Making a Practice Leader for Fly Casting. Explained

So you’re new to fly fishing and your casting sucks!

The best way to improve is to get outside and practice your casting technique on the grass. You don’t need a river or lake.  

But what gear do you need?

A practice leader is a piece of nylon that mimics the actual leader you use when fly fishing.  The benefits of using a practice leader are that you will not ruin your good leaders. Also, choose a color that is easy to see. 

Choosing a practice leader is easy.  In this article, we’ll look at what to use, how to attach the practice leader to your fly line and whether or not to attach a fly to your practice leader. 

Did I need a leader when practicing fly castings?

You need to attach a leader when practicing fly casting.  It is the transfer of energy from your shoulder and arm, through the fly rod to the fly line and then the leader that allows you to present a fly in the right spot to catch a trout.

Without a practice leader you are not mimicking the energy transfer needed to cast a fly line.

What do I use to make a practice leader?

The simplest practice leader is a length of fishing nylon bought cheaply from any fishing store or general supplier.  A 20lb nylon line will be perfect for practice casting.  

Ensure that the line is flexible enough to fly through the air, but not too soft that it will tangle easily. 

Save your money!  

A good tapered leader will be easily damaged when practicing casting on the grass. 

So while it is not entirely as accurate as a store-bought tapered leader, you’ll save yourself lots of money and get nearly the same result.   

What color is best for a practice leader for fly casting?

Any color of nylon is fine. 

However, I’ve found that if I use bright colored nylon such as fluro yellow.  That way, it is easy to watch the leader as well as the fly line as I practice my casting. 

How to build a leader to use for practice casting

Snip off a piece of the nylon about the length of your rod, which is usually 9 feet long  (or 2.7 meters.)

Make a loop in one end of the practice leader using a Perfection Loop.  For instructions, check out this video. 

How to tie a Perfection Loop.

How to attach a practice leader to my fly line?

Once you have created a loop on the end of your practice leader, attach it to the fly line.  A simple Handshake Loop Knot is the simplest loop-to-loop connection.  

Take care to make this knot correctly by passing the fly line loop through the leader loop first.  Not the other way around.  

Then pass the end of the leader through the line loop and make sure the knot sits square and that the leader is not cutting into the fly line loop. 

Fast forward to 2 mins 47 seconds to get straight to the instructions on how to attach a leader to a fly line using connecting loops.

Now you’re ready to start your practice.

Fun Fact
When practicing your fly casting, think about the motion as a push forward and a pull back. It is not a throw or a swing. 

Do I need to attach a fly to my practice leader?

There are two schools of thought.  

Most casting teachers will recommend that you use only a practice leader and no fly!  

The line and leader make the fly rod bend and create the energy to complete a  cast.  You do not need a fly on the leader to make this happen.

Also, the key purpose of practice casting is to develop the muscle memory and timing of fly casting. 

You will learn how it feels as you watch the fly line and leader create the correct type of loop to make a successful cast. 

Adding a fly does little to this stage of developing your casting skills. 

When to add a fly to your practice leader

However, practicing with an appropriate fly can help get a feel of the weight and energy of the complete setup moving through the air while attempting to form efficient loops and make successful presentations.  

It will also help you become more aware of where the fly is landing as you fine-tune your presentation skills.  

But first, cut off the hood bend!  There is no reason to hook yourself when you are just starting out.  

Putting a hook into your neck or any other body part is not something you want to practice.  There’s plenty of time for those mistakes when you’re on the river.  We’ve all done it. 

A third option is to create a fake fly from some indicator material.  Here’s how.

How to make a yarn fly for fly casting practice

Or simply attach a small piece of wool to the end of your leader. 

Fun Fact
As you develop your casting skills, try using different types of fly lines.  You will get to see how it feels to cast with a fly line such as a weight-forward shooting head compared to a lighter floating line. 

The key thing about learning to cast well is to practice. Once you’re on the water there are so many other things to think about but if you practice regularly you’ll soon be catching more fish.