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.

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