Throughout the Delaware system, summer dry fly fishing can be about as difficult as it gets. The bugs for the most part get smaller and smaller and the flows get lower and lower. Combine tiny flows and slow moving water with the fact that the fish have been getting pressured for months without a break. The results can be some of the most difficult dry fly fishing there is. The common complaint you hear is almost regarding the incredible selectivity of feeding trout. However, what is even more important than the profile of the bug in regards to this, is presentation. Without a great presentation, everything else falls to the wayside.
Everyone has the same reaction when thinking about fishing long leaders. It is either that they can't turn it over or that they can't cast it without tangling. While this may be a sure difficulty, just like learning to cast to begin with, you improve with practice. Once you get used to a long leader it becomes no more difficult to cast than a short one.
There are two key reasons as to why we fish long leaders in the summer. First, is stealth. Long leaders lets both yourself, and your fly line to remain as far away as the fish as possible. In the hot sun with the lower clear water, fish are easily spooked. Second, is because long leaders means long tippet. A long section or sections of tippet allows your fly to travel with less drag. Whether you can see it or not, micro-drag created from using to heavy tippet, or too short of a leader combined with tiny flies will reduce your takes, and increase refusals. While people say they don't like long leaders because they can't turn them over, this is not necessarily a bad thing. While you want to be able to turn over most of your leader obviously to keep the fly line away from the fish, it is very important when fishing slow water to have slack in your tippet. This is what allows your fly to travel drag free, by having the slack pull away from currents during your drift rather than your fly.
Regardless of an anglers skill level, there are always different opinions and techniques one may follow. However this is the setup we have had the most success with fishing during the summer sulphur and olive hatches, especially on the West Branch of the Delaware.
Our leaders may range from 15 to over 20 feet, but generally fall around 18 feet.
The general formula for our long 18-20+ foot leaders, ideal for fishing small summer sulphurs and blue wing olives is to add a 2-3 foot section of 5X to the 12ft 4X leader, and then a 4-6 foot section of 6X to the 5X section. There are some great reasons as to why have these two sections of tippet. First of all, by tapering slightly down to 6X, it does help turn over these long leaders, as oppose to just adding say 8 feet of one size tippet. While the main leader may turn over, generally a length of tippet that long will tend to float and drift, falling where it wants. Additionally, having these two sections of tippet greatly extends the life of a leader. As you may destroy or lose flies, change between duns, emergers and spinners you tend to lose a lot of your leader. With the long section of tippet, it allows you to continually cut back on that section of 6X quite a bit before it begins getting too small. This way, when you may notice your fly not drift as drag free or as long, you simply cut off the 6X and tie on a new section to the 5X. This gives you a double buffer, as you can keep adding new 6X over and over until your 5X finally gets a bit too short, and thus rebuild it again from the leader. Bryn loves to brag about how he's been using the same leader for nearly the entire season using this method.
A quick step by step on building the leader and the knots you'll need to know.
What you'll need:
• 12ft 4X Leader
• 5X & 6X (Preferably Fluorocarbon)
First start of tying a perfection loop (scroll to bottom for quick video instruction) to attach your leader to fly line.
Next, cut off a piece of 5X about 2-3 feet. A quick way to gauge how long this section should be is to measure from your chest or shoulder to tip of your finger. Attach that to the leader via a double surgeons knots.
Finally, cut off a piece of 6X about 4-6 feet. Generally, I will measure out a section about my entire length of my arm span. Attach that to the 5X section via a double surgeons knots.
Double Surgeons Knot