How to Make a Sinking Leader for your Floating Fly Line

My home water is a smaller river (perfect for a canoe) with sections of faster water that just begged to have a streamer drifted through it.   To reduce the number of fly rods in the canoe I learned a how to make sinking leaders that can be quickly attached to a fly line.

The steps to make a custom sinking tip leader

  1. Cut a section of sinking leader material to length. I like to have a variety of lengths premade to customize how deep my fly will go.

  2. With an 18 inch section of heavy mono tie a looped nail knot (this is the smallest knot I’ve found for tying on a loop) onto each end of the leader. This knot pretty small and passes easily through fly rod guides.

  3. As added insurance apply either a UV cure or isocyanate glue to smooth the connection and increase the knot strength.

Download my PDF with the steps, tools and materials to make a SINK TIP LEADER -> Materials-needed-to-make-a-sink-tip-leader.pdf (60 downloads)

What’s so cool about making your own leaders is that you can quickly customize how deep the fly swims by adding different length section of leader.

sink tip with loop

sink tip with loop

How to attach a sink tip leader to a floating fly line

Most modern fly lines have an integrated loop on the end of the line.  The best way to attach the leader is using a loop to loop connection.   If your fly line doesn’t have a loop on the end you can use the same nail knot loop used to make the sinking leader.

Attaching the sinking leaders with loop to loop connections also allows you to “adjust” the depth of your fly by adding sections.

How to use a sink tip leader while fly fishing

I like fishing the sink tip in moderate fast currents, my river is relatively shallow about 2 ½ to 5 feet in depth when the current picks up.  I roll cast quartering downstream, always trying to keep a straight-line connection with the fly.   I will also put a mend into the line to either reposition the fly or to put a little extra slack into the line to increase the fly depth.

For me the fun of fishing streams is that it is a more active method of presenting a fly.  You the caster gets to strip the fly in with different techniques and speeds.  Sometimes short, slow, twitches other times fast jerks.  You get to change things up until you start getting strikes and when you get a strike BAMP hold-on.

Setting up a sink tip leader for fly fishing

The key to fishing these sinking leaders is to us a shorter mono tippet section from the sink leader to the fly.  I recommend between 3 and 5 feet of 6 to 12-pound fluorocarbon.  If you go much longer your fly will have the tendency to rise in the water column.

My opinion, I really think I cast more accurately with the shorter leaders used on this setup.  I can drop the streamer within inches of the bank when I get into a rhythm.

What are the best materials for making sinking leaders

I’ve played with a bunch of materials to make my own sink tip leaders over the years and recommend the RIO InTouch Level “T” (Link to Amazon for price check).  The line is tungsten coated so it sinks fast, is supple in cold water and comes in 30-foot lengths so you can make a bunch of leaders.  I use the T-14 which has a sink rate of 8-9 inches per second.  The Level “T” comes in a variety sink rates (IPS is the acronym Inches Per Second) from T-8 at 6-7 IPS to T-20 at +10 IPS.

For the mono loops, I usually have a spool of Maxima Chameleon in a 25-pound test (Link to Amazon for prices).  I use this for lots of little tasks including tying up little weights.

For the tippet, I tie on 4 feet of Vanish made by Berkley.  This isn’t as hard as a Maxima, but a lot easier on the pocket book.   It comes in small 100-yard spools so I’ll get 6, 8, 10 and 12 pound breaking strength.  I use the Vanish line for a variety of nymphing tasks as well.  If I had to choose one breaking strength go with 8 pounds.

Get a download of all the steps, tools and materials-> Materials-needed-to-make-a-sink-tip-leader.pdf (60 downloads)

Why use a sinking tip leader versus a sinking Fly Line

For me, the sink tips are just more convenient.    My favorite river is “canoe water” with limited public access with a wide variety of currents, depths and obstructions.  My canoe allows me to stop at the best spots and skip the low probability water.  Fishing from a canoe also limits the gear I carry.  If I started using a full sink line I’d need to carry another fly rod.

With a sink tip leader, I can quickly switch my floating line into a deeper running streamer setup.

Casting a full sinking fly line can be exhausting.  If you’ve gone it you’ll know exactly what I’m saying (heck my shoulder gets sore just thinking about it) I’m not saying that sinking fly lines don’t a use, I prefer them when fishing deep in still water.

What’s the Best Way to Cast Sink Tips on a Fly Line

Since the river I fish is a tree choked 40 to 70 feet across, I usually roll cast down and across the current.  The key is to strip enough line back to lift most of the sink tip back then sweep the rod up river lifting the sink tip up out of the water.

I also try to position myself for the most effective drift.  Sometimes I want to let the drift swing without stripping.  The term often used is dangle – you dangle the fly right in front of the fish’s nose at the end of a drift.

If the trees behind me will allow, I will use a traditional overhead cast.  Be careful doing this, the only time I’ve ever hooked myself is with this method.  Your lifting a lot of weight and streamers are usually big nasty things.  Wear glasses and a hat to protect yourself.

I’ll also use a forward cast if I’m trying to get under some branches.  This is because a roll cast requires a big open loop with a sink tip.

When should you use a Sinking Tip on your Fly Line

I use a sink tip because it gets the fly DOWN deep.  So, if your fishing a deep run the sink tip will pull the floating fly line and fly down.  The steelhead and brown trout I’m targeting aren’t typically suspended in the water column so getting the fly down deep is critical.  The length of sink tip and current speed will dictate how long the sinking section should be.  In my river 4 ½ feet of T-14 works pretty well to get the fly down a couple feet.   If the river is faster or deeper add another section of sink tip with the loop to loop connection.

Then once you’ve honed-in on the best length of leader, make a couple extras.  It’s not that you lose the leaders, more because when you start hooking into fish and your buddy doesn’t you can help him/her out.

Sink tip leaders are easy to make, easy to customize and are really versatile.  Get a hold of the materials that we talk about in this article and make some of these sink tips in various lengths and throw them in your tackle bag.