Ask FRR

Ask FRR

  • By: Buzz Bryson
  • Photography by: Buzz Bryson
Bluewater fishing requires big-game leaders and knots.

Q: What leaders, and connecting knots, are best for bluewater fly-fishing?

Sitting here in Loreto, Baja Mexico, taking a break during a tough week of fishing (all sympathy appreciated), I’m reflecting on the many questions asked, and answers provided by, the mix of newbies and experienced pros to bluewater fly-fishing here at the lodge. Such a grouping is a fertile environment for moving up the fly-fishing learning curve. Inevitably, the focus becomes leaders and, more particularly, knots. The question boils down to, What leaders do I use and how do I connect the pieces?

For a basic tapered leader, most anglers start with a butt section of 40- to 50-pound-test nylon monofilament (we’re talking about 8-weight and heavier rods); add a midsection of 30 pound; and finish with the tippet of 12- to 20-pound test. The overall length will vary, depending on whether the leader is going to be used with a floating, intermediate or sinking line. For the former two, most anglers use 8 to 10 feet of leader. For the latter, the leader is considerably shorter, by half or so, since longer leaders counteract the sink rate of the line. Most use proportions close to the “60-20-20 rule.” For a 10-foot leader, that would be 6 feet of the butt section, 2 feet of the middle and 2 feet of the tippet. Some omit the midsection. The exact proportions really aren’t that important, as long as the line/leader will turn over the fly. If in doubt, err toward more butt section.

Putting the leader together is pretty simple. Beginning with the butt section, some people prefer the quick-change ability that loop-to-loop connections offer. (I’m definitely in that camp.) Here, a simple perfection loop in the butt section works well. It’s easy to tie with a bit of practice, is plenty strong (remember, this is the strong end of the leader; there’s no need or advantage for a near-100-percent knot) and it’s neat. A double surgeon’s loop (two turns) works well, but is a bit bulkier. Other anglers insist on a smooth connection, and opt for a nail knot, Albright or some variation. Tied correctly, a nail knot is strong and neat, but can slip off fly lines with certain cores, most particularly monocore lines. The Albright is only slightly bulkier than the nail knot and never slips (or at least I’ve never seen one slip).

Connecting the butt and midsections is also simple. Most anglers tie a blood knot, using four to five turns. Alternately, a surgeon’s knot (normally two turns, but I like three in lines under 20-pound test and four in lines under 10 or 12 pound test). The surgeon’s is a bit bulky in heavier lines. In general, cinching up knots is more difficult in heavier material, but as with any knot, it’s a critical step.

For connecting the mid to tippet section, remember you’re tying one end of the weakest link, the other of course being the fly-to-tippet knot. The blood knot works well here; but the surgeon’s knot is a bit stronger, in my opinion. If you’re determined to construct the leader at as near 100-percent breaking strength as possible, you’ll need to learn to tie a Bimini twist. It’s a neat-looking knot, it’s a staple of big-fish anglers and you’ll look cool tying it in front of friends who can’t tie it. Oh, and with a bit of practice, it’s really simple to tie quickly. What it provides is a loop, or double line, that can then be used to knot the weaker tippet to the mid (or again, directly to the butt) section, retaining near 100 percent strength of the tippet. You can still use the blood or surgeon’s knot, but you’ll tie it with that doubled loop the Bimini created.

You’re ready to attach the fly now. More and more, I’m seeing loop knots being used and recommended for this. I think the non-slip mono loop dominates; it’s a strong, easy-to-tie knot.

Have a conundrum for Professor Buzz to solve? Send it to [email protected].