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X-Rated Leaders  at Cabela's

X-Rated Leaders

Author: Dave Engerbretson

According to many wise old anglers, the leader is your most important piece of fly fishing equipment. And yet, unfortunately, it is usually the piece of tackle which is given the least amount of thought by the average fly-fisher.

Umpqua tippet material.
Think about the tasks a leader must perform. It must transmit the casting energy from the line to the fly in order to allow the fly to reach its target. At the same time, it must progressively dissipate this energy so the fly will land as gently as a natural insect, and it must provide an almost invisible link between the heavy fly line and the fly.

The leader must allow the fly to drift freely on or under the water to give the appearance of a naturally drifting insect. And, finally, the leader itself must not create unnatural drag on the fly, and it must be strong enough to hold a fighting fish. A tall order? You'd better believe it!

In order to best perform these many jobs, leaders are tapered. That is, they have thick butt sections which attach to the fly line, and they gradually taper to a thin point, called the tippet, which attaches to the fly. Several types of tapered leaders are available: the knotless, the compound, braided and furled. Of these, the first two are by far the most popular.

Knotless leaders are, as the name implies, a single piece of nylon which has been drawn through a die to create the taper. Compound tapered leaders are made by joining a number of successively finer level sections of material with knots to produce the desired taper. Either type can work well if properly designed, but most experienced anglers prefer the compound style for most purposes.

First, since you can tie your own, they are less expensive. More importantly, though, you can design your own tapers and build a leader which performs exactly as you wish.

Leaders are sold, or tied, according to their length, tippet diameter, and breaking strength. For example, you might buy a nine foot 4X leader with a breaking strength of five pounds. The leader's "X" rating is often a point of confusion for many anglers. You should understand that the "X" rating of a leader is in relation to the diameter of the tippet, and not its breaking strength. The breaking strength of a given tippet diameter will vary widely depending upon the material from which the leader is made. Thus, all 4X leaders do not have the same breaking strength.

Cabela's Prestige Tapered Leaders and Tippet Material.
The "X" rating of leaders ranges from 0X through 8X, with 0X being the largest in diameter and 8X the finest. The "X" size relates to the diameter of the material in thousandths of an inch. It's easy to convert X's to inches if you remember the "Rule of 11." According to this rule, 0X equals .011 inch. Every time you add an X, you subtract .001 inch. Thus, 1X equals .010", 2X equals, .009", 5X equals .006", and so on.

The diameter of the tippet (X-rating) of the leader is important because this is an indication of the size flies that are appropriate to use with the leader. If the flies are mismatched to the tippet size, the leader will fail to perform properly. The relationship between fly size and tippet diameter is shown in Table 1.

When designing tapers for hand tied, compound tapered leaders, most anglers roughly follow the 60/20/20 rule which states that approximately sixty percent of the leader's length should be heavy material, twenty percent should be short sections which rapidly decrease in diameter, and twenty percent should be the tippet. Such a leader will perform well. Using this formula, you can decide upon the length of leader and tippet size you want, and then develop the section lengths accordingly. To maintain knot strength and performance, no two sections should vary by more than .002 inch.

A leader tying kit which contains a wide range of material sizes is a good investment, and will enable you to build many custom leaders at a fraction of the price of ready made ones.

The specification for a 9 foot 4X leader designed according to the 60/20/20 rule are shown in Table 2. Some anglers like to use a stiff type of monofilament for the butt two thirds of the leader's length, and then switch to a soft, limp material for the remainder. This seems to allow for a better drag free presentation of the fly. The sections are usually joined with blood knots, although other knots may be used if you have a favorite. Be sure to allow at least two inches for knots when cutting your sections. Experience will show you how much extra to leave for the knots you tie. Leaders tied according to the 60/20/20 principle will straighten out, turn the fly over, and lay it gently to the water even when tied as long as fifteen feet or so.

.011" (0X) # 1/0 - 4
.010" (1X) # 4 - 8
.009" (2X) # 8 - 10
.008" (3X) # 10 - 14
.007" (4X) # 12 - 16
.006" (5X) # 14 - 20
.005" (6X) # 16 - 24
.004" (7X) # 18 - 28
.003" (8X) # 18 - 28

Material Diameter Section Length
.021" 36"
.019" 16"
.017" 12"
.015" 6"
.013" 6"
.011" 6"
.009" 6"
.007" 22"

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