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The Advancing Angler - Leaders

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by Nick Hart

I'm often amazed how many stillwater anglers in particular don't understand the importance of a tapered leader. They are quite happy to use twelve feet of six pound breaking strain line straight through from fly line to hook and leave it at that. True, there are times when you're fishing from a boat in A decent wind when flies do turn over but that's not always going to be the case. These anglers are often equally scared of using droppers. Their idea is that a single fly tangles less easily and they are less likely to waste time sorting out problems. Well, there are times when one fly is preferable, especially if the fish are very spooky but ninety-five percent of my time will be spent using two, if not three and sometimes even four flies. That's definitely the case in a boat and I'll nearly always use at least two, even off the bank.

First, let's look at my standard, tapered leader. For all buzzer and nymph work I'll use fluorocarbon lines - nearly always Rio. I don't mind spending the money at all on something as important as the leader. For dry fly work, I'll generally go the copolymer route and degrease it well so that it hangs just subsurface.

Generally, I'll be using a leader between twelve and sixteen feet in length dependent on wind strengths. Fourteen feet would be about standard. The first four feet or so will generally be made up of ten pound line, the next four feet or so eight pound line and then I will be finishing off with a six pound point. If I'm targeting bigger fish or fishing lures, I'll use an eight pound point or even ten pounds. In that case, I'd start with fourteen pound line, graduate to twelve pound and finish with ten. Using fluorocarbon means that lines, even in this high breaking strain, won't really scare most fish most of the time. Generally, line thickness is not an issue but if the fishing is slow then I will drop down in diameter.

Remember that a lot of tangles are a result of using a leader that isn't tapered. Very frequently the leaders aren't turning over properly and you've got problems. Many more tangles, though, are a result of bad casting. Perhaps there's too much power in the forward cast. Perhaps you're trying to cast too tight a loop. Instead, use the wind and build up a nice rhythmic line speed with a wide loop and all should be well.

I'll construct the droppers using water knots which is probably the simplest method. The droppers will be  between eight and ten inches long and I'll tie the fly to the piece of line hanging down away from the fly line. This will be the heavier piece of nylon which obviously gives added security playing the fish and you'll find that this way the flies fish truer without twisting the knot as much.

When it comes to choice of fly, I like to lay on a bit of a menu. For example, on the top dropper, I'll probably use a little mini-lure - a Cormorant or a Cat's Whisker or even a little white Blob perhaps. Something bright and flashy anyway. On the first dropper down, four feet or so away, I'll probably use a buzzer of some description. Then, on the next dropper, I'll go for another mini-lure and then, on the point, very probably a Diawl Bach nymph of one type or another. My feeling is that the fish often home in on the lure but then turn away and take a fly that's a bit more imitative.

With this length of leader and by using multiple flies I'm laying out a banquet table, an entire menu for the fish. I'm covering all the depths and giving the fish a huge amount of choice. Remember, if you're fishing three and a half thousand acres at Rutland Water, it's asking a lot for the trout to find one Diawl Bach in all that expanse.

I look after my leaders. If I'm in any doubt, I'll scrap a leader and put on another one. I tend to tie them up at home - often in front of the television. I'll label them and put them in bags, ready for immediate use. I'll tend to throw leaders out at the end of the season. They are the most critical piece of tackle and there's no point losing that fish of a lifetime simply because your leader material is tired.

When fishing a big reservoir, I like to keep my flies in the water as much of the time as possible and concentrate like a heron. If you're brought up on small commercial waters, it's easy to fall into the trap of taking your time, looking around, having a coffee, knowing another fish will come along soon. It's not necessarily like that in a big hard water like Rutland.

To make sure I don't waste any time, I'll often store a ready made up leader on a piece of cylindrical foam - a product you can buy from a hardware store. It will be about six inches in diameter and you can wrap your team of flies around it so that you're ready for an instant change. It's very much the same principle as the pike angler's rig tube. Remember those flies need to be in the water if they're to do the business.

Visit Nick Hart's website and the Hart Fly Shop.

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