Out of Bounds

Long Leaders for Carp

I gave up on the long-line technique, at least until I put myself in conditions where I can exploit it

By Rob Breeding

I ended my last column with a cliffhanger. A YouTube expert had convinced me I should use an 18-foot leader to catch more carp.

Well, I tried it, but it didn’t go so well.

The logic behind the long leader is sound. One of the most effective fly-fishing techniques for carp is the drag and drop. You cast out in front of, and just beyond, a feeding carp, then drag and drop your fly in front of the fish. The trick is to get it close enough to entice an eat without spooking the carp.

You can’t fully grasp how touchy these fish are until you try to catch them on a fly. They don’t like weighted flies splashing down anywhere near, so you can’t drop it right on top of them the way you might with a largemouth. 

But they won’t move far chasing a fly, either.

The long leader allows you to cast your weighted fly beyond the fish — nine feet to be exact — while also keeping your fly line an equal distance away. Carp are almost as sensitive to fly lines as they are weighted flies.

By the way, one other adjustment you’ll have to make is that carp see colors well and do not care for bright fly lines. I love green and orange fly lines for trout as they are easy to see on the water, which facilitates mending and other line-management duties. Trout are not so easily spooked by the fly line since you cast your fly to the fish.

For carp, you need to substitute the flashy stuff for camouflage lines.

This is why long leaders make sense when you drag-and-drop for carp. Eighteen feet is an awfully long leader, however, contradicting that mantra most of us learned when we first started fly fishing: never use a leader longer than your fly rod.

That usually means nine feet these days. Most of us also know that you can usually extend the length of your leader out to 12 feet without much fuss. For delicate presentations to spring creek trout, long leaders are the way to go. Landing fish can be a little more tricky, however.

You may also find you can get away with retrieving your leader beyond the rod tip, another classic no-no of fly fishing. The reason behind that old rule is if the fish goes on a run, the loop-to-loop connection attaching your leader to your fly line might get hung up in the rod guides. That’s possible, but maybe not as likely as you think. Still, the anti-loop-to-loop crowd argues you should use an old-fashioned nail knot if you’re worried about hang-ups. 

The theory has a secondary benefit: a nail knot better transfers the energy of your loop to the leader. The idea is that loop-to-loop connections act a bit like a hinge as your loop straightens out. 

I’m not fully convinced about the hinge theory, but there’s no doubt a nail knot is a more streamlined connection that makes sense if you routinely strip your line-leader connection into your rod guides. 

But I don’t think that’s the strategy for using the long leaders promoted by the YouTube channel, “Carp on the Fly.” Generally, the channel focuses on drag-and-drop fishing from a stand-up paddle board, or wading on freshwater flats. For that kind of fishing I can see how you could make an 18-foot leader work, letting it lay in the water between casts. But where I fish, on brushy, weedy banks, my line tangled repeatedly and I couldn’t keep it free of the weeds.

So I gave up on the long-line technique, at least until I put myself in conditions where I can exploit it. For now, I’m back to a store-bought nine-foot tapered leader with a three-foot fluorocarbon tippet attached, and that combo finally paid off.

Next week: the mulberry for the win.