Thursday, September 4, 2014

Formula for a Simple Tapered Salmon Leader (for single handed rods)

In tea colored rivers, salmon don't mind
Maxima Chameleon's brown color

If I'm fishing dries, the hitch or not changing fly sizes often, I typically use a straight piece of monofilament for a leader. If I want to fish small flies, throw a longer, finer leader, and/or might change fly sizes often, I opt for a tapered leader. I use Maxima Chameleon for all but the clearest rivers. It is thick, strong, really stiff, and makes excellent tapered leaders.

I'm not too obsessive about making sure my butt section is 60% of the total length of the leader. When the leader is 9' long, it is pretty much 60%. As the leader gets longer, it falls below 60%, but I haven't found that the leader turns over poorly. It works well enough. 

I tend to use a longer tapered leader based on fly size. Conditions dictate fly size most of the time. It makes sense to go longer and finer (and fish a small fly) when fishing low water. In higher water, I don't think leader length makes too much of a difference. 

My tapered leaders are based on a simple formula from Col. Joseph Bates's book "Atlantic Salmon Flies and Fishing." To get a longer, finer leader, I just keep adding lighter tippet material to the end. When heavier tippet is needed, I cut the leader back and add a longer section of whatever size tippet I need. 

My 8# test leaders end up being around 9'-9.5" long. Here is a rough formula to follow:
3' of 30# test
2' of 25# test
1' of 20# test
8" of 15# test
8" of 12# test
8" of 10# test
12"-18" of 8# test

For a 6# tippet, I cut the 8# tippet back and add 18" or so of 6# Maxima. If I think it should be longer, I leave the 8# section longer than 8". If I want to use the 10# test, the leader ends up a little shorter than the 8# test leader. If I'm fishing in conditions where I think I'll need 12# or 15# test tippet (or larger), I'll usually use a straight piece of mono. 

In reality, my tapered leaders wind up being a little longer than stated above. I tend to err on the side of leaving too much material for blood knots, so the 8" sections are usually a bit longer. When I use the 9.5" leader formula above, the total leader length winds up being 10' or more just from the extra amount of material added for the knots.  A lot of the times I'm estimating the length, not using a ruler to measure. Like I said, I'm not too scientific about it and it has worked well so far. Maxima isn't fussy material. It turns a fly over really well.

I hope this helps someone. If nothing else, it will help me. I tie a bunch of leaders once a year, then I forget the formula! 


  1. How would you adjust this leader formula to suit two handed rods (11' and up) with a floating line?

    1. Hi Bob...what kind of floating line are you using? Standard WF? Scandi, Skagit, long belly, short belly? Each one will require a different leader.

    2. I'm using an Airflo Delta Spey multi-tip 7/8 on a 11' switch. I understand that I need to utilize the tips included in the set in order to swing flies, but what length/type of leader on which tip?