I wonder why fly fishing leaders have to be tapered? Is the most important reason to preserve flight dynamics when casting? Would a simple untapered leader not present a dry fly, for example, in the same way as a tapered leader?

I otherwise do not see a reason why it has to be tapered as the weakest chain determines break-ability anyway (in this case tippet), so why not using a leader size that is untapered and lies in between the width of the end part and the tippet connecting part?

  • A note - Its technically wrong to say it "has to be tapered". No dispute its better for it to be tapered, but its entirely possible to fly fish without tapered leaders.
    – user5330
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 2:01

2 Answers 2


I will try to answer this, however i don't know the correct english terminology.

The main reason for a tapered leader is the control you get over your fly. With a thick line, you flick (or roll, here comes the terminology issue) the tip of your rod, and you can see the "wave" travel forward through your line, until it "whips" at the end.

If you try this with a very fine line, you won't see the wave travel at all, you will likely just pull your line sideways.

Try create a whipping sound with a shoelace, then try to create a whipping sound with thin yarn. The energy can't travel through almost weightless material.

Now back to the leaders. You want a (relatively) heavy line as far as possible towards the fly, to have maximum control. A quick circular flick in the tip of your rod will let your fly "jump" 10cm left or right if you are skilled enough, which can be the final necessary step to get a fish to bite.

However, you also want to have a very fine, almost invisible line near your hook, to not scare fish away.

If you attach a short, fine line directly to your main line, and whip your rod, the fly on the thin leader might jump uncontrollably. If you attack a long fine leader to your main line and whip, the thin line will just not transfer the energy, and your fly will do nothing (maybe be pulled through the water a little bit).

You also don't want to have 5 lines of different thickness knotted together.

The solution: a tapered leader, which will transfer the energy to your fly smoothly, with no big steps between two lines of different thickness. The energy can travel undisturbed and the line close to the hook is thin and invisible.

If you don't want or have to control the fly in a distance, you probably could just use a longer thin leader directly attached to your main line, for example when you use large streamers for northern pike (don't forget your steel leader ;)).

But by controlling the smaller dry fly you make it jump small distances, just like a fly would after falling in the water. After all, these movements are what makes shy trouts take the bait after all, not just a small something that is motionless floating by

  • 4
    There are still those who like to tie their own tapered leaders, in which case you will have 5-6 different thicknesses knotted together!
    – requiem
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 17:28
  • 1
    true, in my eyes that is kind of an art, i would not trust my hastily created knot-leaders :D - well okay i would, but that would be too much work for me. But yes, custom handmade tapered leaders are a thing indeed! However, i think knotlessness is definitely good when there are many potential obstacles in the water :)
    – Peter1807
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 17:37

When indicator nymphing or euro nymphing it helps to have non tapered leader under the water to reduce the drag of the faster surface currents on the leader.

e.g. When indicator nymphing in 6 foot deep water we usually want about 9 feet between the indicator and the fly. It's best if this 9 foot section is all the same diameter to reduce drag allowing the fly to sink faster and drift more naturally.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.