What line you use is very important and, from my experience, so is the leader which isn't often mentioned or discussed. My fishing was primarily with dry flies with occasional light weight nymphs. I didn't use double nymphs and split shot along with some type of floating indicator as is often used now so my first leader description applies only to dry fly fishing or using small nymphs. However, I did fish heavily weighted stone flies early in the season before the salmon fly hatch and streamers so the leaders for the heavier outfits will be discussed towards the end.
I began fly fishing with gut leaders from William Mills and Sons from New York given to me by my mentor, Howard Sykes. They had to be soaked in an aluminum leader case with wet felt pads to keep the silk worm gut wet so you could tie a fly to it and have them remain flexible and reasonably strong. Fishing with them in our dry climate was a challenge because they dried out quickly losing their flexibility and strength. They were also expensive to purchase and purchasing them was difficult. Because they were wet one very good feature was they immediately sank when they hit the water making them nearly invisible to selective fish. The major problem was they weren't very strong, at least by today's standards.
Not long after I started fly fishing the German Platyl nylon came onto the market and it was a tremendous breakthrough in flexibility and strength so I immediately switched to it. The material was very strong at the time but very flexible so didn't lay out well when used for the entire leader. When I was guiding I would observe anglers using shorter leaders, particularly the nine foot drawn Platyl ones which seemed to be the most popular, and could see they delivered a fly harder and didn't turn over well. I knew a longer leader would be more effective if they only would cast better.
I started tying my own knotted leaders which worked quite well but in a couple of years Dan Bailey introduced the tapered Platlon leaders that were hand-tied with the butt section consisting of about 1/2 of the leader tied from Mason hard nylon with German Platyl tippets and were dyed a dark green to help camouflage them. I found them superior to mine so started using them. They came with a loop tied on the butt to attach them to a loop on the line. I didn't like this connection because it wouldn't go through the tiptop or guides easily. So I always tied on a section of leader about 18" long and about 25 pound test to the end of my line with a nail knot I would coat with Pliobond so the knot would go through the guides easier. This coating would also prevent the plastic coating on the line from breaking where the clinch knot ended. I clipped off the loop on the butt of the leader and tied it to this heavy section with a barrel knot. In addition, I would carefully go over the leader and vigorously pull on the leader at each barrel knot joint to make sure the knots would hold. Then I would carefully clip off any protruding ends of the leader at the knots to make sure they were as small as possible in order to go through the guides easily.
As a matter of information most of you probably know, but some may not, the tippet size in X's is based on the number .011 and the diameter of the leader. For example, a 4X leader is supposed to be .007 inches in diameter (.011 minus .004 = .007 inches), a 6X is supposed to be .005 inches in diameter (.011 minus .006 = .005 inches). I have measured with a micrometer many leaders and tippet materials and found they vary considerably from this standard both above and below it. If you are interested in correctly sizing your tippet material you can purchase what is called a snap micrometer. They are relatively small in diameter, not very thick, and have a spring loaded plunger making it easy to measure tippets in a shop, in the field or at home.
I would normally measure the leaders in a shop before I purchased them to make sure they were near the correct size.
I usually bought a 12 foot 3X leader and would tie on a section of 4X and, if needed, another long section of 5X (in those days the 6X leaders were not very strong and the fish were large so I rarely used 6X tippets). In addition, compared to many spring creeks or spring creek type streams today that are so heavily fished where the fish become very leader shy most of the streams I fished rarely saw a fly fisherman. The 5X would be at least 2-3 feet long so the end would be sure to have some slack to have the fly float more freely. With the heavy nylon tied to the butt this ended in a leader that was generally in the 16-18 foot range. This may seem like an absurdly long leader but I assure you it's not. I always thought I was an exceptionally skillful and effective dry fly fisherman and I know I owe a great deal of my success to these leaders. First, even though they are very long, since they are tied with hard nylon butts they turned over as well as the end of the line so casting them was relatively easy. Second, when you are fishing any water, even if it appears smooth, there are lots of little current variations causing drag on your fly which may be imperceptible to you but not to the fish. With such a long leader it's almost impossible to get them to lay out perfectly straight so the last few feet of leader has some natural slack helping the fly float freely. Third, a long leader helps with the strike in two ways; first, it provides a lot of natural shock absorbing because of all of the nylon will stretch a little under tension, second, it also delays the strike momentarily as you strike and take up the slack. From my observations, and the experience of many anglers, particularly on quieter waters when fishing dry flies it is difficult to keep from striking a fish too quickly missing setting the hook. There is also another minor reason for this type of leader, particularly if you are thrifty, is you buy one new fresh leader in the spring and keep it all year just by replacing the tippets. If you want to fish a 3X or 4X leader to cast bigger flies it is easy to make by just removing a tippet or two.
Another little known factor about lines that helps when hooking fish on quiet water by delaying the strike is lines shrink on the reel and have some stretch in them. If you watch tournament casters preparing to cast they always take the line off the reel stretching it as they go to provide a line that will not stretch giving them more control over their casts.
A good friend of mine who lives in Bozeman, Bruce Richards, used to be the line designer at Scientific Anglers for many years. He still works with Orvis on line design since they bought Scientific Anglers. Bruce is also one of the certified casting teachers so he is also a terrific caster along with being a great fisherman. He is one of the casters who helps me cast my prototype rods when I'm designing new models. Since he is such a great expert in many fields I asked him to read my writing of my thoughts on leaders and make comments on them which he was happy to do. I have his comments in bold type face with his initials at the beginning; BR.
BR: I used to design SA leaders too, work with the suppliers, chose what nylon to use, etc. I used to think that hard, stiff nylon was important for leader butts, but when I started to view leaders as line extensions I realized that the physics don't change at the line/leader connection. In lines, it is mass that is responsible for turnover, not stiffness, same with leaders. Very limp leader butts that are the right mass turn over just as well as stiff butts of the same mass. Small diameter (low mass), stiff butts don't work well, if stiffness was the answer they should. The reason we recommend leader butts of 65-70% the diameter of floating lines is that at that diameter the mass/inch of the leader butt will match the mass/inch of the line tip, key to good energy transfer, whether limp or stiff. Limp material is easier to knot and to straighten. I will agree that if someone wants their leader butts to lay out as straight as possible, stiffer is better. Not usually an issue unless it is real windy. For years I've tied all leaders, including saltwater, with the limpest butt material I could find, but always of precisely the right mass.
(Bruce and I had a big discussion about this. He has a compelling argument so I thought readers would be interested in his comments about leaders. I know the Bailey leaders worked very well for me as did the George Anderson Hot Butt leaders described below.)
Another little known factor about lines that helps when hooking fish on quiet water by delaying the strike is lines shrink on the reel and have some stretch in them. If you watch tournament casters preparing to cast they always take the line off the reel stretching it as they go to provide a line that will not stretch giving them more control over the fly.
BR: While it is true that pre stretching (tensilizing) any line will slightly reduce stretch for subsequent pulls as the line won't recover 100%. For fishing purposes, stretching the line won't change line stretch enough to make any difference to anything, we just never pull in the line hard enough to cause significant stretch. We've done a lot of testing on this in the last year due to the current popularity of low stretch sinking lines. What we've found is that 'low stretch' sinking lines stretch exactly the same as conventional lines up to 2-3 lbs. of strain, much higher strains than most trout lines will EVER see. But, tournament casters I know stretch their lines to make sure they are straight, that reduces friction in the air and guide and also minimizes tangling. The heaviest tournament lines (1800 grains) are made on low stretch cores. They are the only fly lines made that are heavy enough to actually stretch during casting. They are cast by very strong casters and 17 ft. rods. Even tarpon lines don't stretch when being cast and stretch very little during hook set.
(I thought I was correct about this but Bruce convinced me I wasn't. They have done extensive testing with loads on trout lines and have proven they don't stretch under normal fishing conditions. I thought his rebuttal would be interesting reading.
Before fishing with one of the Platlon leaders each time I would strip the leader off the reel and stretch each section firmly just past its natural elastic limit. This automatically straightens the leader, checks the knots for strength, and checks each section for strength. I carefully check the last couple of tippets for "wind knots", a euphemism for what should really be called "casting knots". These insidious knots greatly weaken the leaders and with the old Platyl material made 5X not very strong or dependable. I always was very fastidious about my tackle having learned a "wind knot" or fly that wasn't retied after a good fish was caught might fail at the crucial moment when a big fish would be lost. In addition, anytime I saw a big fish I might hook I brought in my leader and fly to double-check them for strength. With such a long leader I would never wind any on my reel when I was fishing but would take the end of the leader and hook the fly into a guide part way up the rod winding the leader around the reel to keep it from getting a kink in it. The only disadvantage of knotted leaders is when you are fishing waters with lots of floating algae it often catches the knots.
When I have told some anglers about the length of leader I used they sometimes question me about whether they are so long and delicate at the end their use makes it difficult to control the accuracy of a fly presentation. I haven't found this to be a problem. Because of their taper design they cast and turn over very well. The typical casting distance, when dry fly fishing to rising fish, is in the twenty-five to forty-five foot ranges. The fish are usually lying just under the surface so I realize their window of visibility may be only a few inches wide but putting the fly down in their visibility slot hasn't been difficult. There is one other very important benefit of using a very long leader; the fly settles onto the water very gently and delicately. I've found this soft presentation is much less likely to spook wary fish.
BR: Well, our theories on leader length don't quite mesh! I usually tie on a 9' 3 or 4X leader and fish it as is with bigger flies. For smaller flies I'll add 2-3 ft. of 4 or 5X tippet, 6X if I have to. Good casters can make about any leader work, because they are good casters. Good drivers can make any car go faster than an average driver in the same car' Except for very powerful leaders that don't dissipate energy well, leader length shouldn't have much, if anything, to do with delicacy of delivery. If we were to make slow motion video of just the last 3 ft. of leader/tippet turning over and delivering for both long and medium length leaders, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference which was which. Both would have about the same loop size and speed, which really doesn't even matter. Once they straighten, energy is dissipated and they simply fall to the water. At that point, what dictates delicacy is, how high is the fly/tippet falling from, and what is the mass of the fly/tippet (assuming same fly and tippet are being used). Making a leader longer and longer doesn't change how the fly/tippet fall at the end. Of course, if someone grossly overthrows the cast, which is easier to do with a shorter leader, the fly/tippet could 'kick' down at the end and splash down. It takes a good caster to throw the tight, fast loop required to do that, and of course a good caster wouldn't do that.
When I was designing leaders at SA, and doing a lot of teaching, I realized that our average customer was not a great caster. If I designed our leaders with long, delicate tapers only great casters could make them work, the average guy was going to struggle. I can't tell you how often I rebuilt, or changed, students Umpqua trout leaders so they could cast them. They had 30-40-30 tapers. Great casters know how to adjust their cast and/or modify their leaders to get the performance they want. But our perspective is different, you're describing the leaders you used, and you're a great caster. I've spent years thinking of what the average guy needs, and haven't found the benefit in extra long, delicate leaders that you have. But I will say that when things get tough the first adjustment I make is to drop my tippet one size, and make it longer'
One trick I used to make the gentlest presentation to rising fish was, on the final cast, to visualize the water a couple feet above where it actually is and cast to that level and, in addition, have a few inches of line I could shoot. This effectively kills any excess power in your cast and lets the leader and fly straighten out and settle gently on the water.
BR: I do the same...
Another aspect of longer leaders for the modern graphite rods that are so stiff developing high line speeds that is very beneficial is they will absorb some of the energy and line speed giving a softer presentation which is less apt to spook fish.
BR: That, in my experience, only good casters have to worry about the extra line speed. First, average casters don't get the extra speed with stiff rods because they don't get the line straight so don't bend the rod well, which is what generates the speed. They also don't throw very tight, efficient loops so dissipating energy is rarely a problem. Good casters adjust their cast to get the right energy to the fly, regardless of rod or leader.
A few others tips I would like to pass on that don't relate to leaders but significantly helped me be an effective angler, particularly on the streams I fished with spooky wild trout not used to seeing fishermen, was to kneel so the fish wouldn't see me. If there were rising fish I would slink into position keeping a low profile and kneeling as close to the fish I could. This greatly helped my effectiveness for two reasons; one, I could make more accurate casts which is essential when the fish are near the surface feeding regularly, two, and most importantly, time my cast between the rises so the fly would go over the fish when it was ready to take another fly. Another benefit of being close for timing I found very helpful on extremely quiet water was to present the fly immediately after a rise. When a fish rises a ring always appears which sends shadows across the bottom which the fish is used to seeing. If you make your cast when these rings and their shadow are going out from the rise they will mask your fly and leader hitting the water. I would often false cast from side to side below the fish to be ready to make my presentation the instant the fish would rise being careful to cast far enough above the fish so it would be ready to take another fly when mine arrived.
BR: This paragraph is a primer on flat water trout fishing all should read and heed! Suzie and I like to fish some of the local smaller streams. I will relate an experience we had recently on a small stream. There is usually no one there, but last summer there was another couple fishing when we got there. I watched them through my binocs for a while, letting them get upstream a ways before I started, fishing the water they had already fished I assumed. I did my usual slinking, as described by you above, and caught some very nice rising rainbows and cutthroats. I was a bit surprised fishing was as good as it was since it had been fished recently. I talked to the other couple on their way out, they had caught nothing, they said they just couldn't get close enough to make good casts without spooking the fish. I never saw either crouch, get on their knees, or belly crawl, I'm sure that was a major factor.
Another trick I used, particularly on larger fish, where the water was very quiet was to cast just a few inches below their eye and a few inches to the side where they would see the fly land but not any leader. They would usually turn to take the fly and, if not on the first cast, on a subsequent one. As you can imagine this requires excellent casting accuracy and great patience to get the timing right. This is why I would usually be on my knees so I could get very close without being seen to make short but very accurate casts. I did calculate the first cast was a 100% chance of hooking the fish and with each cast the odds were approximately cut in half. On the other hand, if I was careful, I always thought it came down to who made the first mistake, me to spook the fish or the fish to think it was a tasty morsel!
BR: I do the same, make sure that the first cast, if not perfectly placed, was short. Much better to adjust longer on the 2nd cast than to have to shorten. Fish are usually pretty tolerant of a short cast (as long as it isn't right on their head), not so tolerant of long' I also try to find a spot nearby that is just like where the fish is and make a couple practice casts there, judging distance, wind, delivery. Then just change cast angle a bit and deliver.
For the heavily weighted stone fly nymphs I would use a 6-weight rod with a 9 foot Platlon leader with a 3X tippet. This turned the leader over well even with the heavy fly and since the water was always off color having a shorter leader and larger tippet wasn't a concern. I would typically use a Belgian cast which brings the rod back on the side with a delivery straight down in front. This cast style keeps the heavy fly moving in an oval so it doesn't stop and start as it would in a normal cast causing the fly to jerk around hitting you in the back of the head if you don't duck. I would use the same setup for streamers because it would make casting the larger flies easy. The shorter, heavier leader was also helpful in delivering the leader and fly in a straight line, an important aspect of fishing the Morgan Twitch.
BR: I do the same! I don't like indicators either and rarely use them. Fishing a single weighted nymph on a 'clean' leader is almost as much fun as dry fly fishing! I especially like to do this in the boulder fields of the lower Madison, picking the pockets.
There is one other observation I have made with many fishermen I think is worth passing along. They use way too much power in their casts resulting in the line and leader bouncing around because the extra energy has to be dissipated. This disrupts a smooth cast of the line, leader and fly often causing a poor delivery and a sloppy presentation. I believe this emanates from trying to overcome a poor casting technique caused by a poor back cast where the rod is taken back too far and as a compensation extra energy is put into the system. If you believe this could be a problem for you I encourage you to get help from one of the many certified casting instructors now available.
The Platlon leaders are no longer available but there is an excellent replacement, George Anderson's hand tied Clear Butt leaders. I ended up using these after the Platlon leaders were not available and thought they were equally good if not better. I also liked using George's Hot Butt leaders with their bright butts to use them as an indicator for nymph fishing or to give me a good idea where the fly was in rough water if I couldn't visually locate it immediately.
I am not up on all the current leaders, tippet materials, and indicators so I asked. George Anderson, who is a real expert, to write a description of them. As you would expect he wrote about his leaders but also mentions some of the drawn knotless leaders from different companies they carry in his shop. Even though he wrote about his hand tied leaders the information can be interpreted for other brands. The different leaders break down into two categories, freshwater and saltwater. We only make freshwater rods currently, however we have a 9 foot #7 and 9 foot #8 planned in the new 4-pc rods that will be useful as saltwater rods. In addition I know many of our customers also fish saltwater for a variety of species so I will include his information on those leaders too.
BR: I read all the George's stuff, lots of good info on leaders, especially the tippet. Interesting that he doesn't make any mention of butt diameter/mass, or profile, of the trout leaders, only saltwater. But I know why he likes Maxima for butts, he's probably tying his leaders using something like 30 lb. butts. 30 lb. Maxima is much larger than most other 30 lb. monofilaments, so has more mass. The ONLY way to tie leaders is by diameter, except for the tippet, the strength of the sections is irrelevant.
BR: Very interesting stuff, always fun to compare notes with other good anglers, always something to learn!
Leaders by George Anderson
We have modified our leaders slightly over the years. We used to tie them like Bailey's Platlon with Mason hard nylon butts, but years ago we switched over to tying them with Maxima butts as this turns over so well. First we used the darker Maxima Chameleon, but then we switched over to Clear Maxima as people wanted a clear leader as they thought the darker one spooked fish. I thought that was BS and we went on to prove that the color of the butt section, even the very bright fluorescent red Amnesia did not spook fish. Lots of tests I did on the spring creeks proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt. I even dyed up tippets fluorescent red and fished nymphs with them. I found that movement of the leader scared fish. But when a leader drifted over them, dead drift with the currents, or subsurface when nymph fishing, the color made absolutely no difference. With clear Maxima our new leaders are now called Clear Butt Leaders and are available in both 9 and 12 foot and in sizes from 0X down to 7X. For the last couple of section in each leader, including the tippet, we shift over and go to something stronger - Rio Powerflex nylon. This is super strong and also inexpensive.
We also offer our Hot Butt Leaders (my ex-wife Kitty came up with that name and it was a good one). They are basically the same taper, only on the Hot Butt Leaders the first 2 or 3 butt sections (4-6 feet) is Fluorescent Amnesia, which is actually fairly stiff, about like Maxima. Then we drop into the clear Maxima and end up with Rio Powerflex tippets.
When I am fishing the leaders myself, I go with Trout Hunter Fluorocarbon for the last couple of sections, including the tippet. It is just terrific and I think somewhat stronger than the Rio Powerflex, and also ties very strong knots. Trout Hunter Fluorocarbon won our tippet comparison a couple of years ago. The downside is the cost as it is far more than the Rio Powerflex. Powerflex is about $4.95 for a 25 yard spool, while the Trout Hunter is $22.95 but you get 50 meters which is a little more than double. Plus the big thing that sets apart Trout Hunter is that they have the best snap together spools and are all color coded so it is easy to pick out the size you need.
We have found by testing that the life expectancy is extremely long if the material or leaders are stored out of sunlight, and in an air tight bag, like a zip-lock bag. Certainly more than one year. However, we just recommend that people chuck all their old stuff out each year and start anew. Tippet material is the least expensive part of our whole outfit and perhaps the most important. To try to economize here is just stupid.
We sell more Clear Butt leaders than anything, but I really prefer to use our Hot Butt Leaders for both nymphs and dries. These turn over every bit as well as our Clear Butt leaders but then you have a fantastic leader for short line nymph fishing, when you are fishing only 15-25 feet, using small split shot and no indicator. Then the whole butt section becomes the indicator and you watch it right where it goes into the water for any subtle indications of a strike. At longer distances I just add an indicator.
The standard leader I use personally is a 12 foot 4X Hot Butt. This leader has a slightly larger diameter butt section than the 5X-7X leaders and turns over better. Then I re-work the tippets with Trout Hunter Fluoro. If I'm fishing say 6X, I cut the 4X back to 8-10 inches, add another 8-10 inches of 5X and go with two and a half feet of 6X. So this does make the leader longer but it still casts perfectly. If I am fishing 6X I usually want to have 15 feet anyway, and this leader will still turn over wonderfully, even in a breeze.
Our 12 foot leader will turn over better than any 9 foot knotless tapered leader, especially if you are using a fairly wind resistant dry fly like say a size 12 Humpy or any of the hoppers.
One thing that people don't want to do though, is use all fluorocarbon tapered leaders. These sink. They are also far more expensive. Fluorocarbon is a lot heavier than nylon. This is no big deal for tippets of course and they normally float in the surface film anyway.
On another note, most of our guides use Rio Powerflex in 110 meter spools for tippet for clients. Very few of them are willing to use the better fluorocarbon as it is so expensive.
If you need to use an indicator, they work great in conjunction with our standard Clear Butt or Hot Butt leaders. You can now easily attach these indicators without cutting the leader and they stay put. I like the Thill Ice fishing indicators the best, but we sell a lot more Thingamabobbers. The Thill Ice fishing indicators are balsa wood and painted with a very tough epoxy finish. They are a lot less wind resistant than the round Thingamabobbers and cast far better. The Thills come in sizes 1 thru 4 but I use the size 3's most of the time. One is the smallest and not much good; I would rather use yarn than these. Most people use size 2 and 3. But even the big size 4 is good when people are using two heavy nymphs with a lot of split shot.
On the spring creeks I still use a yarn indicator that I tie onto the tippet and then trim it off with scissors to make it between a quarter of an inch to a half inch in diameter. I prefer fluorescent orange or red yarn but many others like fluorescent yellow. The best stuff to use is Glo Bug yarn. White is normally not nearly as good as a bright color, as then it gets lost in the foam and bubbles on the stream.
Placing indicators on your leader is dependent on the depth and speed of the current. I usually have the indicator about 8 feet up from the end fly. Often I'm using two nymphs and would set up the leader like this: I want to have the end fly about 18 inches behind the top fly, tied to the bend of the hook of the top fly, using an improved clinch knot. Then if I need split shot, I'll add this just above the tippet knot going to the first fly. I'll normally use approximately 18 inches of tippet. This way, the split shot won't be able to slide down to the fly. Then from the split shot up to the indicator will be 2.5 to 4 feet.
Our 12 foot hand tied leaders are far better for use with indicators than any of the knotless leaders, because the whole rig turns over a lot easier, and this eliminates a lot of tangles for beginners.
Our Saltwater leaders are all tied with clear Mason hard nylon for the butt sections and utilize Seaguar Grand MAX flurorcarbon tippets. We decided to offer only one standard bonefish leader, which is 12 feet and tapers to a 1X fluorocarbon Grand MAX tippet. This leader starts out with .025' Mason hard nylon. At 14.5 lb. test, this falls into the 8 KG IGFA class. In some instances anglers might want to drop down in size to 2X and this is easy to do by just cutting back the 1X to 10 inches and adding a two foot tippet of 2X. I often go up in size too, in places like Cuba, where the bonefish are not at all leader shy. Then I often just cut off the 1X and use straight 0X, which is 18 lb. Test or even go all the way up to 02X, the same size tippet I use for permit that is 20.4 lb. test. In saltwater fishing as well as trout fishing, I've found that using the strongest tippet you can get away with pays big dividends.
Our permit leader is 11 feet, and starts out with a butt section of .029' Mason hard nylon. This ends up with a tippet of 2 1/2 feet of 02X Seaguar Grand MAX fluorocarbon, which is 20.4 lb. and falls into the 10 KG class for IGFA. This leader will really crank over heavy crab patterns tied with lead eyes.
Our tarpon leaders are ones that I learned to tie from the best guides in the keys, including Marshall Cutchin, Jose Wejebe and Flip Pallot. We are the only manufacturer I know, tying these leaders with Mason hard nylon, just like the good Florida Keys guides use. They use Mason hard nylon because it is the largest diameter monofilament for its strength and gives you better abrasion resistance when being drug over the back of a tarpon once you have it hooked up. Mason hard nylon is really hard to tie in comparison to a lot of softer monofilaments. If you don't get the Bimini twist tied perfectly it can break right at the knot. But once these are tied correctly, they will give you 100% knot strength. We use a Slim Beauty knot to attach the shock tippet, rather than the much longer Huffnagel that people used for years. The Slim Beauty is still provides close to 100% knot strength, but ends up giving you one inch more tippet if you are sticking with a 12' shock tippet as you would need to in order to be IGFA legal.
One thing we do on our tarpon leaders, which makes a huge improvement for most people is to give them a shock tippet that is 3 feet long! The shock or 'bite tippet' we use is Seaguar Fluorocarbon. Our standard quick change tarpon leaders use 80 lb. Fluorocarbon for the shock tippet, and for class tippet we use 15-18 inches of 20lb. Mason hard nylon, which breaks dry at over 21 lb. but when wet will break at slightly less that 20 lb.
With tarpon in Florida becoming more leader shy and harder to catch all the time, we are now tying tarpon leaders with smaller shock tippets and even smaller diameter class tippets. Our Laid Up Tarpon leaders are tied with 5 feet of 20 lb. Hard Nylon class tippet and then 3 feet of 60 lb. Fluorocarbon shock tippet. This keeps the line and knots farther from the fish, giving the angler more success in presenting the fly to laid up fish. We also offer a Stealth Tarpon leader, which uses 6 feet of smaller 16 lb. hard nylon for the class tippet but then 3 feet of 40 lb. Fluorocarbon shock tippet. These leaders are designed to get more fish to take the fly but landing larger tarpon on them is far more difficult. But for anglers that are satisfied with getting a few jumps before the fish cuts through the leader, these smaller diameter shock tippets of 40, 50, and 60 lb. rather than 80 lb. will hook far more fish. In general I try to use at least 50 or 60 lb. shock tippet as then you have a much better chance of landing a tarpon. Even though it is not IFGA legal, using a tarpon leader with 3 feet of shock tippet, you can now tie on 4-6 separate flies as you break off some or want to change flies without burning up the leader. A tarpon will wreck the shock tippet with its small teeth, so you always have to cut about 6 inches off before attaching another fly. If it is an IGFA legal leader, it can have only 12 inches between the class tippets to the hook. You can turn any of our leaders into a legal IGFA leader by shortening the shock tippet to 12 inches, from 3 feet. But if you hook or play one tarpon you must throw away the leader! Personally I'm not concerned that the leader is IGFA legal, so a longer shock tippet of 2-3 feet makes a lot more sense. Also, it makes it a heck of a lot easier for the guide to handle a tarpon, when landing it, without breaking off your fly.
Our tarpon leaders are tied with a Bimini twist, and a double surgeon's loop knot. This makes them a quick change leader, and you just loop to loop this to the 3-5 foot butt section on your line that has a small perfection loop.
More and more guides Florida guides are going to lighter shock tippet, like 60 lb, 50 lb. and even 40 lb. since the tarpon are so damn wary these days due to all the fishing pressure, and pleasure boat traffic. In Cuba, Mexico and Belize, where there is less fishing pressure, most tarpon you see will take the fly immediately and never shy away because of the 80 lb shock tippet. In Florida now it is much different. I still try to use 80 lb., for shock tippet, but I use a much longer class tippet. And often I'm going down to 60 lb. and even 50 or 40 when the fishing is tough. For IGFA you need a minimum of 15 inches of class tippet, but I end up using 4-5 feet most of the time. This gets the Slim Beauty knot out of their field of vision.
I find that when I step down to 60 lb. fluorocarbon for shock tippets, using 20 lb. class tippet and am pulling hard to land the fish, I will break off 30% of the tarpon I hook whereas with 80 lb. I rarely break off any. If I go with 40 lb. I will break off 80% or more. So normally I try not to use less than 60 lb. shock tippet. If you don't care if you actually land the tarpon, then by all means go down to 50 and even 40 lb. shock as you will definitely get more tarpon to take the fly. Of course there are a lot of people that just want to get a few jumps and then break the fish off. Then it doesn't matter much. I want to land every one.