I know a guy, let’s call him Chadd V, who says he doesn’t want to participate in too many extra fishing-related activities that aren’t fishing, because they have a way of replacing fishing itself. He’d say why spend time preparing to fish when you could be fishing?
In the last year, I’ve tied dozens of flies, got into rod building, joined Trout Unlimited and, most recently, constructed furled leaders.
I attended a class at Round Rocks, our local fly shop, and watched a guy wind threads around dowels. It seemed to me the hardest thing about making furled leaders was constructing the jig. But it wasn’t. After a trip to the hardware shop, a handful of screws and some chopped dowels, I had a jig.
Are furled leaders better than monofilament leaders? Yes. Are they worth the effort and the time spent away from fishing? That would have to be up to you.
I find, especially in the cold, my mono-filament leader will curl, and it takes time to straighten out. No matter how much heat and rubbing I apply at the start of the day, the first half dozen casts result in a pile of line on the water. With the furled leader, even the first cast of the day lies flat.
What I read about furled leaders is that they’d turn over a fly perfectly. This is the case. Because the taper is so even and the line so supple, the energy transfer is smooth. Your line does what you see it doing in your head. I have a friend who recently purchased a high-end rod (if there are any high-end rod builders reading this, I’m willing to say it was your rod–if you send me a rod.) He described his first trip with the new rod almost like a conversation with the rod. He’d ask the rod to do something and the rod would do it. I wouldn’t wax that poetic with the leaders, but my casts are markedly more accurate now. I also find that I don’t gum up as much. I fished a whole day with the same nymphing rig–eight hours on the water with a two-fly set up–and never had to re-tie. This may be nothing to some anglers–but I usually spend considerable time stream side cursing and untangling. I think the accuracy is partially to credit with the equal energy transfer, but also having two materials, the furled thread and the tippet, makes untangling much easier. On one outing, while fishing deep with egg patterns, I noticed a small hatch occurring. Normally, I would have to switch out leaders to match the hatch. With the furled leader, I just switched out my tippet. About three minutes and two cinch knots later, I changed from subsurface to surface fishing.
I’m sure they wear out, but, unlike mono leaders, you don’t slowly whittle away at your business end. And, because you match your leader to your rod, not your fly, it’s simply one less thing to worry about when setting up for the day.
The cost of one hand-furled leader at my local shop is around $20*. I built my jig and bought the other tools I needed for around $20. A spool of Uni-Thread costs about $2, and you can get about four leaders out of one spool. A decent mono leader costs around $6. So, you can see, it can save money — and pretty quickly.
Oh–and sexy? Yes.
But there are some drawbacks. It’s opaque on the water. Although I haven’t tried my furled leaders on gin-clear stillwater, I can imagine jumpy fish getting spooked. However, I actually found this as an advantage. It was the middle of winter and I matched a hatch of small midges. I had a #22 gnat on the end of my tippet, which would ordinarily be lost in the colors of the river. Because it cast perfectly and I could see it clearly, the leader pointed to my fly.
Back to my friend, let’s call him C. Vanzanten, who doesn’t want to do fishing-related things that don’t involve fish. I get the sentiment. I see people who get caught up in the extra things and eventually wean themselves off fishing completely. Go to a fly-tying convention, and talk to the tiers. Find out how many of them don’t fish anymore. Thomas McGuane writes in The Longest Silence about a casting club in San Francisco that’s been going on for generations. There’s a handful of casters who have never wet their lines on a river–but can throw a tighter loop than anyone on any river. They represent a metaphor that lost its tenor. Fishy hobbies can swallow fishing whole.
But, when I fish with flies I’ve tied and leaders I’ve furled, I feel connected. When I turn thread around a #20 hook, I think about fishing. When I twist those threads and watching them bind together, I see the river. These extra activates make it so when I do fish, I fish better. Even the above mentioned friend is the president of the local Trout Unlimited chapter. So, he hasn’t got away from the extra activates, they’re just different to mine.
I completely understand anglers who only fish. Who don’t tie their own flies. Who aren’t members of TU. But I have a feeling–nothing that I can prove, nothing more than a feeling–that they’re regularly out fished by those who spend time on the river and time doing other fish-related things. (For the record, I’m not asking for a challenge from angling anglers. But I have a buddy whose fish-related things include taking a water-insect graduate class and who is writing a Masters thesis on western rivers–I’ll put him up against any angling angler.)
I hate to bring up Duncan’s The River Why (partially because I’ve already mentioned another writing angler, and partially because, well, I didn’t like the book), but the underlying message of the book is that a balance has to be struck between fishing and other things. That even if you had “the perfect schedule” and fished 10-plus hours a day, it would lose its meaning.To force a metaphor back to furled leaders: they get their strength from multiple threads twisting and combining, but they’re basically two larger strands force-wrapped together. You can’t do this with one strand because you’d lose all the good qualities of the furled leader (and, technically, it wouldn’t be furled). Think of fishing and fishy hobbies as the two strands. They have to foil each other to derive purpose. I love waking up early and seeing fog rise off the water, seeing still-wet mayflies try to take flight only to be snatched up by a trout. But I also love hearing my daughter sleep in the next room as I twirl 6/0 thread together to make a leader. And I can’t hear her on any river I’ve fished.
*If you don’t want to spend the time furling leaders, but you still want them, I can highly recommend Andy Duncan’s leaders. This is the guy who taught me how to furl leaders and his are the highest quality leaders I’ve used (including my own). Here’s his essay on leaders that’s worth checking out.