The Best All Round Leader Size to Keep On Hand

gear tips Apr 15, 2019

Whenever you go fishing somewhere there is always an ideal size leader based upon the size of the water and the size flies you'll be fishing. On our home waters in the Smokies we prefer 7'6" leaders that taper to 4X or 5X because of short casts and bushy dry flies. When we fish on our large, local tailwater rivers we fish leaders that are 9' long and taper to 5X or 6X depending on whether we're fishing #16 beachhead nymphs and Sulphur dry flies (5X) or smaller Zebra midges in #18 or #20 (6X). Sometimes we'll even use 12' leaders for extra skittish fish in shallow clear water so our fly line is nowhere near them. Once you know your local waters well it's easy to choose a leader, but if you're traveling to new waters you may not have exactly what you need.

We always keep a variety of leaders handy, but one size leader has proven itself to be a chameleon that is capable of "shape shifting" if you find yourself short of the leader you needed. A 7'6" leader that tapers to 3X is pretty good for fishing large hopper patterns in the West or larger stonefly nymphs. You may also us one for medium to small size popping bugs for small bass or larger panfish. However, you can easily add about 18" of 5X tippet and you'll have a pretty good 9' leader tapered to 5X. It's also easy to take that same leader and add about 12" of 4X then 18-24" of 5X to get a leader nearly 12' long that's much finer than the original 7'6" 3X.
If you find yourself on some relatively small pocket water you can take a 7'6" 3X leader and clip 8" - 12" off and replace that with a similar length of 4X or 5X.
It's always best to have the ideal leader, but keeping a couple extra 7'6" 3X leaders on hand will allow you to make one if you find yourself short.

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