I am a Fly Fishers International Certified Fly Casting Instructor. I teach fly casting in lakes or rivers. Additionally I teach salt water casting techniques. This blog will be dedicated to fly fishing and fly casting. I will also write about rods and reels and whatever takes my fancy in the fly fishing universe.
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When it comes to leader build you need to be very careful. Much is written on leader build, and everyone is THE EXPERT. Don’t get sucked into the black hole of fly fishing leader literature. It only needlessly confuses you and can get terribly anal, causing decision anxiety and leading to a case of fishing paralysis. Pay attention to the three basics: the butt size, the tippet size, and finally, your middle piece/pieces. So, keep it simple, and you will be fine and enjoy your fishing more.
So, here is my attempt to explain and simplify how to understand what a leader is, and how you can subsequently build one yourself, even if it is totally unnecessary, without suffering a nervous breakdown. If you understand the principles, you can build one to fit all your fishing circumstances. A functional leader can be built out of 3-4 (or more) separate mono strands of decreasing diameter. Just consider the butt end, the middle part, and the terminal portion of a leader, i.e. 3 variables.
When you understand the principle – you don’t need any recipes.
Now, the length of the three parts in proportions (%) can vary. Charles Ritz advocated 60/20/20 as a good proportion. That build is quite powerful. For a leader that is not too delicate and not too powerful, Bruce Richards suggests 50/30/20. If you want your leader to be very delicate just increase the length of the terminal tippet, if a more powerful leader is desired, then shorten it. If you don’t want to lengthen your leader, but keep it delicate, you just shorten the first segment (40/30/30 or 35/35/30 for instance). Ritz’s and Richards’s recipes are applicable to standard length leaders (9-10 feet). For longer leaders the butt part needs to be longer. If you apply the 50/30/20 formula to a 15′ leader you get a butt that is too short, taper and tippet that are too long for mortals to cast easily, thus 60/25/15 would work better. For very short leaders the profile is less important. They are all used for streamers, so no delicacy is needed, and because they are short and the flies are big there is always plenty of power.
LEADERS BUILT FROM MONO
As you gain experience you might start to build your own leaders. To build a leader from mono you need knots. Obviously, now the connecting knots are the weak links. Two knots are the weakest links and must be strong (well tied): the one that ties the fly to the tippet and the one that ties the tippet to the rest of the leader. All the rest of the knots are tied in much stronger material, even if “weak,” they will be much stronger than the critical two. So, what knots to use is partly determined by that. Most anglers would use blood knots, because they are the neatest and pass through the guides best. The last two knots will probably be something different, for strength. There are certain types of knots for backing to reel, backing to fly line, fly line to the leader, leader to tippet, and finally tippet to the fly. And how we can torture ourselves with endless drivel on these knots! For chrissakes make up your mind, and just choose the bloody knot type. A plethora of knots exist, and many types of knots do the job. Here is one of the sites that display line to line knots.
Here again, the problem of choice rears its ugly head. So, which knots to choose? Actually, it does not matter much which type of knots you choose, just choose one for each job, and stick with it.
Building a leader
For a floating line
Let’s consider a 10′ leader. The butt size/diameter needs to match the fly line diameter tip (70%). I am using a 5# line with a tip diameter of 0.038”. That calls for a butt diameter of 0.026” (0.038” x 0.7 = 0.026”). Therefore, the butt part is already dictated by your fly line. You can influence the power of your leader by adjusting the length of the butt part. Six feet (Ritz’s recipe) will get you a powerful leader, but a shorter one, say 5 feet (Richards’s recipe) will yield neither a powerful one nor one too delicate.
I consider the 50/30/20 to be a standard leader.
So, we go with 5′ of 0.026”. Now, skip the middle part for a second.
We are using a normal #10 fly. We use the X rule (divide the fly size by three – that’s your tippet X). 10 / 3 = 3 circa, so now we go with a 3x tippet. Rule of eleven states that a 3X tippet has a diameter of 0.008”.
Let’s use 2′ of 0.008” for the tippet.
Now we have five feet of 0.026” butt section,
and two feet of 0.008” for the tippet.
That leaves three feet, and we can use a 1.5′ mono of 0.020” + 1.5′ mono of 0.012” to bridge the gap.
Generally when we are building leaders, and the differences in the diameters of the mono make it difficult to tie together, just use two or three sections of mono to step it up or down. That adds one more knot, but not in the critical part, i.e. the tippet of the leader.
The leader you need is dependent on its use. For instance, you need more power to cast a heavy fly than for a dry fly. Your choice for length of the butt section will influence the power of your leader. Your casting abilities play a role, too. Beginning casters need more powerful leaders than elite casters. Weather also plays its role. On a windy day (and most are) you need a more powerful leader. Leader length is a factor, too. Long leaders take much more skill to cast than shorter leaders. I would advise beginners to go for powerful leaders – you can always dial down the energy of your cast.
To put it super simply, the butt length decides the power, the tapering part helps bleed off the energy of the cast, and the tippet needs just enough energy left to turn the fly over.
For a sunken line
Sunken leaders don’t need to be very long, but must have enough mass to temper the line turnover. I recommend about 5′ total, 24″ of heavy butt (at least .026″), then 18″ of maybe .020“, then 18″ heavy tippet, 10-12 lb. test at least. Not elegant (elegance not needed), but works both for casting and fishing. Most people don’t use butt sections that are heavy enough. Butt diameter of 0.026″ is a minimum to temper the line turnover.
Level leaders are only for idiot savant casters for the reasons stated below. An idiot savant caster can use just about anything as a leader, but the rest of us CAN’T.
It is possible to use a level leader from the butt to the tip. We know that the butt part needs to be 0.7 of the diameter of the fly line diameter tip. Let us imagine that we need a tippet with 0.026” for our saltwater line. Take a look at the table below for saltwater tippets. (Incidentally, the tippet has no clue where it is, neither do lines nor rods for that matter. I use my freshwater lines in the salt because I like casting them.) Now you are left with a whopping 50 lb. tippet. Perfect butt size but few are interested in tying a 50 lb. tippet to a fly. The hook to be used must furthermore have an eye that matches the level leader. Additionally, now the leader is the strongest part of the whole casting system. That is potentially unsafe, if you need to break off a fish* (a story on that below).
I have a #6 line called TROUT with a tip that measures 0.039.” Its diameter calls for a 0.027” tippet. If I go with the 50 lb. tippet (butt diameter 0.026) the resultant knot could turn out to be bigger than the fly itself. The trout tippet lineup (above) has its thickest tippet at 0.013 or only half the diameter needed. Because of all those issues I strongly advise against using level leaders. If you only have tippet material left and must use it, choose a diameter between the butt requirement and the fly size requirement. Like most compromises it works, but not well.
In a blog like this I can’t list leader recipes left and right.
I would like to draw your attention to Keith Richards’sHow to… Design Your Leaders Streamside.
Keith’s recipes are based on break strength and are undoubtedly good designs. But remember that it is mass that makes the leaders work, not its break strength. If Keith used older, low tech monofilament the diameter would be large (the mass, too), and surely correct. But if you make your leaders out of newer, high tech monofilament, your diameter/mass will be much lower and the leader butt, and the mid-section will be too light. Use Mason Hard Mono or Scientific Anglers Absolute Hard Mono to guide you to correct diameters of butt and mid sections.
STEINI – A PRINCIPLED ANGLER – CLEAR PRIORITIES
* When you are fishing the blue-ribbon salmon rivers of Iceland, there is a tradition to serve a drink when you return to the lodge for your meals. Punctually at 2pm and 10pm you return for the meals, and get your reward. Steini, one of the great characters of Icelandic fishing lore, was once fishing in Vatnsdalsá. Steini was a very accomplished salmon angler and had frequently caught big salmon (20lb. plus) in Vatnsdalsá. Those big fish are not subdued quickly, if at all. One day he was fishing just before the noon break, and a big salmon nailed his fly and jumped. No doubt – a very big fish was on. Steini went ashen and muttered “Another bloody outsize fish. I just can’t stand this. Takes forever to land the bloody f…….” Whereupon Steini straight-lined the salmon, gave a hard tug, and broke the fish off. Steini taught me a lot, and I cherish his memory.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/IMG_8489-scaled.jpeg19202560Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-07-29 16:13:442020-07-31 10:02:09Leaders tied from tippet/leader material. Leader no III.
There are lots of companies offering their leaders. It isn’t practical to go through all of them. I choose to portray some of SA’s leaders simply because I know exactly, what I am getting when I buy those. The diameters (butt-tippet) of each leader is clearly stated. If the diameters are not stated, I will not buy that leader. All companies list the break strength and length.
We have defined the three parts of the leader. First comes the butt end, which needs to be 70% of the diameter of the floating fly line tip. The middle part then tapers, and the leader ends in the leveltippet. The tippet needs to match the hook size to a degree. Modern commercial leaders have become fantastic. They are offered in various lengths, tippet/butt diameters, suppleness, and break strengths. You can find a leader for all your fishing needs from various companies. I strongly advise beginners to use the commercially available leaders at the outset. Mono has become much stronger over the years, and the quality of the leader material has improved. If anglers can’t find a leader that works for them – they need to fix their casting!
Ready-made leaders mostly come with a pre-tied loop on the butt end. When you use such a ready-made leader there is only one knot to worry about — the one for the fly. There are certain types of knots that work well for backing to reel, backing to fly line, fly line to the leader, leader to tippet, and finally tippet to the fly. The knot to learn first is therefore in the terminal connection category.
This site lists 34 terminal knots that you can use. There are undoubtedly many more. To tie the fly onto the leader, I use the classic Clinchknot and sometimes the Uniknot. It does not really matter which one you use if they are tied badly! Here again, the problem of choice rears its ugly head. So, which knots to choose? Actually, it does not matter much which type of knot you choose, just choose one for each job, and stick with it.
If you come to a fork in the road – take it (Yogi Berra).
To give you an idea of ready-made leaders you can buy – let’s start with the Trout Leaders. It is simplest to display the information in a table. It is much easier to visualize that way.
So, 22 different trout leaders are available! You don’t really have to make your own. Below are pointers on which ones to use and when. Remember, for beginners the shorter leaders work best. As your casting improves you can cast longer leaders, but they are rarely required.
When and why would we choose a short or long leader? Usually the reason has to do with visibility. If the water is murky or it is night-time, very short leaders and heavy tippets work fine. If the water is gin clear, the sky bright and cloudless, the water calm, and the fish are biting, and enjoy great visibility (think bonefish, or trout), then you need a longer leader, and longer lighter tippet.
Seven feet six-inch leader.
1. Short, powerful and ideal for casting big/heavy flies/fly. Just remember to open your loops when delivering the heavy load. On a windy day this leader can become a great trout leader. This length leader is the easiest one to cast.
2. The butt diameter is the easy part – it needs to be 70% of the diameter of the level tip of your terminal floating line.
3. The break strength is decided by the size of the fish, and the size of the fly you choose (#fly divided by 3 – indicates X size of your tippet).
1. This leader length can be viewed as the standard-length leader. This length is my default and is practical in most situations. Just a tad more difficult to cast than the 7.5’ leader for a beginner.
2. The butt diameter is easy – it needs to be 70% of the diameter of the level tip of your terminal floating line.
3. The break strength is decided by the size of the fish, and the size of the fly you choose (#fly divided by 3 – indicates X size of your tippet).
1. This leader length can become useful in situations where the fish enjoy greatvisibility – clear water, mirror surface, sunny day. If the trout are finicky an eleven-foot leader places the end of the fly line further from the fish, which can become advantageous. However, those extra 2 feet will become much harder to cast for a beginner.
2. The butt diameter is easy – it needs to be 70% of the diameter of the level tip of your terminal floating line.
3. The break strength is decided by the size of the fish, and the size of the fly you choose (#fly divided by 3 – indicates X size of your tippet).
Fourteen feet leader.
1. For the idiot savants of fly casting, NOT to be recommended to beginners
Salmon, Steelhead and Seatrout
For Icelandic readers – steelhead is a seagoing rainbow. For American readers – seatrout is a seagoing brown trout (in British English). So, here we have five nine-foot leaders, and three twelve-foot leaders. It is enough for me. These anglers don’t use the X system, only worrying about the break strength of the tippet and the leader length. Nine-foot leaders are the standard. In low water situations and when the visibility for the fish is good, twelve-foot leaders are handy.
Here you have five different leaders to choose from and that’s plenty in my book. Break strength is the all-important factor. This crowd does not pay enough attention to the butt size of their leaders, but they should because the flies are often heavy, and you need optimal energy transfer from the fly line to turn the beasts over. However, these leaders have the optimal butt diameters.
The red thread for all the leaders above
I noticed, when looking at these leaders, that all these leaders have relative thick butts. By relative I mean in respect to the butt diameters I was used to using chasing trout in Iceland twenty years ago. The butt diameters are not a coincidence. This manufacturer knows the importance of matching the leader to the fly line likely to be used, and these leaders cast very well with the correct line.
You also have noticed the marketing “trout leader” “salmon leader” “saltwater leader” terms. These are all high-end copolymer nylon with a relative density of 1.2. They have no awareness and have no idea where they are. The fish don’t care what we call those leaders either. So, you can use them whenever, wherever you are fishing, if the break strength and diameters and length is ok. The leaders above are made to be used with floating lines.
When you are using lines that sink (sinking, sink tip, or intermediate clear tip lines) you do not need a long leader. Sinking lines can have a very heavyterminalend, plus are often used with quite heavy flies. These leaders work very well, but remember to change your casting. Sinking type lines should not be cast as floating lines. Open up your loops and minimize your falsecasting. On each forward cast lay the line down for an instant, then backcast and gradually shoot the line out. This type of leader can be used to an advantage with floating lines too. If you are casting a very heavy streamer you can use a four-foot leader to ensure that you can turn the streamer over. Floating lines with a clear floating tip do not need long leaders – this leader works well with such a line.
But which one ……………?
I have tried to explain the fundamental basics of how you choose your leader. When you understand those, you can choose which leader to use in the different scenarios you encounter. So, the answer to the question above is —– usethe right one. Remember, that the leader you need to use is dependent on your casting abilities, and to a degree on the weather, too. In bad windy weather go shorter. If there is great visibility for the fish, then go longer but never exceed your casting abilities.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/IMG_1338-scaled.jpeg17072560Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-07-26 17:26:112020-07-31 10:01:26Ready-made Leaders. Leader no II.
The leader is probably the most overlooked or misunderstood part of the fly casting system. It is impossible to do the subject any justice in one blog, therefore I will parse it out. This part covers various generalities on leaders.
Much is written on leaders in fly fishing. A Google search – “fly fishing leaders” – yields about 17,600,000 hits (0.91 seconds). That’s a lot to chew through, and if you missed the 11,111,00th you are in serious trouble. Some pieces are of course excellent, and others are less so. However, leaders are often made out to be very complicated, when they are not. Remember, the leader is a continuum of the fly line that happens to be clear. The front taper of the fly line tapers down to dissipate the energy of the cast, but should leave just enough energy to turn over the leader and the fly. That’s the leader’s function (dissipate energy – turn over fly) – there is no mystery. The standard leader is 9′ long, starts with a butt end, and ends after tapering, in the now thinner tippet end. That’s it – that all there is to it.
When ruminating on leaders, we must make clear, that they are caster dependent. The longer they get, the better you must cast, and the more delicate leaders require better casting. Casting is always a part of leader design. So, remember the leader you use must match your casting abilities. Those who recommend a certain leader, should also state for whom it is intended. If a leader is very long and delicate, it is for the idiot savants of fly casting, but they do not need any help for sure. Our recommendations are for beginners and average casters.
The leader you use trout fishing is also dependent on the general visibility of the day. A calm day with no cloud coverage and clear water, means good visibility for the fish, and calls for a little longer leader. On a dark rainy day the leader can be a bit shorter. The mass of the fly used is very important. Small dries can be cast with delicate leaders whereas a big weighted Wooly Bugger needs a much more powerful leader.
Some housekeeping before we dive into it. A commercial leader comes in one piece. The thick first part is the level butt, then we have the mid-section or the taper, and finally the level tippet. The leader starts out level, then tapers down, and then levels out again. As you change your flies the tippet or terminal portion of your leader gets cut, and the leader shortens. Therefore, you carry a spool of mono of similar diameter to the tippet, and tie in pieces to lengthen the leader again. Mono just means single stranded, but the term has drifted (languages do that) to mean nylon in fly fish speak. Fluorocarbon (also mono) is also used as tippet material, often just shortened to fluoro.
Tippet – The rule of eleven
The tippet material is loaded onto spools, and marked with its breaking test – 5 pound or 10 pounds, etc.- and the diameter of tippet which is far more important. Then there is something called X, for instance X, 2X or 5X stamped on the spool label. This X system is used to indicate the diameter of monofilament lines. This X denotation comes from the past like so much in our sport. Leaders were made from silk worm guts. The segments were then drawn through dies that shaved off a little bit every passage. 3X had been 3 times through etc. The higher the X number the thinner the tippet.
Now the standard is set so that 0X is 0.011 inches thick. Subtract the number prefix to the X from 0.011 to find the diameter of the tippet – for 1X we go 0.011 – 1 = 0.010 etc. Take the 2 numbers, add together = 11. Another way to explain this is to say the X rating plus the diameter in thousandths will be equal to 11. (5 thousandths (.005”) + 6X = 11. 3X + 8 thousandths (.008”) = 11). Now, the various sizes can be found in the table below. Of course the diameter of the tippet is also stated making the x system redundant but the “trouters” love it and therefore it stays. The “salters” only pay attention to the breaking test of their tippet when they should be paying attention to the diameter too.
Mass or break strength
Tippet material has evolved and become very strong. Now for instance, you can get tippet material with 0.011” diameter that has an impressive 16 lb. break strength (diameter of “old tech” 16 lb. Mason Hard mono is 0.020″). Its density has not increased – it is still the same. The mass of such a piece of tippet is therefore smaller than the “older” tippet. However, the turnover of the leader is dependent on the MASS of the leader NOT the break strength og the tippet. Therefore, the diameter (better indicator of mass) of the tippet is the all important factor, not the break strength, when building leaders or adding tippet to a leader. We should emphasize that tensile strength of sections of leaders are unimportant EXCEPT for the tippet, the weak link. Pay no attention to the tensile strength of butt and taper, it will lead you astray, the mass/diameter rule is the important one!
Pay attention to your butt size
So, in the last blog (see below), I explained the importance of having a thick butt on your leader connecting to your fly line. Approximately 70% off the diameter of the tip of the fly line is the goal for the butt’s leader. We arrived at the 70% figure by dividing the relative density of the floating fly line tip or 0.85, with the relative density of 6/6 nylon or 1.2 – 0.85/1.2 = 0.70. This applies only to floating lines. The relative density of the tip of sinking lines is much higher. Therefore open up your loop to minimize the kick, when casting sinking lines. So, it follows that the meatier lines need leaders with thicker butts. You can easily measure the tip off the fly line with a micrometer. The butt diameters of ready-made commercial leaders is now generally of the right size.
Purpose of leader
What’s the purpose of the leader? To deliver the fly, and dissipate the energy of the cast. That’s best achieved by tapering the leader, insuring just enough energy to turn over the fly. Ready made leaders start level, then they taper down and level out again. If you are casting as hard as you can and can’t turn over the leader you need to shorten it and/or use a lighter fly.
The leader ends where we tie in the fly. Not rocket science exactly. But it is obvious that we can’t tie a very thick tippet to a small Collie dog. Conversely, we don’t tie a 3 lb. tippet to a monstrous ten-inch fly. Therefore, it is clear that the tippet size must match the hook size to an extent. You can also divide fly size by 3 and that’s your X size. Adjust up or down 1 size depending on conditions. The recommendation for the tippet size and hook size is more fluid than the recommendation for the butt size, but you’ll get the idea. As you bumble along you get a feel for the size of tippet to use with the various hook sizes.
Light lines can’t cast heavy flies
Some fish (bonefish and salmon for instance) take flies that could easily be cast with light rods. However, you do not want to deal with a salmon equipped with a four-weight rod. Same goes for bonefish. The bonefish flats are wind swept, and you just need heavier lines because of that. If the fight gets prolonged, a shark will eat the exhausted bonefish for sure. It is super important to remember that you can cast small flies with heavy gear, but can’t cast big flies with light gear.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/IMG_7390.jpeg9661449Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-07-08 06:35:362020-07-31 10:00:07TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER. From butt to fly - through the tippet! Leader no I.
When a fly line is cast without a leader it will kick. The caster loses his/her control over the fly line. If you doubt it stop reading now and try for yourself. …….. Ok, now you tried, and we can continue. The energy that usually propels the fly line, and straightens the leader, is still there, but now the energy has nowhere to go but back up the line, and the line kicks. Now, what happens when you cast a line with a leader? Voila, it doesn’t kick now. The energy in the line is now transferred (bleeds) into the leader. Of course, as all this is happening the energy of the cast dissipates because of the drag.
Moving mass (the fly line, leader and fly) is governed by a law of physics – the law of the conservation of momentum. It is a simple one, and for our discussion a useful one. When we cast a fly line and the loop starts to form, the rod leg of the line is stationary. The top/fly leg has all the momentum, but as it passes the apex of the loop and becomes the rod leg, it loses mass, but picks up speed. This increased speed is now dissipated by the drag (speed doubles – drag quadruples). At the end of the cast there needs to be just enough energy to turn over the leader and the fly. So, that energy needs to reach the fly. All explanations and theories of fly casting must be rooted in the laws of physics. If not, they are simply wrong.
Noticed the fly line speed up?
From the formula (p=mass * speed) it is easy to understand — when mass decreases speed must increase. You have probably noticed that the line sometimes speeds up at the end of your cast – well, pay close attention next time you cast, and you can see this happen. The energy of the cast is moved through the mass of the line, and it is obvious that the energy in the line must transfer over to the mass of the leader. That transfer works to our advantage if the mass of the leader’s butt end is about the mass of the terminal level tip of the fly line. If the diameter of the leader’s butt is approximately 70% of the level tip of the fly line, we are in the game. You noticed that I was writing about the mass of this and that, and suddenly I am using diameters. Well, the greater the diameter of the leader material the heavier it is (more mass). We have these diameters printed on the leader info sheet (if there is no such info don’t buy that leader), and the butt and fly line tip diameter are easy to measure with a micrometer (yes, I do that!). Therefore, it is now easier to use the diameters in our communication.
Angler’s leader butt is generally too small
I can guarantee that most fly anglers will use a leader where the butt diameter is too small, and does not match the tip of the fly line (70% is enough). There is simply insufficient diameter/mass in the leader butt to transfer the energy from the fly line. That is a sure way to lose energy, and then the leader does not have enough energy to turn over, and the fly lands on the top of the sorry pile of a leader. I know this well because I have been there. This is when the demon whispers into your ear – “son, that ultra-fast new fly rod is what you need.” Yes, yes, yes and you rush off and buy the ultra-fast ……. fly rod, but you still cast bird’s nests. The road mostly untaken runs through coaching and practice. It is galling that such a simple remedy exists, i.e. just use a leader with enough diameter/mass in the butt section to turn over your leader and fly. However, folks generally do not understand this principle and suffer accordingly.
As the energy rolls along the fly line to the leader, the leader is dissipating energy (as it speeds up, the drag increases). Now, by having a tapered leader you also immediately realize — as the mass decreases the speed must increase (law of conservation of momentum), and thus we have generated enough energy to turn over even a heavy fly. It’s now obvious that we can cast a small fly with a longer leader than we can cast a heavy fly. It follows that sometimes by just shortening your leader, you can now turn over that heavy fly causing you so much trouble on your last trip.
Enjoy it more
There is no absolute need for you to understand the physics of fly casting to enjoy the sport. However, you certainly will enjoy your sport much better when your cast improves, when you can turn over big heavy flies by paying attention to the butt end of your leader.
Morale of the story
So, the morale of this story is always to use a leader, whose butt’s diameter is somewhere around 70% of the tip of the fly line. This will ensure optimal transfer of energy from your fly line to your leader, improving your cast, and ensuring turnover of heavier flies.
What to look for
A note on leader purchase. Leaders are sold in small packets where you will probably only see indicated the breaking strength, and perhaps some X designation (salt anglers do not care about the X denotation). However, the X designation is useful for trout fishermen for diameter, and relates to suppleness, and strength too. Armed with this new advice of matching the butt of the leader to your fly line, you should be looking for Length, Tippet Diameter, Butt Diameter, and Break Strength. If no such information is divulged, do not buy the leader. (see picture below)
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/F3AD2524-D2E1-415A-B874-4C2673444769_1_105_c.jpeg7241086Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-05-28 15:07:242020-07-26 17:24:33Your butt is too small!
There are two properties to consider before casting any fly. First, the weight of the fly, and secondly, the air resistance (drag) of the fly. It took me a while to realize the weight of the fly is the driver/determinant of the choices of which line and rod that we should use. I have neither caught a fish that took my fly because it was so happy with the NRX rod I was using, nor has any fish shown particular excitement, one way or another, when I use this or that Amplitude line. Of course, it is better to have good equipment, but if you can’t cast the fly, the game is over. So, when you mull this over, I hope you will realize that the fly to use for the particular species you are going for is the first determinant of the tackle.
Let’s consider the weight of the fly. The heavier a fly gets the meatier fly lines you need to cast it. The mantra is — mass moves mass as simple as that, and everyone understands this simple truism. However, one of the most frequent questions I get here (Florida Panhandle) is, “Why can’t I cast that Clouser with my eight weight?” Then I answer, “Well, can I try?” Then do and find that this Clouser can’t be cast with the client’s eight weight, using the standard casting technique. The problem is that most casters haven’t mastered the casting technique needed to cast heavy rigs.
I have three possible solutions to this situation. First, I recommend a lighter Clouser for that rod size (less mass in fly). Secondly, I recommend a heavier line/rod combo for that specific Clouser (more mass in line). It is obvious — we must match the mass of a fly with the mass of the line. Thirdly, I can teach the Belgian cast. But guess what the clients do? They go and buymore gear of course. I know, I did the same until I learned to cast properly. However, you can’t buy a cast, see https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=888
Now, consider the drag (air resistance) of a fly. It is a given that the drag will increase with the fly’s size. We can counter that only to a certain extent. We can increase the speed of the fly, however, but when the fly’s speed is doubled its drag will then quadruple.
You can see the trouble mounting. Big and heavy flies just aren’t easy to cast. That’s just simple physics, something which is immutable. Big fish love big flies – that is one of our mantras, too. So, we really can’t do much about the drag (except fishing at high altitudes). That leaves only the weight to be considered.
This is Bob’s Banger. It is a great fly, and I love it. The question is — can we decrease its mass? The Banger weighs 0.073oz or 2.08gr. Where is that mass, and do we need all of it? The mass is located in the long shank onto which the fly is built. The long shank has no other function. Because of the long lever the shank length is a disadvantage when fighting fish. Now the bulb should come on!
We can easily build the same fly on a light plastic tube. Tube flies are very simple to tie, and I find them easier to deal with. What about the hook? We use so called tube hooks for the job. Tube hooks have short shanks (advantageous), and we simply thread the leader through the tube and tie onto the hook. Then we pull the eye of the hook into the rear end of the fly where we sometimes have a piece of silicone tube (hook holder) snugly securing the hook in place.
It is not important to secure the hook, and the tube usually comes loose when you are fighting fish, and interestingly, rides up the leader. Thus, tube flies seem to be more durable. Furthermore, they don’t ever rust.
The long shank edition weighs in at 0.073oz, whereas the tube version weighs 0.044oz. In grams 2.085 vs. 1.24.
So, the answer to the first question — “Must big flies be so heavy?” — is equivocally no.
The answer to the second question — “Can the mass of a big fly be decreased?” — is yes.
I rest my case.
Tube flies have been around for a long time. They are extensively used in salmon fishing. I came across them in the salmon rivers of Iceland 30 years ago. Of course, the saltwater tubes are used here in the States, but they are not as well known as they should be.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/442DC95E-F276-48DA-B2D0-222EC4A542C8_1_105_c.jpeg7241086Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-05-22 11:04:022020-05-22 11:04:04Must big flies be so heavy? - Can the mass of a big fly be decreased?
Fishing had been deemed essential by the Tallahassee Oracles (and it truly is) during the lockdown the of Florida beaches. So, Baz and I went fishing one glorious day. The weather was just great (disclaimer — whenever a fisherman begins a sentence with the bloody weather you know she/he in all likelihood got skunked), and the visibility into the water was fantastic. Even I could clearly see the fish. There were a lot of redfish and jack crevalle schools milling about. We just anchored the boat in such a way that we expected the jacks to swim on the outside of us, and they did, one school after the other. You just have to cast to those big badass fish, and when you spot them, the urge is immediately there. We decided to use a big popper called Bob’s Banger, which is only cast by folks with masochistic tendencies (sadomasochistic when we hook our company). These big and heavy poppers are a pain in the – wherever you like your pain best – to cast (how to cast big poppers – see at end). For the first school of fish we cast the fly in front of the fish as they bore down on us, but the line did spook them and that was that.
When anglers first see the jacks come in formation in two – three feet of water, they often just freeze. They just stare – eyes popping, mouth gaping, sphincters can go iffy, and they are totally unable to get off a cast. Those beginners who unexpectedly do get off a cast bungle it without fail. There is usually only one chance to deliver a decent cast to each school. The schools were coming thick and fast at us, and all the jacks swam the same way as you can see below. We decided to cast the popper straight out and have it waiting in the blue part you can see below. The rationale was to cast an unhurried long cast where we could strategically place the fly where we wanted it. That done, we just waited for the next school to come cruising.
This school of jacks showed up as predicted, and you can see the line that has just been biding its time. When the time was right the popper popped away, and some fish just ignored it, and swam under the line, but suddenly a bruiser in the 20-30 pound class swam under the fly. Suddenly the jack turned back and up, and came to the surface just in front of the popper, in precisely the same way a big salmon takes a fly on the surface. Baz and I both saw this magnificent take but it happened so quickly that it was impossible to catch in a photo.
I set the hook and the fight was on. Jacks simply take a very dim view on being hooked, and they are fast, strong, and mean, but not impossible to deal with. After a while the fish tired and I eased it towards the boat. Baz grabbed the leader and was ready with the net in the other hand. And presto — the fish broke off. He turned around and sternly asked “Jonas – what was the pound strength of that leader?” (he knows that I sometimes just slap on whatever I happen to have in my pocket). Eyes downcast and somewhat sheepishly I murmured “maybe ten pound.” That answer just earned me THE LOOK.
Damn – in the doghouse again. But I managed to rescue my tattered standing, and finally pulled off a really long cast, with a backhand delivery, to hook a redfish that I managed to land; proof see below.
This blog is deficient if I do not honor the jacks with a picture. The jacks are a force to be reckoned with for sure, and here is a picture of one of them.
The jack crevalle is in the jack family with the GT (giant trevally). GTs get much more press, but are no more of a game fish than our crevalle.
The Bob’s Banger in the first picture weighs in at 0.073oz or 2.08gr. So, it has considerable mass and a lot of drag, too, being 4 inches long (10cm). The considerations as to a fly’s “cast-ability” are its weight and its drag (air resistance). This fly is both very heavy and also has a lot of drag. I would advise using at least a ten-weight line or bigger if you have it for such a beast (mass moves mass). The leader that works best has the thickest butt you can find (again more mass in the leader – SA now makes a leader with 0.03” butt). Forget about a long leader, but instead shorten your leader to 7.5′. Now you are in the game, but if you try to cast this beast the “usual way” it will probably not go well. I advise you to open your loop and lob the popper out there. The cast I am referring to is the Belgian cast or the constant tension cast. Beware of casting videos where the teacher says “horizontal back – then up and over” for instance. If the line is horizontal and the caster points the rod straight back, all tension in the rod is gone and the fly will ricochet. Start the backcast horizontally, and when the rod tip is coming to the three a’clock position you start to bring the tip up. At that point, the heavy fly will swing up high – you come to the delivery position and go straight into the forward cast. And there should be no pause. Here is the best Belgian video I can find.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/4DE2AE8E-2871-4D9D-9240-11D01109A0F8_1_201_a.jpeg6571066Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-05-14 19:33:592020-05-14 19:55:48To catch a jack crevalle (and land a red)
The spectacle of spring and the arrival of the migratory birds make for a miraculous time in Iceland, where I was born and raised. Here in the Florida Panhandle there is really no winter, comparatively. However, there is a distinct spring. It is spring when the migratory birds travel through to destinations further north (robins, orioles, etc.), and the ruby throated hummers arrive and make their presence known. Most are migrating through, but some take up residence in my yard. Then in the fall the hummers migrate south to Central America. Their migratory routes can be along the coast west to Texas and then south through Mexico to reach Central America. They can also cross the Gulf of Mexico, and that is quite a feat because these small birds cannot land on water. They can travel via the Florida peninsula to Cuba, and then use the Caribbean islands to reach South America.
So, what is so special about these birds? First off they are so tiny – 3.75” long and weigh in at 0.11oz (9.5cm – 3.2g). Then there is the physiology. Their resting heart rate is 500 bpm, increasing to a whopping 1200 bpm when flying. Then there is the wing speed – the hummer can beat the wings 50-200times per second! The birds can hover in the air, ascend or descend straight up and down from that position, and fly backwards. To be able to accomplish that their brain has grown to about 4% of their weight, the largest of the bird brains, based on percent of body weight (human brains are a paltry 2%). For this rapid metabolism they need lots of energy. I take advantage of that and have feeders with a sugar solution ready, hung from the pergola from late March onward.
Then I can sit back and enjoy the birds and sometimes I manage to take a photo of them that is in focus. To freeze them in the picture you need insanely fast shutter speeds, for instance, the featured image was shot at 1/3200 of a second and still one wing is blurry. They also can slow down their metabolism at night and enter into a state of torpor just to awaken the next morning for another day, like waking up from the dead. These pictures are of a male (the females are very similar without the red patch). When a male has found the feeders, he tries to defend them from all other males. Females get to drink, and I smell an ulterior motive.
Here I managed to get a picture of the bird with the tongue sticking out. Their tongue is very long, and they use it as a micro-pump to get the nectar.
The coloring of their feathers and the red throat are based on the iridescence of the feathers. Depending on the sunlight the color can be striking. And generally, the hummingbirds have an absolutely breathtaking display of colors, depending on the angle of light and the iridescence of the feathers. The bird seen perched on my fly rod has a commanding view of “his” feeders which he will defend from other males.
In these times of the plague I find it reassuring that there is a lot to cherish and be in awe of in nature around us that goes about its business, regardless of our worries. The hummers are certainly a booster to the daily dose of antidepressants. I certainly love those wonderful birds.
I enjoy observing various forms of wildlife where I live. I have touched upon some of the aquatic species in Pensacola Bay and in the Gulf. Now I want to do the avian part some justice. I recently took my dogs on our daily one-hour walk, starting from my house, and saw the birds I cover here. To spot all these birds during an hour’s walk within a small town is amazing. The spotting part is easy – these are big birds (except for the Kestrel), but if you don’t pay attention you will not see them.
The first bird is the great blue heron, and it’s ubiquitous around here. The heron and I have at least one thing in common, and that is fishing. However, the heron does not cast any fly, instead stalks the shoreline, and uses its sharp beak to spear its prey. The stunned prey is then just summarily swallowed.
The red-tailed hawk lives and hunts around our recreational center – in the middle of town. There are several wide open fields, and it can view the menu from various vantage points. I absolutely wouldn’t want to be a rabbit crossing those fields. This hawk is quite the poseur, and is not nervous around people at all. I encounter him on my walks at least once a week.
For the Icelandic readers, our language has two words for its falcons – fálki and haukur (fálki i.e. gyrfalcon). Haukur is the same word as hawk. In USA there are numerous hawks, but they are not in the falcon family. The red-tailed hawks are quite a bit bigger and chunkier than the Icelandic gyrfalcons. I must say that I find the table manners of the gyrfalcon more refined, than those of the red-tailed hawks. The gyrfalcon will sever the spine of its prey before dining, but the hawk does not observe such niceties, and just starts eating its prey. The prey might be dead from the impaling talons, but often it’s not.
Then I noticed two bald eagles soaring – too far up to photograph (I use an old photo for this blog). They are unmistakable with their white heads and tails. Their number seems to be growing, but that might just as well be due to my powers of observation. The fishing prowess of the bald eagles is legendary and known to all. Their table manners, however, are appalling.
The ospreys are everywhere here in the coastal areas. They are superb hunters and eat preferably live fish. They cruise over the water and then dive down, hitting the water with their talons first. They can become totally submerged, then pop up again and take flight with a fish in their talons. I have noticed when they fly off with their fish, the fish’s head always faces forward. Whether it has to do with aerodynamics, or the osprey is just being nice with a scenic flight is unknown. Then the osprey tears the fish apart and that is that.
I think they have a sense of humor, or at least one of them has. One day I went fishing and was catching Spanish mackerel left and right, and releasing all the fish I caught. When I came home an osprey flew over and dropped a mackerel on my driveway!
The kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon [weighs ca 4.1oz (120g)] and is similar in size to a mourning dove. I once noticed a smallish bird sitting on top of the uprights of an American football goal at the recreational center’s grounds. Those uprights are really high. By sneaking in and using my longest tele (approx. 640mm – handheld – sometimes you just get lucky), I got this shot of the kestrel surveying its hunting fields. The big hawk and the small kestrel can coexist because the kestrel goes for insects, invertebrates, and the small fare. So each bird occupies a different niche. Judging by the droppings (the white stuff) on the pole, it is clear that this is a well-used vantage point for the kestrel. I find the kestrel to be a beautiful bird.
Now for my biggest surprise of the dog walk. I noticed some movement in an abandoned eagle nest. This huge nest sits very high from the ground in a dead tree. In order to be able to see over the top of the edge you need to be far away. First I spot the “horns” and then I see the unmistakable owl face. Then I spot the owl chick. I had never seen this owl before. The great horned owl is a huge bird (22” or 55cm high) and an apex predator. Only the great gray owl is bigger here in USA, but the gray owl is a resident of the north part of the US. The great horned owl is found all over Canada and the States. The owl kills its prey by squeezing it if it survives the initial impact. Those talons are able to exert 500 pounds of pressure per square inch (30psi is your car tire pressure)!
After I posted this I got this e-mail and correction from Lucy Duncan.
Your blog was certainly interesting. I would make only one correction, and that is of the nest in which the Great Horned Owl nests. It is not an abandoned eagle’s nest. The trail is called the Eagle’s Nest Trail because there used to an eagle’s nest there 70 years ago when my husband was a boy here. That tree and nest had long been forgotten by any eagles by the time I moved here in 1966, but in the 1970s or early ‘80s, a tornado took that tree down and the nest with it. The nest you now see is an Osprey’s nest. Or, I should say it was an osprey’s nest! The owl nests much earlier than the osprey, and when the owls leave that nest, an osprey could move in. If there were a competition for the nest, the owl would certainly win.
So, Every Jonah has a Whale….. and you have woven quite a delightful tale of your own.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks Lucy – I opted to place the whole e-mail here to prove that someone does indeed read my blog!
Also please have a look at Capt. Baz’s comment after the blog entry.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/IMG_1256-scaled.jpg17072560Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-03-02 18:35:142020-03-03 19:53:00A great blue heron and five raptors - my neighbors
One person in my stable of blog characters is Capt. Baz. No, don’t worry, this one isn’t about him. However, it started with him.
“Hi Jonas – my little brother Dave is in town, and he really would like to learn to fly cast,“ was the gist of our phone conversation, followed by “and it is on the house too!” I am fine with “the work is your reward” philosophy if I am teaching something. However, Baz, manual labour is a straight no no no.
Dave showed up, and he was an exceptional student from the outset. When I am teaching raw beginners I find one issue in them all. It doesn’t have to do with the movement, but rather lack of it, i.e. they just can’t stop the hand/wrist and rod when they make the backcast. So, their backcast will look like the picture below.
The motion we are trying to teach starts with our upper arm vertical, and under arm horizontal (90 degrees). Then the hand is moved up and back with constant acceleration to an abrupt stop until the underarm has reached the vertical position with the wrist firm. This movement should be smooth, and the acceleration constant, but the stop must be abrupt. There are some issues with the constant smooth acceleration, but that can be ironed out rather quickly. However, the abrupt stop on the back cast is very hard to accomplish in the beginning. The drawing below shows a good backcast.
This near universal inability to stop the hand/wrist and rod is a bit baffling when you come across this first when teaching (conveniently forgetting how I myself struggled). We use our arms and hands all the time to do all kinds of complicated tasks. We certainly can stop a forward moving hand hard (think fly swatter – hammer). But, when you think about that particular backward motion, we do not use that often in our daily lives, if at all. When we gain the ability to stop our hand on the back cast – the backcast will be straight without slack – setting up a good forward cast. My task as a teacher is pretty much wrapped up when my students understand the importance of the abrupt stop and straight backcast. All the rest is tweaking this or that.
But returning back to Dave, it turned out that he could absolutely stop his hand wherever I wanted him to stop it, while keeping the wrist firm. On top of that, the constant acceleration part was there, too. This piqued my interest, so I asked him what his work was. “Oh – this and that in business“ was the answer ” and I am a drummer (i.e. sort of a musician).” Now this was very interesting to me, and sure enough the musculature of his underarm was exceptionally well developed, and precisely those puppies control the wrist movement. Biceps and triceps have to do with flexion and extension of the elbow.
We had two short sessions, and at the end he was double hauling, and shooting line with ease. A week later he calls “How long are these fly lines?” It turned out that he was casting into the backing (fly lines are around 100′, some shorter some longer). That is a very long cast for even excellent casters.
Last January Capt. Baz, Odell Mullis and I went to the Bahamas to escape the Florida winter, that is, what there is of a winter. This was Dave’s first encounter with bonefish and he had been told that they would be very hard to catch. We don’t go to a bonefish lodge, so it is low key and self guided. The Bahamian flats are just stunning. Vast flats become dry on low tide and then the tide comes in, and the bonefish follow to get to the smorgasbord of the inundated flat.
Yup, you guessed it, Dave with a bent rod became a recurring theme. Bent rod when I only almost had a strike!
The bonefish subsequently released. Needless to say, Dave caught numerous bonefish on his first trip with us.
I gotta go now – the UPS guy is at my door delivering my set of drums.
In a previous post I covered this river – see below. The current post deals exclusively with the two uppermost fishing spots – i.e. the Réttarfoss pool and the Réttarstrengur run.
The crew for this trip was my fishing partner and friend Sibbi – https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=1783 – and Hilmar Konráðsson, with whom I had not fished before – but I will gladly fish with again. Then there was my American friend and traveling companion Odell Mullis in the role of photographer. His job was the hardest – fingers freezing – electronics sluggish, and rain constantly splattering the lens.
The salmon in Hrútafjarðará can get up to Réttarfoss, but can’t jump that waterfall. Therefore, the pool below the waterfall invariably holds numerous fish at the tail end of the season. However, it is awkward to fish, and casting in the canyon can be problematic. The position taken by most anglers is close to the middle of the outflow from the pool. That is not an ideal position. You get too close to the fish to my liking, and you are practically on top of some of them. This violates two of my fly fishing tenets: no unnecessary wading and don’t get too close to the fish.
We were fishing there in late August ’19, and the conditions were challenging. Just a few degrees above freezing, and wind was barreling up the canyons from the north, and the blessed rain was there too, and there was a lot of both. The amount of water flowing was quite a bit over the average. No fun wading in those conditions.
By tiptoeing close to the black basaltic rocks to the position you see on the photograph above, we were in a relatively concealed position to cast over the outflow tract of the pool. However, the fly was not going to move across the water in a way we like it to do. After some rumination Sibbi says “let’s try a hitching tube here, and just strip it across the outflow.” This is why I love this guy – he is always ready to try something unconventional. The salmon loved this, too, and we had great fun for a while with multiple salmon striking the flies, and there were some takes and then some salmon landed. (It is called hitching when the fly is riding the surface and a V shaped disturbance on the surface forms – see video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TYgn_oO2Q )
The current is usually sufficient to make this happen, but by stripping the fly we made it go faster than the current, thus making the V on the surface. This strategy saved the day for us and will certainly be tried again. This is a very good reminder not to get stuck in some routine. If your approach does not work, try something else. It really does not matter how you don’t catch fish – does it?
After leaving the Réttarfoss pool the river flows over some rocks, and is shallow and spread out with no channel. At the rock formation – seen clearly in the third picture below – the river forms a channel, Réttarstrengur, that is pushed up against the west canyon wall. The salmon will be there from the run’s beginning, and can be found for 100 meters (more or less depending on the amount of water). There are always salmon there – you may not catch them, but they are there. We take great care not to get too close (no wading there), instead we use longer casts, and the fly must be delivered on the opposite side of the current for best results. Then you pull it into the current and now you mend. Small flies are our choice there. Take care to cast with quite a sharp angle not more than 45 degrees to insure the fly swings first over the fish – not the line then the fly. To do that you need longer casts as you do not want to wade or get close to the channel. Make an effort to keep the line and leader straight, that way the fly is fishing from the get-go. For the Icelandic crowd – see the excellent book Af Flugum, Löxum og Mönnum by Sigurður Héðinn a.k.a. Haugurinn page 72 on Smáflugur. Réttarstrengur is without doubt one of the premium runs in Icelandic salmon rivers.
You really should practice before your fishing trips, preferably with a casting instructor. I have witnessed multiple times anglers in expensive rivers with no cast at all. It is a mystery to me why anyone buys those costly permits, and shows up with no cast. Most anglers I come across in salmon rivers would do well to take some lessons. When you are riverside it is too late to learn how to cast.
This is how far away from the river’s edge we like to be. There is no sense in getting closer if we can cast over the run with a sharp angle from where we are at. By and large anglers wade too close and also too deep. If you get too close – the fish see you, and it is game over. If you wade too deep you lose height and your cast suffers.
Sibbi keeps his distance and is rewarded with a beautiful salmon.
Subsequently released into the river.
Odell and Hilmar seeking shelter from the wind, cold and rain.
https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/IceFishFalls-Jonas-1-scaled.jpg15622560Jonas Magnussonhttps://everyjonahhasawhale.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FFI_9846_Logo®_Casting_Instructor_CMYK-600x476.jpgJonas Magnusson2020-01-16 15:46:582020-01-16 15:47:00Réttarfoss and Réttarstrengur in Hrútafjarðará
Here are some interesting links for you! Enjoy your stay :)