Fly Fishing,    Leaders

Sully's Principles of Leaders(hip)

By Tom Chandler 7/9/2006

Sully byline

[Editor: Underground Montana Correspondent Sully knows leaders better than Hugh Hefner knows twenty-somethings, and today - in honor of the Golden Stone hatch - he graces us with his "Big Bug" leader design that (trust me) works like stink. I've fished this leader for years, and yes, it really does turn over huge bugs with aplomb...) :::::::: Sully Post ::::::::

At a FFF Conclave in Steamboat Springs several decades ago, Lefty (yes THAT Lefty) told the assembled novitiates that the butts on trout leaders were too thin and too stiff.

Endearing characteristics on snow bunnies to be sure, but not the best prescription for smooth casting. Long story short -- Lefty was right. Maxima, Mason and the like tie up into wonderful saltwater, steelhead and salmon leaders. Your trout leaders cast better with butts made from more pliable stuff, like: Hal Janssen Leader Control, Rio Powerflex Butt Material and the new Orvis (Monic) Hy-Flote.

The Double Taper Leader
Who knows when the concept of "double-taper leaders" first sprang on the scene? Ray Bergman included some double-taper recipes in Trout, first published in 1938. A.J. McClane included both a trout and a bass double-taper in The Practical Fly Fisherman.

My copy dates from 1975 and the tapers may have been included in the original 1953 edition. A.J. noted, "While not many people use double-tapers, this design has a definite place in casting fanwings, large bivisibles, or hairwings, all of which tend to increase drag on the unrolling line."

These early designs basically started with small diameter butts and transitioned up. One of these designs really IS a double taper: McClane's trout taper begins with a .015" butt segment, works stepwise up to .018" and then back down again. The design I favor was described in Fly Fisherman a while ago. My copy is hiding in a box in the basement. If YOU or a loved one wrote the article, write Chandler and he'll provide full recognition and maybe a Beetle Bug.

This design basically adds a single large diameter segment at a strategic point. You must determine where the leader is loosing enthusiasm for turning over and tie the kicker segment there. Ultimately you can't use an equation: empiricism is involved. It's just crazy enough to work. And of course, it's the last thing they'd expect us to do...

In practice these "double-tapers" work great. These are extremely smooth-casting leaders, lacking the herky-jerky whiplash you're fearing as you read this.


Big Fly
(just the thing for golden stones, etc.)


.021 30" Janssen's Leader Control 25# OR Orvis Hi-Flote 40# .021"
.019 22" Rio Powerflex OR Orvis Hi-Flote 30# .019"
.017 15" Rio Powerflex
.015 11"
.013 8"
.015 10"
.012 7" Rio Salmon/Bass/Steelhead
.009 6" your Favorite tippet
.008 12" (3x)


Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

hello Ive been looking for a formula for 71/2 foot leader 5x and 6x thankyou kevork bendian
Dave, Good to hear from you! The Bigfly taper IS a good one. Tom is sitting on a couple other favorites that he's going drop on a waiting world some super slow blog day. On the wading staff front- YES- I purchased one of Ron Hart's really nice sticks from Kimsey several years ago. Not that I'd ever need one or anything. Sully
Sully, Thanks for the leader TC was using it when we fished the Salmonfly hatch and I will be putting some together. Write or call me will ya haven't heard from you in a long time. Are you using a wading staff yet? I remember a time on a small stream when you......................... David
I think this is a Schweitzer formula of a simplified George Harvey leader. I tend to fishing nothing bigger than a size 16 on this, so it probably will not be as sweet as the big bug leader above. This is a lazy person's quick tie leader, not meant as a better leader to the snazzy double taper. It will also not work well in the wind, unless you go sidearm just over the water. I fish them with slower ... more action Sage 3 or 6 wts, or one of Chris Raine's 5 wt bamboo's. It does seem to work fine nymphing also, with a 3x tippet on a 6 weight. - rriver
That looks a lot like that Borger spring creek style leader formula. Does that sound like the right source? I tried that leader several years ago. It was fast to tie, and generally worked well. I enjoyed it less in the wind or when fishing big bugs. I've gone to Sully's Big Bug as an all-around formula simply because I can tie on a stimulator or hopper without wondering if my loop is going lag two ... more time zones on the cast. You suffered those problems on slower rods?
Thanks for the leader recipe. I tie my own and I'm always looking for new one to try. Here is a quick tie 9 foot 5 segment dry leader, the one I use the most. 5x will give you just a little "s" curves for a good drift. Dia. Length (in) .020 49 (Maxima Chameleon 25 lb) .017 22 (Maxima Chameleon 20 lb .014 11 (Maxima Perfection 15 lb) .008 5 (Maximia Perfection 8 lb) Tippet is 22 inches and can be 4x ... more or 5x I use a frog hair leader tool, and put "Hard As Nails" on the knots. - rriver

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