Slow Action Long-Range Indicator French Leader

There are many configurations and "correct" versions of european nymphing leaders with many purists on the interwebs claiming to have the only true european method. The simple fact is that not every leader rig will work for every situation. I have spent the better part of twenty years modifying and tweaking "Czech" leaders to suit my needs and trying every leader I can get my hands on. I have built and fished countless leaders from hand tied mono leaders to furled leaders or simply using long lengths of level monofilament. The leader rig I describe on this page has risen to the top of the heap to become my base leader of choice that has been tested on many rivers, fish and anglers of all skill levels.

I am not a purist in any sense of the word nor am I following Fips Mouche sanctioned events and rules. I simply want to have as many options as possible to choose from when I am out fishing. Fishing large western rivers such as the Colorado, Deschutes, Madison or Roaring Fork Rivers require a different set up than a traditional Czech or Polish rig can handle. I have found on these large western rivers, the French leader system to be the best option for fishing a tight line while still keeping in direct contact with my flies at distances not easily obtained with Czech leaders. When fishing smaller rivers, switching to a traditional Czech leader is a good option. There are no right or wrongs, simply methods that work better than others in any given situation; this is what tactical fly fishing is all about. 

My preferred base leader is hand built with a formula taken from Jonathan White's book French Nymphing the New Way. I like the "Slow Action Long-Range Indicator Leader" described on page 17 because I can make accurate long range distance casts with it. I make a bicolored sighter that can be greased with floatant for long range drifts where the base leader and sighter will float on the surface of the water.

Allowing the base leader to float is an important feature to the French leader. Employing a tight (straight) line on the leader allows the angler to remain in contact with the fly while the sighter is incredibly sensitive providing amazing visual feedback. The sighter is a very important tool in this set up acting much like a bobber indicator where you may lose the feel of the take but still keep in visual contact. The sighter also indicates the location and depth of your fly in relation to the leader so making manual adjustments to the drift almost becomes innate. 

Keep in mind that while fishing a french leader you are still keeping a tight line on your presentation except that in long range situations you have leader and possibly fly line floating on the surface of the water, the french leader system still uses fly lines. This imposes a handicap in the tactile feel of the take. This handicap is overcome by the greased bicolored sighter where the take is seen just as often as felt. This opens up a wider swath of water that you can effectively cover while employing a tightline technique.

You can purchase my best sighters here. This leader is popular amongst the French competition anglers.

French Slow Action Long Line Leader formula

50CM - 0.45mm mono
55CM - 0.40mm mono
60CM - 0.35mm mono
65cm - 0.30mm mono
70CM - 0.25mm mono
Sighter attached both ends via a tippet ring
2.5' 3x mono
Tippet Ring
tippet of length and weight of choice depending on depth.

Maxima Spools

A Live description of the french leader that I use.


Soft nylon material is the preferred material for constructing French leaders. I use Maxima clear; however, to become supple and board-straight, this material requires being boiled in water for 5 minutes and pinned out straight along a wall to cure overnight. After boiling, it is easily straightened out if coil develops while being stored on your reel spool. I also dye my leaders. I use an orange and olive acid dye bath ( 1/4 cup vinegar to 2 cups water), dipping portions of the leader in each pot of dye, to color them a multi-tone camouflage. 

This leader and fly formula is the foundation for success in your tactical fishing endeavors. Not every river or situation calls for the same technique. Stay flexible and adapt to every scenario. If it's very windy, long leaders are not fun to fish. I will not hesitate to switch over to a classic 9' western nymph leader and a bubble style indicator with which I can punch through the wind and keep a tight line. If I am fishing a smaller river, I will switch to a traditional Czech leader not discussed here.
Most importantly, have fun out there, be nice to our fish and use barbless hooks

The French Leader in Action on a small creek.

Improved "French" Euro Sighter

New!  Euro Sighter with integrated tippet rings.

2 per pack.

My favorite nymphing rigs now includes these 10" bi-colored sighters. Two tone neon coloring and markings provide amazing visual feedback in all lighting conditions. 

I use these for long line french nymphing on larger rivers where distance and accuracy count. Dress the length of the sighter with floatant and they will float well during the upstream portion of the drift. These also work amazingly well with Polish and Czech methods in case you cannot afford a fly line.

I have been using these while guiding new fly anglers and have had many beginners start catching within the first 15 minutes on guided trips. 

See the video describing my favorite french leader configuration.

See the video of the sighter in action.

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