Join me in this post as we run through how to make a tapered leader that you can trust to perform and stay together, especially when you hook that trophy trout you’ve been waiting so long to catch.
What is a Leader?
Let’s start off talking about what fly fishing leaders are, just so we are all on the same page. Fly fishing leaders connect your fly line to your fly.
They are incredibly important as their purpose is not only to turn over a fly but also to ensure the fish you have cast to doesn’t see any fly line, leader, or tippet, and eats that dry fly or nymph you have presented so well.
See also our full Fly Fishing Leader and Tippet Explained for a full breakdown of what is a leader and a tippet.
What is a tapered leader?
Tapered leaders slowly change diameter from the butt section that connects to your fly line all the way down to the tippet section and your flies.
This tapering ensures a consistent flow of energy from the rod, through the fly line, to the leader and tippet section, all the way to your fly so that it turns over and is presented as well as possible.
How are shop-bought tapered leaders made?
When you buy a tapered leader from a fly shop, it is smooth with no knots in it, so how do they do it? They take mono with a thick diameter and chemically taper it so that the butt section remains thick and the mono slowly becomes thinner and thinner until the end.
Do tapered fly fishing leaders need a tippet?
Yes absolutely. Your leader material and tippet material will often be different. The leader will taper down to an end section that is designed for you to add your tippet section to it.
This means you can choose what kind and size of tippet you want to use on the river or lake, depending on the conditions.
What material is a tapered leader made from?
There are two materials to choose from when making a tapered leader; nylon and fluorocarbon. These materials are quite different but they are both fit for purpose. The main difference is the pricing.
Nylon is 1/3 of the cost of fluorocarbon so it’s best to use nylon as your leader material which will take up 80-90% of your leader and fluorocarbon as your tippet material, which takes up just 10-20%. This will save you some cash, and you’ll still have the less visible higher-performing fluoro at the end section.
How do you tie a tapered leader?
A tapered leader is built in sections of different diameter lines including the butt section, mid-section, and tippet section. But, how long should each section be? Luckily there is an easy formula to follow so you always get it right.
The formula is 60-20-20. 60% butt section, 20% mid-section, and 20% tippet section. So on a 10-foot leader, you’ll have 6 feet at the butt, 2 feet in the mid, and 2 feet of tippet at the end. If you always follow the 60-20-20 formula you’ll get it right.
What weight line is needed in each section of the formula?
You can tailor-make this to suit you once you have the hang of it, but until then, here are the weights of line you should use to build an all-purpose tapered leader for trout.
- Butt section – 4 foot of 30lb + 2 foot of 20 lb – Nylon
- Mid-section – 1 foot of 15 lb + 1 foot of 8 lb – Nylon
- Tippet section – 1 foot of 6lb + 1 foot of 4 lb – Fluorocarbon
As you can see the weight of each piece of line steps down quite linearly and so does the length. So when tying and building your own for other fish species, you can use some common sense about each length piece and its weight as you slowly dropdown.
For more selection of line weights, see our reviews here:
- Best 3 Weight Fly Line
- Best 4 Weight Fly Line
- Best 5 Weight Fly Line
- Best 6 Weight Fly Line
- Best 7 Weight Fly Line
- Best 8 Weight Fly Line
What knots do you need to know to build a tapered leader?
You’re going to need a knot to join the sections, and one to make a loop at the butt section so you can easily add a remove your leader from the fly line when you’re out on the water.
The most common and probably the best knot for joining the section is a blood knot. Blood knots are a little tricky to tie at first but become easy once you have practiced them. Here is a video of a blood knot for you to learn from.
The best knot to create a loop at the butt end for a loop-to-loop connection with your fly line is a perfection loop.
Here is a video you should check out if you’re unsure how to tie one.
You really should practice these knots and check and test them after tying to be sure you’re doing them right before building a tapered leader.
Tip – you can use a tippet ring to attach the fly fishing leader to your tippet. These rings are tiny, turn over well, float for dry fly fishing, are around 30lb test, and you can easily rig a dropper set up nicely with them.
The main reason I love them though is that they make your leader last. Instead of cutting your leader down each time you change your tippet, you cut the tippet off at the ring instead. This means you’ll cut less, or none of your leader, when switching rigs to a dropper or refreshing your tippet.
The Step by step guide to building your first tapered leader
Here are the instructions and tips on how to build a standard trout tapered leader from scratch. Be sure to read them through fully, and check you have all the materials and tools required to build the leader with- scissors and your tippet/leader materials.
- Cut the sections of the different weight lines as per the leader length (around 10ft) and the formula above. But make sure to make them about 6 inches longer so they aren’t too short and keep their formula length when you tie them up.
- Next, starting from the butt section, tie a blood knot to join each section of the 30 lb, 20 lb, 15lb, and 8 lb. Cut all the tag ends off.
- Now try and test every connection along the leader to check it will up when you’re fishing on the water. To test, give each knot a small long steady pull. If it holds move to number 4.
- Take your tippet pieces and add them to the leader using either another blood knot or a tippet ring.
- Cut off the tags and test the connections.
- Tie a perception loop at the butt section, test it.
- You know have a homemade tapered leader you can fish on the water with.
- Go and test it on your local fly fishing river and see how it performs.
Thanks for reading my article, I hope you enjoyed it and are ready to make your own fly fishing tapered leader now. It’ll save you a pile of cash in the long run and it’s immensely satisfying. Please share the article around with anyone who might want to learn too and until next time, tight lines.