Am I serious? Now doing a piece on the running line – really? You might think that the running line is the simplest part of the line system and it might be. That there is nothing worthy there of any thought or writing. You would be wrong. Let’s dive into it.

Housekeeping

What is the running line?

The Running line (RL); extends from the line’s end to the beginning of the rear taper (RT) into which it seamlessly blends. Below is the Amplitude Anadro with its forty feet of RL.

Amplitude Anadro line
Amplitude Anadro line

Why do we need any running line at all?

The mass of the Anadro is mainly in the head of the line. That’s the part we bend the rod with and subsequently, as we release the head it pulls the RL out. Let’s cast with and without an RL and examine the consequences. We cut the RL off and tie the backing straight to the Anadro’s head. The head will shoot out just fine, but it will become very unpleasant to strip the line back with the backing. For this, to work, we need to have some backing off the reel. Nothing tangles as bad as thin backing and we will run into that problem with the loose backing. This line lends itself well to very long casts, far longer than the head’s length (60’). Therefore, it is much better to have those 40’ in the form of the running line. Better for handling and it does not tangle as grievously as the backing. The running line is thin, self-lubricating, and textured (see the previous blog) and has a low coefficient of friction.

Even with casts up to 100’ we have good control over the cast and gain control over mends as soon as we have stripped to the RT. By choosing a line with a long rear taper we can compromise, and still have enough mass in the rod tip to have very good control over our line for our mending. And we still have excellent casting control over the line.


Let’s look at another line, the MPX. The MPX’s head is only 36’ (6# line). You can get this line out faster since the head is considerably shorter than the Anadro’s. It will turn over well because its mass is pushed forward in the head. The FT (front taper) is now 5’ and you can still turn over a fly gently. If you cast it far you will much prefer stripping in the RL instead of messing with the backing. The head is 36’ plus for instance a 9’ leader, and you should be able to comfortably roll cast all those combined 45’.  Most casters can’t roll cast more than 50’ and seldom need more. The Anadro can be roll cast further because its head is 60’. The reason behind this is down to mass again. The running line is simply too light to move the much heavier heads. 

MPX fly line
MPX fly line

Do you believe me now? We do need a running line. A very thin one will cast the longest but is prone to tangles.  Too thin a running line is just plain unpleasant to touch, and is difficult to handle, and is nothing but trouble. The thin line has less friction but tends to tangle but by making it stiff we can counter that to a degree.

Stiff lines are coily but we can pull the coils out by stretching the lines, but we always seem to forget to do that. The RL tangles less if it is slick. The slicker the better. Both these lines are self-lubricating and textured but by applying silicone or such they can be made slicker decreasing their tendency to tangle.

A very thick RL is heavier and has more friction. So, the solution is the compromise in the construction of the rear taper. We don’t have much choice in the diameters of the running lines we buy, but that’s fine, the manufacturers have honed it to the best compromise size for that line weight.

Imagine that you are swinging a fly with each of these lines, and you have 55’ out, and you need to mend the line. In the Anadro case, it is easily accomplished because there is enough mass in the tiptop to move the rest. However, in the MPX case, you will find that much harder as you only have the thin RL in the tiptop and not enough mass to move the rest of the fly line.

Casting with overhang (length of RL outside the tiptop) is not easy for most casters. Just by glancing at the picture of the lines above it is clear that the Anadro lends itself to longer casts. When carrying 70’ of the line the overhang is 10’ but is 38’ with the MPX. So, the ratio of the RL to head length is a really important parameter. Those who can cast with overhang do it by keeping the running line and the head straight. If that’s accomplished a thin light line can power a thick heavier one. However, when the RL isn’t straight the cast fails.


The variables of the running line

The diameter is important. Thin lines shoot much better than thick ones. They are lighter and have much less friction. But a light coily running line can pose several problems. It gets blown around especially in a boat and that leads to tangles. Coily lines manage to tangle all the time. Of course, by stretching the line the coils can be pulled out, but anglers are mostly a lazy bunch. Thicker running line affords better control of the cast and the mending. However, you can’t cast as far because of their weight and friction.

The mass is important. Small diameter leads to a light running line (see above). Additionally, a light running line in the tiptop can’t control the rest of the line. The mass is simply too little. By increasing the diameter of the running line we are also increasing its mass. That gives us more control over our casting and line mending. But it also leads to shorter casts (see above). If the line was a conventional full sinking line the RL would be made of the same high-density material as the head. Might be small but would still be heavy, but he mending considerations don’t apply to the sinking lines.

The stiffness. Thin stiff running lines shoot exceptionally well. But a thin running line tangles so easily, but being stiff is a sort of an antidote if the line is stretched straight.

The COF (coefficient of friction/slickness). We all know that the hyper slick thin, light, running line is going to cast farthest of these combinations. All other parameters the same – the slicker running line is going to shoot the best. We even have textured self-lubricating shooting lines now.

The density. Mostly the running lines are floating parts connecting to a whole head, that can be floating, intermediate, or with varying sink rates. The RL and the head of the line (RT + belly + front taper (FT)) come in one piece, sometimes called an integrated line. Thus the “running line” is an integral part of a WF line. Most integrated lines (which are WFs) have a small diameter, light RLs but very heavy heads.


Mostly the RLs will have the same density along its lengths. There are conventional full sinking lines made with the same material its whole length.

However, there are modern lines where the RL comes in three densities. The Sonar Titan (Hover / sink 2 / sink 4) has a hovering RL for approximately 45’ and then there is an approximately 20’ part with sink 2. The head is finally rated sink 4. (Sink 2 simply means that it sinks approximately 2 inches per second (ips), etc.)

Sonar Titan (Hover / sink 2 / sink 4)
Sonar Titan (Hover / sink 2 / sink 4)

Then there is the Sonar Titan (Sink 3 / sink 5 / sink 7). This one has a sink 3 RL for approximately 45’ and then there is an approximately 20’ part with sink 5. The line terminates in the head with a sink 7.

Sonar Titan (Hover / sink 2 / sink 4)
Sonar Titan (Hover / sink 2 / sink 4)

So, we can have lines where the RL’s density is the same throughout, but these two examples are sporting two different densities in their RLs. These lines go by the moniker – density compensated lines.


I hope that you now agree with me that the running line is a very important part of the fly line. I would certainly sorely miss my running line if it were not there, next time I go fishing. And now you too, have an inkling how it works.

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

“What fly line should I buy?”

Now, that’s the wrong question to ask.

“What fly line do I need?” – is a much better question.

This a recurrent question we all get personally, or it appears on some chat site. There is really no correct answer to this question. However, the chat sites immediately fill with – “I just got line x, and it is wonderful, can’t go wrong with that.” And more in that vein, lots more. The answers and advice are all given in the spirit of generosity and are undoubtedly well-meant. But this question can’t/shouldn’t be answered, until you have an idea about the intended use of said fly line.

Choose a line for the fish species?

Ok, so now you think the choice of line revolves around the fish pursued. That would be wrong, too.

The mass of the fly to use dictates the line choice!

There it is – once again and we come back to mass. But think about it a bit. How can it be any otherwise? Mass moves mass, and therefore the line’s mass must match the flies mass. The correct way to go about this, is to visualize the flies to be cast. Not their colors or shape, but their mass (and drag, too).

Freshwater

Let’s assume that the prospective buyer is a novice to trout fishing, and she/he loves casting weighted Wooly Buggers and Streamers. However, on the advice of well meaning anglers (or pranksters) an Amplitude Trout is purchased. The reason I use SA’s lines is that they are the industry’s leaders, and their lines are the best I can get for my needs.

Amplitude Trout line
Amplitude Trout line

This line is absolutely fantastic, but not for Streamers. Why not? The forward taper is 12-foot long, and hence there isn’t enough power in that head to turn over a heavy Streamer. So, now we have recommended a fantastic line for smaller flies, but the angler wants to cast big and heavy. That’s not a good situation to be in if the advice is heeded. Pay attention the the Trout’s long rear taper. This line can easily be cast far. So, what is a good line for an angler casting streamers. My advice would be the Amplitude Anadro line.

Amplitude Anadro line
Amplitude Anadro line

The Anadro has a short front taper (2-3′), and that means it will turn over hard, and it has the power to carry a heavy Streamer. On top of that, the Anadro is 1.5 sizes overweighted, meaning that a #7 Anadro weighs between a #8 and a #9 line. That will ensure plenty of power to turn over heavy flies. The Anadro excels at long distance casting and that is evident by looking at the long back taper. The reason that lines are not true to their line designation is that rods have become so stiff that only elite casters can bend/load them with the designated line. Intermediate casters must have more mass (line size up) to bend the rod. The line makers know this and have responded accordingly.

The second question I ask is how far can you cast or how far do you need to cast? Let’s now imagine that our angler is casting light flies in a small stream. The Amplitude Trout would easily work for that job. Of course, there are other lines that could work, too. For instance, Amplitude MPX or Amplitude Double Taper. What about light flies in a big river? The Amplitude Trout would be perfect in that situation because of the long back taper making long casts a breeze. Heavy Streamers on heavy lines banged down are probably not a good idea in a small stream. But they are absolutely an excellent idea in big rivers. Pay attention to the Anadro’s long rear taper of 30′. To be able to make long casts, this is the best taper configuration to accomplish that.

Saltwater

Bonefish are notoriously wary customers. Something big and heavy landing on top of them guarantees that they bolt, and fast. So, we use a line that we can lay down gently. Because of the usual wind on the salt flats we need rods #7-9 to be in the game. The flies we use could easily be cast with something smaller, for instance #4, but the wind would kill us. This is a good example of the necessity of using tackle to cast a light fly. This is frequently done too, when casting small flies to big salmon. When I have gone fishing for bonefish, I make a beeline for my Amplitude Bonefish lines.

Amplitude Bonefish line
Amplitude Bonefish line

Generally, when fishing in the salt you are use something big and heavy. Therefore, you need a line with some serious punch. Or in other words, a line with a very short front taper. The Amplitude Infinity Saltwater is a good all round choice.

Amplitude Infinity Saltwater
Amplitude Infinity Saltwater

If you still need more power to turn over some monstrous fly, there is the Amplitude Tropical Titan. Here, a lot of the head’s mass is pushed forward, and this baby will turn over hard.

Amplitude Tropical Titan
Amplitude Tropical Titan

First choose the fly – then the line

Now, the process of choosing the tackle is obviously going to start with the fly. First you must have an idea of the weight/mass of your intended flies to be cast. Ok, so now when we have that clear, we can choose the line that has the physical parameters to be able to cast the chosen flies. Remember, heavy lines can cast both light and heavy flies, whereas light lines can cast light flies, but struggle or can’t deliver heavy ones. There are only two parameters of the fly that influence its castability. Firstly, there is its mass, and secondly, the air resistance or drag.

Now lastly the rod is chosen

Now when you have chosen the line size that can handle the job, it is easy to pick a rod that can handle that line. Now remember the marketing in our sport is pervasive. Anglers have been led to believe that they need a trout rod, then a salmon rod, and my God don’t forget the saltwater rod. This is utter nonsense. The rod is a piece of graphite, handle and rod guides. It bends, then straightens and can easily break. It is dumb as a brick and an inanimate object. I use my #8 NRX Loomis to cast certain weight flies, and I happily use that rod for all fish likely to take those flies. A heavy line and heavy rod, can deal with a heavy fly, and also a light fly. The converse does not work. So, don’t show up under gunned.

It is important to know that there is no objective parameter to adhere to when a rod is made. After a rod is made, it is cast by some expert with various line weights, and then the expert decrees, “this is henceforth a #7 rod.” I repeat, no standardized objective measure decides the rod ratings. This newly minted #7 rod obviously casts best with a seven line, if you are the expert. It might work best for you with an “8 line, and some would like better to cast it with a #6 line. All fly rods can cast several line ratings, there is nothing mysterious about that, and it is perfectly fine to use the line weight you like. So, all this writing about the crime of underlining or over-lining is a bit misleading. It is your rod and your line, and just use it as you like best. You have my blessing.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

In this blog I take a look at a fantastic trout line.

The Amplitude Trout Fly Line (WF – Floating line).

SA's Amplitude Trout line
SA’s Amplitude Trout fly line

I suggest that before reading this blog you start with my previous one “Why do floating fly lines – float?” https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/blog/why-do-floating-fly-lines-float/

Three colors

The running line is called celestial blue. The belly part is bamboo colored, and finally the front taper is blue heron. My eyes say grey, but I can go with blue heron too, because it is grey. Initially, I did not like these Harlequin lines, but now I love them. I find it advantageous to know how much line I am carrying, and with the coloring scheme, it is so easy. These colors also help, when I am teaching casters. Many of them tend to slip out line as they are false casting, and thus exceed their carry limit (all casters have a limit as to how much they can carry of line (keep in the air)). Most intermediate casters can carry 40′, and I use the end of the belly to remind them of the position. Casting with too much overhang (running line outside the tip top) is hard for beginners, but if they practice, they can carry more and more line, because they can keep the backcast straight. The front taper or grey part is about 12′ and the leader is 9′. Being cognizant of these lengths helps to pinpoint where the tackle is.

The core is braided multifilament nylon. The filaments are solid Nylon, but braided together to make strands (16 strands). The way they are braided yields a hollow braid. Each strand of yarn has a small amount of air trapped in it when coated, but most of the air in the core is in the hollow center, see previous blog. The line is not painted after being made. The PVC used to coat the core has a blue – then bamboo colored – then grey pigment, and the micro-balloons, added into the PVC coating mix. This coating transitions from one color into the other seamlessly. How that is done, I haven’t a clue, so we all can be glad that I am not the one doing that. The SG of the PVC coating of the level tip is nowadays 0.85. On top of all that the gray part has more air trapped in the mix (see later).

The line has seven red boxes with some hieroglyphs on the website. I will decipher them as we go. On the website there is some text under each box, but much too small for reading. Probably put there by the elves making these lines.

Amplitude Trout

Two types of texture

1. The Shooting Texture

Shooting Texture Icon
The Shooting Texture

After the coating is applied it is time to texture/emboss the line. The running line is textured/embossed with what SA calls, “Shooting Texture.” Textured lines have less contact with the rod guides, so they shoot better for more distance when needed. The texturing also increases the surface area of the line for better floatability. This texture is not rough on the fingers, but the rear taper is not textured to give a tactile reference point (see later). Then the Belly of the line is textured with the same “Shooting Texture” to the front taper. Shooting texture helps, you guessed it, in shooting the line, and it increases the floatability a little bit, too.

Shooting Texture
The Shooting Texture

2. The Floating Texture

After the coating is applied it is time to texture/emboss the line. The front taper and the level terminal tip are textured with the so-called “Floating Texture,” and that is an ingenious engineering application of the so-called “Lotus effect.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_effect – Now, an engineer at SA applied this knowledge to the surface of a fly line called Sharkskin in 2007. The natural hydrophobicity of PVC was kicked up several notches, and the line floated higher. Although the Sharkskin line shot great and floated high, the surface is rough on the fingers, so now the texture is limited to the front taper, and terminal level tip, and it increases that part’s floatation. This part of the line is not handled much.

I will repeat this. The line is textured/embossed with two different types of etchings. Seriously, this a job for dwarves. “Floating texture” helps, you guessed it, in floating the line, but its cast-ability is immaterial as this part is almost always outside the tip-top.

Floating Texture Icon
The Floating Texture
Floating Texture
The Floating Texture

Improved dry tip

Dry Tip Icon
The Improved Dry Tip

The crucial part of any floating line is the floatability of the tip. By increasing the amount of trapped air in the tip section (the gray part), the SG can be brought down to 0.80. This will float the tip higher. The tip floats because of manipulations of the SG, and by manipulating the surface into becoming hyper-hydrophobic. This is really hard core engineering.

AST+

AST Plus Icon
The AST plus +

The AST (Advanced Shooting Technology), was introduced 1998, and now all quality lines have this feature. A SA engineer came up with this incredible idea, in principe, a self lubricating fly line. AST means that silicone is incorporated into the coating mix. Then as time goes by, it leaches out onto the line’s surface. Such a line is much slicker than a line without this feature, and casts much better since the friction in the rod guides is diminished. AST then became AST+ after some chemical sorcery – making the line slicker.

Line identification

SAID Icon
The ID

On the front taper the line ID is printed. I really like this feature, but with time the print wears off my lines. Therefore, I mark the weight of all my lines at the end of the running lines. A long black dash – 1” mark means five. A half inch dash means one. I read from left to right — —– becomes 4, —– — becomes 6, —– —– is ten (like the Roman system). This is quickly done and does not wear off. This is a really helpful little trick when you have many lines.

#7 - #8 - #10 Lines (from above)
#7 – #8 – #10 Lines (from above)

Welded loops

Welded Loops Icon
The Welded Loops

I really like welded back loops on all my fly lines. These back loops easily last the lifetime of the line. I like front welded loops on lines from #5 and bigger. On the smaller lines the loop is just clumsy. The fly line loop adds more floatation, but the butt loop connection adds more nylon (SG 1.2), making it an even game, so the flotation is not an issue. However, the front loop is somewhat ephemeral, and will fall apart some day. There is no getting around this one – you need a strategy to connect your leader to the line, without the easy fix of looping them together.

Tactile reference point

TRP Icon
The Tactile Reference Point

Part of the rear taper of the line is smooth, i.e. there is no shooting texture, and you can feel that. It supposedly helps to identify how much of the line is out. But that does not excite me since the colors are already there. When I used this line in Iceland last fall is was so bloody cold that I could just about feel the line, the tactile reference point was not felt.

Cost and quality

Fly anglers can become very excited, bordering on agitated, about their fly rods, and then have no clue about their fly lines. As I gain experience teaching casting, I am now in the camp that maintains that the fly line is the most important part of a fly angler’s setup. I like everything about this fly line. For dry fly trout angling it is fantastic. For salmon, when you are using small flies, it is superb. Furthermore, it is true to the AFTMA weight standards, i.e. a seven-weight line is exactly 185 grains. The front taper is twelve-foot long, so if I were to use very heavy flies, I would switch to the Anadro line, with its much shorter and powerful front taper. When you go through the points above, you realize that there is some serious engineering behind this line. SA maintains that this line is very durable (at the very least double lifetime or much more), and will last without loosing its characteristics. I have not owned one long enough to know that. However, the quality of this line is second to none.

I do not much like lines that are made stiff, hence coliy, or the so called tropical lines. It is just my peccadillo and I am the one living in this body. I left the Amplitude Trout and Anadro lines out in the heat (90 F) here in the Florida Panhandle. After that they were a tad limp, but when I still could cast the whole line, I can see no reason to have tropical lines in my arsenal anymore. Saves a bundle right there.

This line retails for $129.95. Is that prohibitively expensive? That is up to debate, and each of us might reach different conclusions. If the line lasts as claimed, its price is suddenly very attractive, for instance. Whatever your take is on the price, there is no better line in its class.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

They shouldn’t!

A floating fly line is made of a braided nylon core, onto which PVC is added as a coating. The specific gravity (SG) of nylon is 1.2 and the SG of PVC is 1.4. With those numbers the line should sink. So, why does it float? (For perspective; Aluminum has SG of 2.7 and marble for instance has SG of 2.6)

Specific Gravity / Relative Density

SG over 1 – denser than water (sinks), conversely SG less than 1 – less dense than water (floats). Here is a simple review –

https://www.q-files.com/science/let%27s-explore-science/why-do-things-float-or-sink/

The level terminal tip – the critical part

When you are dry fly fishing you need a fly line that floats. Now that was an intelligent sentence. We like to turn over the leader gently, and that means a thin tip. If the line tip sinks, it will pull the leader butt under. Conversely, if the leader butt pulls the line tip under, it sinks. The line’s tip SG is ~ .85 (see later), it wants to float and will, unless something makes it sink. The leader has a SG of 1.2, and once under water, the whole leader system will drown, taking the fly under. The critical (to floating) part of the fly line is the level terminal tip. It is easy to make sure that the thick belly of the line will float like a cork. However, the fly line tapers and ends in 6” of level tip. Now the diameter of the tip is 0.037” and the relative contribution of the coating is much smaller than in the belly part.

The Level Tip's and the Belly's diameters
The Level Tip’s and the Belly’s diameters of Amplitude Trout

The Core and the PVC

The core is braided multifilament nylon. In between the filaments, which are braided into hollow strands, there will be some air, and the coating traps some air around the braid in the manufacturing process, which is the big contributor of air, bringing the SG of that part to just under 1.0, but not much. In 1954 SA added air bubbles to the PVC coating, and lo and behold — the new line floated. This is considered to be the first modern fly line. Subsequently in 1959, SA introduced micro-balloons into the PVC coating. The SG of the PVC coating of the level tip is nowadays 0.85. So, that takes care of the SG problem.

Displacement

Any body placed in water will displace a certain volume (remember Archimedes?). Archimedes’ principle 

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes%27_principle)

states that the upward buoyant force, exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces. So, now the line weight is less than the weight of fluid displaced, and the line floats. The SG is a reflection of Archimedes’ principle in relation to water’s SG set as one.

Surface tension

Surface tension (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surface_tension) is the tendency of liquid surfaces to shrink into the least surface area possible. We all have been shown iron needles floating in water, because of the surface tension.

Water’s surface tension is high. The PVC on the other hand is hydrophobic. By certain chemical additions (don’t know which – probably secret) to the lines’ surface, the hydrophobicity of the PVC can be increased. The silicone that leaches out of the line increases the hydrophobicity of the line, increasing the floatation, too. We can also apply silicone to our lines with good effect. We all know that cleaning our lines makes them shoot better and float better. A dirty line is just less hydrophobic – so now go clean your lines and buff them with silicone.

Texturing

We know that a small piece with a bigger surface area will float better, because of the surface tension. The line’s surface area can in fact be increased by texturing. This is very similar to the dimples on golf balls. So, the surface area in contact with water is increased, and the textured line will now float higher.

Shooting Texture
Shooting Texture

The “Lotus effect”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus_effect – Scientist have noticed raindrops falling on lotus leaves, and then just roll off. It turns out that the surface of lotus leaves are hyper-hydrophobic. The reason is that on the surface of the lotus leaves there are microscopic pointy structures, replicated millions of times. Engineers can mimic that effect by manufacturing lines with a rough surface (Sharkskin was the first in 2007). This surface is rough on the fingers. However, the hydrophobicity of the line can definitely be effected by manipulating the line’s surface.

Floating Texture
Floating Texture

Simply put, floating lines are lighter than water, and are hydrophobic, so they sit higher on the surface than they would if hydrophilic. Lines can be made hydrophobic chemically and/or mechanically.

Saltwater

Saltwater has a specific gravity of 1,024, so it is denser than freshwater. This allows us to construct a floating fly line for the salt, which can have denser coatings (thus thinner). SW lines’ slightly denser coatings make them tougher (PVC is weakened by most additives), and a bit thinner, which improves casting, i.e. less wind resistance.

Stóra Laxá 2020
Stóra Laxá 2020

To wrap it up

Shape of line and leader

Before we leave the floating line we need to look at shape. I have owned lines (and you, too) that look like a “slinky” when they come off the reel. It is a floater all right, but in this configuration it will sink. The part of the line that is above the water will push the bottom of the coils under. Once a line is subsurface it no longer has the benefit of flotation by being hydrophobic, now it is repelling water in all directions, not just from the bottom.

Line with coils
Coiled line

So, STRETCH your fly lines before you start using them. The same must obviously apply to your leader, so stretch that too while you are at it.

The line leader connection

If the water surface is calm, it is easy to get leaders to float, but we rarely have that luxury. Chop/turbulence causes parts of the leader to sink, and it is not coming back up due to its SG (1.2). It’s easy to float a 6X tippet leader (0.005”), not as easy to float a .030” tippet.  For best floating performance, it is very important that the leader especially the butt, is stretched straight (same reason as for fly line). Then dress with silicone line dressing. Remember, there is no silicone leaching out of the leader, and there is no texturing magic there.

The line/leader connection is important too. For lines with very little tip flotation (2-3 wt.) use a 2-turn needle knot to connect leader butts. Heavier lines have more tip flotation, so there are more options. Then there are anglers who use a 7 to 9-turn nail knots “gooped” up with lots of adhesive to make them stronger. These knots sink like a rock, and once the knot is submerged, the whole enchilada sinks. Remember, adhesives can’t make nail knots stronger, they are compression knots. If tied “neat” and pulled completely tight (rare), nail knots can be VERY strong. When the tip end-loop is clipped off delicate lines (I prefer that), it does expose the hollow core of the line, and a bit of water can wick in. Some anglers put a small drop of some sort of waterproof adhesive on the cut end (careful re SG), and that works for a while. Properly tied nail knots (meaning, pulled completely tight) will prevent water from entering too. But even if water does get in it won’t wick far and casting the line tries to force the water out, therefore it shouldn’t become a big issue.

Finally, pay attention to the material you are using. To recap — nylon has a SG of 1.2, but fluorocarbon has a SG of 1.8. Therefore don’t use Fluorocarbon with dry flies, and expect it to float.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

Three leader types
Three leader types

I have covered the ready-made leader in a previous post https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=3373. Now I’ll have a go at the latter two leader types.

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.

https://www.netknots.com/fishing_knots/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 LEADER

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.

Leader recipes

In a blog like this I can’t list leader recipes left and right.

I would like to draw your attention to Keith Richards’s How to… Design Your Leaders Streamside.

https://www.thecampflyfishingschool.com/products/how-to-design-fly-casting-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.

Hrútafjarðará – Salmon in fall 2019

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.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

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 level tippet. 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.

https://www.netknots.com/fishing_knots/terminal-connections.

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 Clinch knot and sometimes the Uni knot. 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).

Trout Leader

Trout Leader
Trout Leader

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).

Nine-foot leader.

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).

Eleven-foot leader.

1.         This leader length can become useful in situations where the fish enjoy great visibility – 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

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

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.

Salmon Steelhead and Seatrout Leader
Salmon Steelhead and Seatrout Leader

Saltwater

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.

Saltwater Leader
Saltwater Leader

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.

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Sunken leaders

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 heavy terminal end, 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 false casting. 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.

Sinking Leader
Sinking Leader

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 —– use the 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.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

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.

Intro

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.

Casting

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.

Bonefish released
Bonefish released

Housekeeping

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.

X number and diameter

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.

Salmon released
Salmon released

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.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

Technical consultant: Bruce Richards

The line kicks

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.

Enter physics

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.

Mr. Redfish
Mr. Redfish is caught with a heavy fly

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.

Running of the Bull Reds
Bull Red – when you pay attention you are rewarded.

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

Baz with Mr. Red
Capt. Baz is certainly enjoying this red

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)

One company’s great info sheet.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

More on leaders from my web book

https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?page_id=1246

Here is a lecture on matching a fly line and a fly rod.

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 buy more 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

In the previous blog I described the technique (Belgian cast) used to cast heavy flies https://everyjonahhasawhale.com/?p=3188.

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.

Bob's Banger
Bob’s Banger

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!

Plastic Tube - popper built on it
Plastic Tube – popper built on it

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.

The short shank hook
The short shank hook
Identical Bangers
The tube fly assembled – ready to go

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.

Identical Bangers
Identical Bangers

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.

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe

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.

Bob's Banger
Bob’s Banger (4” long 10cm)

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.

Here come the Jacks
Here come the Jacks – tighten up those sphincters

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.

Flyline laid out
Fly line laid out – red arrow on popper

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 “Jonaswhat 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.

Jack Crevalle
Jack Crevalle – the Popper in its mouth

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crevalle_jack

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_trevally

How to cast big and heavy air resistant flies

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://www.thecampflyfishingschool.com/pages/belgium-cast

Belgian cast's rod tip trajectory
Belgian cast’s rod tip trajectory

English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe