“New Zealand trout are far too spooky.”
That’s a comment regularly thrown about online forums and apre river hangouts, and I guess if you don’t understand the nature of the beast, or are unprepared for our pretty unique techniques, then you might be right.
Our rivers are super clear which lends them particularly well to sight fishing techniques but guess what? If we can see them, they can see you. Our trout are wild and they have a natural, inbred awareness of their surroundings and anything foreign or unnatural invokes a flight reaction. They don’t stick around for confirmation of danger.
I’ll take my previous statement and step it up - if we can see the water that the trout are holding in, it’s very likely the trout can see you too. If you arrive at a gucci piece of water and there are no trout in residence, there probably was before you stumbled on the scene.
The drop of a fly line may seem nothing to us on the water and yet the vibration of the drop and the momentary tear of the surface as your line settles is noticeable from quite some distance subsurface. Even in riffle water the drop of your line can spook fish nearby.
Many clients fail to comprehend the need for longer leaders when fly fishing in New Zealand and many Kiwis themselves are outside their comfort zones when fishing anything longer than twelve odd feet from the fly line to the fly.
WHY WE FISH WITH LONG LEADERS
- Long leaders allow longer, drag free drifts as the finer diameter material offers less resistance to the many currents, and they generally provide more slack for longer, deeper nymph drifts as your nymph sinks on a finer leash, cutting through the water column with ease
- Longer leaders keep the heavier shadow from the fly line further from the fish
- They out the power of the cast allowing for gentler presentations to spooky trout
- 15ft plus leaders allow us to build out longer, finer tapers for more technical presentations
- We can present the fly further ahead of the trout while keeping the fly line further behind and outside the fish’s cone of vision
Basically, that 8ft to 12ft leader you are comfortable casting just won’t cut it in our low, summertime conditions.
COMMON ISSUES WITH LONG SUMMERTIME LEADERS
Most people simply lack the energy in the cast to turn over longer leaders. Accuracy issues are prevalent too as tracking errors both rob the aforementioned energy and the loop drops over to the side. Getting the fly off the rod, and onto the water without tangles and snarling up in the stream side grass is another issue accentuated by longer leaders.
PRESENTATION VS POWER
Leaders designed for gentler presentations usually feature more supple, thinner butt sections and a longer, gentle taper thinning down into a fine diameter tip, designed to land softly with minimal impact and footprint on surface. Presentation style leaders generally require more precision in casting to turn over and achieve accuracy.
Thicker, stiffer and longer butt sections have the mass to carry a lot of energy. These generally feature shorter, more powerful tapers to transfer that energy right through to the fly. You can soften the presentation by adding a longer tippet, or shorten right up to bowl dry droppers over into the stiffest of winds. Your general, backcountry style taper.
THE KIWI BATTLER
9ft 6lb leader with 2-3ft tippet. The ‘get shit done’ rig, popular on our front country rivers and streams where riffles and foam lines abound. However sometimes you need a little more structure...
10’ leader with tippet rings allows quick, easy leader to tippet connection and avoids any issues with joining fluorocarbon to nylon. You can also achieve greater stepdown between diameter. Also popular for attaching independent nymph droppers.
10ft 2X leader, a predetermined length of 3X to extend it out and minimise the step down to lighter tippet, then tippet. A continuous customised taper for more precise turnover and accuracy.
Use an Airflo Polyleader for added energy to your 10ft tapered leader. You could incorporate the Hipster for efficiency or a little bit of Professor if you feel you need to go super long and rely on the extended mass and taper of the polyleader to roll things out. A powerful construction that is popular when extra length is still required in windier conditions.
15ft tapered leader with or without professor extensions, tippet to the dry and two nymphs. This is most used in our deeper, super clear back country rivers or in spooky, low summertime flows.
Consider a polyleader as a finer extension of your fly line. Made of PU construction, these powerful tapered leaders provide added mass to move energy right through your rig. The new Airflo Polyleader Plus sports new, improved tapers and the addition of a tippet ring, and, in 8.5ft and 6.5ft lengths, are ready to construct the Trailblazer of your choice, or are ready to just add tippet. A great addition for moving bigger, wind resistant dries or dealing with windier days.
Now when I’m guiding, if clients can’t handle the leaders we require for the fish in front of us I prefer to use the longest leader my clients have the ability to cast well, and try and work the angles to get it done. However, it isn’t actually that hard to turn over a 15’ leader if the fundamentals you should already have are there.
Here are a few simple points to have you casting longer leaders with ease in no time flat:
FLY ROD TRACKING
You need every bit of energy the rod and line can produce to turn over that leader, some don’t and let it go to waste with bad tracking. Ensure your rod tip travels in a 180 degree straight line throughout the backcast, and again throughout the forward cast. That means, keep those ‘chicken wing’ elbows under control and please, please, please bring your line hand across your body to meet your rod hand, not the other way around.
SMOOTH ROD ACCELERATION
Think a long, smoothly accelerating loading move to get the end of the line moving in the direction of the cast, and then rotate. Late.
A CRISP STOP TO THE CAST
Squeeze your hand to stop each stroke absolutely, crisply and abruptly and then relax your hand immediately to allow the rod tip to counter-flex and smooth out the cast.
PRACTICE YOUR CASTING
Practicing is then only way to become comfortable with longer leaders so get out there, send out a series of pick up and lay downs at suitable targets and focus on accelerating smoothly, straight and stopping crisp.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Chris Dore is a battle tested fly fishing guide with over 15 years of professional guiding experience, battling the demanding, ever changing conditions that our New Zealand rivers throw at us.
In 2006 Chris became one of the first New Zealanders to successfully pass the internationally recognised Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructors examination and has since taught many thousands of anglers to up their skillset.
For more in person and on river fly fishing advice and upskilling why not book Chris for a day or three?