in the car and visit....what a shame.

Aside from their fly selection the shop has everything a guy would need to hit local waters.  From waders to rods and reels they have it covered.  I am sure they are great guides as well....I'll have to find out this fall!

Here is a great video that demonstrates the expertise of this shop.  This leader system uses the slim beauty....a very simple and strong musky leader.

If you are a fly fisherman you have to find a way to visit this of the best shops I have visited to date.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Favorite Smallmouth Bass Fly Reels

On my previous post I covered the characteristics of what I feel are the best fly rods for smallmouth bass.  This post I will do the same thing for reels.  You can find a reel to fit any budget, so we will address the things we like to see in a reel as well as the things we feel indicate a person makes way too much money.

That Thing That Holds Fly Line
The size of the reel really depends on the weight and balance of the rod.  Some light-weight rods require light reels to prevent the rod from being back heavy, or the opposite when a tip heavy rod needs a heavier reel to prevent wrist fatique.

As you may have already read in my last post, I am a vintage fiberglass guy.  Fiberglass is typically heavier than graphite, so you rarely see contemporary reels in my arsenal.  Part of it has to do with the weight of my fly rods, but the real reason I have less expensive reels is because I'm a 4 star cheapskate when it comes to reels.  Don't get me wrong, I'll spend $100 on a reel, but I'll admit now that $100 is my absolute ceiling.

To me a fly reel holds line.  Now I understand a disc drag system and large arbor are wonderful features, but I have yet to fight a fish off of my reel.  Maybe I need to fish more or something....  In my quest to justify spending more money on reels (believe me - I tried to convince myself that I needed a very expensive reel more than once) I have read the same thing from the pros - reels hold line!  Here is a quote from Tim Holschlag:
"What about reels for smallies?  Fly industry honchos groan when I say this, but it's true: a bass reel is primarily a place to store line when you're not using it.  A fancy reel with super-smooth drag (and mega price tag) just isn't needed.  The bass clan, no matter their size, make strong, but very short runs.  That's one reason I seldom play smallmouth off the reel.  When I'm fishing from a boat, I may not even reel up my loose line for hours, but leave it on the deck or in a stripping basket where it's instantly ready for another cast."
Vrooom....The Automatic Fly Reel
Like many of you I grew up using automatic fly reels.  When you are young you don't care about things like balance and weight, you just grab the rig and start casting.  Automatic fly reels are great for kids because they have all those moving parts and it has a trigger for God's sake!  My 11 year old can care less about fly fishing, but that automatic fly reel is a real attention grabber.  I can't tell you how many times I'll look over and see him staring at the reel, watching line suck in while his popper floats down stream.

The South Bend Oren-O-Matic
 Fly Box Hero, Dick Gross sent me a South Bend Oren-O-Matic reel a few years back and it is a very cool.  I just had my youngest son out casting today and it really helps him manage line and hold his attention.  As a kid I remember casting in tall weeds and grasses, the automatic reel kept always kept my line away from my feet and free of debris.  Anything I can get that will make my kids love the sport is welcome!  I have a few rods that balance out nicely with the South Bend 1140 and at $25 on Ebay you can't go wrong!

Does this mean automatic fly reels are for kids?  Nope....I found a series of high tech automatic fly reels that cost big bucks.  Behold, the Vivarelli Lever Action Fly Reel!  I have not actually seen a Vivarelli, but they look like they would be lighter than the old school models.  Truth be told, I don't use automatic reels much anymore, but I felt they should be addressed.  Go ahead and roll your eyes, but it is nice to see the evolution of an American classic - the automatic fly reel.

Vivarelli Lever Action Reel

Automatic fly reels are neat if you have a rod that requires a heavy reel to balance it out.  I'm sure an old automatic fly reel would be a wonderful mate to a vintage Heddon glass rod.  For now I'm going to stick with my old school clicker reels because they have fewer moving parts.  When I'm on the water I don't want to worry about springs etc.  It is nice to zip up the line quickly with a pull of the trigger though....just ask my son!

The Pflueger Medalist
Pflueger Medalist fly reels are built like brick sh#% houses.  The mechanism itself is very basic and they balance out a fly rod nicely  The picture below shows a Pflueger Medalist paired with a Silaflex fiberglass rod. Beautiful isn't it?

Pflueger 1495 - Photo by Joe Cornwall
Pflueger Medalists come in all sorts of sizes and weights.  You can even upgrade your Pflueger with aftermarket parts from

The Bronson Royalist
One of my favorite reels for smallmouth fishing is the Bronson Royalist.  This is another very simple fly reel with very few parts.  The Royalist is a dream on a 6wt rod.

Bronson in Red

The Royalist is by far my favorite reel for rods up to 6-7wt.  Anything more than that and I switch over to Pflueger options.

The Lawson Lauertian
Here is a very cool little vintage reel that is perfect for your shorter rods.  I have two of the and they work great on my 6' Canoes cannons.  This is a very simple reel that was manufactured in Canada in the 1940's.

The Lawson Laurentian Still Kickin' After 70 Years.
The Lawson Laurentian is a very specialized little reel.  Don't even think of putting this on a 6wt, you run out of room quickly even with small amounts of backing.

Okay....Enough of my Vintage Stuff
Here is my favorite reel for contemporary rods, the Lamson Konic.  This reel has all of the bells and whistles, disc drag, light weight frame, large arbor....and the price is just right!  I got my Lamson Konic used for $50 and it was basically brand new.  Keep your eyes open and you'll find one for a song.

Lamson Konic - Best Deal Out Their
This post is not meant to aggravate you if you are a reel guy. I love the look of a beautiful Ross or Hardy reel and I wish I could afford one.  The reels in this post are MY favorites and I have found them to be solid performers.  Good luck to all of you out there and I hope you latch into a lunker soon.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Favorite Smallmouth Bass Fly Rod

The Perfect Stick
People often ask me "What is your favorite smallmouth rig?"  I usually try to avoid the topic because my interests are vastly different than most of the other fisherman I know (we'll discuss that later).  If I had to answer the question I would probably respond with something like "Any rig you can afford to use" because if you drop big bucks on a rig and can't afford to fish well....that is crazy.

I was taught to fly fish by my Uncle Joe, perhaps the worlds greatest fisherman/sportsman.  I fished for years with Uncle Joe and never looked at the name on the rod I used.  We spent entire days on Sugar Creek in Indiana and I can honestly say I had no idea what line weight we used? me the name on a fly rod, reel, line, hook etc is all a little silly.  Don't get me wrong, I'm human too - I like good stuff, but it is not critical to me.

What Weight is Perfect
If you are going to pick out a favorite rod you have to start with the perfect overall line weight for the species you are after.  The type of water you fish, wind conditions, fly sizes etc. are all factors when choosing a line weight, but many agree that the ideal line weight for smallmouth bass is a 7wt. 

First off, a 7wt is a nice weight to lug around all day, avoiding arm fatigue is always a good thing.  I can toss a large popper as well as a beefy streamer with this weight rod.  If paired with the right line a 7 weight can punch through wind, but if cast correctly it can quietly lay out a bug without a splash.  The 7 weight is the perfect balance between brute force and finesse....and it give you options to toss top water poppers or streamers.

Smallmouth legend Tim Holschlag had this to say about the 7 weight:
"What if a person wants to fish different types of water, but can only afford one good rod?  That's simple--get a 7-weight, 9 1/2', medium-stiff, medium-fast action good quality rod.  7-weights may be out of style right now, but they're still the best all-purpose smallmouth rods available.  Over the course of a year, I probably use a 7-weight more than any other type of rod."
I agree with Tim completely, but I tend to deviate from his recommendation for medium-stiff and medium-fast action rods.  Who am I to contradict Tim Holschlag, a guy that fishes more in one year than I have fished in my lifetime.  Good thing all of this is personal preference!  I also don't care much for 9'+ rods either....let's talk a bit about fly rod lengths next.

Rod Length and Action
Many, many guys like longer rods for smallmouth fishing.  I happen to have more moderate tastes when it comes to action and fly rod length.  I understand that a longer rod allows you to set the hook better as well as aide in casting, but for me it is all about fatigue.  I owned a 9' rod and after a long day fishing my arm hurt!  The dang thing was a beast to manage, so for me I settled on a 8-8 1/2' rod for general purpose smallmouthing.

As far as action, I prefer a slower, full-flexing rod.  Slow action comes from from fiberglass, NOT graphite!  There, I let my secret out of the bag!  I like fiberglass better than graphite.  More about my ideal fly rod(s) next!

The Smallmouth Fly Box Favorite Fly Rod
If you nailed me down and asked the dreaded "favorite rod"question I would have to say my personal favorite rod is a vintage Fenwick Feralite that was given to me by Fly Box Hero, Dick Gross.  The fact that Dick gave me the rod makes it priceless, but sentimental reasons aside it is a damn good rod!  Many of you may believe that the newest Sage or Orvis rig is the holy grail.  To each his own, but I am partial to "vintage" fiberglass rods.  The reason is simple...the rods are slower.  The slow action reminds me of those wonderful days with Uncle Joe.  Before graphite, fiberglass was king----to some of us it still is the all supreme ruler of the fly rod universe.  Let's look at a few of my all time favorite fly rod manufacturers.

Fenwick Feralite
Here is a picture of a Fenwick Feralite, manufactured anywhere from 1972-1988, this rod is still an absolute gem to spend the day with.  I have many of these rods and will continue to collect them if I find a deal.  The trout wieners are starting to buy them all up on Ebay (paying top dollar), so I have resorted to flea markets and garage sales for my collection.

Another favorite rod is the Browning Silaflex.  Silaflex rods have quite the history-going back to the 1950's , but they are fantastic fly rods even today.  The rod in this picture has a slow action compared to today's "better" rods, but that slowness is its saving grace.  Remember the tale of the tortoise and the hare?

Browning Silaflex
The only beef people have with Silaflex fly rods is their large cigar shaped grip.  I have never had a problem with them, but if you have small hands you might want to look into something else.

Contemporary Rod of Choice
I just got done telling you that I am partial to fiberglass rods, but there is one contemporary, graphite rod I own, it is the Ross Flystik.  The Ross FlyStik was a recommendation from fly fishing great Joe Cornwall.  This rod is nice because it is a 4 piecer which makes it more portable than my vintage glass rods.  The rods themselves are absolute cannons!  I own both the 6 and 8 weight models and they can launch big bugs.  At 7' 11" they are a tad short for wading, but they are a fine choice for fishing out of a canoe.

The Ross Flystik
 I had a trout snob make a comment the Ross Flystik is ugly because it is minty green in color.  I personally like the color, but I am a bass guy.  Paint job aside, this rod is light and powerful able to whup any smallmouth, pike or catfish you would tangle with on the river.

One Last Category
For years I would only grab an 8-8 1/2' rod when wading the river, never would be caught with anything under 8 feet.  I ran across a rod builder online that changed my whole outlook on fly rod lengths.  Andy Manchester, the Old Yankee Rodsmith himself sold me a 6' canoe cannon a few years back.  I purchased the rod because of an article I read about Lee and Joan Wulff and their passion for catching big fish on shorter rods (6') and small flies.  The article was great and I was sold on giving it a try.

Old Yankee Rodsmith's 6' Canoe Cannon
This was my first 6' rod and I love it!  This rod is a 1 piecer, so transporting can be a challenge, but the fuss is worth it!  I can toss foam poppers all day and streamers are a snap.

My second 6' rod is another Old Yankee Rodsmith gem we call the Orange Crush.  Unlike the Canoe Cannon this one is considered a boron fly rod.  Boron is another great choice for the slow experience, but this one can deliver the goods!

Old Yankee Rodsmith's Orange Crush and Frieda
I have landed many big fish on slower and shorter fly rods, so get out there and figure what YOU like, NOT what the industry tells you to like.  You might surprise yourself and like something vintage!

Pure Vintage...A 1970 Fenwick and Western Auto Parts Reel in Action

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leader Construction

A properly constructed tapered leader is critical for many reasons.  Without a quality leader system your cast will undoubtedly pay the price.  We have tried many leader recommendations and came up with what we feel is the clear winner.  Prime candidates had to be somewhat simple without complicated knots and had the ability to turn large flies in the wind.  The last criteria I looked for was a leader system with options....because a guys got to have options right?  We're going to speak a little about material options (fluorocarbon, mono...), construction (loop connections and knots) and lastly performance.  By the time we are done here you will have a clear path to what we believe is the best leader system out there for smallmouth fishing.

Store bought or hand tied...
 Bob Clouser says he ties his own leaders because it is more economical, but he is a world class guide that provides leaders to possibly hundreds of fisherman each year.  By the time you buy the Berkley Big Game or Maxima Clear mono is the 6 line weights needed to construct the leader you are spending a decent amount of cash (We'll provide links to the best deals around for Big Game later in the article).  Instead of arguing about cost savings I am going to take a different angle.....flexibility.  I'm not talking about the awesome stretching characteristics of mono-filament, but more about the options this leader system gives you over store bought "knot-less" leaders.

Knot-less Tapered Leader...Smooooth!
 Many of you prefer the 6-12 ft knotless leaders available at just about any big box outdoor store.  I used them for years and I was happy with the results.  I read Bob Clousers book and tried his leader system and things changed for me.  Knotless leaders have one key advantage over a hand tied leader....they don't have knots!  I'll admit that knots on a hand tied leader can skip through the guides a little, but once you have the line out is really isn't a problem.  A blood knot creates a tight, barrel shaped knot that glides through the guides much better than a surgeons knot.  If you get really nutty about the knots you can coat them with Hard as Hull to create a slick surface.

Two knots is all you need!  We left the tag ends intact for visual effect.
Fly line clip
Knot-less leaders have one key disadvantage though.  The commercially tapered leader gets shorter as you tie on flies.  After a few flies you have to knot on tippet, so the leader doesn't get too short.  Some guys tie on small clips that allow you to easily switch flies, eliminating multiple knots etc (see right).  Those clips are nice, but I haven't used them much.  I personally like tying in a loop knot to allow the fly to swim a little better.  Tight knots and clips restrict swimming action.  My buddy Dick always says "fish have the brain the size of a gnat" and he's probably right!  Maybe we are just over thinking all of this if we worry about swimming action!

Our leader system has tippet that is linked to the leader with a loop-to-loop connection that allows you to loop on new tippet whenever you want. 

Let's talk knots
I like knowing how to tie knots, but my brain only allows so much in before I start forgetting important stuff.  If I were a mountain climber maybe I would free more space, but for now I need to know enough knots to be dangerous, no more than that!

Our leader system uses two knots, the perfection loop and the blood knot.  Both of these knots are incredibly strong and the both a snap to tie.  Let's start by looking at the perfection loop....this is where YouTube really comes in handy.

I really like the perfection loop because this is the part of the system that gives you the options we spoke about earlier.  Let's start with the fly line itself, most modern fly lines come with a "welded loop" located on the leader end of the line.  The welded loop allows you to connect a leader rather with a loop rather than knotting the leader directly to the line. 

We also use the perfection loop to connect the tippet to the leader.  The loop-to-loop connection between the tippet and tapered portion of the leader allows you to quickly attach new tippet after you tie on a half dozen flies.  New tippet is attached on in under 15 seconds, no knots needed is you have sections of tippet pre-tied!  The main tapered portion of the leader always remains intact, never cut or altered.  I used one leader for the whole season last year! 

Now we will look at the knot used to attach the sections of line together.  We use a blood knot here because it forms a super strong, but tidy knot with a barrel shape.  The shape of the knot allows it to pass through much better than any other knot we tested. is a YouTube video to demonstrate the process.

The blood knot is a great way to attach two lines together.  Make sure you lubricate the knot with saliva before you cinch it to make sure the knot doesn't overheat and weaken the line.

Finally....the leader itself
Bob Clouser came up with this leader and we feel it is the best one out there.  Here is the breakdown of the individual sections along with a very ugly line drawing of the leader.  I am not an artist...  We have leader sections listed from 6-9 weight setups.

We used Berkley Big Game to put up our leaders.  Walmart has the best price on Big Game, their price was 50% cheaper than our pals at Cabela's <sarcasm>.  Best case scenario you can pool cash with all of your buddies and buy the line needed to make hundred's of leaders.  There is not doubt they will complaint about the knots, but tell them to give it time.  Their line should be out anyway - if they strip the leader into the guides they need to examine their cast!

One last thing about leader construction we should really address is the handshake between two perfection loops.  If you do not arrange the two loops together correctly the junction can become a weak spot.  The diagram below demonstrates the proper union of two perfection loops.

Last season we field tested Bob Clouser's recipe and was absolutely blown away at the performance of this system.  I didn't have to carry tippet, only 24" sections of per-looped tippet.  My vest was less cluttered - which is always a good thing!  Most importantly, my cast was better and I was able to roll large flies with ease even in the wind.

The leader had a zero failure rate at the perfection loop connections or at the blood knots.  I did have to clean the knots periodically, but that was not a big deal at all.  In fact, I used one tapered leader for the whole season!  

If you decided to do the crayfish hop remember to remove this leader and loop on a section of straight mono.  No need to use a tapered leader in this case.....Tim Holschlag recommends fluorocarbon for this application!

I hope you found this lengthy post helpful and you'll give this system a try.  Tying leaders is a great way to spend those cold winter evenings.