England's Scott Nellins makes his own for very delicate presentation on rivers

french-leaders_01WE fly anglers tend to follow trends. Be it new methods, or new fly-tying materials, these trends usually come from competition anglers looking for an edge over fellow competitors. As the latest fly patterns or new methods gradually get into every angler's hands, it leaves match fishermen back at square one.

I'm sure most river anglers have used the New Zealand (or 'Duo') method as well as the hugely popular Czech Nymphing tactics. Both these techniques are very effective in the correct conditions but their popularity can also lead to their downfall.

In clear water for example these tactics are less effective as fish can be put off by the splashes of three heavy nymphs when Czech Nymphing or the repeated casting of the New Zealand method.

To get round this problem, the French came up with a method involving an extremely long tapered leader to present one or two very small nymphs delicately to spooky fish upstream. Flies down to a beaded size 20 can be presented up to 30 feet away while giving the angler excellent control over the nymphs.

The method has helped them win numerous medals at World and European level so its effectiveness cannot be questioned. The first French leader I used was tied by fellow England Team member Howard Croston. I took it to the Youth World Championships in the USA in 2007 and won three sessions, and finished third in another using the same leader. I've since tweaked that one to suit my style and still have the same fantastic results when the more common methods have failed.


TO use this method effectively you'll need a long, light, soft action rod. There are two main reasons. Firstly, the Langer length enables the leader to be 'cast' upstream 30 feet away from your position. A10 or n-foot rod, rated 3 or 4 is ideal. Secondly, the soft action cushions the extremely light tippets against the lunges and runs of a good size trout or grayling. The method is

characterised by the leader, which can be anywhere between 3.5 to nine metres long. I go for the nine-metre version that I tie myself.

I like to use home-made leaders as it allows me to tailor it to my style. If you're tying your own, use stiff material to ensure effective turnover. When tying your own French leaders pay no attention to the breaking strain of the monofilament you're using. Very often different brands state different breaking strains for the same diameter. My leader starts at 0.58 to o.6omm diameter and tapers down to o.zomm. I join the different lines with double grinner knots. The knots themselves have a special purpose. Tied correctly, the knots will get caught up with your rod rings and stop the leader from falling back towards your reel.

Indicator section

AT the business end I use a section or sections of coloured monofilament to act as an indicator. For dirty water bright yellow is fine, but when the water is clear I go for dull yellow and red in nine-inch sections. The duller colours won't spook fish as easily yet the contrasting colours are easier to see. After this, another one-foot section of 0.18mm fluorocarbon with the figure-of-eight loop tied at the end completes the rig. I use fluorocarbon here, as this section is very often subsurface. To this, your tippet is tied. For two flies, I have five foot to my first, and then a further three foot to my point fly. The water you're fishing generally won't be more than six foot deep so this set up allows you to fish water up to this depth comfortably. If you haven't tried French Nymphing, start off by using a short 3.5 to 5-metre version, then move on to longer ones as you feel more confident with your accuracy and presentation.

French leaders can now be bought ready-made from a few places, most of which are very good, especially the Hends varieties, which are made with French 'Camou' monofilament and are practically knotless. I prefer to use ones that are hand-tied. There are many versions or tapers depending on angler preference.

Casting without fly line


WITH the correct equipment, fishing the French leader is surprisingly easy given its effectiveness. You may think that by not having any fly line outside the rod tip, casting would be impossible, but this isn't so. Let your tackle do the work. The long soft rod combined with a stiffleader makes casting surprisingly simple, yet becoming a master of the technique, especially with the nine-metre leader, will take time.

Once mastered, covering a large river like the Welsh Dee from one wading area is not difficult at all. Flies or fly are always cast upstream of your position using the full length of leader. As a general rule, I have the start of the fly line just outside of the reel but not to hand. This is in contrast to Czech Nymphing where the flies are fished much closer, under the rod tip in most cases and the fly line a few feet outside of the tip ring. Allow the flies to sink and track them downstream with the rod.

The rod is held at full arms length pointing upwards at around a 45-degree angle. As the flies swim downstream, adjust the angle of the rod so the indicator line continues to kiss the surface of the river. Allow the flies to drift for as long as possible before they rise in the water column, then re-cast and repeat. By keeping your indicator just above the surface, takes can be seen quite easily. As there's no drag with the French leader, takes are very confident, often pulling the rod down, nearly out of your hand at times.

Strike at any sign of irregular movement, be it the line stopping, pulling down or upstream. I've even seen the leader go slack as a fish takes the fly and swims downstream.

From whatever position you're stood in the river, think of it as a grid or clock face. Start at 12, then i, 2,3 and so on every foot across the main flow of the river. Once you reach the end, move up a few paces and start again. By doing this, you can literally sweep the whole river and provided you have the correct flies, catch lots offish. When the river slows up or goes deep, jig your rod tip as your flies start to pass downstream. This imparts life into the flies and can be deadly for grayling.

The flies


WHEN it comes to flies, standard tungsten beaded nymphs are best. You'll catch far more fish if you tie your own flies, as you can experiment in colours and sizes. Make sure you've got a good selection of different size and colour of tungsten beads as well. I often start with gold or silver, but if the water is fished regularly, then opt for black or copper beads because they're less obtrusive to the more selective fish. If you're tying or buying river flies, make sure they're on barbless hooks rather than barbed, which you have to de-barb. Barbless hooks are designed as such, and coupled with a soft rod they very rarely allow fish to escape. Barbed hooks on the other hand are not designed to be de-barbed and so don't have the same holding power, especially on small fish.

If you haven't tried the French leader method then you're missing out on some top class sport because once you've got the right equipment and the correct technique it will put more fish in your net.

Experiment with the tapers and length of your leader until you get one that suits you. Once you do, take my advice and make up some to the same specifications, there's nothing worse than losing it in that overhanging tree.

French leader tips

  1. Use a long, light, soft rod.
  2. Make your leaders up with stiff
    material for better turnover.
  3. Experiment with the colour of the
    beads on your flies.
  4. Jig your rod tip up-and-down
    in the slacker parts of the pool to
    impart life into your flies.
  5. Keep your indicator section of line
    above the surface at all times.

Source: Trout Fisherman No. 408, pp. 26-28