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ORVIS – Fly Fishing Lessons – How to Unravel a Tapered Leader

In the world of fly fishing, one often overlooked but crucial step is how to unravel a prepackaged knotless leader. As Phil Monahan, editor of Orvis News and, explains in his informative video, many anglers struggle with this task. However, there are a couple of secrets and techniques that can make this process much easier. Whether you’re fishing for trout or striped bass, understanding the correct way to unravel a tapered leader is essential for a successful fishing outing. When you first remove the leader from its package, you’ll notice it’s tightly coiled. The most significant mistake you can make is starting at the narrow end, as the coils are actually wrapped around the fat end. To begin, you need to determine the direction of the coils and then carefully undo the wraps, removing all the loops that hold them together. By doing this, the leader will start to come unraveled, but don’t make the common mistake of assuming you’re done and dropping the coils. Instead, follow the technique taught by angler Macaulay Lord. Shape the fingers of your left hand into a cone, slip the coils over the cone, and gradually spread your fingers to catch the coils. This way, as the coils loosen, you can expand your fingers slightly. Finally, when you reach the narrow portion, you won’t create a knot, and your leader will be unraveled and ready for use.

ORVIS – Fly Fishing Lessons – How to Unravel a Tapered Leader

Fly fishing is not only a beloved sport but also an art that requires practice, precision, and an understanding of various techniques. One essential skill that every angler must master is how to unravel a tapered leader. A tapered leader is a vital component in fly fishing, helping to ensure a smooth and accurate cast. However, the coiled structure of a prepackaged leader can cause frustration and tangles if not unraveled properly. In this article, we will guide you through the process of unraveling a tapered leader, step by step, to enhance your fishing experience.

ORVIS - Fly Fishing Lessons - How to Unravel a Tapered Leader

Understanding the Coiled Structure of a Prepackaged Leader

Before we delve into the unraveling process, it is crucial to understand the coiled structure of a prepackaged leader. A tapered leader is designed to transfer energy efficiently from the fly line to the fly, allowing for delicate presentations and precise control. These leaders are carefully constructed with varying diameters, tapering down gradually from the thicker butt section to the finer tippet section. To maintain their shape and prevent tangling during storage, prepackaged leaders are tightly wound into coils.

Starting from the Fat End: Undoing the Wraps

To initiate the unraveling process, start from the fat end of the tapered leader. Gently hold the leader near the connection point with the fly line, ensuring a secure grip. Using your other hand, cautiously begin to unwind the leader’s coils. Be patient and take care not to tug forcefully or create unnecessary tension. Gradually loosen the wraps until the leader becomes free and unwound. If you encounter any tight spots or knots, address them delicately to avoid damaging the leader.

Preventing a Tangled Mess: Using the Cone Trick

To prevent a potential tangled mess, there is a useful trick called the cone trick that you can employ. This technique involves using a small plastic cone, often provided with the prepackaged leader, or a DIY alternative like a pencil eraser. Place the cone or eraser on the fat end of the leader, effectively widening its diameter temporarily. By doing so, the coiled leader can unravel smoothly without tangling or intertwining. Remember to remove the cone or eraser once the leader is unwound to ensure proper functionality during casting.

Removing the Coils Smoothly

After employing the cone trick or if you prefer not to use it, it’s time to remove the remaining coils smoothly. Hold the leader securely at the fat end with one hand while using your other hand to gently separate the coils. Gradually slide your fingers along the leader, spreading the coils apart until the entire leader is straightened. Take your time and exercise caution to avoid tangling or stretching the leader unnecessarily.

Reducing Memory: Pulling Along the Leader

As a prepackaged leader remains coiled for an extended period, it may develop memory, causing it to revert to its coiled shape during casting. To reduce memory and ensure optimal performance, it is advisable to pull the leader along its entire length. Secure the leader near the butt section and use a firm grip to pull the leader through your fingers. This action helps to straighten the leader further and eliminate any residual memory. Repeat this process a few times, working your way from the fat end to the tippet section.


Unraveling a tapered leader is a necessary skill that every fly fisher should master. By understanding the coiled structure, starting from the fat end, using the cone trick, removing the coils smoothly, and reducing memory, you can enhance your casting performance and enjoy a tangle-free fishing experience. remember to handle the leader gently and exercise patience throughout the process. With practice, you will become adept at untangling even the most intricately wound leaders. So, next time you’re on the water, approach your tapered leader with confidence, knowing that you can efficiently unravel it with ease. Happy fishing!

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