Technical Advisors

Matt Gray, a retired inventor, engineer, and Northwestern University graduate has been doing work graphing and building Matt Gray, Technical Advisor 1 leaders for Team USA Youth.  He is a  life-long fly fisherman and now devotes huge amounts of time to mathematical analysis and design of leaders for competitive fly fishing.  Matt is the chief technical adviser for the World Champion Team USA Youth.  His leaders are modeled and tested against every design and material currently available.  They are custom built and designed for the US Youth Fly Fishing Team.  This leader breakdown was contributed by Matt Gray, and originally appeared on TroutLegend.

Understanding Leaders in Competition Fly Fishing

Competitive anglers in fly fishing spend the majority of their time fishing nymphs at or near the bottom, the method that has proven to be most consistently productive. The quest to deliver nymphs more effectively has fueled much innovation, leading to ever lighter lines and longer leaders, a trend limited only by the laws of physics, rules of competition, and occasional need to cast dries, dry/dropper, and streamers.

Fly Lines
Few competitors use lines heavier than 4wt for stream fishing, and many use lines as light as 000wt. Conventional double taper (DT) and weight forward (WF) floating lines are popular, and so are lines developed specifically for competitive fly fishing, such as Rio Ultimate European Nymphing Fly Lines (available from The Blue Quill Angler) and Cortland Competition Nymph Lines.

Rules limit certain aspects of leader design (see

* May not be longer than two times rod length
* Must taper continuously or be level from line end to fly
* Knots cannot be closer together than 30 cm
* No sinking or floating devices (e.g., split shots, tippet rings, bobbers)
* Maximum of three flies (fixed, not sliding)
* Minimum distance between eyes of flies 50 cm with leader hanging freely

Competitors generally build their own leaders and many consider their formulas to be closely-guarded secrets. Although materials and dimensions vary considerably, all leaders consist of A) a tippet section, B) a sighter section, and C) a butt section.

Tippet Section
Most people use 6’ or 7’ of fluorocarbon tippet (5X to 7X), but vary the length somewhat to suit water depth and speed. Some include a transition section at the top of the tippet, made of slightly heavier fluorocarbon (4X or 5X).

Sighter Section
The sighter (or indicator) is a high-visibility section of monofilament that helps fishermen see subtle leader movements caused by trout or the flies ticking the bottom. The length is generally about 3’, but the materials and diameters chosen vary widely. Some use hi-vis nylon mono (e.g., Trilene, Stren, Sufix), while others prefer indicator mono from Cortland, Umpqua or Jan Siman, which is designed specifically for this purpose. Some use sighters consisting of multiple sections (say, 18” of .012” hi-vis orange and 18” of .014” hi-vis yellow).

Butt Section
The butt is where designs vary the most. Some people simply skip the butt, and attach the sighter (or even the tippet!) directly to the end of the fly line. Others use a length of straight monofilament between line and sighter. The most successful designs use a tapered butt that transfers energy smoothly from the fly line to the sighter, tippet and flies.

Choice of material and length varies. Compound tapers built from stiff monofilament such as Maxima Chameleon are very popular. Some people simply use tapers cut from 7-1/2’ or 9’ knotless tapered leaders from Rio, Berkley or other manufacturers. Some combine straight material and knotless tapers to dial in the profile they want.

ExperimeMatt Gray, Technical Advisor in winternt!
Not everyone likes the same thing, and it takes time and experimentation to find what suits your own style. A relatively simple design like the one below is a good starting point:

6’ 6X Fluorocarbon
1’ 4X Fluorocarbon
1.5’ .012” Hi-vis nylon mono
1.5’ .014” Hi-vis nylon mono
3’ 15 lb. Chameleon
7’ 25 lb. Chameleon


Note:  The USYFFT, Inc., suggests these products and is not under contract with any of the manufacturers.