Connect me to your leader

A couple of years back my dad and I nipped up the road to Pitlochry to have a casting lesson with Ally Gowans. As we strolled down to the river I asked him about his general leader setup for dry fly fishing. He said that he preferred the simplest method possible, that of knotting a tapered leader to the end of his fly line. Carefully weighing up a poisoned barb, I asked him about the use of the dreaded braided loop…


It turned out that he was the newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Braided Loops Anonymous charity. This is a little known organisation that works to rehabilitate anglers unfortunate enough to have been conned by clever marketing into using braided loops on the ends of their fly lines. He was remarkably adamant about the evil of braided loops, and I could see where he was coming from.

People spend gazillions of pounds/dollars/euros on fly lines. Some of those Scientific Anglers jobs cost more than most of my fly rods. These modern fly lines are a marvel of engineering. Carefully chosen plastic composites are sheathed over intricately woven braid, and the whole thing given a precise and painstakingly researched profile. There are gazillions of profiles of course, each suited to a different condition, a certain size of fly, a nymph or a dry, night time or day time. The profiles taper with nuclear accuracy, honed from the wide diameter of the head, down through the transitional taper to the delicate little section right at the tip. It’s enough to cause my head to spin.

So there they are, ranks of beautifully constructed fly lines, many of them costing considerably more than a fine 17 year old single malt. They’re carefully attached to similarly expensive brightly-coloured backing, presumably made from Madonna’s old tights, and wound onto similarly expensive reels peddled by certain bling merchants as important for catching fish. And the pièce de résistance?  Glue a 50 pence hunk of plastic on the end.

It’s like a sous-chef taking all day to prepare a delicately flavoured bolognaise sauce, using only the freshest ripe tomatoes, the most aromatic basil and the most mature steak, and then lobbing in half a bottle of ketchup. It’s just not cricket.

So, what’s a better solution?


This picture has nothing to do with this post. But tell me, when was a photo of a guy wearing a kilt sporting a head digitally-substituted with a bunch of flowers not a good thing?

Well the old Wise-Man of Pitlochry uses a simple Borger knot, tying his leader straight onto the end of the fly line. This inevitably causes a slight hump from the wraps of the knot, but it’s a hell of a lot less intrusive than those braided loops.

In an earlier post I waxed lyrical about the method of gluing a leader into the end of the fly line. This is still my preferred method, and the one that unquestionably gives the smoothest transition between fly line and leader, and ultimately the smoothest turnover.

The only downside is the slight hinging effect that happens between the stiff end of the leader butt and the limp fly line. I’ve found that over the course of a few months, particularly when you’re fishing a lot, a bit of a crack can sometimes develop in the fly line at this hinge.

Personally, I can’t be bothered with trying to re-glue a hingey fly line to leader connection when I’m out on the river. Nowadays I therefore tend to adopt the Wise-Man’s approach, and use a knot.


And here we come to the crux of this ramble. Whilst browsing around a year or two ago I came across a groovy nail knot tool that makes it really easy to tie a secure connection between leader and fly line. The Wise-Man disapproved of course, saying that any angler worth his salt should be able to tie knots without a tool. Again, I can see his point, but I like my damn tool. It’s small, cute and does the job very nicely. I’ve tried doing nail knots with no tools, and while it is perfectly possible, this wee tool lets me do it in a fraction of the time. Most importantly however, I feel more inclined to trust the final knots.


  1. jockayethenoo’s avatar

    a nail knot tool, what a shockingly modern contrivance 😎

    ex Viewpark boy and Canadian river guide Ian James, the owner of a seriously scary big dog also prefer a simple leader system…

    great article.


  2. Alistair’s avatar

    Received my mechanical knot contraption just the other day and so far I like it – though tell me – what did you do to get yours all banged up?

  3. mike’s avatar

    Good question actually… extreme knot tying?! I also use it on occasion to harpoon deer and other large mammals.

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