Trout Streamer Leaders for Floating and Full-Sink Lines

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “What’s your streamer leader formula?” The answer depends on two factors: the kind of line I’m using, and what I want the fly to do.

When I’m fishing streamers for trout, I fish two kinds of lines: either an integrated full-sink line or a floater. Let’s start with the full sink.


Here’s a pdf: Trout Streamer Leaders

I use the full sink mostly in winter. Sometimes I’ll use it during warmer weather if the river is running high. I choose the full sink when I want the line to help the fly get down; consequently, the leader is kept short, three feet or less. Anything over three feet and you begin to defeat the purpose of the full-sink line. Don’t worry about the fly being so close to that heavy, dark string — the last thing a predatory brown is focusing on is your line.

There are a few deep holes in the Farmington that I like to dredge in winter. Unfortunately, bottom structure — snags — is often part of the cost of admission to those lairs. That’s when I’ll use the lighter of the two sinking line leader systems, simply because it’s easier to break off the snag from hell.

As you can see, the floating line system is likewise simple. A standard-issue Ox or lx tapered leader does the job nicely. This is what I’ll use for the vast majority of my streamer fishing, or when I am fishing a big floating fly like a mouse pattern. I’ll add tippet material that matches the terminal end of the taper if the leader gets too short. I will also add tippet material if I want to get my fly down deeper. A floating line gives you the ability to mend, and consequently harness the power of the current or sink your fly. So, about 7 1/2 feet for most applications, and about 10 feet to help get the fly deep.

Big trout don’t care about that heavy black string snaking through the water ahead of your fly. Taken on a Deep Threat streamer and a full-sink line.



A floating line, a 7 1/2 foot leader, a presentation near the surface, and all is right in the streamer world.

Big wild brown hen 8-2015


5 comments on “Trout Streamer Leaders for Floating and Full-Sink Lines

  1. Richard Heffernon says:

    Thanks for the thoughts on streamer leaders. Just a clarification where you use the # sign are you meaning 6 or 8 lbs test? not 6 or 8 X?

    • Steve Culton says:

      My pleasure. # = pound, x = x. 🙂

      For further clarification, I mention both in the sinking leader section when I talk about Rio Powerflex. That is, the Rio Powerflex nylon I use is labeled on the spool as Ox and as 15-pound test.

      As always, you can play around with different materials/X value/pound-test as it pleases you. This is simply what I’ve been using the last few years.

  2. Ray Hamilton says:

    Steve, thanks for the observations on trout stream leaders. It is always nice to be reminded of what is possible and while it very often is in agreement with what a person always does there are those variations that are nice to encounter.

  3. […] a recent article Steve Culton runs down leader options for integrated full-sink and floating lines. Read more on which option will best fit your fishing style and needs, via Current […]

  4. […] The water is cold and I suspect the the fish are holding close to the bottom. (Shorter leader, usually no more than 3 feet.) Check out this streamer leader diagram. […]

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