To say that George Harvey was an accomplished fly fisherman might be the biggest understatement ever uttered by man. From pioneering and instructing the Penn State fly fishing coarse, to his books and writings, George's fingerprint is firmly stamped on the fly fishing world as we know it today. Known as one of the true giants of Central Pennsylvania fly fishing, George's aka-lades are far to broad to cover in one blog post. I would, however, like to talk about his infamous "Harvey Leader"
Next to the fly line itself, your leader may well be the most important piece of equipment you use. I find it funny that one of the most important things is often one of the most overlooked. Your leader serves several purposes as it relates to fly casting and presentation. First, it must be stiff through the butt section to allow for a smooth transfer of energy. This will allow for good "turn over" when fishing a long leader with a dry fly, or chucking a heavy Nymph rig. The middle section must continue the energy transfer, but the materials need to be a little softer and more supple as we move toward the tippet. Finally, the leader must land with enough slack to achieve a good drift.
Eric Stroup talks in depth about the Harvey Leader on his web site "Face Time Fly Fishing" Anyone reading this that is a Trout fisherman should check out his site and join. There is a wealth of information on there for the beginner as well as the seasoned veteran.
After hearing Eric talk about the importance of leader design and function I decided I would tie a few up and reserve judgement until I fished the Harvey Leader system for one full year. In January of 2014 I tied my first leader on and fished this leader system for one full calender year (Trout fishing) and the results were eye opening. But before we get to that lets talk more about the leader itself.
The formula has been tweaked over the years I am sure. Advancements in monofiliment material have aided in better leader construction, but the premise of the design has stayed the same. Basically what we are doing is building connecting sections of monofiliment ranging from 10 to18 inches in length. The length of the section depends where in the system the particular section is. Each section is an average of .002 (two thousands of an inch) smaller then the previous section. It sounds complicated, but really it is not. Here is the table I am currently using for my leader construction.
.017 20 LB. Maxima Ultragreen 10"
.015 15 LB. Maxima Ultragreen 18"
.013 12 LB. Maxima Ultragreen 18"
.010 8 LB. 1x Maxima Ultragreen 18"
.009 10 LB .2x Rio Powerflex 12"
.008 8.2 LB. 3x Rio Powerflex 18"
.007 6.4 LB. 4x Rio Powerflex 18"
You will notice as we switch from the Maxima to the Rio Product the "pound test" actually goes up. This is due to the fact that across the board Rio's tippet is stronger than their competitors in the same line diameter. One of the reasons I like the Rio products. Don't worry about the pound test, what we are looking for is the average of the .002 taper through the hole leader system. If you research this online you will see many people recommend to use the Maxima Chameleon product (the brown Maxima). I have found the Ultragreen to be plenty stiff enough and I believe it knots easier than the Chameleon. All sections are connected with Blood Knots.
This is my basic leader that I start with. Depending on the situation I will start here and add tippet to the 4X section. If I am fishing a Nymph rig I will usually tie the first nymph onto the 4X section and tie the rest "truck and trailer style" to complete my rig. If I am fishing a dry or a dry and dropper set up I may start on the 4x section depending on the dry fly. If I need to go to 5X I will knot 24 inches of 5X to the 4X section. If I need to go to 6X I will knot 18 inches of 5X to the 4X and then tie 24 Inches of 6X to the 5X section. You can see we are keeping the taper throughout the system. Although all of the measurements are approximate A quick addition of the sections and you will realize if you are fishing 6X you are on a pretty long leader. Usually if you are on 6X you are fishing a pretty small dry fly (usually 18 or smaller). With a little practice and proper casting technique you will be surprised how easy this leader turns over.
One modification I have started doing is incorporating in a "sighter" into the system. A sighter is a bright, highly visible piece of material that can be used as an indicator while Tight Lining. I like the Indicator Tippet from Umpqua. It is two toned, red and green, it sticks out like a sore thumb, and it knots easily with the Rio products. I tie my sighter in the 2X section. If you look at the first picture in the post you can see the sighter coiled in with the leader. I leave the sighter in the leader even when I am fishing dry flies. This December I was hooking fish on 6X using a #24 CDC puff Midge pattern with the sighter in the leader system. It doesn't seem to bother the fish.
You will have to wrap your brain around this next paragraph...
Every time I read an article about this leader system there was one common theme throughout. EVERYBODY that I talked to or read said the same thing..."off with the loop" I will admit I had a hard time with this at first. I mean, who in their right mind would cut a perfectly good welded loop of a brand new $80.00 fly line? Welded loops have come a long in the past several years. They are smaller, more streamlined, and don't pull out like they used to. They are ,however, not without fault. They will still hinge and eventually crack at the weld point. They land harder on the water than a nail knot, and most importantly, they will not go through the guides smoothly especially under pressure, like... when you are trying to land fish! For these reasons I do recommend at least trying a nail not connection. Try it to an old fly line first to see if you like it. If you give it an honest try I think you will find out, as I did, the nail knot is superior to the welded loop.
Pluses and minuses
As I said I was going to reserve judgement until after I fished the leader for one full year. For the entire Trout season of 2014 I fished the Harvey Leader. The biggest plus I found is I fished the SAME Harvey Leader for one full year. That is correct, The first leader I tied on and landed my first fish of 2014 (a wild Brown from Valley Creek) is the leader at the top of this post. The 3X through 6X sections were rebuilt countless times, that is to be expected. I believe the 2X sighter was re-tied twice. Other than that I fished the same leader the whole time. Fishing the same leader has 2 huge benefits as I see it. First off extruded leaders are around $5 a pop. Typically I would go through at least a few of these a year, most people probably more. So financially this system can be a big benefit. More importantly if you use the same leader for all of your fishing be it, Indicator Nymphing, Tight Lining, Dry and Dropper, Streamer or Dry Fly fishing (I used this leader in all of these situations) you become very familiar with the performance of the leader and your presentations will improve because of it. Less time switching leaders means more time fishing, always a plus. I absolutely believe I was achieving better drifts which in turn meant more takes and I was able to fish longer leaders and still achieve proper turnover. I kept hearing people say "the knots will snag on debris and will pick up dirt from the water". I must say I really didn't find that an issue. You will have to learn to tie blood and nail knots. Honestly, if you are past your first year in the sport you probably should have already acquired these skills. The only real negative I found is sometimes if I am fishing streamers I like to attach a small sink tip to my fly line. Usually two feet of T8. If you cut the welded loop off this becomes impossible.
Well, there you have it. My feelings on the Harvey Leader. When I look back on the past year there are many thoughts and reasoning's about why to continue to fish this leader. The bottom line is that I truly believe this leader helped me catch more fish. I fished with confidence and that is a huge asset. That being said I will continue to fish the Harvey Leader system for all of my Trout fishing until I find something better. Till next time...
If you would like to hear more about this or to talk about all things Fly Fishing please stop by my booth this weekend at Cabela's Captain's Weekend. For more info click here. I look forward to talking with you.