Warmwater Tips

Bob and Lefty's Soft Leader
By Ed Engle


Get Better turnover by losing your stuff butt

John Likakis and I are waiting patiently at Bob Clousers Fly Shop in Middletown Pennsylvania. We arrived early to gawk at the huge johnboats that Clouser and his son use to guide their clients to Susquehanna River smallmouth bass. They are the most gigantic johnboats I have ever seen and are superb casting platforms for fly fishers. Each one is equipped with a powerful jet outboard to move it safely over the numerous rocky shallows on the river.

After the johnboat inspection we get down to the more serious task of inspecting our tackle for coming day's fishing. I'm new to smallmouth fishing and have brought a 9-foot, 8 weight rod on Clouser's recommendation.

The next question is what kind of leader do I need? John's been around the block on smallmouths and mentions that he just happens to have the John Likakis special smallmouth-bass leader, which he can supply me with if I promise not to get cranky for entire day. This is a tall order for me, but under the circumstances, I figure I'd better do what I have to do to get the leader. The selling point on the secret leader is that its butt section is basically constructed of hard monofilament. I figure it should cast pretty well. Just to he sure it works according to its design parameters, I cut my entire leader off and nail it directly to my fly line.

By the time we're done fiddling around with our gear, Lefty Kreh, Boyd Pfeiffer, and Ed Russell arrive. Lefty's brought his boat. too, so we'll hit the river with a small flotilla. It doesn't take long to sort out who will fish with whom. I team up with Lefty and we head down to put in on the river.

Once we're on the river, Lefty asks what I'll he fishing with. I mention the 8-weight and he agrees that it's a good choice. When we finally get around to talking about the leader, I mention I'll be fishing John Likakis's tried-and-true hard-mono smallmouth special. Lefty's jaw drops and he says I really should be using a soft leader if I want my system to be tuned for maximum efficiency. He then cranks up his jet outboard and motors the short distance over to Bob Clouser's boat where John and Ed Russell are fishing.

"We'll have to talk about this leader business at lunch," he says to John. After a few other pleasantries, we cruise back to our spot over some ledges and proceed to land a number of smallmouths.
After lunch, Lefty brings up the leader.
"You want to listen to me on this leader business, John," he says.
"I'll listen to anything, but it doesn't mean I'll do anything about it," John replies.
"Fair enough," Lefty says.

He then goes on to explain that the whole point of the leader should be to transfer the energy seamlessly from the fly line down through the leader to the fly. Since the fly line is supple, it only makes sense that a soft monofilament leader will transfer the energy most efficiently. He mentions that's the reason why some fly fishers like braided leaders so much, even if braided leaders have some other less desirable characteristics.

"It really does smooth things out. Just look at your loops when you cast it. You should try it," Lefty says as we're shuffling anglers around in the boats. I end up in douser's boat with John, and Lefty takes off with Ed Russell.

Once they're gone, Bob say Lefty's right and he's switched over to the soft leader, too. It's a simple design. There ace 36 inches of 40 pound monofilament, followed b 18 to 26 inches of 30-pound, 10 inches of 25-pound, 10 inches of 20-pound, and 10 inches of 15- pound. A loop is tied at the end of the 15-pound section so that you can attach a tippet of 6-pound, 8- pound, or 10-pound test with a loop-to-loop connection.
A high-quality soft monofilament such as Berkley Big Game or Maxima Ultra Green works fine. Blood knots are best for tying the leader sections together, and you I can use a perfection loop or a surgeon's loop on each end of the I basic leader (the top loop to attach the leader to your fly line, the bottom loop to attach the inter changeable tippet section).

Clouser wrote the formula down for John and me, and we stashed it safely in our wallets. When I got home, I ordered some Maxima Ultra Green so I could tie up a few test leaders. And you know, the leader works pretty well. Somehow I expected that, coming from two guys like Bob douser and Lefty Kreh, the soft leader would work better than the old stiff butt.

(Ed's note: Since that outing, I, too, have tried Lefty's soft leader, and I must say that impressed with the results. For smaller, lighter, more air-resistant flies that are normally difficult to turn over, the soft leader makes a dramatic difference.)

(WWFF Editor's note: I have recently taked to Bob Clouser and he still uses the leader. One item that I use to do my blood knots for years has been the Dennnison Leader Making Vise.)

Ed Engle

Ed Engle has been an avid fly fisherman for the past 30 years. He has fly fished throughout the continental United States, Alaska, Mexico, Chile and in Europe for a variety of game fish species with a special emphasis on trout.

As a fly fisherman Ed is especially interested in small fly tactics and techniques. His small fly fishing research has taken him to a many of the West's famous tailwaters and to spring creeks across the country. He is also dedicated to fly fishing small streams and high country lakes for wild trout. Ed balances out his interest in the "small side of fly fishing" with the avid pursuit of king salmon on the fly.

Ed lives west of Colorado Springs, Colorado within 40 miles of the South Platte River, one of Colorado's premier tailwaters, where he guides and instructs fly fishers.


Southwest Field Editor for FLY FISHERMAN MAGAZINE
Small Flies Columnist for FLY TYER MAGAZINE
Outdoor Writer for the BOULDER DAILY CAMERA

FREELANCE MAGAZINE articles and photographs have appeared in: Fly Fisherman Magazine, Fly Rod & Reel, American Angler, Trout, Warmwater Fly Fishing, Fly Tyer, Saltwater Fly Fishing, Angler's Journal, Sports Afield, Fly Fishing Magazine, and Gray's Journal.

BOOKS: FLY FISHING THE TAILWATERS is a how-to book about fly fishing for trout in the regulated waters that occur below dams (Stackpole, 1991). SEASONAL: A LIFE OUTSIDE is a collection of essays about 12 years spent as a seasonal employee in the U.S. Forest Service (Pruett Publishing, 1989). SPLITTING CANE: CONVERSATIONS WITH BAMBOO ROD MAKERS is a collection of interviews Ed Engle conducted with bamboo fly rod makers over a period of five years. The appendix includes additional information of interest to bamboo fly rod aficionados (Stackpole, Fall 2002). TYING SMALL FLIES is a compilation of the "Small Flies" columns that Ed has written for FLY TYER magazine for the past eight years. All of the columns have been updated with additional information for this volume. (Stackpole, 2004). FISHING SMALL FLIES details tactics and techniques for fishing small flies.

Ed's article "Bob and Lefty's Soft Leader" was first published in the December 1999-Janauary 2000 is from the defunct "Warmwater Fly Fishing" magazine. Ed has graciously given the site to republish his article. Ed has a web site: