Fly Leader Length

If we believe that most lures are identical out of the package, then why do some anglers seem to have great success while others struggle to catch fish?

While there are many variables in fishing, the difference in catch rates—from a couple of fish to a boatload—can most often be accredited to a subtle variation in presentation.

Chartering on Lake Michigan, I always look for new presentations, different lures, flies and rigs that will make my clients’ time on the water more productive and enjoyable. I recently purchased a few locally tied trolling flies that shimmered like well-known, store-bought varieties and came equipped with colorful beads, strong trebles and a premium leader. Each leader was carefully measured to 24 inches or three times the standard salmon flasher length

Eager to test these flies, I placed my rig into the water and, to my surprise, the fly had little action—the term “wet noodle” came to mind. The fly lacked the rhythmic twirl and snap that seduces giant salmon from the depths and make steelhead bite with reckless abandon. The fly’s creators told me that while much time and effort had gone to make a perfect looking fly, little consideration had gone into its actual performance. Although these flies looked the same and utilized many of the same materials, they did not act like other, proven productive flies on the market.

Determined to remedy the fly’s ineffectual action, I carefully observed the slight nuances between the many different versions of trolling flies I owned. I spent hours adjusting beads, changing hooks and swapping leader material. Bound and determined, I went back and reviewed some of my old log books and notes from seasons past.

I finally came across a small note about how I got fish to bite on a particular day when the normal techniques were not producing. My note simply stated: “Reduced leader two to three inches and brought 15 kings to the boat.” The standard flasher and fly leaders usually measures 24 inches or three times the flasher length. Could a difference of two to three inches really make that much of a difference?

My next trip out I cut back the pre-packaged fly leader to 22 inches, The moment of truth awaiting, I slipped the rig over the side. The same fly, once devoid of motion, darted and danced as it had never done before. Would this slight change bolster our catch?

By the end of the charter, we brought many king salmon over the transom, including a 20-pounder that slammed the fly on its modified leader. I am quite positive that the fish would not have responded to our presentation without the adjustment.

The moral? Every component of your presentation adds or detracts from your fishing success. A successful angler takes time to evaluate presentation, make adjustments and try something different from time to time. When you are out on the water, watch your lures at boat side. Speed up, slow down, change leader lengths and learn the differences that slight variations make. A difference of two inches helped us put more fish in the boat that day.

Are you two inches away from drastically increasing your catch? Experiment with subtleties of presentation. Your results might surprise you.

Capt. Dan Wheeler – Great Lakes Angler