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Custom Tying Tapered Leaders

by Ray Schmidt

So, you are tired of paying $4-5 for a store-bought leader, are ya? We'll demonstrate the proper way to construct your own leaders which will save you money in the long run.

Basic fly leaders are pretty much all based on the time-tested and proven formula of 60/20/20. Sixty percent of the leader is butt section, 20% is midsection (power transfer area), and 20% is tippet (where you tie the fly on.) To make your own leader you must know a couple of knots that join the different sizes of monofilament together. The knots are called the Blood Knot, also referred to as the Barrel Knot, the Surgeons Knot, and the Perfection Loop.

For your first leader, let's make a 10 foot, 4X tippet design. Here's what you'll need and why:

  • Maxima 30lb (.022 dia) leader material in Chameleon
  • Maxima 20lb (.017 dia) leader material in Chameleon
  • Maxima 15lb (.015 dia) leader material in Ultra Green
  • Maxima 8lb (.010 dia) leader material in Ultra Green
  • Maxima 6lb (.009 dia) leader material in Ultra Green
  • Maxima 4lb / 4X (.007 dia) leader material in Ultra Green

These six spools of leader material will tie dozens of leaders, and they are the sizes you will need to tie most trout or panfish leaders.

Why the different colors? The Maxima Chameleon is dark brown and stiffer than the Ultra Green. We like the stiffer material for the butt section to assist in power transfer from the end of the fly line. As the leader begins to unfold, we like softer leader material like the Maxima Ultra Green to begin to dissipate the turnover power. This softening effect lands the fly more gently. The Ultra Green color is also less visible, and stealth is a good thing in fly leaders.

If the leader is going to be 10 feet long, and the formula calls for 60% of the leader being butt section, then the butt section has to be 6 feet long. Let's use 4 feet of the 30lb and 2 feet of the 20lb to build it. Cut these two pieces and tie them together with the Blood Knot, allowing for enough length for tying the knots. Don't worry if you are a couple of inches off one way or another. It will work just fine.

Next, if we follow the formula, we need 20% of the leader as midsection which is 2 feet in this case. Use 1 foot of the Maxima Ultra Green 15lb and 1 foot of the 8lb. Tie these two sections to the butt section.

The last section to tie is the tippet end (the soft landing part.) Use 1 foot of the 6lb to begin making the tippet section. Tie in 14 to 18 inches of the 4lb, 4X leader material. Voila!

The last step is to tie a loop in the butt section end of the leader. The loop knot to use is the Perfection Loop. Wrap the leader up in a coil by starting with the tippet end, winding it around your four fingers. When you get within 12 inches of the butt section, wrap the butt end around the coil so it will stay together until you want to use it. You can put the leaders in a sandwich bag to keep them separated. Congratulations! This is your first hand-tied custom trout leader!

Step One

This is a Perfection Loop


Step Two

This is a Blood Knot

Step Three

To store your new leaders, start wrapping loops of the leader around your fingers, starting with the tippett end.


Step Four

Finish the coil by wrapping the butt end around the strand of leader to hold them together.