Scott wrote an excellent piece on big bugs and leaders. We think those of you who crave chrome will appreciate it.
Big Flies, Leaders, and How Heavy is ‘Too Heavy’?
My affinity with big flies sometimes knows no bounds – there is just something about the crushing grab that large flies entice from fresh fish. Those fish rarely ‘pluck’ them, and of course sometimes they whack them so hard that one can’t understand how they simply missed the hook! But typically I find it’s the big pull, followed by fly line snapping tight against fingers, and they’re off and running.
Big flies can cast like wet squirrels, and anglers can shudder at the size of some flies for reasons from pure horror to intimidation. “God, I don’t have the chops to cast that….that…thing!” has been heard more than once, but when the little devil appears on their left shoulder yelling “cast it…ya wuss!” there is no angel on the right side offering the alternative of a #6 low water skunk. They know it’s going get ugly, but it doesn’t have to be.
Tossing a bigger fly requires a few “must-do’s”. Constant tension on the line through the cast is lesson number one, combined with a shorter Skagit-type head and some stout cable/leader to turn it over, second. Since this is a muse about bugs and leaders, we’ll leave casting to another time.
An early lesson in trout school is to always scale tippet (let’s just call it leader) to your fly size. It seems obvious, after all – a #14 Adams on some 1X is obviously going to lack appeal for the trout, as much as using 5x with a #2 Sculpin creates a lot of visits to the fly box for another fly. So, somewhere in the middle is happiness. Trout anglers can divide their fly size by 3 and get a reasonable X factor to choose tippet by – but two handed addicts cannot. It’s 10lb, 12lb, 15lb or 20lb – Maxima, preferably!
This is where some get confused, perhaps linking leader size to fish weight (!?!), rather than to fly size, and I don’t mean the hook – I mean the bug itself. One must consider
- Is it weighted?
- Is it a big Intruder that dries in the air quickly?
- Or an evil-weighted bunny fly that leaves the water like a horribly under-powered cruise missile, with a confused idea of where it’s headed?
Suffice it to say, a fish about to crush your ‘5 inches of fun’ isn’t looking at the leader and taking a pass! So I look at it this way – use the biggest tippet you can still catch fish with, yet still break off snagged flies rather than losing whole leaders and sink-tips. Use a loop knot to maximize action and sink rate.
An added bonus of contemporary trailer-hooked flies is the balance between an ability to open the hook up on a snag or fish you can’t follow, and busting off the fly all together. A #2 short shank bait hook will hold a fish on a bent rod just fine with 12 to 15 pound leader, but point the rod and generally the hook will open, giving you a cherished bug back, just requiring a new iron. The alternative, of course, is leaving it waving in the current on some tree limb.
Fat Can Be Good
Just like a big rope tows a car more efficiently, so does a larger diameter leader transfer the energy from your rod/line/tip into the fly and its turn-over. Note that this is diameter helping you here, not strength. Micro-thin but high-strength leader material is better suited for smaller bugs and wary trout.
Don’t sweat the ‘meat fishing’ idea just because it appears you’re hunting squirrels with an moose gun. It’s all about easier casts, beaching the fish quick, and not fearing the ‘new earring’.