Making Your Own Furled Leaders
by Breck Miller

To furl, or not to furl?

That is the question. 

Throughout most of my fly fishing career, however short that may be, I've been aware of many different types of tapered leaders.  There were 7.5-foot long leaders, 9-foot leaders, and then any combination of those lengths with the various sizes from 0x down to around 8x somewhere.  But who would ever really use that light a line anyway?  Not being from a predominantly fly-fishing area, forget about dry fly tapers, nymph tapers, and the like.  But of all the different combinations of lengths and sizes, they were all tapered mono.

Why not fish a tapered mono leader?  They are easy to come by, relatively cheap, and don’t have any knots to catch grass and whatever else may be floating around.  But they do have their drawbacks.  The largest for me has been their memory.  After a few days coiled on the reel or in a packet, it can be nearly impossible to detect light biters on a nymph because of the memory coil – and that’s after stretching the leader.  Also, even with all of the “many” combinations out there, it can be difficult to personalize the leader to your needs.  Sure, you can cut down either the butt or tip section, but forget changing the taper.  And then there is the cost.  Wait a minute; I just said that the cost is a positive of tapered mono leaders.  In the world of buying pre-made leaders it is.  Compared to where we are going, however, tapered mono costs an arm and a leg.

So where are we heading with this, you ask?  Good question.  Furled leaders have been around for quite some time, going back to the days when choice leader material was horse hair.  Apparently, furled leaders have stayed more common in Europe; however, they've largely disappeared on the North American scene.  But hang on, boys and girls; they’re coming back – and for good reason.

Furled leaders have many endearing qualities, making them outshine even the beloved tapered mono leaders.  First is the memory of furled leaders.  Basically, there is no memory, particularly when tied with material such as Uni Thread, as demonstrated here.  Even mono in a furled leader has considerably less memory than a straight, tapered mono leader.  Second, furled leaders tend to turn over flies and carry the proper dynamics better than the stiff, high-memory tapered mono.  Third – the cost conundrum.  A quick look-see found me looking at $12 and up for purchased furled leaders.  But, having figured the amount of thread used in my own furled leaders multiplied by the cost per yard of Uni Thread, my furled leaders come to 30 to 35 cents per leader, excluding setup cost of the board and dowels (which really is minor.)  Fourth, there is no limit (within reason) to the adaptability of making your own furled leaders, other than your own imagination.  Use a couple of pre-set layouts for your first leaders, and then move dowels as you choose.  If a particular layout doesn’t work for you, you’re out the whole 30 cents worth of thread and the 10-15 minutes it took to make it.

One last note is that furled leaders also tend to resist wind knots more than tapered mono, but removing said knots when they do happen is more difficult.  But then I’ve never been very good at getting a wind knot out of 5x tippet either.  Also, when tied with colored material over the clear mono, they may also present a spooking issue for sensitive fish.  But many, many fishermen are finding the benefits far outweigh these small drawbacks.

Now that you are utterly and totally convinced that making your own furled leaders is the only way to go (for most situations), we get to the details.  For this step-by-step, I am using olive 3/0 Uni Thread.  Generally, 6/0 is the preferred size for most weights (around 2 wt. up to 6 or 7 wt., depending on who you talk to), but the 3/0 makes it easier to see here, and will make a nice leader for bass or pike.  For some pictures I also use heavier string just to help you see what is going on better.  Don’t worry; I’m not trying to cast a leader made with mason’s string line. 

Building the Jig

The first item you need is a jig.  This is a simply a long board with an end block and pegs.  For mine, as I think is most common, I used an 8-foot long, 1x6 board.  A scrap piece of 2x4 cut to length serves as the end block, and a ½ inch dowel cut into 4-inch pieces serves as the pegs.  When purchasing your dowel, there seems to be considerable variance in the dowels, so pick one that is naturally smooth to start with, and it will save you time and frustration later. 

Screw the 2x4 block on edge at the end of your jig board.  As you can see in the picture, I then use a pen and a square to draw straight, parallel lines 1 inch in from each edge of the board.  These are simply guide lines for my anal retentive mind to use to keep the pegs in a straight line.  Draw a third line down the center of the board as a guide for the end peg and for your tack-points (to be discussed later.)  On the end-block, attach a small (1/2 inch) cup hook in line with each line of pegs.  The higher the hooks are on the block, the better.  For your pegs, drill a pilot hole straight in from one end (bottom) to keep from splitting the peg when you screw it in place.  Finally, using a Dremel or sand paper, round the top edges of the pegs.  While the finished leader is quite strong, the individual threads before twisting can catch, fray, and break easily, ruining your efforts and materials.

The next step is to determine your layout for your pegs.  You can find various formulas on the Internet, or make up your own.  For this leader my pegs are laid out as follows:

Leg 1 – Peg 1 @ 24”; Peg 2 @ 46.5”

Leg 2 – Peg A @ 36”; Peg 2 @ 55.5”

End Peg (X) @ 66”

Mark the positions along the lines that you made, making sure the end point is along the center line.  Drill a pilot hole and screw up through the bottom of the board into the dowel, making sure the dowel is drawn down tight to the 1x6. 

Now that you have your jig, you need a few more items.  First and most obvious is your leader material.  As I mentioned before, I am using Uni Thread as I find it to not only give the best results for most of my work, but also the easiest to work with.  I am using olive 3/0 here for the sake of visibility in the pictures. 

You will also need two thumb tacks, a couple of paper clips, a knit-picker, a couple of ounces of weight, a small spring clamp, a place to hang your leader to furl, a larger cup hook (7/8 inch), and a drill.  A knit-picker is a small hook used to take knits out of sweaters.  You can find these at your local craft shop for less than $2.  For weight, I use three 1-ounce bell weights with a wire hook on the top.  You can use any style you find available. For a place to hang your leader, some just put their jigs up on end and let it hang, or have a stand.  I use a bar clamp attached to a door.  The end of the bar has a hole in it, through which I have put a paper clip as a hook.  Use whatever works.

Making The Leader

When fully looped and before twisting, your leader will consist of a long set of loops, from one cup hook to the other, folded over at the end peg.  Each side is refered to as a ‘leg’.  Each leg is twisted individually in the same direction, and then allowed to twist around each other, or furl, giving you the final leader.  The section near the end block will be the butt section and the section by the end peg will be the tip section.

Begin your loops by tying a simple overhand loop in the end of your thread, and trim the tag end as close as you can to the knot, even right against it.  Don’t worry.  Because of the nature of Uni Thread, this knot will not pull out on you.  Hook this loop over one of the cup hooks on your end block.  Which leg you begin with does not matter.  I start with the closer side out of habit.  Run your thread down around the first peg (1), from the outside of the board to the center, and back to the cup hook.  This is one loop.  Keeping the loops close to the top of the pegs will make it easier for you.  For the formula I am using, I will actually be making 5 complete loops in this first section.

After 5 loops, run the thread as if starting another loop, but go past peg 1 to peg 2, giving you 5 ½ wraps in the first section, or 11 strands.  Wrap around peg 2 and back to peg 1.  Here, run your thread on the inside of the peg above of the first set of loops, pass the spool down through the first set of loops at what is now the back of the peg, and then around the other side of the peg below the first set of loops back towards the second peg.  The interlocking connection that this makes between the two loops is essential in keeping the whole thing together.  This now gives me one complete loop in the second section, and I will make 2 ½ loops here.

These are exaggerated pictures of what the interlocking loops will look like on the peg and off.

After 2 loops, run the thread past peg 2, around the end peg (X), and to the outside of peg B on the other leg.  Loop back around the end peg (X) and to peg 2 in the first leg, giving you one loop.  Again make the interlocking loop and circle back around the end peg (X) to peg B on the second leg.  This is 1 ½ loops and all that the end section is getting. 

Run the thread past peg B to the peg A on the second leg and again make 2 ½ interlocking loops on this section, and 5 ½ interlocking loops in the last section between the peg A and the cup hook on the end block.  This is essentially the same as the first leg, just in reverse order.  To finish, measure about the length you need and tie another overhand loop knot in the thread.  Fit it over the cup hook and trim the tag end.  This should be done so there is little to no slack in the loop.

Phew.  We’ve made it through the most complicated part of this process.  It took a few words, but the actual doing of it is easier than the writing, so don’t be discouraged. 

The next step in the process is the twisting of each leg.  This is most easily accomplished with a drill.  Fit the larger cup hook into the drill chuck.  I use a larger hook here to help keep the loops on the hook better while twisting.  Using your small spring clamp, clamp the thread to the sides of the end peg (X) so they don’t slip while you are working on one leg. 

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