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How I Rig Lines and Leaders


Most high-end flylines these days come with a welded loop already formed in the terminal ends of the line. There are people who believe that you should fashion your own loops – if you’re one of those people then you probably already have a favorite method.

For those that either have no experience with the procedure or come across an older line with no welded loops, the video below will get you headed in the right direction. Other options include the commonly used and functional nail-knot connection, but I generally avoid this technique in favor of the welded loop.

Mctage from the Fly-Carpin blog has put together a useful video on the subject.

Assuming that you have a loop in your flyline, you then need to put a loop in the terminal end of your backing. As I mentioned, on my reels I have 30lb backing which is very thin and Teflon lubricated. This can cause concerns when a big fish is making a hard run on  – the braid could literally cut straight through the flyline. To help alleviate this issue, on my big-game reels I use a loop system, beautifully illustrated here by the legendary Cam Sigler.

Based on a Bimini Twist,  this knot allows for the pressure from the backing to be spread over a larger surface area and eliminate the chance that it will cut through your flyline.

Now, once your flyline is wound on and you’re ready for the leader, you’re going to have to ask yourself a couple questions. First of all, where are you fishing? So far I have described rigging for my big game equipment, so we’ll assume a suitable location. The jetties, surf, or a boat somewhere nearshore are all appropirate. The critters that lurk out there are often big, and often toothy. I don’t mean ‘scrape you up a little’, toothy – I mean slice you to the bone if you’re careless. Obviously those teeth present a bit of a dilemma in how you construct your leader.



In general, I have more confidence in fluorocarbon leaders. Being extra careful with settling your knots and making sure that everything is secure is more important with fluoro than with monofilament, but the end result hides from the fish more effectively. For most of my big game applications I rely on fluoro, but there are times when mono is more effective especially when fishing small topwaters like gurglers in very shallow water. In skinny conditions, the tendency of mono to float helps keep your fly on top where it belongs.

The opposite can be true too – when sightfishing with crab flies, it can be helpful to have a mono tippet to help keep the line out of the grass.


When rigging for the flats, it’s more a question of knowing how to deal with the current situation than anything else. For many flats fly fishers, the prepackaged tapered leaders made by many manufacturers are their go-to, and that often works just fine. Personally I like to make my own leaders, mostly because I think I can do it just as well for less cost. Like most guys that roll their own leaders, I like to start with a heavy butt section. This allows for efficient transfer of energy from the flyline to the leader. I generally go with a 30-20-12 progression in pound test if I am expecting to be sightfishing, whereas if I am blind casting a topwater or a slider as a searching pattern I will stick to something more like a 30-20 or 30-20-15. The heavier tippet turns over bulky flies a little better and is more resistant to the errant windknots that tend to form while blind casting in windy conditions.


Jetty leaders I tend to construct in a 50-30-20 progression. This setup works well when targeting species such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and redfish. The extra-heavy butt section helps turn over the big flies you may be throwing, especially if fishing topwaters. However, there are situations when I’ll just go with a straight 30lb leader. This is a very useful tactic when I break off a leader on a rock (or fish), and need to quickly get back into fishing, or I am fishing a shooting-head system and need the leader to be thinner diameter so that it sinks well. If tarpon are the target species or if I just think I have a good chance of hooking one incidentally, I will put 10-12” of 50lb fluro on as a bite tippet. This can come in handy for Spanish macks as well – keeps them from slicing through your tippet as easily.

You might be tempted to say, well what the heck, why shouldn't I just go with a straight 50lb leader and cut to the chase!

There is another reason I will go with the 30lb leader – when it comes time to break off a fly which refuses to budge from the clutches of rocks, that 30lb is going to pop before your fly line does. When you’re hanging 6-8 flies in the rocks per outing, that bit of planning makes a big difference.

Bust a leader, save a flyline.

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