Why I Use Tapered Leaders
Here’s how the story goes and I promise to teach you a little something along the way. When you’re done reading you’ll know why I use taped leaders.
My trout fishing started a big bunch of years ago with a kid from across the road named Richard. Back then, fishing worms with a spinning rod was how we caught trout. But all of that changed one day. Richard put the fly rod in our world after seeing one in his grandfather’s barn. He became infatuated with that fly rod. Eventually, he ended up with one and that began our journey into the world of fly fishing.
Unfortunately, at that time, we were all alone in that world. Not many guys where we lived used a fly rod. We had to teach ourselves how to use this thing with no instructions from anyone. So naturally, we did everything wrong first, before we ever did anything right.
But despite this shaky start to fly fishing, Richard and I got pretty good at catching trout with this “fly rod thing”. Funny thing about catching trout. See, once you’re catching trout everything seems to be working. But I certainly was in for a surprise. So let me get to the point about why I use tapered leaders.
Meet the “Professor”
It wasn’t until I met Paul and began fishing with him that my education about fly fishing began. Paul was the first guy to point out something that would change my approach to fly fishing forever. He was a guy who had fly fished since he was young too, but unlike me, he read a lot of books and magazines on the subject. We consider him, among us friends, to be “The Professor” of fly fishing.
The day of reckoning went something like this. I was finishing a hole and noticed Paul standing a little downstream from me, and nodded to him in recognition. He had been watching me for some time waiting for me to finish a few drifts.
I finished the last drift then reeled up the slack line, turned, and began to walk towards him. On my way, he says to me “I’ve been watching you and I can’t figure out what you doing on your cast.” Wondering what he meant I asked him to explain. He says “when you cast, the fly doesn’t hit the water where I expect it to land.” I’m now puzzled by his comment because the fly lands where I expect it to land. Well needless to say as we’re heading back, a long and detailed discussion takes place between us about what he meant.
The Details Are In The Story
Paul and I have a knack for being able to beat a topic to death when we talk. Because I was really fascinated by what he was explaining, he got a lot of “what do you mean’s?” thrown at him. We were still going on about it by the time we reached camp when I asked: “what’s the difference if you’re still catching trout?”. Paul shook his head again for the umpteenth time and said, “it’s not about catching trout, it’s about control”. That “Ah ha” moment changed everything I knew about using leaders for fly fishing. Most importantly, it introduced me to the concept of “perfect presentation”. So pay attention, LOL!
To prove a point and to run a little experiment, the next morning we purposely fished together within shouting reach of each other. We fished the same flies at the same time. At the end of the morning, we tallied up each of our catches. We agreed, that we both could catch fish and our “fish catching skills” were pretty equal. We also agreed that each person’s casting skills were close enough to not use that as a factor.
So, what was the point that Paul was making by bringing this all up in the first place? If you remember he said, “why doesn’t your fly hit the water where I expect it to land”. (Her it comes, the point of the story). This is now why I use tapered leaders. Ah, the science. Once I understood the “science”……. well you’ll see.
The Big Secret?
Let’s go back to “the Richard” days for a second. As I said, we were self-taught and we made a lot of mistakes during our learning process. When it came to a leader, I just cut a piece of 4lb test off my spinning reel and tied it to my fly line and I was ready to fish. Among many mistakes I made in those early years, never learning what a leader really is and does, was a big one.
As it turned out from my discussion with Paul, I hadn’t learned the importance the leader plays in fly fishing at all. What I did learn was, I had developed a skill to compensate for the total lack of “leader” knowledge. The conversation with my friend Paul, and what he explained to me, made a lot of sense. It would turn my fly fishing up a lot of notches in the ability to have total control over my presentation skills.
So What was The Big Secret?
The mechanics of weight in motion and the transfer of energy, the “secret” to the “perfect” presentation. (Tah Dah!) Actually, it was something Paul learned from reading books on fly fishing. The big secret, so to speak, is having an understanding of the mechanics of weight in motion and the transfer of energy. It’s important to know how using tapered leaders play into that. Why the leader of your fly line is so extremely important to the balance needed for control and presentation. When I understood what Paul had explained to me, as I said earlier, the light bulb went off in my head.
Energy Transfer – What The Heck?
Think of a piece of rope stretch out in front of you and you’re holding the end. We’ve all done this at some point, shake the rope, the rope moves down towards the end. Transferring energy from the fly rod in motion, through the fly line, down the leader to the fly, is like shaking the rope. This “energy” is what casting “taper leader” is all about.
A tapered leader allows for the dispersion of that energy as it travels down the line. You see, as the line gets thinner the energy is being reduced. When it reaches the fly, the energy has basically run out, letting the fly settle gently onto the water. This process during the cast “unrolls” the line through the air for what is called “the turn over”. If the cast turns the line over, just right, a fly’s a subtle touch to the water is the “perfect” presentation. Trout fishing is all about presentation and “perfect” presentation helps catch trout.
So how does using a tapered leader help your casting?
The fly line has a much greater diameter than the tippet material does. (Tippet material: It is the section of the line used between your fly and leader). So, let’s say you’re are using a 4x fly line, a 5x tapered leader and a 6x tippet. As you can see from the numbers alone, you are gradually reducing line diameter as you go from the fly line (4x) to tippet (6x). If the leader is not tapered or not constructed properly to taper, the energy transfer down the line is interrupted. The leader may cause the fly to lag behind causing the fly to land behind the leader or bunching your leader. Basically, the line doesn’t turn over. A tapered leader allows for the energy to “progressively dissipate” on its way to the fly, letting the fly land gently on the water.
Maintenance of Tapered Leader
Typically fly anglers buy tapered leaders in the desired lengths for their rods and tie a tippet to the end. What happens though, as the changing of flies takes place, the tippet is shortened with each new fly attachment. Eventually, the tippet needs to be replaced. In turn, as new tippet is added to the leader, the leader is shortened over time too. As the leader becomes shorter, and the taper is altered, it’s not long before things can get out of whack.
Snow Balling Effect
Remember, a tapered leader is thicker at one end, thinner at the other. As you cut and shorten the leader you are gaining thickness, of course. The tippet piece you tie on must match the thickness of the remaining leader and be long enough to return the section back to proper length. This restores the leader to its proper taper again. If this process is repeated enough, soon the leader is made up of several sections, and several knots. Usually, at this point, most guys simply replace the leader with a new tapered leader and start the process over.
What We Learned From The “Professor”
So, let me summarize what we just talked about. A proper leader is the “invisible” connection between the fly line and the fly. It is tapered so that energy can progressively dissipate down to the fly letting the fly land gently on the water where you have aimed it to land.
What I learned from Paul that day many years ago about by using a tapered leader, changed every aspect of my approach to casting, whether dry fly fishing or dead drifting nymphs. Casting accuracy and casting control through proper leader maintenance, has given me the opportunity to cast more accurately.
Casting “perfectly” to rising, finicky trout to present the fly naturally increases catch rate. If it lands and looks like a naturally floating insect the greater the chances are he’ll take your offering. In turn, increasing your catch rate and success. Casting accuracy will reduce the number of casts you make too. Fewer casts and better casting accuracy means less trout are spooked, which I believe, translates into more trout caught and released.
So you tell me. If you can have better casting accuracy, more control, and confidence in your ability to place a fly where you want it, do you think you will catch more trout? You know I think so. That why I use tapered leaders.