Steelhead leaders


Active Member
So what does everyone reccomend for brands, lengths, connecting knots ect. When I say lengths Im not asking for total lengths necessarily, rather when you build your own, how long of each size are you running. Example : 2x 2ft, 0x 2ft, Mono 2ft, which totals a 6 foot leader???
What materials and where do you get them from??
Would floro be better for steelie leaders?? :dunno :dunno :dunno :dunno :dunno :dunno

I dont want to loose anymore steelhead because of a dumb idiot mistake on my part so please help me out.


~Patrick ><>

Rob Blomquist

Formerly Tight Loops
I use 9' 3x leaders for summer fishing, and I use 3-4 foot 0x or 1x leaders for winter fishing.

Steelhead are not leader shy in my opinion, so flouro would not be a great asset.

I like Rio, and Frog Hair leaders. I also use Frog Hair, Rio and Maxima for tippet material.

For winter I build my own with 12-18 inches of butt, usually .030, with another 12-18 inches of .020, followed by 12-18 inches of 0x. Yeah, its a bit of a bear to tie, but it holds together, and keeps the fly down.

For summer, I typically buy a commercial leader in 9' 3x, and chop or add to it as necessary. That commerical leader may become my winter leader, just by chopping it back and adding some tippet.

Don't sweat the leader, its not a big deal when fishing for steelies. You just want something that will not break off.


This is great information. I was considering asking a similar question after my most recent trip to Washington last week. While I believe that steelies are not particularly shy, I sweat the leader. I have hooked and lost most steelhead and salmon in Washington for one of two reasons: (a) I haven't learned how to play a large fish close to shore and land it without a net and (2) I've been broken off at or near the fly. Regarding leaders, I've had bad luck with Maxima 8 lb. (1x) commercial leaders. Have had two winter steelhead and several salmon break me off. I've had no losses with 8 lb. Mirage, however. Interested in hearing what others experiences have been. Sounds like I need a heavier leader, at least when I fish in the winter.

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Hi patrick, I use the Rio factory tapered Salmon Steelhead Leaders. I use them in lighter weights in summer, like now; around 10 pounds is maximum, maybe 6. Then in winter I move up to as much as the 13 pound leaders. And in later winter, when the bruisers show up, I may go to 17 pounds. I like the factory tapers; less stuff to struggle with. I use a standing loop in the flyline, sometimes a braided loop connector, and a Perfection Loop in the leader butt. I think the Rio Tapered leaders are using the Powerflex Mono. I also use the mono core weighted leaders by Rio and their newer Poly core weighted leaders. I use a dry line most of the time so the weighted leaders are helpful. Terminal knots are the Clinch Knot, Improved Clinch Knot, No Slip Mono Loop. That about does it. Less to fail, more time to fish. I think Fluorocarbon is a ripoff in price. But it works.It is abrasion resistant to beat the band.Less visible. And a heavier weight fluoro leader is less visible than a lighter weight mono leader. I buy it from the Bubba Shops on big spools at a fraction of the cost of a small "fly shop spool".


Active Member
I totally agree with you about the less stuff to struggle with. After I re-read my journal I realized that last winter I ran sraight 2x tippet but the casting was awful, mostly due to my spastic nature, but somewhat due to the straight tippet? I hate having 4 knots total on a leader/tippet cause its more points of failure and more chances of really snagging under rocks. But, I broke down lastnight and tied up a ton of 4 foot(ish) leaders in the following RIO materials:

15" of 40lb
15" of 30lb
15" of 0x tippet

All lines were connected with a blood knot and a perfection loop was tied at the end for quick connections. Im hoping this holds up??? It feels REALLY strong so we will see.

Does anyone else build there own leaders? If so what knots, lengths, and sizes? Also, does anyone secure there finished knots with knot glue, or super glue, or duct tape(kiddin)?? I know theres more of you that tie your own, so come one, endulge us in this top secret information ;)
~Patrick ><>
Patrick: In 30 years of steelheading I have used for the last 9 years flurocarbon exclusively and I have always tied my own. Umpqua Deceiver is my preference and I start with .023 reducing to .021, .018 and .015. Then for the tippet, I use .012 which is around 13# test and usually 24" to 30" in length. Total length of leader is about 10-11 feet. The butt sections, starting with the .023, are gradually reduced in length forming, what I feel, is a gradual taper down to the tippet section. I nail knot the .023 butt section to the flyline and apply Barge cement to the knot and at least 1 inch up the flyline. This prevents any "hinging" at the knot. It is now just a simple replacement of tippet or heavier section as needed and I find the basic leader will last as long as the flyline. I know nothing about steelhead being leader shy, but I do know this leader cannot be seen with my eye and it is strong enough for me to have landed many fish over 20# and one of 30# on the Babine. I thought the sinking factor of the flurocarbon might be a problem with a dry or waking steelhead fly, but it isn't from my experience. You will have to be really clumsy or downright inept to break off with this leader. I should add also, this leader is a must for bonefish where abrasive conditions are more prevalent with the only change being made is to use a tippet of 4 feet or more in length. I have also taken 2 permit with this kind of setup so I have great confidence in it. Hope this might be of some help. Gale


Active Member
Hey Gale...thanks for the great insight. What kind of knots do you use to connect the lines to one another?? Is a blood knot sufficient and do you use the cement on these knots also?

Where do you get your fluro materials from??

Thanks again and welcome to the site :thumb

~Patrick ><>


Banned or Parked
I'm a big fan of the Loon UV Knot Sense. It lubricates the knot and coats it with a smooth finish to reduce accumulation of weeds and other assorted crap.
Patrick: Blood knots are my choice. Two turns on the large diameters makes a strong and small knot. Three and four turns on the .018 to .015 and four turns on the .012. When using flurocarbon make sure the knot is moistened (spit) before drawing up and then use a steady and slow pressure in drawing the knot. Once the knot is drawn up tight, I then put some heavy jerks that will complete jamming the knot. I have found flurocarbon to be quite sensitive to heat and if you jam it tight at first without applying a slow and steady pressure, the knot will be weakened. It is even more sensitive in the smaller trout diameters so you have to be careful in drawing up the knots while using 5 turns. You do not need to use any cement on the knots. Orvis, Climax, Umpqua Deceiver are all available in numerous fly suppliers catalogs usually in 25 meter spools. As you possibly know, flurocarbon has a specific density heavier than water so it will sink. Makes dry fly fishing for trout somewhat of a problem but a few hunks of regular monofiliment tippets will solve that problem Tight knots!
The steelhead leaders used with floating lines are completely different critters from the ones used with sinking tips/heads. I often use 15-foot leaders with spey rods; I know that some more accomplished speyers use leaders up to 20 feet with longer (15-feet or more) spey rods. However, there's a way to use the same leaders for both kinds of lines: more to follow.
We're usually fishing sinking tips, aren't we? With them, I mostly use 5-foot knotted, hand-tied leaders; or 4-footers with 0X or heavier leaders for dirty water. Some of my friends think I'm effete; they're using 3- or 4-foot, single diameter leaders and doing well.
I got a kit of Orvis Mirage fleurocarbon spools at a discount several years ago. I tie my leaders for clear water with Mirage for the upper sections, and stronger fleuros like Seaguar Grand Max for the tippet. (The Mirage above about .016" is too kinky for my tastes.)
Decades ago, Gladding used to color-code the loops of their tapered leaders to differentiate the tippet size. I do the same thing by tying different color fly tying thread around the base of the perfection loop knot and sealing it with fly head cement. Then I can know what I'm using when I leave a leader on the line.
Most of my leaders are of three or four sections. A perfection loop at the top, blood knots to connect the transition sections, and a uni-knot to connect the tippet to the next transition section up. I've had almost no trouble with the upper knots, but I'd like to find an even stronger line-to-line knot for the tippet. My tippets start at 18 inches; I replace them when they begin to look weird, under around 10 inches.
On my floating spey lines/tips, I have a permanent butt, stepped down from .024" or .022" Maxima Ultragreen to .020," ending with a perfection loop. Then I need only add one of my sink-tip leaders: 10' butt + 5' leader = 15'.
Patrick: I must qualify my response in that I am relating only to floating line fishing for steelhead. This I prefer and leave the deep-sink and shooting head approach to others. Gale:thumb
When bored, rig up your rod and try attaching your leader to a tree or post or whatever. Try to break it. Can't be done without risking breaking the rod. I'm talking an 8 to 12 lb. tippet here. Yet, fish break them all the time. Reason?
Bad knot, poorly tied, an unseen nick in the tippet (teeth of the last fish), leader too old and dried out, a wind knot (read over hand knot) has been cinched down hard reducing tippet strength by one half, last year's leader, sunlight and others I can't think of at the moment.
When, as a kid, I always tried to have fresh worms, the very wiggly kind. Now, as an old geezer, I insist on a nice, fresh leader for each major war I get into with the fish. If the leader snaps, it ain't my fault. It's those damn fish what done it!
Bob, the One Whose Leaders Are As Fresh As His Armpits.:rofl :rofl :rofl

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