Fly Fishing Leader Formula: Create Perfect DIY Trout Leaders

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I have a great fly fishing leader formula that was handed down to me by the casting instructor who taught me to cast 30 years or so ago.

There’s been a lot of water flow under the bridge since then, and a lot of fish caught on leaders created using this great formula.

This leader has enough stiffness in the butt section to turn over in heavy wind and enough suppleness in the lower section to land delicate dry flies softly.

This formula creates a 9.5′ leader to which you can add two or three feet of tippet material to get it out to 11.5 to 12.5′ in total – a perfect length for most trout fishing in rivers (to make shorter or longer leaders use the same proportions but reduce/increase the length of each section as required).

It should be constructed from Maxima nylon monofilament line as it is stiff, tough and durable. You can buy Maxima in small spools that are perfect to get yourself set up to make a bunch of leaders for very little cost.

This leader goes down to 4lb, which is a little light for my liking, but I believe that 4lb Maxima has a breaking strain of closer to 6lb so it is really a leader that tapers down to 3x and the final section of Maxima doesn’t weaken the leader. If you are fly fishing for big trout and want full peace of mind, just use a 30″ section of 6lb Maxima to finish the leader instead.

Best Fly Fishing Leader Formula For Trout Diagram

Here is a diagram showing the proportions of this fly fishing leader. Just ignore that curved section as it is just there to make the diagram look better!

How to Make A DIY Trout Leader: Step by Step Instructions

Maxima Spools for Trout Fishing LEader Formula Article
Maxima mono line is the best choice for DIY fly fishing leaders

Assemble Materials: Nippers, Rules and Maxima Line

As discussed, this fly fishing leader should be made of Maxima mono line. I like to keep all eight spools together and keep everything organised. I use a rubber band on the spools to keep the line from coming and creating tangles. I lay down a metal ruler so I can measure the 14.,5″ sections.

Start from the butt section

Starting from the butt section works better because the thicker sections of mono are easier to handle and less likely to tangle, although the blood knots are a little harder to tie in thick mono.

Cut Your First Sections

Personally, I don’t pre cut a whole bunch of sections because it is easy to lose track. Rather, I cut up only the section I am adding (if it is the first section you obviously have to cut both the 25lb and 20lb section).

Use the Double Blood Knot to Join the Section to the Leader

The Double Blood is a relatively simple knot. See our video at the foot of this article on using the double blood knot to tie this leader formula.
Join the leader section to the leader you are building with the double blood knot remembering to lubricate the knot before pulling it up tight. Another tip is to create a leader loop in the 25lb butt section (use the figure eight loop knot) and put it over a fixed hook so you can add tension as you pull each section nice and tight.
The important thing to remember is the number of turns in each blood knot varies with the thickness of the line. I use a three turn blood knot for the 25lb as using more turns makes the knot too bulky and harder to tighten. For subsequent sections I increase the number of turns. So four turn blood knots for 20lb – 12lb and then a five turn blood knot for all subsequent sections.
I leave the knot tag ends in place at this stage as I prefer to trim them all at the end.


Repeat this process until the leader is built

Repeat this for all eight sections until the leader is built. Check the knots carefully and test the leader by pulling it against the hook.

Trim the Knot Tags

Now it is time to trim the tags. You need nippers for this and please take care to trim them close so the knots pass smoothly through the rod guides when you are reeling in, particularly important when you are fighting a fish to the net and the knots on a long leader can snag on the leader if the tags aren’t trimmed properly.

Decide on your connection to the fly line

If you are going with a loop to loop connection to the fly line you can use the loop you created earlier. Just make sure it is a small and tight loop to make a good connection with the welded loop or braided loop connection on the fly line. The whole loop-to-loop connection needs to be nice and compact so it passes easily through the top guide in the fly rod.
If you are using a nail knot to connect to the fly line, you can snip off the loop you created earlier and just leave the plain butt end ready for you to nail knot to the fly line.

Add the tippet section if you are about to use this leader

If you are fishing the leader straight after using it, you can add the tippet section in your chosen tippet size. For this you can use the double blood knot again, or use a double surgeon’s knot or a triple surgeon’s knot, or the Orvis Tippet Knot to add the tippet material. Using a tippet ring is another option.

DIY Trout Leader FAQs

How to Fish a Stream for Trout Feature Image

What are the advantages of a DIY leader?

This DIY fly leader formula creates a leader with a nice balance of strength in the butt section and stiffness through the middle section with just enough suppleness in the last bit for good presentations.
I find these DIY leaders are less prone to wind knots compared to tapered leaders you buy. Ironically the knotted construction, and the stiffness of the Maxima, seems to be better from the point of view avoiding wind knots (or ‘casting knots’ as a guide friend likes to call them).

How can I make a shorter or longer leader?

That’s easy. Use the same line weights, the same proportions, but reduce or increase the length of each section to get the leader length you want. To find the length required for each section of the leader, just take the total preferred length (not counting the tippet material) and divide by eight as there are eight sections to this leader. For example, if you wanted to make an 8ft leader, then multiply eight by 12 to get the length in inches: in this case 96 inches. Divide 96 by 8 and you get 12. So each leader section needs to be 12″ instead of 14.5″.

Is it cheaper to make your own fly fishing leaders?

Yes, for sure. These spools of Maxima cost a few bucks and allow you to make 100 or more leaders. Whereas if you buy your own tapered leaders you will be up for $5 a leader or so. DIY leader construction is a great way to save money to spend on fly fishing trips.

What are the downsides of making your own fly fishing leaders?

These hand tied leaders are great, but given they are made of Maxima, which is not the softest leader material, so they do tend to be at the stiffer end of things. If you are dry fly fishing a spring creek or other type of trout fishing scenario that really calls for finesse you might want to switch to a bought leader made from more supple materials.
But otherwise for most scenarios (freestone rivers, streams, tailraces) and types of fishing (dry dropper, dry only or nymphing) these leaders are fine.

Are their other tapered leader formulas that work?

Of course! This is just one tapered leader design. Lots of different anglers have leader formulas that they swear by and these are often great fly fishing leaders too. While this is my standard fly fishing leader formula, for special types of fishing I will use different fly leaders.
For example, fishing in New Zealand or Patagonia sometimes tackling howling winds and for that you need a tapered leader with an even stiffer butt section to ensure you can turn over your leader in a gale! This could mean using 30lb for the first section or using 25lb for both the first and second section.
And of course for Euro nymphing, you need to use specialised leaders that are tied to suit that form of fly fishing.

Can you use different types of leader material?

Yes for sure. Berkley Trilene or other brands of mono line would work fine. Same with various brands of fluorocarbon if you are making fluorocarbon leaders, but I have found that nothing beats Maxima, largely because of its stiffness. I know if I use Maxima I will get a tapered leader that fishes well and helps me catch more trout.

Video Tutorial: Watch Me Make This Trout Fishing Leader

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AUTHOR
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water.