Finding the perfect leader length is one of the fly angler’s ongoing battles. Chances are, just when you feel like you have your leader dialed in and casting great, a head wind will kick up and you’ll be forced to start from scratch.

So How Long Should a Fly Fishing Leader

Fly fishing leaders range from 6 feet to 12 feet. What length to choose depends on the conditions, but a great starting point is to go with a 9 foot tapered leader. Add tippet length if your fishing to easily spooked fish. A 7.5 foot leader is common for bass and other aggressive fish.

Next time the leader length mystery has you stumped, use the following guidelines as a starting point and adapt accordingly.

When in Doubt, Fish a 9-Foot Leader

Visit any fly shop and you’ll have your pick of many different knotless tapered leaders, most of which will be 9 feet long. There’s a good reason for this 9-foot leaders work great for 90 percent of all fly fishing scenarios in both freshwater and saltwater.

9 ft leader fly fishing
9 ft leader fly fishing

A 9-foot leader is long enough to achieve good presentations and drag-free drifts, yet not so long that it’s unwieldy to cast.

Plus, when you start with a 9-foot leader, you can easily add extra lengths of tippet when the fish are extra spooky or when the water is glassy and clear. Alternatively, you can chop a 9-foot leader down a few feet for easier casting in windy conditions.

Use Short Leaders for Tight Spaces, Small Water, or Windy Conditions

There are times, however, when you want to stick with a shorter leader from the beginning.

To learn more about what I use to catch brook trout and how important your leader is check out this fly fishing guide. How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout

6-foot leaders are quite short by fly fishing standards but do have their place in an angler’s arsenal. If you’re fishing tiny, brush-choked mountain streams a 6-foot leader will be much easier to cast and control. When pursuing species such as largemouth bass and panfish that aren’t very line shy, a 6-foot leader is often plenty long.

7.5-feet is a great leader length when fishing for trout in small streams less than 20 feet wide. When casting weighted streamers, using a stout 7.5-foot leader is a smart choice to help turn over the bulky flies. Also, a 7.5-foot leader is easier to cast in the wind than a 9-foot leader.

It’s not hard to make your own leaders, in fact many fly fishers prefer this over buying. If you know your going to be casting heavy flies that are hard to turn-over, you can build a leader with a longer butt section.

To learn about a how to make a leader go to this article. How to Build a Fly Fishing Leader.

Longer Leaders for Spooky Fish and Extremely Clear Water

Leaders in the 12 to 15-foot range, though more challenging to cast, give you the advantage by placing your fly further away from the thick fly line. These long leaders are considered standard fare when fishing technical spring creeks or the gin-clear shallows of alpine lakes. Don’t forget you you can always add some tippet to increase the length of your leader for those skittish fish.

Add tippet to fly leader
Add tippet to fly leader

While it takes practice to successfully turn over a fly with a 15-foot leader, all the extra fish you’ll catch will be well worth the effort.

Be Prepared to Adapt Your Leader Length on the Water

Don’t just buy a two-pack of 9-foot leaders and call it a day. Bring along extra spools of tippet to rebuild your leaders after changing flies or to add length for extra stealth. And if you really want to geek out on leader length, check out our post on building your own leaders from scratch!

Sources and More Reading

Read about the best leader for nymph fishing in this article. Best Fly Rod, Reel and Line for Nymph Fishing.

Read about the Fly Line I recommend for Trout Fishing in this Article. Best Fly Line for Catching Trout.

Read about what is Tippet and the Different Types of tippet in this article. What is Tippet in Fly Fishing

Read about all the gear I take fly fishing in this article. What to take Fly Fishing