My suggestion for Line/leader
Connections for ultralights

Photos and article by BILL BYRD, Jr.


Every time we attach a leader to a fly line we have at least three basic choices: (1) factory attached or fly fisher added loop connector (2) PLB - permanent leader butt, or (3) a good nail knot. Which do you normally use?

Why do I ask? So far as I'm concerned, when you fish ultralight with long leaders and tippets, the line to leader connector you choose REALLY MAKES A DIFFERENCE! Recently on a guide trip with a new ultralighter, we discussed this very thing. When my guest tried to cast his 2-weight rod with a bulky PLB installed, it hung up in his rod's line guides. I cut it off and secured his leader with a nail knot. Casting was GREATLY IMPROVED for him.

If you spend most of your time on 9 foot long rods with 8 foot leader/tippets the method of attachment probably doesn't matter so much. So long as your rod is longer than the leader/tippet length, you may not have much of a problem. Unless there is a lot of mismatch between your fly line's stiffness and diameter and your leader's stiffness and diameter, you may not notice at all.

In many situations, because of using stealth practices, I am compelled to fish rods shorter than leader/tippet length. At times, I fish light 8 to 8 ½ foot rods with 12 to even 14 foot leader/tippet. Then the attachment between my fly line and leader may become a really BIG ISSUE. The most prevalent problem to me is after catching and releasing a fish, with the line/leader attachment pulled down into the rod, I like to raise my rod and cast immediately. If the line to leader connection is so limp, long, and unmatched to the line that it won't go through the line guides -- it won't cast! I hate that! Yes, I could pull my line through the line guides and out of the rod, but on every fish? That is a lot of unnecessary work to me.

Another issue is what if you hook a big fish and the PLB hangs up in the rod. You've played the fish, but at the last moment, the fish decides to dash off for another run. If your PLB or loop hangs on the rod line guides, you probably will break off your tippet and lose the fish!

My go to knot is the tried and true 5 to 6 turn nail knot. It makes a small, strong connection good even on lines from 2- to triple ought-weight. On lines 3-weight and above, I mostly use factory installed loop connectors, which work well on larger line sizes. In many circumstances when fishing for freshwater and saltwater species, we are casting in low visibility water, so leaders do not have to be 12 feet long. Again, the loop connector is fast and easy, and generally works well.

If you find yourself fishing in stealth conditions with longer leader/tippet, make sure that the stiffness of your line and leader butt match at the line/leader connection, or you may have an uneven transfer of energy through that connection.

In this case, the loop section (right) has been trimmed, and a nail knot tied over the upper end (lower left end) of the loop section, and there is hinging at that uppermost point of the loop. Also the loop is a different diameter and stiffness as compared to the line. It will catch on line guides, and in the right circumstances could bind and break off a fish.

The PLB, or permanent leader butt (left) provides a loop and attachment point secured with a nail knot, but is mismatched in monofilament material in stiffness compared to the fly line. It will hinge, hang on line guides, and generally create problems - especially on lighter fly lines. The loop is too large, too.

A different PLB approach is to nail knot a 3 foot section of monofilament to the end of your fly line with NO LOOP tied at its end. Match the stiffness of this leader butt section to your fly line. Make the new leader butt slightly smaller (.003 inches smaller) diameter than your fly line tip. Attach your leader to the leader butt section with a blood knot, or even a two or three turn surgeon's knot. Then you can change leaders several times before you have to replace your leader butt section above the leader.

Truth is, you will eventually find your own preference. Try different line to leader connectors and see what arrangement meets your needs for different lines in varying fishing circumstances. If you have been having trouble with your line/leader connection hinging and hanging up, try the 5 to 6 turn nail knot to directly connect your leader to your fly line, or try the leader butt and tie your leader directly to it.

On fly lines 3-weight and heavier you may find one of the current loop connection systems available on good fly lines will do the job. They feature small, smooth loops and make the loop-to-loop connection smoothly to your loop connected leader. These systems are good and are getting better all the time.

For me, the nail knot is the standard fly fishing knot that every fly fisher should be comfortable tying. The knot has been used with great success for years! I consider the nail knot a MUST for ultralight fly fishers. Test fish a nail knot today.