FF foundations - toothy fish leaders

by Ken Collins - April 22, 2019

If I was only allowed to fish for one group of fish (heaven forbid…), I would have to say " fish with teeth" are my favorite. I am not talking the small teeth that almost all fish have either; the sandpaper like mouths of bass or even the prickly spiked teeth of a mature trout do not count.  I am talking fish mouths that have rows of razor sharp slicing and grabbing TEETH. Toothy predator fish have been designed for one thing - catching and devouring prey.

Muskie, barracuda and northern pike intrigue me because of the speed and power of strike these fish use to catch their dinner morsels. A fly usually vanishes in a nanosecond and then the chaos ensues. I have pursued these magnificent fish for well in 40 years now.  At first with regular spin tackle; but, fly fishing for them even intrigued me more. Fly fishing for trout has its moments  - this I will never discount! But, the anticipation of every cast fly not making it back before it is violently ambushed takes the excitement of the strike to a whole different level. 

In the early years, fly fishing gear required to fish these predators was very limited. It was easy to find an 8wt rod and a reel that would suffice. Beyond that, the flies, leaders and lines needed to efficiently target these toothy beasts was mostly nonexistent. I usually resorted to cutting 5ft  to 7ft off the front taper of  a WF line to get the casting characteristics I needed and modified the heaviest leaders I could find. But, tapered Salmon 10ft leaders, even with heavy 12-16lb tippets, failed miserably to properly turn over a big fly. 

Bite guards provided another challenge. Casting a long supple leader with a giant fly and a heavy 12" wire leader with a swivel on one end and a heavy clasp on the other end, produced ugly, failing fly casts with almost every attempt. It was very easy to catch more fly anglers than fish with this dangerous and inefficient casting set-up.

Shortening the leader to 5ft or 6ft was a natural solution. I quickly discovered that worn out, tapered trout leaders that were too short to work properly as trout trickers were good large fly predator leaders. I even made a special compartment in my leader wallet for these coveted heavy, big fly leaders, until just recently.

In the past few years commercially available leaders for toothy fish have been on the market. But, the predator leaders I have tried still have serious design flaws. My biggest beef is they still make them 9ft long and the commonly use "easy change fly clasps". Clasps can ruin a presentation by snagging up with the feathers and furs of your streamer during your one shot at a giant predator, or worse still, open or break during the battle with an epic fish…  

After exhausting the retail world’s leader offerings, I started making my own. Trial and error attempts focused on a few key points I never swayed from;  Powerful thick diameter (.021 or .023) butt ends were needed to turn over large flies; especially with the NEW era of fly lines now designed to take control of big, bulky offerings. NO predator leader needs to be longer than 7ft and clasps would not be on my leaders. My preference would be high performance easy to tie knots like the Rhodes Loop knot were also needed. It was also imperative that there had to the ability to quickly change flies.

At first, I tried hand tied compound blood knotted tapered leaders. They worked well, especially with heavy fluorocarbon material. I also started to use a large loop on the tippet end or (shock tippet area of leader).A large loop allowed easy changing of pre-tied flies with wire bite guards on them.

In the last couple of years I discovered furled leaders used for trout fishing had possibilities when made beefier and shorter. Control of the breaking strength was also improved because my pre-tied large loop at the end of my shock guard could now be tied with a 100% knot strength Bimini twist. Weaker blood knots did not work well with the stronger Bimini knot. 

For my floating or intermediate sinking lines I now hand twist 25lb fluorocarbon tippet into a 7 foot long high powered taper leader that will turn over bulky foot long flies with ease. For my sinking or sink tip lines a four foot long furled tapered leader is the leader of choice. On both of these leaders the large Bimini loop at the shock end of leader allows easy fly changing via loop to loop connection. I now package my preferred bite guards (3 per pack) in wire or 80 fluorocarbon with pre tied loops. Your furled leader will far outlast many bite guards. 

To try these leaders and bite guards is to know that the homework has been done! Now go get yourself some of our proven flies and these leader components to hook up with a toothy monster of a fish of a lifetime and consider yourself pre-warned that chasing fish with TEETH is addictive!

Tight line wishes, ken      

< Back to Articles

Recent Articles

Small stream bassing
Ken Collins - March 28, 2020

FF foundations - Leaders
Steve May - April 16, 2019

FF Foundations - Visit the Dark Side
Ken Collins - February 25, 2019