Knotless Tapered vs Custom Built Leaders

March 27, 2022

As I was preparing to go out fishing today, I was running through the mental checklist of things I would need, and one of the things that came to mind was making sure I had the proper leaders built out, and tucked away in my leader wallet.  

Admittedly, I am a bit of a leader junkie, but that is because I think they are arguably the most important piece of my entire fishing set up.  Some might argue that the fly is of penultimate importance, however, to those I would say that the leader does the work of the delivery and presentation of said fly.  If we simply attached the fly to our fly line, well it simply wouldn't work for both physical reasons (those hook eyes are just too small), and the fish probably would take notice of the thick piece of PVC connected to their alleged food.  

As it pertains to leaders, we are blessed with so many choices these days.  Manufacturers do a phenomenal job of producing some very high quality extruded, aka knotless tapered, leaders.  The main selling point is the convenience factor.   An easily totable pack will provide an instant way to get you out fishing.  Should you obliterate the leader in a tree, the pack likely has an identical mate that you can instantly swap out.  Being knotless they also tend not to catch onto or grip things like muck, leaves, grass, etc in the water.

So why do I turn away from this convenience and make things harder on myself?  Actually, for some pretty important reasons.  The first being customization.  I can construct a leader to do exactly what I want by mixing and matching individual components that I like.  The finished product will turn over a fly just how I want, and accomplish the presentation I'm seeking with the utmost of ease. It perfectly transmits the energy of my cast to my fly.

I also feel that custom leaders are more durable than their machine made counterparts.  There is no real scientific data there, but I can use a handmade leader until it's completely lost its elasticity, and needs to be retired.  I cannot recall a commercial version reaching such a senior status.  Additionally, I can create the leaders to break almost exactly where I want should I run into that unfortunate snag, versus the knotless leader breaking wherever it feels at that particular moment.

Last is the simple nuances of customization.  I haven't found too many commercial leaders that have a butt section of one material, and body of another.  I also don't see commercial leaders constructed with things like sighter pieces or built in indicators.  As it pertains to dry fly leaders, nothing in a package lays out the delicate s-curves that a Harvey leader will.  These all add to the experience and make fishing both easier and more effective.  Our goal is to catch fish, right?  

Gary Borger said it best with "I just don't use commercial leaders because they just can't provide me with what I need when I´m fishing."  I couldn't agree more.  If you don't currently construct your own leaders, you should at least consider taking a dip in the custom leader pool by buying a few to try them out.  At a minimum it may inspire you to try building your own when you simply feel like you cannot cope with tying one more fly, and very well could become a full-fledged passion like it has become for me.  

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