We’ve got some more insight today from the banks of the Dean River. Scott Baker-McGarva, head guide at BC West, dropped us some great points on leaders. That thing that holds your fly on may be worthy of a little more thought!
Leader Considerations for Anadromous Fish
Sometimes it’s shocking how much emphasis is placed on rods / reels / line preferences, flies and running line opinions etc., yet leader form and use is left out of the conversation. Since it is the final connection to the fish, it surely deserves more interest.
Leader qualities vary – some are very strong but thin, others overly large in diameter and under or over-rated in strength.
The first qualification is use. What are we targeting and where? Do the fish care? If the game plan is to land fish, why not use the largest and strongest leader you can get away with?
Now to qualify this one must be reasonable. I’m fairly certain that many species of fish would take a fly tied directly to the fly line in many circumstances. But one must consider things like that performance rod you cherish, common sense, hook size and presentation. It’s always important that the leader is a weak link in the setup, since it’s far better to lose a fish and maybe a fly over a fly line and a busted rod.
Trout fisheries benefit from thin diameters, low visibilities, and leader suppleness for presentations. Anandromous fisheries (sea-run), or swung fly fisheries for that matter, generally don’t have those requirements. Since this is the sea-run time of year in my calendar, that’s the focus of this opinion.
Everything in fly casting is related to energy travelling down the line and turning over the loop, sink-tip, leader and fly. It’s accepted that fly line bellies need to be larger (heavier) than the sink-tip for proper turn over – that’s why Skagit lines resemble garden hose to many trout types at first introduction.
The same is true for leaders. Energy travelling through the loop needs to be sufficiently transferred to the fly, and large or heavy flies have more bulk and mass, and thereby require the most energy transfer possible to turn them over. This maximum transfer rate can only occur via leader diameter, regardless of strength. If 15 pound Maxima is 25% thicker than 15 pound Orvis super-strong, its turn-over capabilities are also 25% better. If the fish don’t care, use the bigger diameter.
Leader strength also corresponds to hook size and drag. Too heavy a leader combined with a small hook will most certainly result in opened hooks in a drawn out battle, so what to do if the fly may be large but the hook small? Something that benefits the fish and its release. This is a bit of a balancing act. The angler has to take several things into consideration, like how heavy or flexible is the rod being used, what is the fish weight expected, how strong is the flow of water?
This is where understanding hook wire diameters help, as well as having a variety of options in your box. Conventional hooks are typically heavier wire for wet flies and lighter for dry, but in the world of tube flies and replaceable trailer hooks, a whole range of options are available, since smaller, yet heavier wire hooks can be swapped to match heavier leader use, and then replaced later by finer wire hooks when the conditions or target species dictate.