Homemade Fly Fishing Leaders

I’ve done a great deal of tightline (or, Euro-style) nymphing. But, I am now trying to make more progress with my dry-fly fishing. One of the best dry fly anglers I’ve ever met makes his own leaders. Once I heard that, I knew I had to take a look.

I’ve tried a few leaders and have fished with them with both my 9′ 4-wt. and my 7.75′ 000-wt. Here’s my report.

I use LeaderCalc, which offers online formulae for all sorts of leaders. They also have a spreadsheet you can download. You can pick length, tippet size, and type of fishing you want to do. Frankly, it’s a pretty overwhelming array of choices. Here is an example for a 9′ 6x dry-fly leader.


I’ve tried to simplify things by doing some online research and thinking about what I don’t like about the store-bought leaders I’ve used.

The 4-wt. is a pretty straight-forward tip action rod, which I use for dry-fly fishing on larger rivers. For that, I really like the Harvey Slackline leader, in the 6x and 9′ version. At the end of a cast, the end of the leader tends to collapse, which gives you a longer drag-free drift.

When at the Farmington yesterday, it worked very well. In one quiet stretch, I saw a good-sized rise. It was about 50′ away. Why not, I thought. I false cast out some line, saw the fly go out and then fall gently on the water. I couldn’t believe it. I saw a brown trout go up to the fly and inspect it for a few seconds. When the fly disappeared, I set the hook and could not believe that a big fish was on!

It ended up being a 15″ brown, the biggest one of the day.

My 7.75′ 000-wt. is a bit more complicated. It just doesn’t have the punch to throw far very thick leader butt. But, I’ve settled on a 9′ leader in 8x described as for “Delicate, Flat Water, Long Reach.”

The leader goes out beautifully and just kisses the water. I get really long drifts with it and a lot more distance. The 8x is a pain to tie, for it easily kinks up. But, in highly technical waters (slow, clear and shallow water), it unfortunately is necessary if you’re trying to dupe fish with dry flies.

So, if you’re interested, give it a go. I bought some Maxima Chameleon (which is really stiff) for the leader butt materials and Maxima Ultragreen for the main body of the leader. The stuff is pretty cheap.

Have fun!


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2 thoughts on “Homemade Fly Fishing Leaders

  1. Hi, nice write-up on hand made leaders. I've thought about doing this too but also just bought a furled dry fly leader (cutthroat leaders) that I've yet to try. Looking at the spreadsheet it appears you need to tie 6 or more blood knots for one leader, ugh! Do you ever have issues with the knots getting hung up in the rod guides, especially on the really light tippet?

    1. Good to hear from you. Yes, making blood knots is a pain, but it has been about practice and I've become much more adept at it. A great knot, better than the triple surgeon's IMO.

      Regarding bloodknots in the guides, I'm not reeling up line so much when landing a fish, so I stop where the fly line loops onto the mono leader. It was a problem when I fished my 7.75' rod with a 11' leader, but it hasn't been since I now use a shorter 9' leader. For my 9' rod, I've been fishing a 9' leader, and so, there hasn't been an issue with knots in the guides.

      I've come to the conclusion that leader length is important for spooky trout, but not as much when I'm throwing an 8x tippet and cast correctly with a pile cast or a parachute cast to give slack. I've also found that getting into proper position is as important. The most important variable, though, is to find feeding fish. I can throw the best cast on an 8x tippet for a #32 midge emerger, but if the fish is "sleeping" and not looking to feed, it doesn't matter.

      So, as with all parts of fly fishing, there are many variables that work together to make for a productive day. Lengthening the leader alone, I've learned, isn't a guarantee for anything.

      The best news of all is that I've learned a great deal and am really enjoying it. For me, I'm done with trying to maximize the number of fish caught and am now trying to learn more about fishing dries with homemade flies and homemade leaders. One benefit of low water is that the dry fly fishing is better. It's extremely gratifying when it all works out!

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