Fly fishers are a funny bunch. We ask questions, get answers, then go off and do our own thing anyway. Truth be told, some of the best innovations come from our unique brand of intemperate independence. We’re at our best when we modify ideas and build on the creations of others, when we’re testing and developing with an open mind and adventurous spirit. Sure, in some ways it’s all been done before, but not quite in the way that you do it, right?
This leads me to the topic of long leader butt sections, both the material and design. It seems that every good angler does something a little different with their leader, and everyone has a good reason why.
If you’re not familiar, then know this: there’s a rogue faction of fly fishers out there who’ve decided that employing fly line is not always the best way to present a fly. The system is known as a euro rig, tight line rig or long-ass leader. And many of us fish a variation called a Mono Rig.
Here’s a primer, if you need it.
When I started ditching fly line, around the turn of the century (that’s fun to say) I followed the aforementioned process: I asked a lot of questions, got a lot of answers, then went off and did my own thing. I found a mad-scientist’s joy in altering leader formulas and materials. Through the years I bought nylon, fluorocarbon, braided lines, running lines and more, in all brands, in all colors, and at every price range. My obsession has plateaued, though. Because the truth is, I keep coming back to one leader material that works well for me.
In conversation with the best fishermen I know, it’s one of my favorite questions: What is your preferred butt section material for the long leader stuff?
Below, I’ve condensed the replies from a host of experts who inhabit various corners of the industry. Some of these guys will chuckle at the term expert, and I use the word liberally here for a guy like Burke. Although he did give me this picture of him to boost his credibility.
There, now Burke is an expert.
First, a summary of my own findings . . .
I like it
I roll with 20# Maxima Chameleon. Since I use the Mono Rig for both tight line and indicator nymphing, since I also use it for streamers, wets and the occasional dry fly, I’ve settled on a butt section that handles all of those situations. 20# Chameleon suits my style. It meets my preferences. You can read a lot more about why it suits me in these other Troutbitten articles about the Mono Rig.
But I’d rather tell you what the other guys shared with me . . .
Things that Matter
Here are a few generalizations about why different anglers choose what they do.
Weight — Sag equals drag, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid here. Lighter lines sag less. However, you should understand that the mass of a line is what allows us to cast these rigs with fly-line-style casting. With a good, tight form, you can cast a 20# butt section with no flies or weight attached, much like a fly line. But you can’t cast 8# nylon that way because it’s too light. Make sense? The limit seems to be around 14# or 12#, depending on casting stroke, material, and angler determination. Without some mass to the butt section, you end up lobbing and not casting much. There’s a difference.
Stiffness — the stiffness of the line also relates to its casting performance. A stiff butt section material allows a thinner line to cast more like a fly line. It’s tough to make extra-limp lines perform the same way, given equal diameters.
Coiling / Handling — We don’t want the mono to coil as it comes off the reel. All of these lines should be stretched at the beginning of the day, and once they are, some lines have more memory than others. Most often, stiffer lines coil more, but not always.
Visibility — Lastly, seeing the line is important to some anglers. If you grew up fly fishing with a visible fly line, like most of us, then taking away that visibility and tracking might seem like a handicap. You either get used to it (and watch the sighter or other colors built into a taper), or you choose a hi-vis butt section.
Remember, we’re only talking about the butt section here, not the full leader. We’re focused on the long section before the taper, before any sighter or tippet section. The euro rigs / mono rigs we use have long butt sections that essentially replace traditional fly line — we’re often holding the butt section with the line hand. And yes, as you’ll see below, some build a taper into this section.
Now let’s get to the experts . . .
My favorite butt section material is clear Amnesia. It’s easy to work with, and if you give it a quick stretch, any curl comes right out. I like Maxima Chameleon too, but it can be hard to see when you’re viewing the brown line against trees that are essentially the same color. I used to use clear Maxima before I switched to the Amnesia. I always keep a bag of clear Amnesia in my car from 25# down to 10#, that way I can build a butt section for any type of leader on the spot, if need be.
Most times l choose clear Amnesia because, when stretched, it stays perfectly straight. And due to its oval profile, it rarely twists.
You can also mix and match for your sighter, if needed, with color bands of clear, red and green Amnesia. I generally build my systems from Amnesia of 20/15/10/12 lb increments, depending on what l need. It casts really well for an extended long leader system.
Incidentally, in my opinion, people make this a far more complicated affair than it needs to be.
I prefer red amnesia because it doesn’t retain much memory. I just stretch it a little, and it’s good to go. I also think the big draw for me is the visibly.
** Note ** Amnesia is a flat mono (it’s actually oval). There are other brands of flat mono, but Amnesia is the most popular.
If I wasn’t hampered by FIPS leader rules, I would have a butt section of 20# Maxima Chameleon to hand. I prefer that the butt section of my leader be straight and stiff for the proper energy transfer during a cast. It also helps telegraph feeling from the flies to your hand, which is especially helpful with heavier flies and deeper water.
It also allows me to fish small to medium sized dries quite well at short to intermediate distances.
I use 15# Maxima Chameleon for all butt sections on any nymphing leader that I plan to cast (not lob). The 15# diameter provides enough turnover power, but it’s thin enough to decrease sag in the leader when tight line nymphing.
There’s no material like Chameleon. It is stiffer than most monofilament lines, so it transfers energy better at a smaller diameter, which helps reduce mass and sag. In addition, once stretched, there is little to no memory, which reduces tangles and increases accuracy and strike detection.
I’m using straight 20# Chameleon. I use enough of it on the spool that fly line never sees my guides (maybe 50-60 feet). I used to boil it occasionally, just to bring the line back to life after using it for a while, because it develops memory and kinks. But since it’s not very expensive, now I just pitch it at the first sign of any wear. New line works the best.
I use fluorescent 20# (.018”) clear blue Stren for my standard leader butt sections. This material would be categorized as soft mono, and while it is not truly fluorescent, it tends to show up fairly well in dimmer light conditions.
I use my standard leader for most of my fishing, and that means I can change from deep-drifting nymphs,to drifting dries on the surface, or whatever else I choose with, at most, altering my tippet. I actually have three leader formulas: one which starts with .016″, my “standard” which starts with .018″ and my longest leader which starts with .020″.
By using soft mono, one can get away with a larger diameter, and this is important to allow good energy transfer to present a dry fly as well.
When I was first introduced to the leaders now used in what most come to refer to as Euro nymphing, I chose a design that would also perform adequately for dry fly fishing and beyond. Let’s keep in mind that the concept I use today was “born” in the Lehigh Valley in southeastern PA in the ’70s, about the same time some Polish anglers gave birth to the concept on their home waters. It could just as well be referred to as American or even Pennsylvania nymphing.
I use two different butt sections, depending on what type of water I’m fishing. I like the Hends Camou French Leader that is 900 CM long when I can get closer to the fish and don’t need a long cast to have a productive day. In any other situation, I use 40 feet of 14# Stren Original in Lo-Vis Green. That extra length allows me to cast further, without fly line getting into my guides. I do not like to build a taper because the knots become problematic in the guides.
** Note ** There are many other brands of nylon that perform similarly. However, some cheaper nylon lines are too stiff and hold a lot of memory.
Competition Fly Line
Comp lines are super thin “fly lines” specifically designed to function more like a long mono rig than a traditional fly line. And yes, competition fly lines are a good choice for a Mono Rig butt section.
For clarity, I’m not a fan of the mono rig as I understand it’s used, because I much prefer to handle fly line. So I use a thin competition style fly line and pair it with about an 18-22’ leader. I vary the butt section diameter based on cast-ability. If I want better turnover and accuracy I use 20# Chameleon. If wanting less sag, and accuracy is less of a worry, I might drop the butt all the way down to 8# Chameleon (or various diameters between). The rest of the leader tapers from the butt.
I do prefer a comp line. Mainly for technique and for FIPS rules. It casts nicely when I’m throwing a 2.0 or 2.5mm rig and floating my sighter, or dries.
Beyond the comp line, I use about a six foot tapered section before I hit my sighter. If I don’t use a comp line, I double or triple that, with the taper happening at the front end.
OPST Laser Line
Last one here. Back in the fall sometime, Lance Wilt told me about the shooting line from OPST called Lazar line. I couldn’t get it straight whether Lance learned about the line from Joe Goodspeed, or Joe got it from Lance first. Fishermen like to keep secrets, and as Lance puts it, “I’m 80 percent sarcasm.” So who cares, I guess.
I bought the 30# OPST Lazar Line, and it’s the first new (to me) line that I’ve liked in many years. It’s just slightly thinner than 20# Chameleon, highly visible, and has a little different feel than Chameleon.
Feel is what this is all about, really, isn’t it? It’s where our personal preference comes forward.
I’ll offer that the 30# OPST Lazar Lineis slightly softer than Chameleon. It also holds a coil a little less, and that’s always a good thing.
I’ve used lots of different things over the years, and last year I found something that I felt had distinctly advantageous performance and properties — the OPST is my preference for fishing larger bugs by feel at a distance, while still having some control to handle the line.
The first time I fished with Joe (Goodspeed) he had OPST on his reel. I’m 80 percent sarcasm, for future reference.
People ask me all the time if they can use this thing or the other for a butt section. Of course you can. Try it, and you’ll quickly know why you like it or why you don’t. Again, that intemperate independence, the adventurous spirit, has moved fly fishing a long way forward.
There are three line types conspicuously absent from this list. No one whom I asked mentioned them as a favorite, and I don’t don’t like them either.
I’m not a fan of braided mono or furled lines for a butt section. The braid tends to hold water, adding unnecessary weight and causing drag. Braided / furled lines are also too limp. I thought I almost liked a braided mono running line once, but I was mistaken.
Fluorocarbon weighs more than nylon. So it gives more punch to the cast, but it sags with the extra weight too. Fluorocarbon also tends to sink when you need to lay some leader on the water at longer distances. However, many Tenkara lines are fluorocarbon (and Tenkara techniques are pretty similar to tight lining). I have a #4 line (that’s number 4, not four pound — it’s a Tenkara thing), and I used it as a Mono Rig for a while. It coiled too much for me. Remember, Tenkara lines are not intended to live on a reel spool.
Lastly, thin running lines (the fly line type) have the opposite problem. Most have a braided Dacron core and are too limp for my preference. They’re also thicker and weigh more than 20# nylon.
And there you have it . . .
This is one of the longest Troutbitten posts ever. So let’s wrap it up.
I encourage you to try everything, if for no other reason than you’ll learn something and have fun doing it — you’ll learn a lot, in fact. Take some ideas from the guys quoted above, and get after it.
Fish hard, friends.
Feel free to share your own preferences in the comments section below. We’ll all be interesting to see some different thoughts.
Enjoy the day
T R O U T B I T T E N