Odds 'n' Sods of Information and Opinion

Long leaders and deep swings

Any of you who have read Jock Scott’s or Bill McMillan’s works will have some familiarity with fishing deep using nothing more than a fly tied on a big hook and a long leader. It’s worth taking another look at these techniques as they can be very rewarding, especially when applied to intermediate lines.

Let’s start off by saying that this is a more difficult technique to fish at a consistent depth. It requires a deft touch on the cast, on the mend and on the swing to manage depth, plus it takes the right kind of fly and leader. It is easier to swing a sinktip and manage depth than to use a deep wet fly swing, so the learning will come with its share of frustration.

This method doesn’t work if the fly cannot sink fast on its own and then stay down. The key elements are a heavy, up eye hook, a low set wing and a very sparse hackle or collar. Heavily dressed, light flies will not get down nor stay down. Weighted flies will do the job, but they are hard to consistently cast on a long leader. Here’s an example of an unweighted fly that will sink close to a rate of nine inches per second and its low set wing will keep it down thanks to the slight amount of downforce being created. This fly is so effective at getting down that there are some runs it actually snags up too often unless I really shorten up the leader.


To get the best bang out of the fly, the leaders need to be both long and skinny, typically 15’ or more. My typical long leaders start with a 15 lb. butt section and taper down to 8 or 10 lb. tippet. If you’re worried about the 15 lb. cutting into soft fly line loops, then start with a short piece of 25 or 30 lb. as a transition. I always make my leaders out of fluorocarbon as it is denser than mono and sinks well on its own. Sometimes mono can get trapped in the surface film and actually impede the sink of the fly.

Once we have a fly that will get down and stay down, tied on the end of a long, skinny, fluorocarbon leader, we then need to be able to cast and swing it at depth.

How to get maximum fly sink:
  • Use the longest leader you can comfortably cast.
  • Cast more square to the current or even sightly upstream. This minimizes current lift on the leader for the first part of the swing.
  • Allow the cast to run out of gas so that there is incomplete turnover, allowing the fly to sink unimpeded.
  • Make an upstream mend to orient the line more downstream and to partially straighten out the leader. This mend should not move the fly. The line will then be more oriented parallel to the current, which will slow the swing, minimizing lift on the leader and allow the fly to sink.
  • Follow the line downstream with the rod tip, while applying minimum tension. Low tension will slow the swing and minimize current lift on the leader.

How to minimize fly sink:
  • Shorten and thicken the leader. Use a mono butt section if necessary.
  • Angle casts more downstream. These sharper angles will produce current lift on the leader immediately.
  • Have the cast come up hard on the reel, ensuring complete turnover. With the leader tight, the fly sink is restricted.
  • Do not make an upstream mend. Mend downstream if necessary to keep the fly up by increasing the swing speed. The faster the fly swings, the greater the lift on the leader, the higher the fly will swing.
  • After casting, keep the rod tip stationary or pull upstream to maximize tension. Greater tension produces higher swing speeds and greater lift on the leader, reducing fly sink.

How to adjust between maximum and minimum sink.
  • Broaden or narrow the casting angle
  • Control turnover to ether increase or decrease the free sink time of the fly
  • Judicious use of mends
  • Adjust leader length
  • Moderate swing speed via adjusting tension using the rod tip position.

It can be tough to decide which of these methods to use and by how much, so I usually start by using the maximize methods and back off from them if I’m hitting bottom and hanging up. It does take a while to dial in these methods so we have to be prepared to persevere through fishless days and lots of lost flies, but once mastered, it’s a great way to fish.