Building a bonefish leader

When I read the formulas from the guys who really know, I understand that I am just scratching the surface. Read about Chico’s bonefish leader philosophy and you start to understand what sort of depth you can get to when you spend a LOT of time on the water.

You can watch Bruce Chard tie up a bonefish leader and hear him share his thoughts as well.

All of that seems complicated and that’s why I settled on the formula I have used to this point which involves a 50/25/25 formula. I don’t know where I saw this, but I know it was the simplest and I seized upon it for that very reason. Let me be frank here, I will not make any claims about this being the best or most effective or about it working particularly well. I tie this because it is easy and I am lazy.

Reading Chico’s thoughts I’m breaking several rules of leader design. I’d likely be ashamed to show my leaders to anyone who actually knows what the hell they are doing, but I’m also nagged by the strange knowledge that those leaders have worked for me. I go 40#, 30#, 20# and then some #15 floro tippet and it shouldn’t turn over, but it does and every bonefish I’ve caught in the past 3 years has been caught on a hand tied leader with that formula. I’m not sure if I need to step my game up here, or if I should just leave well-enough alone.

Do you tie your own leaders? If so, what formula do you use?

leader material

Oh yeah, and most of my leader material is cheap, too (not including the tippet).



  1. Scott Randall

    When I fishe in saltwater have found that the hand tied leaders work the best. Have played with all formulas till i got one to lay down right for me. The type of leader materaial is the the facter in that the formula needs to be. So if it is working for you do not change. Me I use Chico’s formula last time is fished bonefish.

  2. I’ve been testing BlueSky’s furled leaders, but haven’t de-boned one yet. Makes nice loops and easier to cast than “regular” leaders.

    My regular bonefish leader system was copied from Tim Mahaffey. “I use 100% flurocarbon leaders, 12- to 18-feet in length depending on the wind. Fluorocarbon sinks better than mono and has more abrasion resistance. My simple leader formula for my 9- and 10-weights are: 6-feet 50-pound butt, 3-feet 30-pound, 2-feet 20-pound, 15-pound tippet . . . adjusted accordingly.”

  3. I use Chico’s formula. It seems to work for me. You may have to think a bit more but the less knots the better. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to go out and buy a knotless, tapered leader but we all like to do things ourselves. That’s why we spend so much time at the vise and bring 1000 more flies on a trip than we every need or use. We’re fly fishermen, stubborn fly fishermen.

  4. I tie my own. I feel like, when I started fly fishing, they didn’t make pre-packaged leaders (or I didn’t know about them, or couldn’t afford them, or something), so I just did what you do – I stick with what works/worked for me.

    I’ve handled some of Chico’s and Lefty’s stuff firsthand and it’s not what I do, but it’s not that different either 🙂

  5. Just wanted to say THANKS for these posts, I love that you do all the leg work for us, keep up the great work!

  6. same formula, a little different execution. 60″ 40#, 18″ 30#, 12″ 25#; 30″ tippet (15#, 12# or 10#) tied with a bimini twist to a blood knot in the 25# mid section. If it is windy, lengthen the butt and shorten the tippet; if calm, lengthen the tippet.

  7. Doug Jeffries

    Leader design like fly selection and design is more a matter of personal preference rather than a key factor in catching fish (that’s my opinion anyway). I’ve not found the leader to be a critical factor in bonefishing. With my piss poor casting I prefer to minimize the number of places bad things can happen so I prefer knotless leaders. Plus, if there is any grass or other things that can grab a leader, knots give it another place to catch. So I go knotless and then add tippet to get the length. Once the tapered knotless section gets so short that the line diameter becomes an issue, I replace the knotless part. One added bennie is I don’t have to carry those extra spools of string. But like Scott said up top, “if it’s working for you, don’t change”.

  8. My favorite guide down in Exuma, recommended next time I come down to bring the knotless tappered leaders at 15lbs. His theory on it was minimizing the number of knots in the leader especially important with big fish. When the fish is slicing through shallow water with the sand humps having those extra knots pull through those add extra tension as well as additional room for user error.

  9. I’m with all points made by Doug and Casey. Time & cost vs. benefits don’t warrant hand-tied. I absolutely agree with the comment about knots collecting grass and bottom snot which can really be a problem with hand-tied. Really the only major advantage I can see is the knots give power to a water haul which can be helpful when reloading for a quick cast. Small advantage though!

  10. Buy knotless tapered and then do as Jordan says: “If it is windy, lengthen the butt and shorten the tippet; if calm, lengthen the tippet.” I usually fish a roughly 10-12 ft leader, 12 lb minimum, strictly mono. None of my knots seem to hold the flour0-to-mono connection if I use flouro tippet, and bones really don’t care. The faster sinking thing is true, and helpful if you’re fishing over sand. But, if you’re fishing over grass you’ll end up pulling your fly through the grass instead of over it, which means the fish probably won’t see your fly, and (even if they do) you’ll probably hang up before they can eat it. About the only time I felt flouro was a necessity was in Hawaii over the volcanic coral bottom where abrasion resistance really mattered.

  11. […] I recently fished Cayo Largo the entire week using a 16-pound tippet and never got a refusal from a bonefish because of the tippet size, just a few sloppy casts. Want to tie your own leaders? Check out some of the best bonefish leader formulas from Bonefish on the Brain. […]

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