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What Fly Fishing Leader to Use

fly fishing leader

Are you wondering what type of fly fishing leader you should be using? With all the different lengths and sizes of leaders, it can be a little confusing, especially if you are newer to the sport.  

Let’s cover a few basics here first. 

What is a leader? 

A leader is a piece of line that is in between your fly line (usually a bright color) and your tippet line. The most common length of leaders are 9 to 15 feet. Leaders are normally tapered monofilament nylon. This means the line is larger at the end that connects to the fly line and smaller at the end that connects to the tippet line. Leaders are designed to bleed off the energy from your cast so your fly can land smooth and quietly on the water, presenting the fly in the most natural way possible. Leaders also help with creating a drag-free drift of your line. 

When fly fishing, presentation is everything. Do you have a job interview today or a first date tonight? Your presentation will be everything, the same goes for fishing. You are trying to get the fish to bite the same way you are trying to land that new job or significant other. 


What is monofilament? 

Monofilament is a single strand of line, usually made from nylon. This nylon is blended together with different polymers to produce different degrees of strength, stretch, abrasion resistance and other attributes. Monofilament leaders are best for dries because it floats better. 


What is fluorocarbon? 

Fluorocarbon is a single strand of line made from polyvinylidene fluoride. This type of line is thicker, making it harder to tie knots, but it is also stronger making it better for fishing with nymphs. It also has extremely low visibility making it almost impossible for the fish to see. This line sinks slightly faster than monofilament line. The cost is much higher than that of monofilament leaders. 


Understanding Leaders.

The reason there are so many options with leader sizes and lengths are due to the weight of your flies, the distance you are casting, the size of the fish you are trying to catch, and what type of water you are casting into.  

The part of the leader that attaches to the fly line is generally on the heavy side. This part or section of the leader is called the butt section. Most anglers will choose to go with a 20-pound butt section, and it will be tapered down to around 4 pounds at the smaller end that connects to the fly. The average leader will be 9 feet in length, especially if you are just starting out. 

The reason you are starting with a higher pound at the butt section and are dwindling it down is to allow the energy from the cast to transfer efficiently through the fly line, then through the leader, and onto the fly, while keeping the line as straight as possible. You are wanting your fly to land on the water with a fairly straight line behind it. If the line is all tangled up like a bird's nest, you will not be catching fish as the presentation will be off. 

You have probably seen the X rating system many times regarding leaders and tippets. This X rating system for leaders and tippets describes the diameter. The most commonly used scale for these range from 1X to 8X. 1X is the thickest and most durable, 8X is the thinnest and lightest making it less durable. The simple rule of thumb here is the higher the number, the thinner the diameter. A problem here is every company will have a different strength of line. 5X from one company may be the same diameter as the next company, but the strength may be different, so keep this in mind.  

The diameter of your leader will depend on what type of fly you are using, the water you are fishing in, and the size of fish you are trying to catch. Many anglers prefer 5X for floating lines when using their dries and streamers and 2X for sinking lines when using nymphs or emergers. 


Colored fly line and leaders. 

The reason your fly line can be any color you desire is because it will be far enough away from where your fly is at, that it will not be a deterrent for the fish. People see some colors easier than others, and when your fly line is a decent distance from you, you need to be able to see it. When it comes to your leader, you will want it clear. There are colored leaders that exist, but I would suggest staying away from them. 



So how long should your leader be? 

Every situation will be different, but to keep it simple, the shorter leaders are for fish that do not get spooked as easy (bass) and for fishing in rough or murky types of water. The longer leaders are for wary fish (trout) in more calm and clear waters.  

It also depends on the area that you are in. Do you have enough room to cast behind you? Is there a bank or trees in your way which is a normal occurrence with tight stream fishing. For the tight casts, 6–7-foot leaders may be ideal. If you are in a medium width stream and fishing for trout, you could go with 7.5 to 8.5 feet. 9-10 feet are the standard leader lengths that you can use on rivers and larger streams. If you are heading out to do some lake fishing, 11-13 feet will be ideal. 14-15 are usually only ever used for lake fishing with truly clear and calm water.  

leader size chart

Like everything else with fly fishing, you can get very technical with every approach. There are different leaders that are better when using nymphs, dry and wet flies, and streamers. The materials and designs are countless when building these leaders for all the different fly fishing situations. You will often need to try different leaders and flies each time you are out fishing, so having a solid variety is a very good idea. 


At Zinger Fishing we carry 5 packs of tapered leaders with loops. The loops make it much quicker and easier to tie your leader to your fly line.  

leader line

If you are interested in these leaders from Zinger Fishing, you can check them out here. 


I am hoping this article covered the basics that you will need in order to get yourself started with leaders. When I first started fishing, I thought it was similar to spinner fishing where the skill factor does not play a key role. I could not have been more wrong. My brother would be catching 10 fish to my 1 every time we went out. It was not until I started wanting to learn the different technical factors to fly fishing like leaders, that I then started to catch more fish. He still out fishes me, but I am getting there!  


If you found this blog post informative and if you would like to read more, you can check out our Zinger Fishing blog here. We cover everything from fly fishing tackle, to flies, to gear, to the best places to catch fish with a fly rod!