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ORVIS – Fly Fishing Lessons – How To Unravel A Fly Fishing Leader

Have you ever encountered difficulties when trying to transition a new knotless, tapered leader from its packaging to the end of your fishing line? If you are in a hurry and hastily attempt to tug on one end without properly uncoiling it, you run the risk of creating knots in the leader and ultimately creating a frustrating and tangled mess. To avoid such complications, it is crucial to exercise patience and begin the process from the thicker end of the leader, gradually working your way down to the thinner tippet end.

For additional techniques and tips to enhance your fly fishing abilities, kindly explore our assortment of other valuable resources. Fly fishing can be a rewarding and relaxing activity, but it’s not without its challenges. One of these challenges is unravelling a fly fishing leader. If you’re not careful, you can quickly end up with a tangled mess that can ruin your fishing experience. However, with a bit of patience and know-how, you can easily navigate this obstacle. When dealing with a new knotless, tapered leader, it’s important to take your time and work from the thicker end down to the thinner tippet end. Rushing or simply pulling on one end can result in knots and headaches. To learn more about improving your fly fishing skills, be sure to explore our other helpful resources offered by The Orvis Company.

While some anglers enjoy tying their own leaders, many of us opt for prepackaged knotless tapered leaders. These leaders offer ease of use and perform beautifully, but their biggest drawback lies in getting them out of the package. You may know someone who has struggled with this or have faced this challenge yourself. It’s not uncommon to find yourself in a predicament where the leader resembles a tangled mess. However, there is a solution that only requires a little patience and some know-how. When unwinding the leader, ensure that you untangle all the loops and carefully remove any coils. By securing the loops over your fingers and maintaining tension, you can successfully navigate the process without any mishaps. The result is a limber, knot-free nine-foot leader, allowing you to focus on the joy of fly fishing without getting sidelined by a tangled leader. Stay efficient and enjoy your time on the water!

ORVIS – Fly Fishing Lessons – How To Unravel A Fly Fishing Leader


When it comes to fly fishing, having a properly unraveled fly fishing leader is crucial to ensure a successful and enjoyable angling experience. a knotless tapered leader is a common choice for many fly fishermen due to its simplicity and effectiveness. However, unraveling the coils of a knotless tapered leader can be a daunting task for beginners and even experienced anglers. In this guide, we will explore the step-by-step process of unraveling a fly fishing leader, along with tips and techniques to make the task easier and more efficient.

Unraveling the Knotless Tapered Leader

Before we delve into the intricacies of unraveling a fly fishing leader, it’s important to understand what a knotless tapered leader is and why it is widely used. A knotless tapered leader is a single piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon line that tapers from a thick butt section to a thin tippet section. This tapered design enables smooth and accurate casting, as well as proper presentation of the fly to the fish.

To unravel a knotless tapered leader, you need to start by identifying the loops or coils that hold the leader together. These coils are typically formed during the manufacturing process and are designed to prevent tangling and provide a convenient way to store and transport the leader. However, when it’s time to fish, these coils must be carefully unraveled to ensure optimal performance on the water.

ORVIS - Fly Fishing Lessons - How To Unravel A Fly Fishing Leader

Steps to Unwind the Coils

To unravel the coils of a knotless tapered leader, follow these simple steps:

  1. Inspect the leader: Before attempting to unravel the coils, carefully inspect the leader for any twists, tangles, or knots. It’s important to address these issues before proceeding, as they can impede the proper unwinding of the leader.

  2. Hold the leader: Firmly grasp the thick butt section of the leader with your non-dominant hand. This will provide stability and control while unraveling the coils.

  3. Identify the loops: Look for the loops formed by the coils of the leader. These loops are usually visible every several inches along the length of the leader. They can be seen as small circular twists or folds.

  4. Loosen the loops: Using your dominant hand, gently pull apart the loops one by one. Apply a steady and even pressure to untangle the coils without causing any damage to the leader.

  5. Repeat the process: Continue loosening the loops and unwinding the coils until the entire leader is straight and free from any remaining tangles.

Securing the Loops

Once the leader has been successfully unraveled, it’s important to secure the loops to prevent them from re-forming during casting or retrieval. This is particularly crucial when using a longer leader, as the loops can catch on guides, fly line, or other obstructions.

To secure the loops, you can use a simple overhand knot or a loop-to-loop connection. An overhand knot involves tying a small knot at the end of the leader, just below the tippet section. This will form a small loop that can be easily attached to your fly line or tippet ring using a loop-to-loop connection. Alternatively, you can use a loop-to-loop connection directly between the leader and the fly line without the need for an additional knot.

Securing the loops ensures that the unraveled leader remains straight and tangle-free throughout your fishing session, enabling smooth and accurate casts.

Maintaining Tension While Pulling

While unraveling a fly fishing leader, it’s essential to maintain tension on the coils to avoid creating additional twists or tangles. Proper tension keeps the leader in a straight and untangled state, ensuring optimal performance when casting and presenting the fly.

To maintain tension while pulling the coils apart, utilize your non-dominant hand to hold the butt section of the leader firmly. Apply enough pressure to keep the coils straight, but avoid excessive force that could stretch or damage the leader. With your dominant hand, gently and steadily pull the loops apart, unwinding them without losing tension on the rest of the leader.

This technique of maintaining tension while pulling allows for a smooth and controlled unraveling process, preventing the formation of new tangles and ensuring the leader’s integrity.

Dealing with Coils

Despite your best efforts, it’s not uncommon to encounter some persistent coils or twists when unraveling a knotless tapered leader. This can be frustrating and may hinder the performance of the leader while fly fishing. However, there are a few techniques you can employ to effectively deal with these stubborn coils.

One method is to moisten your fingers slightly before pulling apart the coils. The moisture reduces friction, making it easier to untangle the loops without undue resistance. Additionally, using a gentle twisting motion while pulling can help unravel tight coils. By slowly rotating your hand in one direction while applying tension, you can gradually undo the stubborn knots and achieve a straight, untangled leader.

Patience is key when dealing with persistent coils. Take your time, be methodical in your approach, and don’t hesitate to pause and readjust your grip or technique if necessary. With practice, you will become more proficient at unraveling the coils and minimizing unwanted tangles.

Benefits of Unraveling Properly

Properly unraveling a fly fishing leader offers several benefits that contribute to a more enjoyable and successful fishing experience. By taking the time to unwind the coils correctly, you can:

  1. Improve casting: A straight and untangled leader enables smooth and accurate casts, facilitating precise fly presentation and increasing your chances of enticing a fish to strike.

  2. Prevent tangles: Unraveling the knots and coils prevents tangling during casting and retrieval, reducing frustrations and time wasted in untangling snags.

  3. Extend leader lifespan: Coils left unaddressed can lead to stretching, kinking, and weakening of the leader material. By consistently unraveling the leader, you can prolong its lifespan and maintain its strength and performance.

  4. Enhance fly presentation: An unraveled leader allows the fly to move naturally in the water, mimicking the behavior of real insects or baitfish. This natural presentation increases the likelihood of enticing fish to bite.

  5. Increase fishing efficiency: Unraveling the leader eliminates any unnecessary drag or interference caused by twisted or tangled coils, ensuring a seamless connection between the fly line and the fly.

Overall, investing the time and effort into properly unraveling a fly fishing leader pays dividends in terms of improved casting, reduced tangles, extended leader lifespan, enhanced fly presentation, and increased fishing efficiency.


Unraveling a knotless tapered leader is a fundamental skill that every fly fisherman should master. By following the steps outlined in this guide and employing the techniques and tips provided, you can confidently unravel your leader and enjoy the benefits of smoother casts, improved fly presentation, and a more productive angling experience. Remember, practice makes perfect, so take the time to hone your unravelling skills, and you’ll reap the rewards on the water. Happy fishing!

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