Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

Floating Furled Leader
Floating Furled Leader

I went on a fishing trip to north-central Pennsylvania in late-September, and took the opportunity to field-test Hareline Dubbin’s 10 ft. Floating Furled Leader.

When I first began fly fishing, in the late-1960’s, knotless tapered nylon leaders were a new technology. The early ones were pretty bad; manufacturers still had not worked out effective tapers. I kept right on tying my own knotted tapered nylon leaders from scratch, as had become my habit.

Some years later, I discovered both braided-butt and furled leaders at about the same time. Having tried both types, my conclusion was that they share two major faults. When you snag your fly and have to break off, the leader stretches significantly as you pull against the snag. When the tippet finally breaks, the leader snaps back and ties itself into some very interesting knots that have to be picked out. Sometimes the tippet gets involved, and you have to remove and/or replace it to get the mess sorted.

The other problem with these leaders is the end to which the tippet is attached. This is the weakest link in the braided or furled leader system. The thin end of the leader consists of a tiny loop or, in the case of a furled leader, a doubled loop. Whether you attach your tippet by knotting it directly to the loop or by means of a “handshake” connection, the front loop is the first part of the leader to wear out.

Despite these problems I felt, and still do, that the advantages of braided or furled leaders far outweigh their disadvantages. They have no memory, and don’t need to be straightened before use. They come out of the package limp and straight and ready to go. They have a very long working life, unless abused. All you have to replace is tippet.

I have found braided and furled leaders comparable in performance, and both superior to solid monofilament leaders whether knotless or knotted tapered. However, it was far easier to restore the front loop on a braided leader versus early-generation furled leaders. Since the braided leader is hollow it’s possible, with some difficulty, to use a needle to splice in a new front loop when the original loop wears out. This is a major reason why I settled on braided rather than furled leaders as my preferred leader type, and have happily used them for many years.

I’m always open to trying something new, however. When Kate at J. Stockard suggested it, I welcomed the opportunity to field-test a modern furled leader. I chose the 10 ft. Floating Furled Leader, rated for 4 to 5-wt. fly lines, for my review. I was immediately impressed with this leader. It was a nice subtle dun color, and had excellent flexibility. This is very helpful when attempting to turn over a long tippet. Best of all, it incorporated a tippet ring at the front end. No more fragile, doubled loop to wear out.

During the four and a half days of my Potter County trip I gave the leader a thorough work-out. Due to extended droughty conditions the creeks were painfully low and gin-clear. Although my fishing companions and I found more wild and hold-over stocked trout than might have been expected under these conditions, they were exceedingly hard to approach without spooking. Even when it was possible to move into casting range without causing the trout to flee in terror, the first cast would send them scurrying no matter how delicate the presentation.

On the first evening of the trip, I walked a good distance along Kettle Creek to a pool I knew where I thought there might be enough water to hold trout and for them to be relaxed enough to approach. I put on a caddis dry fly and began methodically covering the pool. The furled leader performed beautifully, laying the tippet out nicely and landing gently, with just the right amount of slack to provide a good, drag-free drift. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few chubs, no fish were coaxed to the surface.

Regrouping, I considered my options of what to try next. There didn’t seem to be enough current to drift nymphs. Of course there was the possibility of probing the depths of the pool with a heavily-weighted Woolly Bugger—no doubt a potentially effective strategy but not my first choice of how I’d prefer to fish. I thought about what the trout might have been feeding on, and the obvious answer was those chubs I’d been catching. I opened my fly box and my eyes fell on a Winnipesauke Smelt. It looked like a good match.

I replaced my 5X tippet with a shorter length of 4X and knotted on the streamer. I roll-cast the fly a short distance out into the pool, a maneuver which the leader performed flawlessly. I allowed the fly to sink a few inches below the surface and began twitching it along with the tip of the rod. It darted forward, and I noted how very much it resembled a small minnow. Just as I had this thought, a Brown Trout loomed up under the fly and took it with a vicious snap. After a very respectable fight, I brought the 13-inch hold-over to hand for a quick photo and release.

Fishing improved on the last day of the trip, after overnight rain raised stream levels a few inches. Thanks to the forested watersheds in “God’s Country,” the water colored only slightly—enough to make the fish a little more approachable yet not reduce visibility much. We decided to try upper Kettle Creek, a good choice. I rarely fish anything but dry flies here, and a #14 caddis produced well.

The floating furled leader performed very well yet again. It was supple enough to allow a tight casting loop to be directed under low-hanging branches. At one point I snagged my fly on an inconveniently-placed stick protruding from a submerged deadfall tree. Rather than disturb the water by wading out to retrieve the fly, I elected to break off. I should have known that would be a mistake. As much as I liked this leader, I don’t think there’s any way to solve the problem of stretch, rebound, and tangling with furled or braided-butt leaders.

The addition of the tippet ring is genius. It effectively removes the issue of rebuilding the front loop. That factor alone just may cause me to abandon my favorite braided-butt leaders in favor of furled. If you’ve never tried furled leaders, I’d suggest doing so. I would not hesitate to recommend the leader I reviewed here.

11 Comments

  1. Mary,

    I am a big fan of furled leaders, and have been for many years. If you want to save $$ on tapered leaders, just switch to furled is what I tell my friends. One leader will last for several seasons if cared for. The twisting when you snap off a fly is annoying but their suppleness and ability to layout straight and true far outweighs that one annoying trait. I use them on all my lines in all weights with the exception of the long sink tips. Even half-hitching an indicator on a furled leader doesn’t leave a permanent kink in the leader like it does in mono. The brand I use the most uses a tippet ring that rarely fails. But even if the tippet end gets messed up, you can quickly tie a perfection loop and loop on the tippet. Nice Review, thanks.

  2. Oh, FURLED! All these years I thought everyone was saying “squirrelled.” Been leaving my mono leaders out in the hollow walnut tree for weeks at a time and they never got any easier to cast–couldn’t figure out what the heck I was doing wrong.

    Okay, gotcha, I get it, we’re all intelligent here, just smart people sharin’ ideas here, it’s all good….

    – Mike

  3. Oh Mike, don’t you know never to trust a squirrel? I’d be worried that he would use his sharp little teeth to put tiny little cuts in the leader so it would break when you’re into a big trout.

    1. Now ya tell me! (And I wish I could use that as my excuse for not netting the big ones, but unfortunately there are plenty of other reasons….)

      In all seriousness, nice article Mary. I learned some things from it and have a hankering to take another good look at these kinds of leaders.

  4. Seriously, Mary, maybe I could ask a few questions here: The main reason I’ve so far preferred to just do a quick 10-second stretch of my mono leaders to ensure they lie straight (and that seems to be all it takes) instead of moving to a furled leader is because to me the leader serves two purposes: (1) to taper the line gracefully down to tippet diameter for decent turn-overs, and (2) a measure of stealth…that is, to provide ~10 feet of relative invisibility between the fly and the easily visible fly line.

    I have never seen a furled leader that accomplished the second goal. They all seem quite visible. It seems to me that use of furled leaders leaves the stealth requirement solely up to the tippet, which certainly doesn’t keep the fly 10 feet away from the easily visible leader.

    And because it’s only the tippet that provides stealth, the tippet must be longer, which means a longer level portion, which adds a turn-over degradation element back into the picture.

    Am I wrong? If so, where am I in error? I’m happy to be wrong but I’d like to understand why my concerns are not issues. This seems to be an excellent thread in which to bring those concerns up, so kindly school me if you would. 🙂

    – Mike

    1. I apologize, Mike, for never replying to your question. I was just poking around the J. S. blog and very belatedly found your above post. I hope you somehow find your way to this one. On the question of visibility of the furled leader butt, this is one of those fly fishing issues where you have to go with your gut. (Ooh, I keep making those unintentional puns. I’m not talking about gut leaders.) If the visibility issue bothers you, you’re never going to be happy fishing that leader no matter what logical arguments in its favor anyone else makes. Having said that, empirical evidence leads me to believe that it’s not a problem in the vast majority of fishing situations–assuming you use a sufficiently long tippet. One of the great advantages of braided-butt and furled leaders is that they will turn over a very long tippet. The ready-to-use tippets that Orvis supplies with their braided butt leaders are four feet in length. Turn-over is not a problem so long as the tippet diameter chosen is appropriate to the weight and/or wind-resistance of the fly. With any fly/tippet combination, you have to evaluate how the fly presents and tune the length and/or diameter of the tippet to achieve the desired result. This tends to be self-correcting, since when larger, heavier flies are needed a long tippet usually is not. And using a long tippet is a non-issue with a small, light fly. Of course all of this begs the question of whether or not a fish can see a distance of ten feet. I think not. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the excellent videos from “Underwater Oz” productions? If not, I highly recommend them. I learned so much about fish behavior from these videos. To make a long story a little shorter, even in what looks like gin-clear water to the angler, horizontal visibility is very limited–nowhere near the ten-foot figure you mention. Coming full-circle, however, you have to do what you believe in.

      1. Thanks for those comments Mary (and for reminding me to come back to this thread). It’s not that I think we need ten feet, it’s that I suspect we need more than the length of a tippet. But then I run 20-inch tippets, which isn’t a long distance.

        I guess if I had a turnover problem I’d consider a furled leader, but since I generally fish subsurface it hasn’t been a big priority to lay a fly down lightly on the water. The few times I tie on a dry, well, maybe my presentation could sometimes e more graceful. But at least I have a leader that’s pretty invisible. I know some legendary fishermen claim that the most noteworthy advancement in gear of recent decades is the tippet–thinner and stronger and less visible. So it seems some people would have reasons to shy away from the thicker furled leaders.

        Myself, I’m not shying away from them. I just haven’t felt a need to change what I’m doing…and my leaders are CHEAP. I can use a leader for thirty trips to the stream or more and simply change out the tippets–I try to waste no more than a half inch when I tie a knot. I’ll run about a 9-foot leader and 15 to 20 more inches of tippet. I keep it simple. Haven’t felt any disappointment in how those simple leaders behave.

        But if I ever do, even once, I’ll be looking at those furled jobbies.

        This discussion has helped me learn a lot more of the reasons people like them, so thanks so much for sponsoring that education for me! Seriously.

        – Mike

        1. Being fundamentally lazy, the single biggest advantage to furled or braided-butt leaders for me is that they have no memory and there’s no need to straighten them–out of the package or off the reel. However, if you really feel much better about the lower visibility of a solid monofilament (or fluorocarbon) leader, one suggestion I would make is to try, if you haven’t already, using a tippet ring. These rings are very strong and so small that neither you nor the fish will ever notice one in your leader. Take a new knotless tapered leader out of the package and double back the tippet along the leader until you see and/or feel that the diameter is increasing. At that point cut off the tippet and tie a ring to the rest of the leader. Tie the tippet back onto the ring. When the tippet gets too short for your liking just add to it or tie on a new piece, as you please. Barring catastrophic accidents, you can get a whole season out of a single leader this way, since you lose no leader material when the tippet is replaced. And you can use whatever knot you normally use to tie on a fly, rather than a Surgeon’s or Blood Knot, which are harder to tie.

  5. Great article, thank you! To be honest, I never really knew what a furled leader was until now and you totally sold me on it! I will gladly deal with the stretch if the thing lays out straight and remains virtually memory free. I’ll experiment with this soon. Maybe even before hunting season is over….

    On a side note…. Having lived all 27 years of my life so far in NH, I’ve developed a sensible love for its rugged beauty and abundance of water. Needless-to-say, I was tickled pink when you mentioned the Winnipesaukee Smelt. I live 10 minutes from the big lake (big by NH’s standards anyway) for which it is named and fish it with great success in both cold and warm bodies of water.

    Thanks once again for teaching me something new, and for brightening an already awesome Turkey Day.

    Happy thanksgiving!

  6. Again, my apologies for dropping the ball on this thread. It took me from Thanksgiving to the First Day of Spring to reply. Ugh! Well, hope you had a great Turkey Day and got through the winter OK. I hear you had a nasty winter up there in NH. Don’t despair, Spring will work its way up there to you soon. I used to work in a fly shop, and one of our suppliers had the Winnipesaukee Smelt in its catalog. I liked the look of this fly immediately. I thought it would be a great, generalist streamer pattern to suggest an array of shiners and chubs. Experience with the pattern bore this out; it’s got a permanent spot in my fly box. I hope the furled leader works out well for you. I am sold on them, the only thing I don’t use them for is saltwater fishing.

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