Fishing on the Frontier – Part 13

Western European Leaders

You will notice that I have persisted with the related subjects of presentation and take detection, and this piece pursues these further. I have just returned from fishing in the European Championships in Cantabria, Northern Spain, and I have a great deal to pass on to members about our experiences there. I will do this over the course of this series, but for now I want to concentrate on the structure and use of take detection leaders as designed and implemented by several of the top western European teams, such as the French, Italians and Spanish.

Spooky trout in clear water such as on this Spanish river often require long leadersWe were fortunate in Spain to have one of the top Spanish guides, Louis Otano Perez, a wonderful, nomadic character (he is a good-looking, latter-day hippy) who guides throughout Spain and Chile in both fly fishing and various mountain activities. His touch with dealing with the ultra clear, sparsely populated brown trout streams of Cantabria is outstanding. He is a member of the Spanish National squad and a member of the elite Spanish top division of competitive fly fishers. I will always remember, and savour, an afternoon I spent with Louis on the upper Miera, while we tactically worked at the stream. Several times he watched my approach and then took my rod, re-jigged the leader, and demonstrated his own fundamentally different presentation. I had to admit that his attack was much more in tune with the requirements of the thin, rushing waters than my own more generalised ‘method’ approach. Only after watching and listening, and re-engaging the stream, did I begin to catch reasonably well. Much of this was down to the finer aspects of leader construction which affected presentation, control and take detection.

On my Greys 10′ Streamflex (#4) Louis set up a leader for me, rigged for a single dry fly approach. A camouflaged tapered leader ran for 1.5 metres from the fly line to a 30cm length of level 0.20mm Fluorescent yellow Stren. A level length of World Class Copolymer in 0.147mm (5X) ran for 0.75 metres to a nearly 2 metre length of 0.127mm (6X). The overall length from fly line to point fly was about 4.5 metres, or 15 feet, not particularly long for the spooky trout of most continental European rivers. Bear in mind that a 10′ rod is short by modern standards among European competition river fishermen. 11′ is almost standard now, for a 3 weight line, and this affords much better control of the leaders up to 8 metres that are commonly used at this level. The 15 feet of leader that Louis set up for me was to suit my 10′ rod. I am hopeful that the Greys Streamflex range will soon be extended to an 11′ 3-weight, to bring us in line with the modern, dedicated European competition rods, such as the Lamina, which are dominating the river sport.

It took a while to become used to the long leader, slowing up the casting process and ‘fading’ the cast so that I could present the fly on target with consistency, as well as allowing for the currents so as to avoid drag as far as possible. A little later, when the bright sunshine pushed the trout off the surface, we reverted to single nymph. I kept up the same leader, but greased the tapered and fluorescent sections of the leader. The latter gave good take detection, which is absolutely crucial for these rare Spanish trout! The last thing you want is to have a trout take your fly, and eject it, without knowing anything about it until too late. There are simply not enough fish in those mountain rivers that you can tolerate wasted chances.

The consensus in the team was that given a section of water which, in England, would contain one or more sizable trout in most likely looking spots, in Spain perhaps one out of ten would hold a single fish, and this might well not be sizable! The waters are also very heavily fished, with worm, spinner and fly (often fished as teams with a bubble float controller) while catch and release is hardly practised at all. These waters demand highly accurate and gentle presentation, with sensitive take detection.


The new wave in take indication? Coiled leaders are being used on the continent already to improve take detection with great success.
To improve the latter, Louis also showed us the state-of-the-art Stren coil indicator, married to the above leader construction, which is taking us to the next level of take detection. I will describe making these coiled indicators in a later article, but suffice it to say for now that the coil, about 15cm long, is tied in via mini-loops, to the above general leader construction immediately before the final length of tippet to the fly, which varies in length from a metre up to about four metres, depending mostly on prevailing conditions. The coil is greased with Mucilin and stands up beautifully, even in fairly broken water. If a fish intercepts the nymph, the coil immediately reacts. It might be a quiver, or it may straighten completely and be dragged under the surface; either way, it provides remarkably good take detection, particularly for small, light weight nymphs and makes a huge difference to our success with wary, nymph feeding trout.

A curious by-product of the use of the coil is improved presentation of the nymph. The coil actually drags in the air, throwing the nymph ahead of it at the target area. It is very subtle and only becomes apparent as you learn (or re-adjust) to cast these long, dynamically demanding leaders. It is so worth doing, however, so I will be giving you much more information as this series progresses. In the meantime, on the thin, clear waters of summer, which are what I have returned to on Eden, try lengthening your leader and grease up the tapered butt section: fine and far off, as we used to say.

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