Poly Leaders vs. Sink-Tips

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 19:01 -- Tom Larimer
Sink-Tips VS Poly
Keith Balfourd dredged this chromer up on a sink-tip

In the modern era of Spey fishing for steelhead and trout, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the huge selection of equipment on the market. In today's post I thought it would be helpful to put Poly Leaders under the microscope in an effort to distinguish them from sink-tips. More importantly, I want to help you decide when the right time to use these tools. 

What is a Poly Leader?

A Poly Leader serves two primary purposes for Spey casting. First, they help anchor your line to the water when performing a Spey cast. All that means is they grip the water better than a traditional nylon leader, which helps you load the rod more efficiently. Secondly, because a Poly Leader has more mass then a traditional leader, they help you turn the fly over, especially in windy conditions. Outside of its primary purposes, a sinking Poly Leader can be used instead of a sink-tip for certain fishing situations, -More on that in a minute.

Like a traditional leader, a Poly Leader has a taper. However, they have a mono core (nylon) and a polyurethane coating. At the business end of the leader (the fly end) you will find an 8” section of the mono core exposed. Most anglers tie a perfection loop into this butt section, which allows them to create a loop-to-loop connection with their 3’ to 5’ section of tippet.

Poly Leader Sizes

Poly Leaders are available in a wide range of both length and breaking strength. In general, the 10’ leaders with a 24lb core strength are the most popular for both steelhead and trout fishing. Leaders with a 40lb core are useful when casting #8, #9 & #10 weight Spey rods or when using them in conjunction with Skagit style lines ranging from #5 weight or heavier.

Sink Rate (Density)

Poly Leaders are available in a variety of densities ranging from Floating to Extra Super Fast Sink. Floating and Intermediate densities are useful when fishing on or near the surface. As a side note, I personally use the Intermediate on my Rage Compact lines even when skating dry flies for steelhead or when fishing mouse patterns for trout. When it’s time to go subsurface, I break out the sinking densities.

When To Use a Sinking Poly Leader vs. a Sink-Tip

Although Poly Leaders come in sinking densities, they don’t have as much mass as a level “T” sink-tip. (For example: T-10) Consequently, they work great for small to medium size flies that are un-weighted or lightly weighted. That being said, their taper allows them to land on the water with more stealth than a heavy sink-tip making them perfect for tough fishing situations. In the end, you’ll want to rely on sink-tips like T-7, T-10 and T-14 for dredging large, heavy flies and reserve your Poly Leaders for those times when the fish are shallow and spooky.


As a Spey angler for both steelhead or trout, Poly Leaders should be in your arsenal of tools. Realize that they are great for casting lighter flies. If you need to go subsurface, sinking leaders are great for stealth but you'll want to utilize your sink-tips when fishing larger, heavier flies in deeper water.