Tempt stubborn fish on stillwaters with a French leader

DURING a prolonged heatwave fuelled with high-pressure conditions, or in deepest winter when trout are lethargic, fishing throughout many of our fisheries could be challenging to say the least.

Today, at Elinor fishery there’s no place for the deadly Blob patterns or indeed the popular Apps’ Bloodworms Fred used to win the Airflo Classic many times along with Messrs Peter Appleby and Chris Micallef. Fred is fishing delicate, tiny, slimline nymphs – “proper” fishing as he calls it, just because he wants to and it’ll give him immense satisfaction. Yes, even match anglers can enjoy finesse in their approach! But he’s going to have his work cut out because the fishing has been hard. 

Takes are likely to be delicate, slow affairs and he’ll have to focus hard in order to spot them. That’s where the French leader/ sighter set-up comes in.

Fred knows that the less fly line on the clear water the better and so a long leader is needed – all of 24 feet, although the same principle can be used on a shorter, more manageable length.

He’ll spot takes by way of a six to nine inch length of orange, yellow and black pole fishing tubing segments (from coarse fishing tackle shops) strung onto six to nine inches of 20lb backing material which is looped at each end and positioned about half way along the leader. The whole indicator is Ginked to float high on the surface and, when drawn back, it leaves hardly any wake at all – perfect presentation in these tough clear water conditions with ultra-fussy fish.

After casting out, he lifts the rod and slowly draws the sighter back across the gentle ripple by way of a very steady figure-of-eight retrieve, waiting for the slightest movement or sudden halt of the sighter.

Easily spotted, even at distance, this technique helps the angler detect takes earlier and offers less resistance through the water, unlike a conventional yarn or foam indicator, the latter also potentially snagging in the tip ring and causing problems!


Snake-like: Home-made French leader 'sighters' are easy to spot on water.

Initially, Fred opts for quick access to deep water – that’s where he reckons fish could be on such a hot, bright day or in the middle of winter.

This area is where the ‘snake’ will be at its best, in close control situations without any fly line on the water’s surface – basically using the same principle as when fishing the technique on rivers.

Despite fishery owner Ed Foster saying most recent fish have come from the far end of the lake, towards the arms, Fred’s hopeful of a trout closer to the lodge. He plans to search more areas if no fish are taken within 20 minutes.


Flies are slimline Buzzers, down to size 16 and Diawl Bachs – the flies you’d expect to fish on most reservoirs.

While fishing the technique other advantages become apparent. A normal indicator set-up has a definite ‘dog leg’ join in the leader. But the French style sighter is simply a continuation of the leader itself, offering a smoother retrieve on a level plane and therefore direct contact with the flies – all helping earlier take detection.

As Fred points out, on many occasions, you won’t even feel the take, you’ll see the snake-like indicator slide away which is when you lift the rod.

Fred’s sighter darts forward indicating a take, but it’s not the expected trout but a little perch fry. Fred’s pleased to see this because it proves how sensitive this style of sighter really is.

After a troutless half hour he moves towards the boat jetty, but again his efforts are unrewarded. He wonders if, with so few fish caught today by the regulars, the fishery will only switch on as light fades – if at all. He keeps working his nymphs, wading deep to gain extra yards and taking a few steps along the bank after each cast in order to search the water.


Fish leap free of the surface towards the middle of the lake and land with a splash. “These aren’t feeding fish,” says Fred. “They’re either distressed or newly stocked trout that are ‘playing up’.”

As the light slowly begins to fade Fred can still see the sighter as he draws the line slowly back towards him with rod tip high. The leader halts and he quickly lifts the rod even higher. A fish is on. While the trout splashes on the surface Fred comments on how delicate the take was and that if it weren’t for the indicator stopping he’d never have known a fish had even taken the slim Buzzer.

Now he’s fired up as a few trout begin to move. “They’ll take dries,” says Fred. “But I want to continue with the French leader just to demonstrate how useful it can be even in fading light. That bright sighter gives me ample warning of when a fish is interested.”

A few minutes pass and, after casting towards a moving fish, Fred’s rod is nearly pulled from his hands – this take is the complete opposite to the first!

“I watched the sighter kite off,” adds Fred. “But the trout moved so fast it basically hooked itself when Ifelt the take meet the resistance of my hands.”

As night arrives proper, Fred has another fish and only a long drive back to Yorkshire stops him from trying for one of the larger, grown-on trout for which Elinor is well known.

He’s proved the French leader/ sighter technique has worth, especially when the fishing is very, very tough.


The final fish was caught well into the night - the sighter was just visible.

Coiled Stren French leaders are available commercially.

How to make a French leader/sighter



● Guaina Colorata Fluoro from Stonfo (pole fishing tubing from coarse fishing shops, £3.99). Choose size to fit snug over backing

● A 6 - 9 inch length of 20lb backing material

● 10 inch length of fluorocarbon

● Superglue

● Scissors


1 Select a piece of 20lb backing approx 14-15 inches long. Thread one end through the eye of the needle and leave 2 inches out.


2 Feed needle through centre of backing (approx. one centimetre),


3 Then take needle through entirely. Pull the short end of backing and this will form your loop.


4 Cut when you feel happy with loop size.


5 Add a drop of superglue where cut to secure. Then form a loop at the other end of the braid in the same way.


6 Thread a piece of fluorocarbon/ leader (around 12 inches long) through the loop on the backing. Bring the two ends of fluoro together, then slip both ends through a piece of black tubing and then slide the tubing onto the backing. Feed down to opposite end and fix with Superglue.


7 Mix and match all other pieces of tubing the same way and secure each tube with Superglue (use a cocktail stick to dab Superglue on braid where tubing will sit).