Closeup shot of Cortland Line's Streamer Series Fly Line

Streamer Fishing: Fly Lines and Leader Setups

Article Written by Matthew Borovy. Learn More About the author below / Article Read Time: 7 Minutes

Streamer fishing for trout can be one of the most rewarding and exciting techniques in fly fishing if done correctly. Although streamer fishing generally requires less technical leader builds and line selection than other methods in fly fishing, dialing in these factors can make you a consistently successful streamer fisherman. Everyone can get lucky with a run-and-gun approach, but if you truly understand how to attack different water types utilizing different leader builds, fly lines, and flies, you will find yourself having that much more success. In this article, we are going to go over when to choose a floating vs. sinking line and how to set up leaders on both.  

Closeup shot of Cortland Line's Streamer Series Fly Line and a reel lined with it

When to Choose a Floating Streamer Line vs. Sink Tip Streamer Line

You want to choose a floating line for smaller water like streams and creeks, as well as larger rivers that generally consist of shallow buckets and riffles. A floating line is a versatile tool when you are looking to target trout in the middle to the upper water column. In addition, floating lines are easy to manipulate the depth by pairing them with a wide range of various weighted flies.  

Choosing a sink tip line is best when fishing in bigger bodies of water with faster currents and deeper holes. A sink tip line can be beneficial when you are trying to get your fly down quickly and target fish near the bottom. This is especially important when fishing from a drift boat or raft as well as targeting deep cut banks. Sink tip lines are also an ideal choice when flows increase on your water or during colder months when fish are lethargic. 

Angler on a boat casting his streamer fly line into the water

Leader Setups for Floating Lines

You can fish a great range of depths with a floating line by manipulating the length of your leader and varying the weight of your fly. When fishing streamers on a full floating line, we recommend using a leader between six and nine feet. This will allow your fly to get down to the desired depth and stay there. If your leader is too short, the floating line will cause your streamer to be pulled up in the water column when retrieving your fly. However, if your leader system is too long it will be extremely difficult to cast.  

Tips when setting up leaders for floating lines 

  • The larger the streamer, the thicker you should make your butt section to maximize leader and fly turnover.  
  • Monofilament can be beneficial to use as your butt section as it is more supple and flexible compared to fluorocarbon in the same sizes.  
  • Micro swivels can help preserve your leader and save you time on the water. They also help prevent the line from twisting when using larger flies.  
Angler picking out his lure and Cortland Line's Leader Material

Basic setup for building your tapered streamer leader off a floating line: 

  1. Start with roughly three to four feet of leader material, and tie a perfections loop in one end to connect to your fly lines welded loop.  
  2. From here, make a transition section of two to three feet using a smaller diameter leader material by tying a Blood Knot or back-to-back Uni Knot.  
  3. Using your preferred knot, finish the tippet section of your leader with 18” -24” of fluorocarbon.  
  4. The common leader material sizes for each section: 
  • Butt section: 25-40 lb. 
  • Transition section: 16-25 lb. 
  • Tippet section: 10-16 lb.

Common leader length builds: 

9’ Total Leader = 4’ butt + 3’ transition + 2’ tippet
6-7’ Total Leader = 3’ butt + 2’ transition + 1-2’ tippet 

This leader build is a general recipe and should be adjusted to fit the needs of your local water. If you require a longer leader, add longer sections for each portion. Generally, the longer the leader and heavier the fly, the larger the butt and mid-section should be. 

Fly fisherman casting out his fly line and a trout with a lure in its mouth

Leader Setups for Sink Tip Lines 

Sink tip streamer lines like our Streamer Sink Tip 10 and Streamer Sink Tip 15 are very useful tools when fishing streamers in deeper water and fast currents. These types of lines require different leader setups than your typical floating line. We recommend using a leader between four to five feet maximum on sink tip lines. The shorter the leader, the closer your fly will follow the route of your sink tip fly line. This is especially important when fishing out of a boat. You want your fly to get down as quickly as possible on every cast to effectively cover water.  

Closeup shot of Cortland Line's Streamer Sink Tip 10

Tips when setting up leaders for sinking lines: 

  • Keep your leader's length no more than four to five feet. The length of your leader can vary depending on the weight of your fly. We suggest going for shorter leaders with lighter flies and longer leaders with heavier flies. This will allow your flies to follow the path of the sink tip fly line during your retrieve. 
  • The diameter of the butt section becomes less important for turnover as leader lengths are generally shorter and carry a lot of energy.  
  • Utilizing only fluorocarbon aids in the overall sink rate of your leader system as this material is denser than monofilament. 

Basic setup for building your tapered leader off a sink tip line: 

  1. For the butt section, start with roughly 24”-36” of leader material. Tie a perfections loop in one end to attach to the welded loop of your fly line or tie directly to your fly line using a Uni or Nail Knot.  
  2. Using your preferred knot, tie 24” to 36” of your desired tippet size to the butt section.  
  3. Give your fly more action by tying a non-slip loop knot.  
  4. Common leader material sizes for each section: 
  • Butt Section: 20-30 lb.  
  • Tippet Section: 10-16 lb. 

Common leader length builds:

4’ Total Leader: 2’ Butt Section + 2’ Tippet Section
5’ Total Leader: 3’ Butt Section + 2’ Tippet Section  

This Sink Tip fly line leader build is a general guide and should be adjusted to fit the needs of your local water. 

Fisherman with his back turned to the camera and a boat in the background with more fishermen
About the author

Matt Borovy is a full-time employee of Cortland Line, a saltwater fly fishing addict, and a Connecticut native. He began freshwater fly fishing at the age of 15 years old and eventually made the transition into saltwater fly fishing for Striped Bass and False Albacore across the Northeast. He now resides in Syracuse, NY, and spends most of his time targeting the many freshwater lakes and rivers in the area while still making regular trips to the salt. 

Products that were mentioned in this article: 

Streamer Fly Line
Streamer Sink Tip 10 Fly Line
Streamer Sink Tip 15 Fly Line
Fluorocarbon Leader Material
Monofilament Nylon Leader Material

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