Sunday, June 3, 2018

Take Me To Your Leader

I couldn't resist. I know puns are the lowest form of humor but come on. It was lying on the floor and I had to pick it up.

At left, an image of the Albright knot (really, a bend ) as illustrated by Dfred and hosted on wikicommons. Dfred has placed the image into the public domain and so we are privileged to use it here. Thanks!

I tie a great many Albright knots because I am in that league of partially mad fly fishermen who ... gasp ... tie their own leaders.

Yes, I also use the plastic extruded leaders sold in every fly shop. They're fine. I really like furled leaders but I've not ventured to making my own, yet.

So, why? Why do I bother with tying my own leaders?

A hundred fifty years ago, a regular Joe fly fisherman would probably have made all his own gear. His grandfather would have done the same. Both might have traded services with a local buddy for some of it. Oats for fly line braid from the tails of draft horses, for example.

A hundred years ago,  some very fine commercial rods -- and by very fine I mean rods that performed uniformly under the same label due to mostly consistent production practices  -- were available through mail order or in the large cities, in a dedicated sporting goods store. E.W. Edwards was selling rods through the Winchester line of stores and through affiliated hardware outlets. Montague and Horrocks-Ibbotson were releasing tons of mass produced cane rods onto the market and most were available in the general mail-order business lines.

The Trout Industrial Complex was running full tilt.

Today, all it takes to go fly fishing is an Amex and a half-hour of instruction, if that. Maybe a recent viewing of  "the film" and a half-dozen on-line videos will suffice. Having our sport be accessible is a good thing.

I like the connection of using an ancient method of deceiving a fish even if that method is admittedly far inferior in success to a home-made brass wire hook and a can of worms.

I cannot plane my own cane. I'm a poor carpenter and a grave disappointment to an uncle whose trades included cabinetmaking.

I am a marginal fly tier and am thankful every time I catch a trout that somewhere in that frog-brain is a great appreciation for impressionistic art.

I can however tie knots. Tying your own leaders requires little other skill.

SO:  the Albright knot.

I've lecture notes and recipes and various volumes with sections on leader design. I still play with my own.

I had this week what I believed was the "wonder leader"  idea which I rapidly tied up last night. Lou the foxhound and I went out to a clear spot beside one of my meadows (which needs a good scything) to cast it.

I used my McKellip M84 4 wt which is just a outstanding piece of equipment. It's a strong 4 wt that casts a beautiful line. It's a great rod.

So, my leader threaded and attached is the extra-large size wool dab representing a big bushy dry ... and collapse.

I have leader designs from others that will throw such a fly. Most require five or seven step-downs through the length which results in a great many knots and some serious attention to the process of composition. I keep trying for the right three-section 12-foot leader that will turn over delicate soft hackles (many will) or land a big bushy dry if the hatch comes on and Big Bushies are on the water.

So far, no joy. Close, but not yet.

Back to tying a bunch of knots and following someone else's template.

Of course, with every leader I am poking a stick (rod?) into the eye of the Trout Industrial Complex. I'm crafting my own gear. I'm defeating the commercialism of our pursuit.

I'm tilting at windmills.

I am doing it stubbornly knot by knot. You can almost smell the moral superiority in the air.

Now, where is that latest Orvis catalog? They come every week.



  1. I am with you on the leader tinkering thing. I have settled on designs loosely modeled on Harvey's, with multiple step downs. It would be easier with only two or three step downs to the tippet, but.... Do you use the Albright knot on the line-to-leader connection and the further step downs? I use a nail knot at the line/leader and blood knots the rest of the way.
    Jim Anderson, IBF
    Longmont, CO

    1. Jim:

      I like George Harvey's formulas but I usually go with A.J. McClane's because of long habit. The two are side by side in my trout notebook and I don't know why I don't tie more of George's recipes.

      I use a small perfection loop for loop-to-loop connection to my line. I was a blood knot fellow for all the leader knots from day zero but a friend, fly shop owner, and guide whose opinion I really value got his start in high school tying leaders and selling them locally. He swears by the "coated" Albright and since switching, I've never had a knot failure. I don't know that one is faster to tie than the other for a practices leader maker.

      Love Longmont. Going to RNMP this summer. Great part of the world!

  2. To complicated for a simple small stream guy.....but interesting.

  3. I used to make my own mono leaders but like Alan has stated too many knots got the better of me in the end, now I use a tapered leader designed for sea angling, and of course my own furlies :)

  4. George, I'm with you there. If I could make furled leaders I wouldn't be tying these bloody knots!

    I've read on the process for furled leaders and I think it is beyond me. I think the problem begins at "jig" which belies a commitment that is beyond me for whatever reason. A simple line ruler and a gallon plastic bag of mono spools isn't much less but to me, it seems less formal.

    I've been using furled from Cutthroat Leader for three years now and really love them. I get the guide-speak of "throwing water" and "splashy" once and a while but I don't find those assertions to - er - hold water. I also like my furled leaders well greased. I normally use Orvis HyFlote the night before and then again at the stream when I am sitting on the bank watching the water.

    I like throwing "s" curves with furled leaders. My brookies cannot resist that presentation.