Wednesday, January 26, 2022

SHORT LEADERS: A Small Stream Glass Rod Must

If you've been reading The Fiberglass Manifesto for awhile, then you've likely read Bob Mallard's past articles on small stream glass which can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.  He's back with a few thoughts on using short leaders which I agree with when on small streams and honestly, I use as short of a leader as possible in almost all angling situations.  Six to eight foot leaders are most or less a norm for me for coldwater, warmwater, and saltwater...when I can get away with it.  

Thanks, Bob for the article and hope that you enjoy it.

I’ve fly fished for roughly forty-five years and ran a fly shop for fifteen years.  During this time, I’ve answered a lot of questions and given a lot of advice to anglers in regard to tackle.  One of the more commonly asked questions is, “What length leader should I use?” 

The question about leaders used to be an easy one to answer, that is before I started fishing glass fly rods again.  My return to glass was driven by my preference for wild native fish, which in in turn rejuvenated my interest in small stream fishing, and this led me back to short fly rods.

While there are other factors such as type, size, and weight of fly, when it comes to short glass rods, a good rule of thumb in regard to leader length is “Roughly the length of your rod”, with the caveat, “What you can cast accurately and present effectively."

Small streams now represent more than half of my total fishing hours, and 75% or more of my late-spring through early-fall fishing.  Seventy-percent or so of that time, I am using a glass rod.  And seventy-percent of that I am using a rod 7-feet or shorter.

I currently own seven glass rods.  All are under 8-feet and four are under 7 feet.  While rods 7-feet and longer can easily handle a standard 7 1/2-foot leader, I believe that rods less than 7-feet work best with something shorter.

Small stream fishing is a game of short accurate casts.  Stream side vegetation and low canopy make false-casting and open loops problematic.  Quick casts, roll-casts, and even slingshot casts are the rule not the exception.  If your leader is too long for the rod, you’ll limit what you can do, at least well.

For years I used 6-foot leaders from a well-known manufacturer for rods shorter than 7-feet.  While the taper was actually better suited to casting bulky flies, they prevented me from having to use a longer leader than ideal, or cutting one back to make it work.

Unfortunately, as a result of what I suspect was slow sales, the 6-foot leaders were discontinued last year. While I knew I could make it through this season on leftover inventory, I dreaded the thought of going into next season without what is for me an important terminal tackle.

Brand loyalty is as strong with regard to leaders as it is rods, reels, and fly lines.  However, as someone who likes specialty products, and is unwilling to do without unless I absolutely have to, I’ll cross vendors to get what I need.  In this case it means finding a new source for my 6-foot leaders.

As a Pro-Staffer for Scientific Anglers, I reached out with a suggestion they get into the short leader game. Small stream fishing, or “Bluelining", has seen a resurgence due to overcrowding on our big rivers, a lack of interest in stocked fish on the part of younger fly fishers, and a growing pro-native movement.

Scientific Anglers is an undisputed leader in fly lines and has been for decades.  They likely sell more fly lines than anyone else, especially when you consider what they make for others.  While they have always sold leaders, most of their sales have been through big box stores.

While I have long been a Scientific Angler fly line user, I have not been a user of their leaders.  However, Scientific Anglers has quietly upped their game in regard to leaders (and tippet) in the last few years, and their current products can compete with anything on the market today.  The materials are strong, the tapers are good, and the prices are competitive.

After telling them what I was looking for, Scientific Anglers went to work.  A few months later, I received a package of assorted 6-foot leaders to field test. The first thing I did was compare the tapers to what I was used to by running them through my fingers.  The SA taper was more gradual than the abrupt taper I had been using and the tippet section was noticeably longer.

I found that the more gradual taper on the Scientific Anglers leaders presented better and more accurately than what I was used to.  They sink less as well.  The longer tippet increases the life of leaders by allowing you to make a couple to a few tippet tune-ups before they became unusable.  This lessens waste and saves money.

Scientific Anglers new 6-foot leaders are available under the name “Absolute Creek Trout Leader”. They come in single packs in 3x to 6x.  Hopefully, next year there will be some multi-pack options.  The diameter-to-strength ratios are solid, with 6x coming in at 3.5 pounds and 5x at 5.9 pounds break strength.  This allows you to fish small wets and dries on 6x and small buggers and streamers on 5x.

If you fish small streams like I do, and use glass fly rods under 7-feet, give these new Absolute Creek Trout Leaders a try.  I log dozens of days a year fishing small streams with short rods, and find 6-foot leaders to be the perfect tool for the job.

And while you’re at it, consider Scientific Anglers two small stream lines, the Amplitude Double Taper and Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout.  The Amplitude Double Taper has an appropriately short front taper (from 3 1/2 feet to 5-feet for 1 to 3-weight fly lines) and a high-floating belly.  The Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout has a unique compound taper that roll-casts well and casts in tight effectively.

BOB MALLARD has fly fished for over forty years.  He is a former fly shop owner and a Registered Maine Fishing Guide.  Bob is a blogger, writer, author, fly designer, and native fish advocate.  He is a founding member and National Vice Chair for Native Fish Coalition.  His writing, photographs, and flies have been featured at the local, regional and national level.  

Look for his books, 50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast, 25 Best Towns Fly Fishing for Trout, Squaretail: The Definitive Guide to Brook Trout and Where to Find Them and his soon to be released Favorite Flies for Maine: 50 Patterns from Local Experts.

Bob can be reached through his website, the Native Fish Coalition or by email at


Appbrookie said...

Thanks for your efforts with the SA 6ft leaders. This was a common length in 3x to at least 5x for years, but has gotten almost impossible to find. At one point Orvis, Umpqua, Cortland and even Cabelas marketed 6 ft leaders. Thanks Again

RW Van Brunt said...

I use Cutthroat Leaders 50" Shorty furled Leaders with 2" of tippet when I'm using my 6 1/2' Glass and Cane rods