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Lateral view of a Female Hexagenia limbata (Ephemeridae) (Hex) Mayfly Dun from the Namekagon River in Wisconsin
Hex Mayflies
Hexagenia limbata

The famous nocturnal Hex hatch of the Midwest (and a few other lucky locations) stirs to the surface mythically large brown trout that only touch streamers for the rest of the year.

Dorsal view of a Ephemerella mucronata (Ephemerellidae) Mayfly Nymph from the Yakima River in Washington
This is an interesting one. Following the keys in Merritt R.W., Cummins, K.W., and Berg, M.B. (2019) and Jacobus et al. (2014), it keys clearly to Ephemerella. Jacobus et al provide a key to species, but some of the characteristics are tricky to interpret without illustrations. If I didn't make any mistakes, this one keys to Ephemerella mucronata, which has not previously been reported any closer to here than Montana and Alberta. The main character seems to fit well: "Abdominal terga with prominent, paired, subparallel, spiculate ridges." Several illustrations or descriptions of this holarctic species from the US and Europe seem to match, including the body length, tarsal claws and denticles, labial palp, and gill shapes. These sources include including Richard Allen's original description of this species in North America under the now-defunct name E. moffatae in Allen RK (1977) and the figures in this description of the species in Italy.
27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

Mpls, MN

Posts: 113
Ericd on Oct 1, 2009October 1st, 2009, 1:50 pm EDT
Hello all. I think I really need help in this category. I try to buy the top-of-the-line brands in the store I happen to be in when I need them, but I still feel like they could be better quality. Case in point, when I tie on a new fly and give the leader a pull to tighten, sometimes, it breaks off at the knot very easily. I haven't broken off fish (read 'caught enough') to make this a huge problem. Should I start ordering all my leaders from Orvis, or somewhere else?

I also think that I could be cathing more by choosing the right leader for the right condition. I think I understand the importance of length for the season/hatch and a little on the weight of the leader, but perhaps I'm guessing.

I know this is a huge topic. If there are book recommendations too, I'd appreciate it.

Our season just ended, for the most part...
CaseyP's profile picture
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
CaseyP on Oct 1, 2009October 1st, 2009, 2:59 pm EDT
had the same problem. it always happened at the car as i rushed to get ready to fish. car trunk became littered with half-used spools of tippet and coily "new" leaders that snapped at the knot; i was convinced i had bought shoddy goods.

solved it by making sure to lubricate the knot properly. now as i tighten the knot, i keep the line wet with my lips and tongue the whole way down. then i give it that last tug. works a treat!

as far as what size or type to use, the library will have fly fishing instructional books that will have line/leader/tippet/fly size charts that are helpful. the only hard and fast rule is to use what works for you on your water, though; only way to find that out is to keep fishing and listening to folks in the fly shop.

Scientific anglers has a chart in the leader packet that tells you what size leader goes (roughly) with what size fly. the tippet size would be the same, methinks. and the basic length for a leader is the length of the rod, i am told.
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Posts: 21
Delablobbo on Oct 1, 2009October 1st, 2009, 3:44 pm EDT
I mostly tie my own leaders. But if I have to pick a knotless at my local flyshop, I always select those at the back of the pile. The ones in front are subject to rot from uv rays.
Mpls, MN

Posts: 113
Ericd on Oct 2, 2009October 2nd, 2009, 4:27 am EDT
Thanks folks.
Casey, I do lubricate the normal way and last time out I was even using floatant. I've never heard of matching leader length to rod size. I usually just use long leaders or short ones with a long tippet. That seems like a safe bet, but I don't know. As far as books are concerned, my library does have extensive material on technique, but a lot are poor. I've found quite a bit of poor fly fishing writers out there, or at least ones that I can't relate to. I'm more Gierach than Raines.

William, good idea. My leaders do seem quite brittle sometimes.
Site Editor
"Bear Swamp," PA

Posts: 1681
GONZO on Oct 2, 2009October 2nd, 2009, 9:09 am EDT

As suggested, using old material or improper construction/closure of knots can certainly be factors. However, I'm convinced that the commercial extrusion process used to create knotless leaders inevitably results in a tippet section that does not match the test of equivalent tippet material--regardless of manufacturer. I often use commercial leaders for the butt/hinge section of my trout leaders, but I never trust or use the tippets that are incorporated into them.

Whenever I prepare to replace a butt/hinge section, I start by grasping the last two feet or so (basically the tippet section) of the new leader between my hands and giving it a steady pull. In my experience--at least with most leaders 4X or finer--the tippet will almost always break well below the stated test. I have been doing this for so long that it has become an unnecessary step, but I do it anyway.

After verifying that the strength of the tippet is no better (or worse) than all the other extruded leaders I have used, I cut the tippet section off and attach a fresh tippet of the desired length. The method used to attach the tippet to the leader and the leader to the line is up to you, but a loop-to-loop attachment is probably the most efficient and economical for most applications. Not only does it facilitate quick changes of tippet (or leader, if needed), but the butt/hinge sections generally last for most of the season without being eaten up by tippet changes.

There are a number of interesting older threads about knots and/or leaders on this site. Some of these discuss leader designs and even ideas about matching leaders to line (the "flex test," for example). You might want to do a site search for some of those threads.

I'll add one last note about an aspect of knots/leaders in which I seem to differ from some fly fishers:

For most of my trout fishing, I'm not at all interested in the search for "100%" tippet-to-fly knots. Although I want a knot that reliably retains most of the tippet strength, I also want that knot to be the weakest link in the chain. In my opinion, using 100% tippet-to-fly knots often creates a situation in which the knot that attaches the fly is stronger than the knot that attaches the tippet to the leader. (This is especially true if the leader-to-tippet knot is a blood knot, surgeon's knot/loop, or perfection loop). This often results in a full length of tippet material remaining with the fly after a break. Even if reliable 100% knots could be used for both connections, a break would happen somewhere along the length of the tippet. If any part of my leader has to break, accidentally or on purpose, I want the break to be at the fly.

PS--Floatant on the tippet can cause a knot to slip and should never be used to lubricate knots. Water is probably best for that purpose.
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Oct 2, 2009October 2nd, 2009, 2:55 pm EDT
I'm in complete agreement with Gonzo in principle, and differ primarily in the knot used to attach tippet to leader. I've been using a ligature knot for two years, when I have the time and patience to tie it, and I've found it to be, as Art Scheck claims, a very strong way to join tippet to leader. Water is the only lubricant that I know of that works with this knot. When I'm in a hurry, I'll use a triple surgeon's knot. One other thing I've been doing some, especially for nymphing, is to use a tippet ring, attaching it with a Trilene knot. This makes replacing droppers very easy. This spring a guide showed me how to close the Trilene knot without getting a pigtail in the line by pulling on the tag end and the line, after moistening the knot well. I often use a Trilene knot for my fly as well, if I can get both loops through the eye, and have enough leader to waste a bit. John Dunn also has a good fly knot, but I have to relearn it, having forgotten how to tie it. It's a Swisher swirl knot. It's shown on one of Swisher's old videos, and may be on the web. The strongest tippet I know of 5X-8X is Enrico Puglisi's PowerFull. See www.waterstrider.com/fishing-gear.htm and http://rockymtnfly.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=806 [scroll down to the second post]
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
rochester mn

Posts: 133
Dryfly on Oct 2, 2009October 2nd, 2009, 3:45 pm EDT
Geez, All I need is some Rio superstrong and a clinch knot. Surgeons knot for tippet to leader, sometimes a blood knot if I'm feeling fancy.
One thing I think people don't do enough is replace tippets and leaders and retie knots. Just those two things will reduce the number of lost fish. Sometimes I'll get lazy but it comes back to get you when a top end trout takes your fly and breaks you off immediately. That really stings.
Flourocarbon, Is it worth the money?
Marquette, MI

Posts: 33
UPTroutBum on Oct 3, 2009October 3rd, 2009, 6:25 am EDT
I match my leader length to the size of the river and depth of the water and tippet size to the size of the fly. Key is to make sure everything is smooth, especially with small flies, I use big streamers a lot and it usually doesn't matter much.

I buy cheaper stuff, but as said above I always lubricate and test my knots well beyond what a normal trout will do. The only fluorocarbon tippet I use is on my 5x tippet.

The strength test I find and funny is when I get a snag and it takes everything I got to pull it free, that is when you know everything is strong.
" The true fisherman approaches the first day of fishing season with
all the sense of wonder and awe of a child approaching Christmas." John Voelker
Softhackle's profile picture
Wellsville, NY

Posts: 540
Softhackle on Oct 3, 2009October 3rd, 2009, 1:22 pm EDT
It seems everyone has a different take on leaders. I tie my own using Maxima Leader material, Great stuff! For me leader length is determined by where you fish and water conditions. I have a recipe for a 15 foot and 17 foot leaders. Difficult to purchase these. At any rate, as mentioned keep leaders out of direct sunlight. It supposedly deteriorates leader material.

I like Davy's Knot for tying the fly to the leader. I recently started using leader rings placed between the last section of leader material and the tippet itself. Helps the leader to last longer.

"I have the highest respect for the skilled wet-fly fisherman, as he has mastered an art of very great difficulty." Edward R. Hewitt

Flymphs, Soft-hackles and Spiders: http://www.troutnut.com/libstudio/FS&S/index.html
Portage, PA

Posts: 437
Lastchance on Oct 4, 2009October 4th, 2009, 12:38 pm EDT
Hi: I use a blood knot to attach leader to tippet and a clinch knot for tippet to fly. I attach a dropper with a surgeon's knot. I really never have a problem unless I tie faulty knots. I make my own leaders out of 330 yard spools of Stren mono and various sizes, which will tie tons of leaders very cheaply. I keep the mono in my freezer to keep it fresh. Also, I have used a tippet ring and it certainly does extend the life of your leader.
My two cents, Bruce
Oldredbarn's profile picture
Novi, MI

Posts: 2600
Oldredbarn on Oct 5, 2009October 5th, 2009, 9:42 am EDT

If you are interested in tying your own leaders look in to George Harvey or Charles Ritz, "A Fly Fishers Life", if you can find it. Both these guys have worked out leader formulas for just about any situation.

Sunlight is the enemy of mono...If you leave your vest in the car etc you may run in to trouble when you least wish for it...say the biggest trout of the season. I try to replace my leaders and tippett every season, but you never really know how long it's been sitting around a shop or warehouse. When I buy new I write the date I purchased it somewhere on the label. It would be wonderful if manufactures would do this for us..."Best if used by, etc".

I must admit that I have a small box in the basement full of half used tippett, but the 6x works really well on the ice fishing reel for jigging through the ice. I always have some laying around to give to the nephews when they are practising their knots.

Mel Krieger, may he rest in peace, in his beginning fly vid's would always say "slow but firm" when pulling up the knot. If you pull too quickly you can generate friction/heat that can undermine the material and the knot.

I do something like Gonzo. I sometimes purchase a knotless leader down to 4x. If I'm going smaller than 4x I remove about a foot from the tip (I think there is in the neighborhood of two feet of 4x, in this example, at the end of the leader)and tie on 5x from here. Sometimes I don't even do this but just tie on the 5x etc. This way as you rebuild you will still have some 4x at the end to work with.

I have noticed, again as Gonzo mentioned, that the 4x listed on the knotless leader is thicker than the 4x tippett of the same company. I was told by my fly fishing mentor, when I started, to always use leader and tippet from the same manufacturer...I don't know really that this is a must but I have always stuck with it.

"Even when my best efforts fail it's a satisfying challenge, and that, after all, is the essence of fly fishing." -Chauncy Lively

"Envy not the man who lives beside the river, but the man the river flows through." Joseph T Heywood
Mpls, MN

Posts: 113
Ericd on Oct 19, 2009October 19th, 2009, 12:59 pm EDT
Thank you all. I was overwhelmed by the many long responses and put this frustration on the back-burner. The stream season is closed, but I'm trying a new lake for the first time this weekend, so I'll have to do some new reading because lake fishing for trout is new.
Altoona, PA

Posts: 25
Bippie on Nov 26, 2009November 26th, 2009, 5:13 am EST
Fly fishing for over 40 years, used to buy tapered leaders but about 25 years ago I started tying my own. I started with a Mason leader kit, through years of trial and error I came up with some designs that work well for me. Now I just buy mono on large spools from Wally World or Kmart, or the sporting goods store.... the cheap stuff, $2 to $4 a spool. I tie a bunch of leaders and give them to a few friends, everybody seems satisfied. For tippet material I tend to buy the better quality name brand stuff.

As for the knots, any mono knot needs to be lubricated with water/saliva. I use the perfection loop, triple surgeons knot, clinch, turle, barrel knot, etc. When making leaders at home I keep a small container of water handy to lubricate every knot before cinching it tight.
Portage, PA

Posts: 437
Lastchance on Nov 27, 2009November 27th, 2009, 7:27 am EST
I tie my own leaders using bulk spools of Stren mono, which I should have for a life time. They work great and it's much cheaper than buying them. I use blood knots to connect the pieces and a double surgeons knot to add the tippet.
Mpls, MN

Posts: 113
Ericd on May 25, 2010May 25th, 2010, 1:48 pm EDT
I'm back to trying to figure out leaders. I started tying my own with descending tippet weight, mostly because the store bought tapers in my vest disappeared all of a sudden one day on a frustrating pool filled with shy trout. Why should I use mono, or anything else other than tippet material? Cost?

I have "A Fly Fisher's Life" on order at the local library.

Thanks again for the help folks.


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