Sunday, March 20, 2016

"We prefer to make our own..."

This post was inspired by the legendary Joe Humphreys.

Joe Humphreys, circa 1988 

One of the first of many fly fishing educational materials I have acquired in my life was a video called "Fly Fishing Success: Dry Fly Strategy with Joe Humphreys" presented by Rod & Reel Magazine. I still have this video... and it may be one of the only reasons I still hang on to a functional VCR.

The video quality is still surprisingly good.

I bought the video from a very unexpected place- a local Memphis discount drug and grocery store (no longer in existence) called Ike's. If memory serves me correctly, I found the VHS tape in a bargain bin of what appeared to be secondhand rental videos... no longer fit to earn their keep on the rental racks... the year was 1994. The video has a copyright date of 1988, so by '94 it was already dated material, and as we all know the heyday of VHS was already drawing to a close by that time. My world was pretty small in 1994. I was a 16 year old kid without a car, no fly fishing friends or mentors, and very little knowledge of the world that was out there waiting to be explored with a fly rod. The fact that I found this video on a random trip to the neighborhood store with my mom is something of a miracle, but it definitely influenced my development as a fly fisher.

Joe's video opened my eyes to a world that I barely knew existed. I learned so much from that video, but readily admit that I forget so many of the invaluable tips and techniques that Joe shares. I would be a much better fly fisher if I remembered to do everything Joe taught me. There are a number of things that really stuck with me... like letting the trout see the fly first and not your leader, by positioning your cast and subsequent drift in such a way that the leader doesn't drift over the trout first. I recalled what Joe said and used this technique to my advantage at least a couple of times when Bill and I went fishing recently on the Sipsey. I also remember the emphasis that Joe put on leader construction... saying several times in the video, "if my leader is built correctly" then he might be successful.

Joe Humphreys learned his basic formula for dry fly leader construction from his late mentor George Harvey- the "Dean of American Fly Fishing." For a little insight into George Harvey's devotion to formulating the perfect leader, read the article "George Harvey: New Leader Formula" from Fly Fisherman magazine... an article published in 2000 when Harvey was nearly 89 years old! Despite other recent scandals and controversies, Penn State University has been very fortunate to have had these two fly fishing legends be a part of their history. Truthfully, Joe Humphreys might not have been the Joe Humphreys we know today without George Harvey, and Penn State might not have had any sort of fly fishing legacy at all. I just know the random and infrequently offered fly fishing class (that I never got an opportunity to take) at my university wasn't taught by such renowned faculty.

So, in regards to leaders in the video, there is an entire segment devoted to leader construction, and according to Joe and his viewpoint on commercially available tapered leaders, "we prefer to make our own... to get the job done." (I really like the use of the first person plural "we"... I see what you did there, Joe... making me feel lazy and inadequate by using one of those newfangled extruded tapered leaders... damn he's good.)

Joe obviously takes his leader construction very seriously and speaks in a very serious tone about preparation during the leader segment...
"When you're out on the stream, you must be prepared." 
"The moral of the story... if you're not prepared, it can be a disaster."
Joe obviously takes preparation very seriously too, and I'm trying to follow his example as I prepare for our big Florida spring break bass trip. One of the things I decided to do this year to better prepare was to have more heavy duty bass leaders ready to go for the trip. Sure we'll be using some of the now standard 9' 3X tapered leaders in our efforts to catch small river-dwelling Suwannee Bass (Micropterus notius), but for our lake fishing for big Largemouths... "we prefer to make our own."

Or at least that's what I'm going to try to do.

I've already made a prototype, and I've realized that my knot tying needs a little work... joining 40 and 50 lb test with a blood knot ain't the smoothest operation... and I admittedly haven't tied much line of that diameter.  I'm using rather inexpensive line for the butt sections- 40 and 50 lb test Tournament Choice Pro Cat Hi-Visibility Green monofilament. The mid section is slightly better quality- 30 lb Berkley Trilene Big Game. The next to last section is 20 lb P-Line Floroclear, and the tippet is 14 lb SpiderWire Ultracast. We'll be fishing in and around lily pads so the 14 lb "tippet" may or may not be needed. I've heard a lot of people say "just use a 6' piece of 20 lb test for a bass leader," and I have tried this method. In my opinion... it sucks. Using that method, there is no butt section or hinge to help turn over big flies. Now if all you plan to do is heave a heavy Clouser Minnow (which is essentially a weighted jig) out there... then I'm sure that'll work just fine. But I'm fishing "dry flies" for bass. Not dry flies in the traditional sense, but large size 4 and up surface bugs- BoogleBug poppers, Stealth Bombers, etc. As silly as it may sound to some, I like to focus on as delicate a presentation as possible with these mega dry flies. Regardless of whether it's a trout or a bonefish or a bass, the softer the presentation the less likely you are to spook fish.

My arsenal of country fried leader making supplies.

I'm sure my idea of "dry fly" leader construction would make some of the purists, and maybe even Joe Humphreys, cringe just a little... but I'm okay with that. I live in bass country, and I won't apologize for being a bass fly rodder.

If any of you have ever constructed your own leaders, please comment below. Whether you have advice or criticism or whatever, I'm ready to hear it. Also, if you're a fan of Joe Humphreys, you should probably know about this:

Please support Live The Stream if you can. I know I'm looking forward to the finished film.


  1. Jay
    Wish that VHS tape was in CD form; one can never learn enough about fly fishing. I learn something new just about every time I wade into the water. Thanks for sharing

    1. Bill,
      Howard thinks someone has converted this to digital. I'll try to find it for you. If not, I'll let you borrow it... and my VCR if you need it. ;)

  2. Hi Jay! I'm pretty sure I've seen a copy of this that someone converted to digital. Jay, take a lot of've got some catching up to do.

    1. Pictures are definitely going to be taken. Hopefully we'll catch some lunkers that are truly picture worthy. We need to find this video on digital for Bill. It's really good stuff. Joe Humphreys has to be one of the best fly fishing educators that has ever graced our sport.

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