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Choosing the Right Leader Length for Trout

While not necessary, leaders are a great asset for any fisherman’s tackle box and can help land trout. Using a tapered leader can help hide the line from trout and also efficiently break off when snagged, so your entire rig doesn’t get ruined. But how long should your leader be when trout fishing?

If you’re using a spinning reel for trout, you don’t need a leader but can benefit from using one anywhere from 1 to 4 feet long. If you’re fly fishing, leaders ranging from 7.5 to 12 feet are recommended. In general, the clearer the water, the longer the leader.

Let’s take a closer look at leaders including the setup and which ones are the best to use, depending on your style of fishing.

How to choose a leader length

How long of a leader all depends on how stealthy you want your presentation. Leaders are generally thinner than the rest of the line and can’t be seen as easily, which helps given that trout are very “line-shy”.

Some fishermen prefer 12-18 inch leaders, while others prefer none. Having longer leaders does make it more difficult to cast, as you can’t reel it up as high, so keep that in mind.

When it comes to trout, they’re often smaller than most other gamefish and don’t need a heavy leader. This is good news since lighter leaders are harder for the trout to see, so you can benefit if you choose to use them. Because trout are often line-shy, using a thinner leader will help prevent them from spotting the line and darting off.

Leader length for bait and spin-casting

The length of a leader can vary depending on your style of fishing.

For bait fishing, the length of the leader is fairly flexible. You often don’t need to work the lake or river and cover a lot of water like you would with a lure, so having a longer leader and shorter casts don’t make much of a difference.

On the other hand, if you’re using a leader to throw a lure, casting distance is more important, so you’ll want to use a short leader. Generally, leaders 1 to 2 feet work well for lures. This will help you cast farther and cover more distance with the lure.

Leader LengthClearnessCasting
0-1 ftNoticeableGreat
2-3 ftClearGood
4 ftHiddenChallenging

Leader length for fly fishing

The main difference in casting with fly fishing is that the lure is almost weightless. The lack of weight is compensated by whipping a large amount of line up in the air. From doing so, you can use the weight of the line to cast and carry the hook.

In general, when it comes to leader size, leaders for fly fishing rigs should be anywhere from 7.5 feet to 12 feet. The length should be determined by how well you want your line to be hidden from the trout. The clearer the water, the longer the leader.

However, longer leaders can cause problems. Most notably, they’re harder to cast, especially when it comes to fly fishing.

Fly fishing is more complex since it requires more form to be able to cast the long line and leaders. Here’s a chart that should help break down the trade-off between the clearness of the line and the difficulty of casting.

Leader LengthClearnessCasting
7.5-9 ftNoticeableGreat
10-11 ftClearGood
12+ ftHiddenChallenging

The best material for leaders

The best type of leader when fishing for trout is fluorocarbon. Trout can be very picky when it comes to presentation, and fluorocarbon is essentially invisible underwater as it refracts light the same way that water does.

Monofilament leaders aren’t generally recommended as it’s reflective and trout can often spot the line.

Which weight of line and leader to use for trout

When it comes to fishing for trout, a good order of line to remember is braided first (or monofilament) followed by a fluorocarbon leader. The braid or mono should be 10 pounds, while the fluro leader should be 6 to 8 pounds.

By using the 10-pound braid or mono for your main-line, and the 6 to 8-pound fluro for your leader, you’re maximizing the benefits for trout fishing. Not only will your line be strong enough to reel in large trout, but the leader will make it virtually invisible and help to not destroy your entire line if you get it stuck and have to break it.

How to set up a leader for bait and spin-casting

There are unlimited ways to set up your leader when trout fishing, but here’s an example of what you’ll need for a simple rig:

  • Snap swivel
  • Fluorocarbon leader (6 to 8-pound)
  • Size 8 to 14 hook
  • Bait (PowerBait, salmon eggs, corn, etc)
  • Monofilament or braided 10-pound line

You should have multiple leaders ready to go, so if you need to change bait or lures, you can quickly use the snap swivel and adjust accordingly.

Do you need to use a tippet when fly fishing?

Tippers are the smallest gauge line on a rig and can be installed after the leader.

So yes, installing a tippet onto your line is a good idea. If you don’t use a tippet, and only rely on the leader, then every time you change the fly, you could be losing inches off of your leader. Since leaders can make up the most expensive part of a rig, using a tippet can make it last much longer.

If you’re looking for how to tie a tippet to a leader, check out this video by Lelandfly.