New Zealand Fly Fishing Guides - Ben Kemp

New Zealand Fly Fishing Guides - Ben Kemp

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Line To Leader Connections

There are many and varied ways to connect a fly line to a leader. Each has at least some positives and usually at least one negative. After trying pretty much every known method, I've finally reverted back to the one I started off with some 35 years ago - back when I had no idea how to tie a nail knot.... The needs of anglers differ also, and for those who get to fish only a few days per year, the nail knot might well suffice. But failing eyesight and fumbling fingers come to us all.... and so the simple ways often prove to be the best.


Nail Knots:

Of those, the classic nail knot is the longest serving and has the following benefits;

  1. Very effective in transferring energy through the fly line and into the leader to turn it over.

  2. It is resistant to hinging

  3. The knot holds virtually no water to generate spray


The down side is that;

  1. nail knot connections make replacing the leader a tedious task - especially in low light conditions, and for someone who fishes a lot, that's an issue.

  2. Can easily snag on top guide if accidentally wound through when playing a fish


A variation is to add a short section of heavy monofilament to the end of the fly line with a nail knot, ending in a loop that enables "loop to loop" connections to the leader. Hinging can be an issue.


Braided Loops:

The most common alternative is the "braided leader loop" which is slid over the end of the fly line, and locked in place by then sliding a tubular plastic section over top. In some types, this is made from heat-shrink plastic, and holding it over a mild heat source will shrink-fit it tightly in place.

New braided loop, with plastic retaining tube, showing frayed end where fly line is to be inserted. The clean braid gives you some idea of the amount of water it will hold, compared to a welded loop or leader link. Braided loop connections after 6 months of heavy use. Braid accumulates dirt as well as water, and plastic tube "catches" leader due to roughness, causing tangles.  Fish will sometimes chase the coloured loops, a disconcerting turn of events!

Benefits of braided loops are;

  1. Speed of replacing leader via loop to loop connection.

  2. No tricky knots to tie

  3. Durability

  4. Less likely to snag on top guide/s


The down side is that;

  1. The braided loops can be prone to "hinging" at the braid section, with the consequent failure to turn over the leader properly.

  2. The braid holds lots of water, meaning this particular connection generates the greatest quantity of water droplets when casting

  3. The join edges and loops are prone to "catch" the leader during casting, especially if the caster throws a tailing loop, thus causing serious tangles.

  4. When fishing streamers, I've often seen trout chase the loop... some are yellow, and fish seem to like them!  


Welded Loops:

Some fly lines such as the new Airflo ( "Chalk Stream" and "White Water" range are cleverly designed to solve this problem by providing a tiny, nicely welded  loop on the end of the fly line.

I recommend both these lines, and believe the extra cost is more than offset by;

  • The improved performance of the welded loop vs. the alternatives of either nail knots, braided loops or leader links
  • The 5 year guarantee!
  • The performance of the line in a variety of climatic conditions



The benefits of welded loops;

  1. Speed of replacing leader via loop to loop connection.

  2. No tricky knots to tie

  3. Durability

  4. Minimal droplet spray when casting because minimal water held by loops

  5. Good energy transfer

  6. No hinging problems

  7. No "leader catching" problems for novice casters

  8. Slides through top guide/s without snagging


There seems to be no downside, other than the initial high cost of the line.


Line To Leader Links:

the "Line to Leader Link" is a small, oval plastic tube approx 10mm long, with slots on two sides.

Eagle Claw diagram and instructions Link after 6 months heavy use

The ends of both fly line and leader are pushed into opposite ends and out the side slots. Ends then have an overhand or surgeons knot added and trimmed. Pulling on the fly line and leader cause the knotted ends to tuck cleanly inside the slots. Changing the tippet simply requires the knot to be exposed and clipped off, and a new leader inserted, knotted and pulled tight again.

The benefits of Line to Leader Links are;

  1. Speed of replacing leader without loop to loop connection 

  2. Very simple knot/s

  3. Durable - links seems to last for years

  4. Least possible spray because nowhere for water to stick to

  5. Best possible energy transfer

  6. No possibility of hinging problems

  7. No "leader catching" problems for novice casters

  8. Slides through top guide/s without snagging


There seems to be no downside, and the costs are low at < US$5 for a packet of 5. The line to leader links provide a low cost solution to a common problem.


As a full-time guide, my equipment is used a lot by guests, and I also fish a lot myself when ever time allows. I always use knotless tapered leaders, to which I add tippet etc, and will generally get a week of solid use out of a leader - depending on the capabilities of the person using the gear.... depends how many times (or how badly) it gets tangled.


Tangles are a pain in the proverbial.... after years of experience, I have established that the single best mechanism to reduce the number of tangles per day is by using the "line to leader links" described above, coupled with knotless tapered leaders.


Balanced against that, when buying a new fly line, I would certainly expend the extra dollars and purchase one with the clever little welded loops as in the Airflo example above. 


Leaders - Knotted v.s. Tapered

Knotted: I'll use knotted leaders when I'm fishing myself - but only if I have to! From a guiding perspective, every knot in the leader maximises the number and complexity of the tangles that novice casters can generate.


Tapered: Conversely, a knotless tapered leader keeps the fly out there fishing more hours per day than its knotted cousin.




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Guide to NZ Fishing - Secrets - Sight Fishing - Casting Requirements - Fishing Equipment - Fly Selection Line Connections - Drift Boat Fishing - Locations - Access - Seasons - Brown Trout - Winter Fishing - NZ Books - Links



Sight Fishing 
This unique fishing technique is the specialty of New Zealand's premier fly fishing guides! 

Outline of clothing and accessories required to make the most of your NZ fishing vacation..

Fly Selection 
A list of popular flies suited to our local conditions. 

This page contains the answers to most of the questions you might want to ask... 

Drift Boat Fishing 
Drift boats are the answer to difficult bank access, and provide a safe & comfortable fly fishing platform. 

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NZ Fishing Books 
List of the best NZ fishing books, all available online, with descriptions example pages etc.




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