Tough Adversaries (or why you need long leaders sometimes)

Brown and yellow

The sky is still dark when I start putting my waders on. The weather forecast said that this summer day will be bright and hot so the fishing on this C&R section of the Miera river, in northern Spain, will be restricted to the very early hours, in search of some fish feeding on those minute mayflies called Caenis.

The day awakes while I wade towards my favorite pool, that one which keeps some of the best fish of this stretch. The river is very low and the central tongue of current of my pool is running really lazy. I approach the place very carefully, step by step, and, suddenly, I see a good fish of about two pounds patrolling the inner bank of the pool with his back barely covered by water. It is, obviously, looking for some floating duns to have breakfast.

I don’t dare to get closer than around 10 meters: on a bank composed of shingle a bad step means immediate disaster. Kneeling on the ground I cast my Parachute Adams #26 presenting it close to the bank, in the area that the fish is scanning. On the water only the fly and the tippet, the rest of the leader and the fly line are on the bank. Through the glare I catch glimpses of the trout as it goes here and there picking minute Caenis, patiently waiting for the fish to stumble upon my fly.

Two minutes after landing the fly hasn’t moved even one centimeter: the current in the center is slow but here, close to the inner bank, is plainly non-existent. An eternity later I see, at last, the wake of the trout coming in the general direction of my fly; it gets closer and closer… then the fish stops, and time stops too; I prepare myself for the strike trying to keep calm, I am very prone to bursting tippets when confronted to this kind of anticipated takes. Suddenly the water explodes and the fish bolts away, leaving the fly behind and heading for his lie in the undercut of the opposite bank.

I reel in reproaching the fish for its lack of tact; I can’ stand when they add humiliation to what could have just been a regular, respectful refusal. Today I am still wondering what is in the mind of a trout to which the mere vision of a #26 Parachute Adams tied to a 6X tippet can be such a terrifying sight.

Of course, the pod of four or five trout that, until then, had been steadily rising in the main current of the pool run immediately for cover too.

I walk up and down the river bank in search of any sign of activity. I don’t change the fly, I have faith in it. It is knotted to the end of a 6 meter long leader, a length which anglers who fish the rivers of central Spain would consider as a sign of madness, but that is normal stuff for those who confront the challenges of the trout that populate the rivers which drain into the Bay of Biscay (even a friend of mine would say that this leader is really short for tempting the incredibly spooky fish of the Miera river; better to pay attention to what he says since he is one of the very few anglers who have consistent success here, and I am not one of them).

More than an hour later I see a good trout rising in the head of the same pool. A painstaking approach through the calm water gets me in position to cast the same #26 fly to the fish. The fish takes and after a short fight I release a forty plus centimeters long wild brown trout. Then I head for home really happy. We can measure satisfaction in terms of fish caught… but not only in those terms. But that is another story.

13 comments on “Tough Adversaries (or why you need long leaders sometimes)

  1. bob fullerton says:

    Hi Aitor, best of luck with your new blog. I think I recognise the reel and the specs in the banner photo!
    Re long leaders what do you find is the maximum length you can use when trying to make overpowered curve casts?


  2. Aitor says:

    Hi Bob!

    Yes, they are the reel and the specs you are thinking of 🙂

    Regarding overpowered curves and leaders I have never made any serious study about that.

    Many years ago I went crazy trying to get those 90º curves just by using the different overpowering techniques I had read about.
    When I got a basic understanding of how casting works I realized that there was a reason for those casters demoing curves using saltwater rods, heavy lines and short/thick leaders: overpowering doesn’t work with light lines and long leaders (unless you have the arms of King-Kong). The reason is pretty clear: long and fine line tapers are designed to get delicate presentations, i.e. to dissipate more energy than a level line. If we combine that with a long leader and thin tippet that energy dissipation is even bigger. With an overpowered curved we want as much energy reaching the fly as possible. Evident contradiction.

    There is a useful exercise I use with my students: cast with your line without any leader attached and see how the difficult thing is not to get a curve in the line end: you must cast with as less force as possible. The line turns round so forcefully that can trace a 180º trajectory. Do it just a few times I you don’t want to ruin the line’s coating.

    Some years ago I discussed this issue with Bernd Ziesche. He assured me that he was able of making overpowered curves with really long leaders. When he showed me for the first time I was really impressed. And I am still impressed for his technique is really good, but slo-mo showed that what looked like an overpowered curve to the naked eye was actually another kind of curve.

    Pure overpowered curve:

    A different curved layout:


  3. bob fullerton says:

    Hmmm, Bernd’s casting is impressive. I won’t open a useless argument if it is overpowered or should be called something else. He does say in his comments on the video that he was using a 9′ leader, so not so long. My conclusion is that I’ll not waste my time trying to curve leaders that way if I’m restricted to a 9 foot leader.
    In the same fishing situation as the video how would you make a curve cast with a long ( say 5 metre) leader?


  4. paracaddis says:

    Nice article thank you, I fished in N Spain years back at a World Champs and loved the place. As to long leaders I am totally on that page, 16′ is probably average for me going up to 20′ and frequently down to 7x or 8x totally believe that is the way to better presentation of dry flies. Finally having looked at the other comments I totally disbelieve that it is possible to make an “overpowered” curve cast with a dry fly and if it is possible then in my option the leader is frighteningly too short.. 🙂 If I need curves I put in underpowered ones, either fore or backhand depending on the direction of the cast. All the best ………Tim


  5. Marc Fauvet says:

    actually, it isn’t the leader’s length that keeps us from making overpowered curves but it’s weight or, what usually is a more relevant aspect, it’s diameter and subsequent decreasing tapers.
    take a much thicker or even level leader and it will curve over as Aitor’s fly lines in the video.
    ok Aitor, before you shoot me down 😆 , no, i haven’t tried this with 20 foot leaders but it works very well with 9′-12′ ones.

    site looks really nice Aitor ! i wish i had known you had put it together sooner…


    • Aitor says:

      Almost everything works with a 9′ leader, Mark, specially if you put a weighty fly at the end. 🙂

      Just use a 3.6 m long level leader with a #20 fly and tell me how it curves. Well, tell me first how would you design it: 0X or 6X? 😀

      The blog isn’t really put together yet. I have some ideas but I am not motivated enough.


  6. Aitor says:

    Making an overpowered curve with a proper dry fly leader of moderate length is asking the leader to do the task it has been designed for… and the opposite at the same time. No way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s