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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Salmonflies
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

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.

Troutnut
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Troutnut on Jul 19, 2018July 19th, 2018, 6:16 pm EDT
When I visited New Zealand this past winter (trip report still to come!) I learned that a lot of the backcountry fishing takes place with extremely long leaders. The water can be unbelievably clear (even compared to the clearest of gin-clear streams I've seen in the US), and game is primarily sight fishing to wary, experienced, huge brown trout. It took me a while to adjust my casting for leaders of that length and I never got very good at it, so I'd like to practice some more on wary fish on western creeks here in the US.

It seems the design of the leader is especially important when it's that long, but I've surprisingly found no formulas online for tying them that long, and nobody seems to sell them. I'm wondering if it's important to begin with much larger diameters than usual for the butt section when reaching out that far, or whether the typical 60/20/20 ratios could be adapted, just with everything lengthened. Does anyone here have the really long 15+ foot leaders dialed? What's your typical formula?
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 19, 2018July 19th, 2018, 7:54 pm EDT
Jason,

My Montana partner has always built his own leaders using Maxima for the basic leader and then 4' - 5' of soft 5X Rio, Orvis, Trouthunter, or similar nylon, not fluorocarbon, tippet.

I on the other hand am not so technical and just don't like knotted leaders. I cut the loop off either an Orvis or Rio 12' 4X leader with a .023" butt and nail knot it to the end of my fly line and apply thin coating of UV material and then zap it with the UV light. The UV material coats the entire nail knot and allows me to reel the knot in past the tip top and it doesn't hang up.

I attach a 1.5 mm diameter tippet ring to the end of the 4X leader and add a 4' or 5' long piece of Orvis or Rio fluorocarbon tippet. I don't use the fluorocarbon for the invisibility factor as much as I do to take advantage of the stronger breaking strength of the flurocarbon versus nylon. Using a good WF #4 Orvis Hydro HD of a SI Sharkskin fly line I can turn off that 16' - 17' leader pretty easily if there is no wind.

I will alter the length of the tippet to as short as 3' if wind is a factor.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Adirman
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Monticello, NY

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Adirman on Jul 20, 2018July 20th, 2018, 1:15 am EDT
Matt, you find the UV application on your knot facilitates smooth passage thru the guides ? I’ve never tried it , it really makes a difference as compared to without?

I like doing that too btw, using a prefab tapered leader and then building off of it but I like building my own when tightline nymphing with a straight sighter, also for salmon or steelhead
Martinlf
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Palmyra PA

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Martinlf on Jul 20, 2018July 20th, 2018, 7:39 am EDT
Matt do you use this leader for the Delaware too? I've been using a similar set up, but starting with a 9' leader and adding tippet. I'm considering trying the longer leader. Do you think I'll see a lot of difference? Also, I like Stroft tippet. Its nylon is very strong.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 20, 2018July 20th, 2018, 9:33 am EDT
Adriman,

Matt, you find the UV application on your knot facilitates smooth passage thru the guides ? I’ve never tried it, it really makes a difference as compared to without?


Yes, absolutely. It makes a big difference. Before I started to do this I always had problems with my nail knot hanging up in the tip top and 2 or 3 of my snake guides because I use such a long total leader length. When you have a big fish on, say 20", and you reel it in past the nail knot if the fish tries to make a last ditch run you can easily break a 5X tippet. Possibly even break the tip.

Once you try it and reel the line past the nail knot it is amazing how smooth the transition is. As soon as I get a new line I snip off the loop and tie as neat a nail knot as possible. I like to use Tie-Fast knot tier because it makes tying a neat nail knot so easy. I make no less than 4 turns and no more than 6 turns around the tool with the leader butt.

You don't need a lot of UV goop. Apply it very sparingly to the knot and try to taper it a little onto the fly line and leader butt. It is so slick you won't even know you reeled the knot past the tip top.

Louis,

Matt do you use this leader for the Delaware too?


Yes I do Louis. Rarely though is it 16' usually a Rio or Orvis 9' 4X, a tippet ring and 3' - 4' of 5X. If the water is low and clear I use 6X. The neat thing about tippet rings is instead of tying a blood knot with a 4X main leader and a 6X tippet, which I hate doing, I just clinch knot the tippet to the tippet ring. Maybe it is just my idiosyncrasies but I don't like stepping down more than one "X" size with my blood knots.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Martinlf
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Palmyra PA

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Martinlf on Jul 20, 2018July 20th, 2018, 11:47 am EDT
Another thing one can do to smooth the line leader connection is to use a Dave Whitlock super glue splice. I've been using them for years and have yet to have one fail. You do have to replace them every year, though. The video shows one way to do it. I actually make a tool by supergluing the point of a needle in the end of a dowel and poking the eye of the needle into the fly line about a half inch to an inch up and out the side. Then I can put the small end of the leader into the eye of the needle, pull most of the leader through the fly line tip, cut the butt of the leader on a bevel, rough up an inch of the butt with sandpaper, put super glue on the rough section, and pull it into the fly line. If you do it right, you pull all the leader butt in and have a tiny hole where it went in. It makes a very smooth connection. I sometimes use a little super glue on the end of the fly line where the leader comes out to create a little cone. Even smoother.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjSxn0O9qAk
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 20, 2018July 20th, 2018, 12:28 pm EDT
Louis.

The method you are using sounds really slick. I could see how it works with a hollow fly fine but how do you get the needle to go in half an inch when the line has a braided core?
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
CaseyP
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Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

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CaseyP on Jul 21, 2018July 21st, 2018, 4:59 am EDT
when discussing long leaders, we need to remember that there are regulations in many states which limit the length you may use. unfortunately, the appropriate pages elude me just now--it's a lot easier if you have that paper book around!--but i seem to remember that PA limits them to 12 feet. i could be wrong...
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 21, 2018July 21st, 2018, 8:59 am EDT
CaseyP

I copied this out of an addendum to the PFBC minutes taken during a recent meeting.

Summary of Change

In an ongoing attempt to simplify regulations, the Commission is continually looking at ways to improve upon current regulations. One area that has come into question recently is the 18 feet maximum length of leader material or monofilament line allowed in catch and release fly-fishing only areas.

In examining this question, it was brought to the Commission’s attention that this limitation also excludes several acceptable fly-fishing practices such as European Nymphing. Law enforcement staff indicate that rarely is the length of leader material measured as it does not create significant problems streamside.

Based on these findings, the Commission amends § 65.14 to read as set forth in the proposed rulemaking published at 47 Pa. B. 5786 (September 16, 2017).


Anything less than 18' is legal in any PA waters. I don't know what the rules are for non C&R waters and frankly I doubt if a CO is going to bring a tape measure with him to measure my tapered leader and attached tippet.

Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Martinlf
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Palmyra PA

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Martinlf on Jul 21, 2018July 21st, 2018, 11:24 am EDT
Matt, I've been using the method on Rio and Scientific Anglers braided core lines for years, You just work the needle eye in. It helps to have different size needles to try out. Watch the video I linked in above to see how. Sometimes it seems harder than others, especially with a 3 weight line, but with practice you develop confidence. Years ago Al Caucci told me to use standard Krazy Glue, so that's what I use. I'm sure Zap a Gap would work, though.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 2:10 am EDT
Louis,

Obviously your connection is as seamless as possible. I will surely try doing it on some old lines I don't use anymore. Since I wouldn't use any lines lighter than a #4 I won't have any of the issues that might be experienced with #3 or lighter. I know if I were successful in learning how to do the needle knot my friends would be envious and probably be asking me to do their lines for them.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Martinlf
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Palmyra PA

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Martinlf on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 7:30 am EDT
Matt, one other thing to mention. Use fresh glue, and either Krazy Glue or Zap a Gap. I had trouble years ago and asked Al Caucci--who uses a similar connection, but not exactly the same. He told me to get fresh glue, and he was right. Old glue loses holding power. Also, I was showing a buddy how to do this and asked him to bring the glue. He brought an off brand, and it didn't work. We got some Krazy Glue and were in business.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 22, 2018July 22nd, 2018, 8:58 am EDT
Okay, thanks, I need to find a local store that sells the sewing machine needles.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
CaseyP
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Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

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CaseyP on Jul 23, 2018July 23rd, 2018, 3:54 pm EDT
thanks, Wbranch. wonder why the original objections/rules? too much mono decorating stream-side trees and endangering local birds?
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Wbranch
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York & Starlight PA

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Wbranch on Jul 23, 2018July 23rd, 2018, 4:47 pm EDT
CaseyP,

wonder why the original objections/rules?


Probably because long leaders allow unscrupulous fly fishers to floss large salmon and steelhead that they are able to see with good Poloroids. I have seen guys put on 3-5 #2 split shot about 12"-18" above their fly, usually at least a #4. Then they lob the weights in front of fish they have spotted and as the rig starts to drift down to the fish (the line needs to be perpendicular to the river)they wait until the fish opens its mouth and get the leader to go between the open jaws and they set the hook.

This is a learned art form, passed down from father to son, on the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Troutnut
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Troutnut on Jul 23, 2018July 23rd, 2018, 5:51 pm EDT
This is a learned art form, passed down from father to son, on the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY.


There's also a widespread belief (and complete misconception) that it's the only way to catch a sockeye on the fly in Alaska. Sockeye will strike flies, just usually smaller and sparser than what people use for other salmon.
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist
Troutnut
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Troutnut on Aug 19, 2018August 19th, 2018, 2:46 am EDT
I just found what I was looking for on page 44 René Harrop's excellent (highly recommended!) book Learning from the Water, part of a whole chapter on fishing long leaders based on his extensive experience on the Henry's Fork. The formula below is for a 6X tippet but you can see how it would be easily modified for 5X or 4X:

24" of .030
20" of .025
18" of .020
16" of .015
14" of .011
12" of .010
10" of .009
9" of .008
8" of .007
6" of .006
30" of .005 (6X)

A member here also pointed out to me that Trout Hunter makes 14' leaders with a variety of tippet sizes. I noticed they have Harrop's signature, so perhaps they're based on the formula in his book:

http://www.feather-craft.com/trout-hunter-rene-harrop-signature-14-foot-knotless-tapered-leaders
Jason Neuswanger, Ph.D.
Troutnut and salmonid ecologist

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