Autumn On The EB

Autumn On The EB

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Debunking Conventional Wisdom - The Leader Myth And Leader Shy Trout

Let's look back to this past May. I saw this guy net a brown as I got there and asked what he was using. "a size 14 caddis emerger". Good enough. Then he goes about a half hour without a fish and then asks me if I have any 7x TIPPET. I asked "what for?" He said that he believed that the trout had become "leader shy". I said that I didn't have any 7x (we were on the Millers for Christ sake) and we DON"T need that). We continued to catch trout on 5X! He caught none.

Back cast 5 years ago when I met this young guy on the EB. He said that he was using a size 12 stimulator on 7X!! Why? "Because the water is so clear". The time frame between these events is full of the same excuse.

Lefty Kreh is credited with the statement:"there is more bullshit in fly fishing than in a Texas cattle yard". This is an example of it!!

Point 1 - leaders are matched to the size of the fly that you are using, not the clarity or depth of the water that you are fishing!

Point 2- If leaders are fished behind a SUNKEN FLY then the leader visibility is a moot point. Modern leaders, if they are below the surface, are practically invisible especially the fluoro variety. Mono has made great strides to reduce light refraction over the past decade to where it's almost a "no decision" between mono and fluoro. (Note: my sources are not retail outlets which have another agenda)

Point 3 - Our "leader spooked trout" are not the the cause of "heavy" leaders but THE CAUSE OF BAD PRESENTATION. "Lining" trout (dumping your fly line on top of the fish) or slapping your fly down on the water are some of the causes. You see this when fishing dry flies for rising trout.

"Conventional Wisdom" and it's goofy step brother "Common Sense" say that the clearer the water and the spookier the trout equals tiny tippets. Tying larger flies to tiny tippetts mean more lost flies and longer battles to bring a trout to the net. That last statement is especially true if you are not into harming trout. Find a "fly to tippet chart" and stay with it.

If you think that I'm working on impractical theory then absorb this fact: I do a good amount of Tenkara fishing on the Swift and instruct even more clients on this technique. We ALL hook into MANY trout while using the occasional size 14 but mostly size 16 through 20 AND they are ALL HOOKED ON 5X!!!!! The funny thing is that we are fishing next to people who are fishing for the same trout but would NEVER fish a size 18 on a 5X. Go figure!!!

Lefty Kreh, George Harvey and Charlie Brooks, among others, questioned this "conventional wisdom" and found that it came up lacking. Don't blame the equipment. Maybe blame yourself.

Note: The Swift Trout are wising up.



Joe C said...

You certainly nailed that one Ken. I do a lot of small midge nymphing using Gamakatsu C12BM barbless midge large eye hooks. I fish them in sizes 26 to 30 and always use 5X tippet because I can with the large eye. It has never seemed to affect the amount of takes I get plus I can quickly bring the fish to net and get them released without exhausting them.

Bill/Tully said...

Nice lesson!

BobT said...

I barely ever use 7x...maybe on a few super tiny flies but I only buy a spool every year to keep it fresh not because its gone. I fished the highly technical South Platte in Co for the last 7 years...presentation is king. The really good fishermen never really use anything below 5x except on occasion for the tiny bugs. I used to use 6x and 7x on the Swift exclusively but realize after many years that I was probably casting from the wrong spot more often than not. You hit the nail on the head Ken..
to all readers here there is a lot of great information randomly dispersed throughout Kens blog...well worth the time to go through it-you will be a better angler. Thank Ken for his great blog.

Millers River Flyfisher said...

Joe C, and Bob T,

Thank you for your comments! You guys get it and have the catches to back it up!

Joe C, - Email me on that baetis nymph and it's construction if you can. I friend of mine is very interested. My address is on my blog.

Bob T. - Thank you for the good words about this blog and your stream knowledge. There is just SO MUCH misinformation dispensed out there that it boggles the mind. Eight years into this blog I still see it.


John Robinson said...

Great post. A few years back I read an article about a guy who dove with scuba gear to watch trout behavior related to leader/tippet size. After having several fisher-people throw the same fly but with different leader sizes, he determined there was little-to-no difference in the chance to hook a fish.

PS - please don't die until after I do. Your info and posts have made me a better New England-based fisherman. Don't know what I'd do without this site.

Millers River Flyfisher said...


Thank you for the comment. It adds weight to the debunking of this market driven conventional wisdom. I don't intend to die soon and I hope you don't either!!


David Dutille said...

Nice post Ken. thanks for teaching me the ins and outs of the "lower" Swift last night. I applied my learnings today and netted a fat fat rainbow just above the gauge. A fellow angler who was leaving the spot gave me a goofy looking ant that he was teasing the fish with but was not able to snag him with. I had success because I now know how to present flies on that stretch because of you. BAM. I was recently told its not the arrow but instead the archer and the bow that matter.

Andrew T said...

Thank you for the wisdom, Ken. Yesterday I experimented with a sizes 14 & 16 PT tied to 5x with a size 20 WD-40 6x dropper (A fly discovered on your blog). I caught ten of eleven fish on the wider tippet with the larger nymphs - a fantastic morning!


lenny tamule said...

Ken, thanks for clarifying the truth on leaders. On Wednesday I was using 7x for the majority of the day. But I was using a double rig with an orange soft hackle and a PT as a dropper. The soft hackle was on 6x and the pheasant tail was on 7x. Not many took the soft hackle but the biggest Brookie of the day took the soft hackle. Then the next day I switched to 6x and had just as much luck as I did the day before and maybe could've been more if I had stayed as long as the previous day. Glad I now know "leader shy trout" is a myth and that presentation is 100% of the game.


Millers River Flyfisher said...


It's funny how some always blame the equipment and never themselves.

NH-trout-bum said...

Great post, Ken! In hopes that I don't offend anyone for the lack of political correctness, another guide once told me, "It's not the arrow, it's the Injun."