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How To Unravel Prepackaged Leaders

by Philip Monahan

Have a question you want answered? Email it to us at ask@midcurrent.com.

Question: I have a hard time unraveling prepackaged leaders onstream. Half the time, I end up with a mess that takes 15 minutes to untangle. Is there a foolproof way to unwrap leaders?

Fred H., Greeley, Colorado

Prepackaged Fly Leaders

Be sure you begin to unwrap a prepackaged leader by unwinding the butt (thicker) section from around coiled leader.

Answer: Taking a knotless, tapered leader out of its package and then unraveling it is not difficult, but missteps can result in nasty tangles or knots.

The keys to success are (1) an understanding of how leaders are packaged and (2) taking your time. If you rush the process, your chances of screwing up increase significantly. Even if there are fish rising right in front of you, you must proceed slowly and methodically. It may take you a full minute, but that’s not nearly as long as it would take to undo a bird’s nest.

On any tapered leader, there is a fat end (the butt) and a fine end (the tippet). Before it is placed in the packet, a leader is coiled like a garden hose, and then the butt end is wrapped around the coils several times. (Anglers of a certain age may be able to picture this by remembering the old Firestone 721 commercial: “Seven around two wrapped by one.”)

Because of this final step, you must unwrap the leader by the butt end. If you pull on any part of the leader before you unwrap the butt, you may end up just throwing the whole thing away in frustration.

Prepackaged Fly Fishing Leader

Form the fingers of your left hand into a cone by touching all five fingertips together. Slide the coils over the cone, and then spread your fingers, creating just enough tension to hold the coils in place.

When you take a prepackaged leader out of its sleeve, you want to proceed systematically. Here’s how it works:

  1. Pinching all the coils together with your left hand (if you are right-handed), find the butt end and begin undoing the wraps around the coils. Most prepackaged leaders are wrapped three or four times, so be sure to undo all the wraps.
  2. As you unwrap, control the coils by keeping them pinched; you may have to briefly let go and then pinch again as you unwrap the butt.
  3. Once you’ve undone all of the butt wraps, you’re left with just the coils. However, your work is not done because the very fine tippet has a tendency to wrap around itself and anything else it comes in contact with. So don’t think you can just “shake out” the coils or simply pull on both ends. Either of these strategies can create a tangled mess.
  4. Transfer the coils from your left hand to your right hand, continuing to pinch them. Form the fingers of your left hand into a cone by touching all five fingertips together.
  5. Slide the coils over the cone, and then spread your fingers, creating just enough tension to hold the coils in place.
  6. Again starting from the butt end, begin pulling the coils off your fingers one by one, maintaining slight tension on those coils still on your fingers.
  7. Don’t give up too early, thinking you’re done. The last few coils of fine tippet are the most troublesome. Stay the course, moving slowly, until there are just a couple coils left. Then you can spread your fingers, undoing the last coils, and you’re almost in business.
  8. To straighten out the coils further, wet the fingers of your left hand, and starting from the butt end, pull the leader through your moistened fingers while applying pressure.
MidCurrent Fly Fishing
 
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at OrvisNews.com.
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  • Patrick

    excellent info for a new fly fisherman like myself
    thanks
    Patrick in Northern CA.

  • kodos

    I was hoping this was how to take the air out of phony political candidates.