The thought of rigging for big fish like sailfish intimidates many people. But if you look closely, the connections only appear to be complicated; you'll discover that with a few special knots and some practice, you can set up your rod and reel with confidence.
Backing to Fly Line
Starting with the backing and moving forward, first form a loop in your backing by tying a Bimini twist in it. Make sure the loop is large enough to pass the reel through, and then make a loop in the end of your fly line, too. You can do this in several ways, including whipping a loop using Kevlar thread or tying three or four small opposing nail knots. You can also simply buy a billfish line that already has loops in it. Either way, once these loops are created you simply loop-to-loop them together.
For the butt section of my billfish leaders, I attach 60-pound-test-monofilament to the fly line with an improved nail knot. I make these about 2 feet long, including the large loop at the end. To make this loop, I leave a minimum of an extra foot of butt material and then tie either a double surgeon's knot or a perfection loop, leaving at least a 31¼2-inch loop to provide clearance for easily passing a big billfish fly, often with tandem 6/0 hooks, through it. A roomy loop also makes it simple to rerig during a hot bite.
From this point on the leader system can get a bit complex, but there are several ways to simplify it. I recommend you either tie or buy at least a dozen big-game leaders that have a minimum of 15 inches of class tippet of 20-pound-test or whatever line class you prefer. Almost all heavy-duty leaders have a shock-absorbing knot like a Bimini twist on both ends of the class tippet. This knot requires practice to tie well, but it's extremely useful. If you prefer, you can buy pretied leaders in many tippet sizes that include the shock tippet and also meet IGFA standards. Using these gets expensive, however, and if you run out of them on the water you're stuck.
If you intend to tie your own leaders, you need to use strong knots, especially for the one that connects the class tippet to the shock tippet. The problem with this particular link is that the lines often have very different diameters and breaking strengths, for example 20-pound- to 100-pound-test. Assuming you've tied Bimini twists in both ends of your class tippet section, you will have a line with loops at either end (I prefer these loops be at least 2 feet long). I suggest you make the connection with one of three knots each 100 percent in strength - the Albright, the Huffnagel or the Stu Apte Improved Blood Knot (see illustration). On the other end of the class tippet section I simply tie a double surgeon's knot in the loop formed earlier.
Finally, the last tricky part of this setup is tying the bulky shock tippet to the fly. It's difficult only because of the thickness of the monofilament. I use a three-turn clinch knot when attaching 100-pound bite tippet to the eye of the hook. Just remember that the maximum length of shock tippet according to the IGFA is 12 inches, including the knots. To ensure it meets those standards, I measure out 101¼2 inches of the shock material and then tie the knot.