Jeremy Lucas: Presentation leader technique and tenkara

Tenkara guide Jeremy Lucas
There has been quite a lot of interest in what I have been writing recently about leader construction, for both fixed line and western-style techniques. The same principles apply to each; the same mechanics, and these are largely misunderstood. All fly casting relies on the mass of line, leader and flies being completely extended (turned over) on the forward delivery. More significant, however, is momentum, the product of mass and velocity. In western-style, fly line provides significant mass, sufficient to load the rod, and line speed is fairly slow. In tenkara, or any fixed line approach, there is insufficient mass to adequately flex the rod and line speed must be comparatively high in order to produce this load, with consequent turnover. There are, however, ways in which we can improve the line/leader/tippet system in order to optimise the mass component and thereby rely less on very high line speed.
Presentation leader and tenkara - grayling
The AFTMA system of line/rod loading has held back development for decades.  This system offers a very rough guide for the optimum loading of a rod, using the first 30' of a conventional fly line.  This is plainly ridiculous because such length of line is seldom used.  It is usually much less in river fishing, and much more with the lengths aerialised in long distance casting on lakes and salt water.  The modern western-style fly rod is hugely forgiving of the loading mass, however, and this allows us to use these varying lengths of line and leader, and still achieve good turnover throughout the range.  With the trend towards very short range fishing on the river, however, when little or no fly line is employed, and in tenkara generally, all our casting momentum has to be achieved with comparatively low mass leaders (ignoring the fly's mass, which in terms of dry fly presentation is indeed negligible).

Ideally we need to load as much mass as possible in the leader itself, and preferably well away from the rod tip. If this area of the leader is moved quickly through the air during fore and back casts then sufficient momentum is achieved. The weight forward profile of distance casting fly lines utilise this principle, while those of us preferring double taper profiles simply aerialise more line, or increase the rod tip speed (and thus the line speed). Early French leaders (and even now those commercially available) adhered to a gradual taper, though steep, and could not achieve a high enough mass, far enough from the rod tip, in order to cast a dry fly at any significant range, approaching 10 metres. My own 'presentation leader' was designed to have enough mass, in the correct place, in the form of a braided or furled section between leader and tippet.  

Presentation leader and tenkara - grayling

Progressive tenkara anglers, aided by generally softer, longer rods, have been ahead of the game, by giving better consideration to taper, and also the materials used in leader construction, such that today we have forward loading of mass (like the WF fly line profile), and also incorporation of stiff, comparatively high-mass materials such as furled fluorocarbon and horse hair.  The latter has been a wonderful re-discovery, taking me back to the retro period of wild fly fishing in my youth, and I wonder now at what we have missed, because it is an outstanding material in terms of its properties, which include stiffness, lack of water absorption, easy application and retention of grease, and comparatively high mass (or density). 

My presentation leader was developed for leader-only (western-style), principally for nymph and dry fly on the river. A year ago I adapted this to a fixed line version. The overall length is 12' (3.6m) and consists of a thread loop (for lilian attachment) whipped onto 0.55mm copolymer tapering down to 0.25mm. This is connected to a 12” (30cm) section of 12 strand furled horse hair, looped at each end. This latter section therefore provides the connectivity between leader and tippet sections. It also provides (particularly when greased) the most significant mass in the entire leader construction, in precisely the correct position for controlled casting and turnover. It is possible, of course, to construct the entire leader from sections of furls (snoods), though I am currently dissatisfied with the connectivity between these sections. Any form of knotting is crude and the best (smoothest) junctions are obtained by whipping each section together with fly tying thread, though this process is time-consuming. As mentioned in my last post, we would welcome readers sharing their findings in the context of connectivity of discontinuous leader sections, especially using horse hair.

As I write this the weather is plummeting towards deep winter and the river (Eden) seems an inhospitable place. The blue winged olives, so abundant only a month ago, are now completely absent and rises rarely to be seen. We are in the midst of a 'nymphy' period, in pursuit of the deep-lying grayling. Most anglers we see out during this period are nowadays fishing leader-to-hand with double or triple nymph rigs; essentially Czech nymph in the developed Euro-style. The longer (than western-style) tenkara rods offer excellent presentation and control for such rigs, fished at very short range. It helps hugely, however, to use only one heavy nymph on the team, and to have this on the point position. With two or even three heavy flies, the rod flex is too extreme and there is significant loss of control over the dead-drifting nymphs.

I will shortly be putting the calendar of next year's courses and hosted trips (which will include Eden in Cumbria, Slovenia, Czech and the San in Poland) up on my website ( Do take a look and get in touch with me if you are interested in any of these.

Presentation leader and tenkara - dec grayling

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