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Angler's Journal: Take Me To Your Leader

By King Montgomery

In any kind of fly fishing the leader is the most important component of the line. It, particularly the tippet, is the only part of the assembly a fish can see (unless you "line" the fish with the rope called a flyline). The leader/tippet is where the proverbial rubber meets the road.

For many years of fishing for bass, bonefish and others, I have used store-bought knotless tapered leaders because they are simple, easy to tie and affordable -- and I'm basically lazy. For many subsurface presentations, I will use a single piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon in 12-20 pound test. Nothing wrong with all that, but there is another way.

I sat in the drift boat, rod down, and watched Lefty Kreh cast a bass popper around an island of rocks in Maine's Androscoggin River. Kreh is one of the world's finest casters -- as a fisherman, not as a tournament caster. His casts typically reach 60-70 feet or more with little or no false casting. He just picks it up and lays it down. Most noticeable, particularly visible in the backlight, was how gracefully his leader unrolled and set the fly gently on the water's surface.

Follow the Leader

Kreh believes and amply demonstrates that about half of a leader should be the butt section, and the remainder should taper down accordingly to the penultimate piece, which should have a loop tied into it. Then an 18-24 inch tippet is loop-to-loop connected.

As an example, take an 8-weight and rig it for large or smallmouth bass, striped bass, bonefish and many others. The leader should be tied from the same brand and model of monofilament or fluorocarbon such as used on spinning reels. Kreh believes this gives uniformity to the leader in stiffness and other characteristics that enhance its effectiveness.

For a 9-foot tapered leader, use 4 1/2 feet of 50-pound test line, then a foot of 40, 30, and 20-pound test tied with a terminal loop such as a perfection loop or surgeon's loop. Then loop an 18-inch piece of tippet material and you're good to go. For longer or shorter leaders, adjust the math accordingly. Any of these sections can be off by several inches, so don't worry about exactness -- the fish don't carry tape measures.


Kreh usually uses blood knots to secure the pieces of his leader together. I'm lazier and use surgeon's knots to secure my leader sections. There are other good knots to use, so consult a knot-tying book and go with what works.

To build "Lefty Leaders," use 50-yard skeins of Berkeley Big Game monofilament and Berkeley Vanish Fluorocarbon, both from Pure Fishing. (I build most of my season's leaders while watching NFL football games in the fall and winter.) Once tied, circle the leaders, tie them off with wire-paper "twist ties" or part of a pipe cleaner, and put them in labeled containers until they are needed.

Kreh has taught all of us over many years, and his leader system, like just about everything else he does, works very, very well. But since I have a "Lefty Leader" tied on the end of my line, why can't I cast like him?

King has been our fishing editor since we began publishing and now is our outdoors editor. He uses the leaders described above for black bass, saltwater species and other game fishes. He recommends using a 40-pound test butt section for a 7-weight rod and lower, and a 50-pound test butt section for 8 and 9 weights. And yes, he still uses knotless tapered leaders for trout and other smaller fish.

Join King and Lefty as they bone fish in the Bahamas May 24-29, 2009. Contact King at

Issue 133: January 2009