How to Tie a Bullet-Proof Saltwater Leader System

tarpon baby

Fly fishermen from all over the world spend time on my boat. They have a lot of variation in their tackle. If I had my druthers their leaders would all be rigged the way I describe below.

Before we get there, though, let’s take a short historical perspective on fly rod leaders. For 2,000 years, fly tackle was used principally to catch freshwater trout. Flies were tied on tiny hooks, imitating small insects. Tippets had to be fine, so the fly appeared as though it were floating free. Leaders needed to be tapered, so the leader would straighten out. Energy had to flow smoothly from the rod, down the line, down the leader, and to the fly.

In trout fishing, leaders are typically connected to fly line with a nail knot. This works fine- for trout fishing.

About 80 years ago, some crazy guy got it in his head to try to catch saltwater fish on flies. Compared to trout, saltwater fish are big and strong. Saltwater flies are tied on relatively large hooks. They often have substantial amounts of lead added to them. If you get any kind of line speed at all, during the cast that fly will hit speeds of 50 or 60 miles an hour. Its inertia will straighten out almost any kind of a leader. You do not need a tapered leader for most saltwater fishing.

Tapered leaders have knots. Knots are not to be trusted. They seem to fail whenever a big fish comes along, unless you take pains to tie what are called 100 percent knots.

The leader system I use (not my invention) has a minimum of knots. At the single spot where a questionable knot is tied, the line is doubled. The only place my leader ever breaks is at a wind knot in the tippet, or at the fly. It’s bullet-proof.

You need to know two knots to tie this type of leader: either a surgeon’s loop (my brand) or a perfection loop, and a Bimini twist. Don’t freak out! The Bimini twist is not hard to learn or tie. It’s a 100 percent knot! The videos that the links go to will show you how to tie both.

Don’t just watch- get some 20 pound mono and practice along! Tie a half dozen and you’ll have it for life. Invest forty five minutes now and you’ll be able to make your own bullet-proof saltwater leader systems for as long as you fish.

Next, nail knots are not to be trusted in saltwater. They fail all too frequently. Many modern fly lines now come with a loop at each end. If yours doesn’t, either learn to whip a loop in the ends of the line or have someone reliable do it for you. There is no excuse for losing any fish because the line-to-leader, or even worse, the line-to-backing, connection failed.

Our assumption here is that we’re rigging an eight-weight. Adjust the butt section diameter up or down for heavier or lighter rods.

Take a spool of 30 pound nylon monofilament and pull off a wingspan, the distance from fingertip to fingertip when your arms are spread as wide as they go. In my case that’s a measured 69 inches. Tie a small loop in each end, using whatever loop knot you prefer. Make a loop-to-loop connection between this new butt section you have just made and the fly line. If you don’t knot it up it will last as long as the fly line.

Since most of my fishing is for redfish, we’re going to use 15 pound tippet. For bonefish you’d use lighter material. For snook you’d use heavier. Adjust the material as needed.

Take a wingspan of fluorocarbon leader material (I like Sea-guar). Tie a short (six to eight inch long) doubled line at one end, using a Bimini twist. In this doubled line tie a loop, using whatever loop knot you prefer. Make a loop-to-loop connection with this new tippet section you have just made and the leader butt. Your bullet-proof leader is done. Just add a fly.

You can tie a season’s worth of tippets in an afternoon while watching television. Coil them and place them in a labeled ziplock bag. While fishing you’ll never have to tie any knots. If a tippet gets messed up, just unloop it and loop on a replacement. Bullet Proof.

I find my best knot tying never happens when I’m surrounded by fish and trying to hurry. At home in front of a TV I tie great knots.

Test all of your knots before using them!

Once you learn to tie this you’re gonna love the bullet-proof saltwater leader system.

John Kumiski

All content in this blog, including writing and photos, copyright John Kumiski 2012. All rights are reserved.





  1. I agree 100% and even do this with my salt and freshwater spinning rods. They have braid, then the florocarbon leader. Works great!

  2. John, not only are knots subject to failing but they also add wind resistance and catch grass. I like your leader formula and will use it next time I fish. Thanks,

  3. Jerry Plaaten says:

    A thousand pardons but I do not understand about the tippet part being only familiar with simple leader configurations. You say to make a 6″ to 8″ loop in one end using a bimini twist. I can do this. Then,”In this doubled line tie a loop, using whatever loop knot you prefer.” We have a windspan length of florocarbon with a bimini twist and loop in one end. Do you mean to make a loop in the opposite end of this section? Which end of the tippet loops to the leader butt? And is the fly, the, just looped on to the tippet? Sorry for being so dense.

    • You tie a loop in the doubled line, treating it like it was a single strand.

      A double surgeon’s knot is an 80% knot. In 10 lb line it breaks at 8 lbs.

      If you double the line it’s now 20 lb test, and breaks at 16 pounds- more than the tippet

      tie the fly on at the far end, using any knot you like

      no apology necessary. If I had explained it properly you wouldn’t have to ask.

  4. Ed Jackonski says:

    John, I have a 8wt outfit and use it for trout, reds, and snook. Should I use a 30lb butt section regardless of tippet size? IE: 15 lb for reds/trout and say 30lb for snook.
    Thanks, Ed

  5. I must be really dense as even with this further explanation am still not able to follow this leader system. A picture would be worth a thousand words. Is there a picture available?

  6. Does the last surgeons loop actually create a double loop? i.e. Do you double over the doubled line just like you would in a normal surgeons loop?

  7. ah, i get it now! whip a small loop to the fly line end. for an 8wt fly rod/line, use about 6′ of 30# mono and create surgeon loops for each end. connect the fly line to the leader by “handshaking” their loops. take another 6′ or so of tippit fluorocabon in the test weight for the fish/conditions required, and tie a 6″ to 8″ bimini twist loop at one end. make a surgeon’s loop out of the doubled line bimini twist end and “handshake” loop it to the mono leader’s surgeon loop. the fly end of the fluro tippit gets tied in most any manner direct to the fly. way cool. i gotta try this and get away from these commercial extruded tapered leaders. thanx for a great tip, john!

  8. Carlos Rivera says:

    Hello John. Bought your book. I had trouble understanding this system… If I understand correctly it is a leader with double surgeon at both ends and then a tippet described by this article?:

    Thank You

    • the leader consists of a butt section with a double surgeon’s at each end, although you could use whatever loop knot you prefer. Then the tippet is looped to the butt.


  1. […] out the article attached. Simple to tie the loop knots, surgeons loop, bimini twist (if desired).…leader-system/ , . This might even be too much for our type of fishing. But learning […]

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