Leaders in salmon fishing
Most anglers are super critical about leaders when they are trout fishing but don’t want to go the extra mile when salmon fishing. Are leaders important and what kind of leader set-up you should have in different situations?
Tapered leader or straight mono?
I prefer tapered leaders to straight mono (or fluoro) in 75% of my fishing. Tapered leaders have lot of benefits and the most important one involves casting. Lifting a shooting head or spey line from the water and setting up the anchor is the most important part of the cast. If you get a good anchor placement, it’s nearly impossible to screw up the forward cast. Tapered leaders balance the lift phase of the cast, allowing you to gently place the anchor next to you. Using straight mono requires a bit more training, but you can do it with some practice. If you are using heavy tungsten coneheads or copper tubes, then it really doesn’t matter what kind of leader you are using.
Using a tapered leader makes it easier to straighten the leader completely in the forward cast. It’s a great advantage if your fly starts to swim immediately after it lands into the water. Especially if you know that fish are holding in the far side of the pool.
I’ve got few spools of tippet in hanging from my lanyard. Usually they are 0,43mm , 0,38mm and 0,33mm. I would say that that in most cases I fish with the 0,38mm. For example swinging with regular hook flies from 4- 8, or with standard Sunrays or other tubes, or even with dry flies. I go for 0,43mm if I’m sure that there are big salmon in the pool or the spot is tricky (rocky) and I know that I have to use lot of force to fight the fish. Usually salmon aren’t leader shy, so the minimum where I go is between 0,28mm to 0,33mm. And this only with flies that are so small that I can’t tie them on to a thicker leader. I've landed big fish over 10kg with 0,28mm leaders, but I like to play them hard, so my choice is the 0,38mm when even possible.
Mono versus fluoro
I have to admit that I haven’t been a big fan of fluorocarbon. I used them over 10 years ago when they came to the market, but then they were quite tricky with the knots and I abandoned them for years. The new high quality fluorocarbons seem to have evolved quite much and I’ve been starting to try them more frequently. I usually use them in high water conditions with fast sinking shooting heads to get even more deep down. Other situation is when I need to get a weighted fly down fast by casting upstream in a deep pool. Then I just tie a 2m piece of fluorocarbon to my tapered mono leader. I use loop-to-loop connections just in case to avoid the possible “burns” to mono caused by the fluorocarbon.
Length of the leader
Salmon isn’t leader shy, but I don’t like the idea of any fish seeing my fly line too many times. Therefore I use leaders from 12 to 17 feet. In normal situation when I’m swinging the fly downstream, I think that 12 to 15 feet is quite enough. Especially with the clear floating shooting head from Vision. If the water level is low or extremely low, I use minimum of 15 feet leaders. With dry flies I go with 14 to 17 feet leaders depending on the water level and pool. Hitch flies are a bit tricky. It’s much easier to get the hitch to wake on the surface when you’re using a relatively short 9 to 10 feet leader. But in slick water you can easily hitch with 12-14 feet leaders. When using sinking leaders the leaders should be quite short, from 0,5m to 1,5 meters to actually get the fly little bit deeper. But you can use sinking lines just to slow the speed of the fly down in fast water by using a longer 12 feet leader. Then you fly won’t actually sink much from the drag caused by the line, it will just swim slower compered to fishing with a floating line.