Building Your Own Tapered Leaders
A properly designed fly leader enables the angler to deliver the fly with precision. The leader should also provide a strong, nearly invisible link between the fly line and the fly. A correctly designed fly leader transfers energy from the fly line to the fly in a predictable manner. The leader butt attaches directly to the fly line and must be of a diameter and stiffness similar to the end of the fly line, so as to transfer energy from the fly line to the rest of the leader smoothly. The graduated mid-section transfers the energy from the butt section to the leader's tippet. The butt and mid-section are designed as a delivery system for the tippet and fly. The tippet is the leader's single most important component. The tippet size and type are determined by the fish size and fishing conditions. You will be a more successful angler with a working knowledge of leader design and application. With knowledge of proper knots, a store of the proper materials and a blue print to work from you can build your own fly leaders to any configuration needed to catch any fish.
Tapered leaders are available in three styles--one piece knotless tapers, braided tapers and compound tapers. The latter are made by joining successively smaller pieces of level monofilament with blood knots until the desired length and taper is obtained. Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages. Knotless tapered leaders are convenient to use, and are particularly good when weeds or debris in the water would tend to collect on the knots of a compound tapered leader. On the other hand, since it is impossible to make your own knotless leaders, they must be purchased, and thus may be more expensive than those you can produce yourself. Then too, it may not always be possible to obtain a leader with precisely the desired taper. And, of course, once such a leader has been shortened by a few changes of flies, a new tippet must be tied on, and you then have a knotted leader.
While many anglers have their pet leader designs, most of them are based upon the "60/20/20" formula. According to this formula, approximately 60% of the leader's length is composed of fairly large diameter material, 20% of the length is made up of short pieces which rapidly decrease in diameter, and the final 20% is one or two pieces of fine diameter material to make up the light "tippet" which attaches to the fly. Leaders tied to this formula will turn over properly and present the fly fairly well.
When building a leader according to the 60/20/20 formula, it is usual to begin with a butt section that is about 2/3 the diameter of the tip of the fly line. In most cases this will be approximately .019-.021" in diameter. A leader butt of this diameter will bend smoothly with the fly line, and will not cause a collapsing "hinge" effect which will prevent the fly from turning over. The butt section is joined to the fly line with a nail knot, needle knot or uni-knot. The successive pieces of material which are joined together should vary from one another by no more than .002" in order to maintain knot strength, and to allow the proper transmission of energy. The most widely used knot for joining leader sections is the "blood knot".
Several factors determine the proper tippet length and diameter when constructing a compound tapered leader. First, it is important for proper leader performance to match the tippet diameter to the size of the fly with which it will be used. If the tippet is too fine it will lack knot strength when secured to a large fly, and it will not allow a large wind resistant fly to turn over properly. On the other hand, if the tippet is too large in diameter, it will cause unnatural drag on a small fly, and may frighten wary fish.
The leader tippet lengths included with the accompanying patterns are very good for general use. However, if particularly air resistant flies are used, and the leader seems to land in a tangled mess rather than neatly turning over, it may be wise to shorten the tippet a few inches at a time until it performs properly. Or, when fishing small flies in very clear water, the tippet may be lengthened. Many expert anglers "fine tune" their tippet lengths with each change of flies.