Furled Tapered Leaders, A New Concept in Presentation

jim-trout08For years I experimented with different leader formulas and designs. I wanted something better for my own use in my usual fishing situations. I wanted a leader that would help strengthen my presentation and casting. Ultimately, for one reason or another, I was unsatisfied with the various leaders I tried. None seemed to give me all the things I wanted and expected from a leader. Enter the furled leader. No other leader did as much to improve my casting and presentation as the furled leader. This type of leader excelled in every type of water and with the flies I regularly fish — from tiny dry flies on small inland streams and crystal clear spring ponds to heavy streamers and nymphs on the Great Lakes. My casting and presentation improved dramatically. So did my catch rate.

Take for example the Tomorrow River, my favorite stream. The Tomorrow is a beautiful, fairly small spring-fed trout stream in Central Wisconsin. Along its length through Portage and Waupaca counties the river changes faces, displaying characteristics of both spring creek and freestone. The required casts are more usually short than long and need to be accurate and delicate. One could say it is pretty tight water that presents some challenges to one’s casting abilities. In confined areas there isn’t the opportunity to have much fly line out the end of the rod. Often, the length of fly line needed, plus the leader for the right casting distance would be insufficient to load the rod for an overhead cast. Roll casting was more difficult as well with the ability to place so little line on the water to create enough tension to make the cast. A conventional tapered monofilament leader didn’t help the situation, often refusing to turn over my fly or destroying the accuracy I needed. Using a furled leader, however, made life much easier for me. I could roll cast with confidence and accuracy. It didn’t make any difference if I had enough fly line hanging outside the tip to load the rod or not. The suppleness and mass of the furled leader butt turned over, straightening the tippet and fly every time

The furled leader improved my presentation in other ways too. The Tomorrow is very clear. It’s trout inhabitants don’t take kindly to sloppy casting fly fishers and leaders crashing and splatting the water’s surface. One never scares only one trout with a bad cast, you know. Coming to my rescue once again, the furled leader would pick up with very little water disturbance and after the cast settle on the water’s surface ever so gently, barely causing a dimple where it landed.

Another reason I like the furled leader is that it helps make just about anyone’s casting look good. It is a perfect learning tool. Two years ago I took my teen-age daughter on a float trip down Wisconsin’s famous Bois Brule. We were in separate canoes manned by experienced Brule River guides. Before our trip I had set up my daughter’s fly rod with a furled leader. Watching her enjoyably casting from her canoe a distance downstream was a real pleasure. In fact, had I not known that it was my daughter, I would never have guessed it as I observed her casting performance. The tight loops and graceful layout of the line and fly I saw showed attributes of an experienced fly caster, not a teenage girl on her first trip down the Brule.I had taken her fly fishing with me before, but she had not become a proficient fly caster yet. This time most of it was the leader. My guide even commented on it.

Often, because of the general unfamiliarity with the furled leader, it is confused with the braided leader. The confusion is understandable. Literature about furled leaders is difficult to find. The leaders are not well known in North America or available through fly fishing retail outlets, while the braided leaders have been around a long time. Both braided and furled leaders are quite supple and their appearance is similar but there are major differences between them. The manufacturing processes are not at all the same. Braiding is a process resulting in leaders having a hollow air core. Braided leader butts are generally much bulkier than the furled leader butts since they have this hollow core. The air core tends to absorb and hold water, discharging it in a fine mist pattern during each cast. If one sees a small rainbow appear momentarily over the shoulder of another fly fisher while he’s false casting, chances are he is using a braided leader. On the other hand, since the furled leader is constructed of densely twined strands, and not braided, the resulting leader butt is entirely solid throughout the cross-section of its diameter and absorbs or holds no water.

There are numerous advantages to the furled leader design which, when compared to conventional monofilament (either knotted or knotless) outwits few disadvantages. Nylon monofilament leaders rely primarily on their stiffness to effect a smooth transfer of power from the fly line to the tippet and fly. A furled leader uses its mass and suppleness. These characteristics of suppleness and mass can help to provide important and noticeable effects and improvements in one’s casting and presentation. Tighter casting loops, resistance to so-called wind knots and the ability to turn over the fly even at short distances is some of these effects. The 5′-9″ furled leader butt I normally use will easily turn over and straighten a 3′ or 4′ tippet. This makes it possible to use shorter leaders overall without worrying about spooking fish or having some of the problems associated with using longer leaders. A shorter leader is very helpful in improving control and accuracy, especially for those of us with modest casting skills.

Because of their suppleness, furled leaders help to reduce surface drag. The furled leader also acts as a shock absorber protecting against over striking and preventing light tippets from breaking while playing a fish. The leader behaves much like a spring; storing and releasing energy as force is applied or relaxed. In a well-designed furled leader this inherent stretching ability will usually be around 15% of its length. Another important attribute of the furled leader is durability. These leaders just don’t seem to wear out. They are tough and can last several seasons of use. On the water, one simply changes tippet sizes or lengths to accommodate changing conditions or choice of fishing methods and flies.

There are a few disadvantages to the furled leader. Like any design, compromises exist. The leader can snarl or tangle, especially if it is jerked hard to release it from a snag in the water or a tree branch. Because of the way this leader is made, it behaves like a very long spring. Springs store energy When one tugs hard at the line to release a snag, the leader spring is being stretched and loaded. As soon as the snag is released, the leader also releases all its stored energy and might snarl or tangle a bit. If and when a tangle does occur, gently undo it. It will untangle easily and the leader will not be damaged at all. Stretch it gently along its length and the leader will straighten itself out. The key to casting with these leaders is to relax. Don’t force it. The leaders cast best using a smooth casting stroke. Because a furled leader is really a tapered butt section plus a tippet length, the tippet has to be fastened to the butt to complete the leader. Knotless furled leaders are not possible. Lastly, furled leaders are more expensive than conventional tapered leaders. Prices for commercially made leaders range from around $8- $20. The higher price is still a good value though because of the furled leader’s tremendous durability and simplicity in adapting the same leader butt section to different fishing requirements and fly sizes. The furled leader might not meet the needs of every conceivable fly fishing situation. Individual preferences and experience have to be considered also.

In his book Micropatterns, Darrel Martin also does a wonderful job of pointing out the delicacy of the furled leader and what a great tool it is for fishing tiny flies. I discovered that the furled leader has as many benefits working with larger flies too. There is the delicacy, but also great deal of power. The furled leader excels in long casts and punching a fly through windy conditions often present on open, big-water. I regularly depend on these leaders while fishing lakes and the Lake Michigan bays along Wisconsin’s famous Door County. Considering this, I use three different sizes of furled leaders; a light, medium and heavyweight. All of the furled leaders I use are about 5 feet 9 inches in length. Adding the appropriate tippet material, I end up with finished leaders ranging in length from 7 – 14 feet.

The lightweight size furled leader goes with all the small flies and light lines and rods I typically use on the smaller inland trout streams or for bluegill fishing — from one to four-weight rods, size 12 and smaller flies. The medium size does duty with larger flies up to about a size 2 or 4, and anything smaller. I match up the medium-weight leader butt with 5wt. – 7wt. Lines. This leader is always on my main lake-fishing outfit, a nine-foot, six-weight. That leader will turn over sizable weighted streamers, nymphs and Clouser-type flies but I try not to ask too much of it. The heavyweight leader will manhandle big bass bugs, pike flies and the large saltwater flies on more formidable gear. There is only one design difference or modification from the light and medium weight leaders I found helpful to use with the heavyweight design. That difference is the addition of an “extender” section. The extender is an approximately 8″ piece of stiff monofilament I permanently attach to the tippet end of the heavy weight leader. The extender can be used to attach a specific test tippet or a test tippet and then a shock tippet followed by the fly. All the furled leaders I use or have seen utilize loops to attach the leader to the fly line and to tie the various tippets to the leader. There are no noticeable hinging effects I have detected and, after five years of using the furled leaders, have found the system to work very well.

It is said of improvements and innovations that they often occur in circular forms of progress. Another old adage says that there really is nothing new under the sun. In the case of furled leaders, that means we are revisiting some old ideas and technology, while applying the advantages of new materials to achieve a better tool for presentation. It is exciting to me that the furled leader design has surfaced and has done so much to improve my own fly fishing skill and appreciation. It represents the opportunity for an improvement for others too in their own enjoyment of the sport of flyfishing — not just another useless gadget or rehashed technique. Try it.

Copyright 1999 James E. Hauer