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Polyleaders Will Change How You Fly Fish for Shad

polyleader for shad

I received my first polyleaders as a stocking stuffer for Christmas in 2012. My wife had ventured in to the fly shop on her own, told the guys that she was looking for some fun stocking stuffers, and that I really enjoyed fly fishing for shad. One of them mentioned to her that they had just received these polyleaders, and that he thought it would be a good addition to the bead chain and chenille that she already had in her basket. My wife never could have known at the time, but polyleaders completely changed how I fly fished for shad and it took me from 5-6 fish days, to 20-30 fish days. Sound like a bold statement? Keep reading…

Up until I received my first polyleader, I had only used a floating fly line. I knew sinking lines and sink tip lines existed, but they were expensive, and I thought they really only fit in to a certain niche of fly fishing. I was more pragmatic then, and really could not justify spending 80 bucks on a line, then maybe another 60 bucks on a spare spool so I could swap a floating line for a sink tip line when I felt I needed a bit more depth in my swing. Enter the humble polyleader, an $8.99, 5ft, fast sinking answer to a problem I was not even aware that I had. I attached the polyleader to my fly line using its welded loop, attached 5ft of level 2x tippet to the polyleader, and then attached a shad dart weighted with 5/32 dumbbell eyes to the tippet, and set out on one of the most successful days of fly fishing for shad that I had ever had up to that point.

So what exactly is a polyleader? While Airflo coined the actual term “Polyleader,” other manufacturers have come up with similar products. For instance, RIO has its “Versileader.” For this article, “polyleader” can be defined as, “a section of level core to which a tapered coating is applied, and is available in different lengths and sink rates.” Polyleaders are typically available in 5ft and 10ft lengths, and because the polyleader is tapered, it turns over relatively heavy flies very easily without the hinging effect caused if you were just to add a level section of say, T-8 sink tip. The short story is, a polyleader is a cheap, customizable, swappable sink tip that you can simply add to any floating fly line that you already have. Doing so will extend your reach in to the depths, and allow you to better adapt to your water conditions. Let’s take a look at some specifications:

TypeSink Rate5ft10ft
Float0 ips16gr26gr
Hover0.5 ips17gr28gr
Intermediate1.5 ips18gr30gr
Slow Sink2.6 ips20gr34gr
Fast Sink3.9 ips22gr38gr
Super Fast Sink4.9 ips36gr56gr
Extra Super Fast Sink6.1 ips44gr88gr

On my home water, the upper St. Johns River, depths average between 5-10 feet where I generally fish, so I typically opt for a 5ft polyleader attached to a 5 weight fly line. I typically choose either a Super Fast Sink rate or Extra Super Fast Sink rate and have had great success, especially when paired with 5/32 hourglass eye type flies. If I am fishing downstream towards Lemon Bluff where the water is wider and deeper, I may opt for a 10ft section with the same sink rates.

The key to any sink tip system is to understand how fast the sinking tip sinks, and how deep the water is that you are fishing. Once you have that information, you simply swing the fly as you normally would by quartering upstream, and then count down the fly before starting your retrieve. If I am fishing with an Extra Super Fast sinking polyleader in 6ft of water, I know that I need to count the fly down for about 12 seconds before starting my retrieve to ensure the fly and polyleader are on the bottom. As you might imagine, adjusting where in the swing you start your cast, mends, and when you start your retrieve allows you to cover a larger range of depths and water than you could with just a floating line.

Some of you may ask, “I am using a heavy sinking fly, why do I need a sink tip as well?” The answer is simple, using a sink tip keeps the fly deeper longer, and the shad are generally hanging near the bottom of the river. If you are only using a weighted fly on a floating fly line, when the fly reaches the end of its swing, the floating line pulls the fly through the water column more aggressively than a sinking or sink tip line. This means you are lifting the fly out of the shad’s face right at the critical moment they tend to strike, near the end of the swing or the beginning of the retrieve. Adding even a 5ft section of polyleader allows the fly to stay deeper longer, changes the angle of the fly to fly line connection so the fly rises through the water column more slowly, which gives the fly more time to entice a strike from a shad.

I would encourage even a skeptic to try out a polyleader. For $8.99, you can change how you fly fish for shad, giving you access to water that your fly has probably not spent much time in if you are just using a floating fly line.

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