Selecting the correct tapered
leader and tippet for the type of fishing you are about to do is crucial.
Nothing can spook fish quicker than an oversized tippet for the particular
situation. On the other hand, an undersized tippet can result in the fly
fisher losing their trophy before they even get a photo opportunity. We will
start at the very basic of leader and tippet selection and then get more
specific, and hopefully conclude with enough information so we’ll always have the proper
leader and tippet for all upcoming fishing scenarios.
What is leader and
and tippet is the final connection between the fly fisher and their fly. It
is the section of line after the fly line and before the fly. Its purpose is
to transfer energy from the fly line down to the fly, allow for natural
presentation of the fly, and then be strong enough for the fly fisher to
retrieve any fish that might strike at the naturally presented fly. Sounds
simple enough, but this is fly fishing, and fly fishers have been around a
long time. As a group we seem to think about everything related to our sport
a lot, and therefore probably have over complicated things a tad.
The leader in fly fishing is
tapered. It is thicker at the butt section, than at the tippet section. It is
usually divided into three sections; the butt is tied directly to the fly
line, and is the longest portion of the leader, about 60%. The mid-section is
and its purpose is to taper down to the tippet without losing a lot of
strength. The final section is the tippet; it is the actual section that is
tied to the fly. It is the thinnest section, it needs to be strong, yet allow
for a natural drift, without alarming the fish that you’re offering is
connected to a person that will pull back.
Commercial leaders by and large
achieve all this in one smooth product. Although there are still knotted
leaders out there, by and large knotless leaders are the choice. It is
possible to construct you own leaders and many people do. But that is the
topic of another article. A fly fisher does, however need to know how to
attach new tippet portion to the fly line, I prefer the double surgeon’s
knot, but the blood knot is also popular. Learn how to tie these knots before
fighting that monster! A poorly tied knot will reveal itself at the most
Now comes the fun part. A new set
of numbers to learn. Different numbers then choosing flies or fly rods. Fly
fishing is overwrought with numbering systems, and unfortunately leaders and
tippets you are just going to need to learn. They are sized on the X
numbering system. So when you hear someone say they are switching to a 6X,
you now know they are talking about their tippet. X measures the diameter of
the leader minus .011. So a 6X would measure .005. A 0X would actually
measure .011. One really needs to remember the HIGER the X, the smaller the
diameter. The other number worth noting the test or breaking factor, a 4 lb.
test leader will break when more than 4lbs of pressure are applied. This is
worth noting, and many a trophy fish are lost when violating that #.
There are many variable to
consider when selecting the right X, but the two most common are the size of
fish you are going after, and the size of fly you are using when going after
them. A quick guide is as follows:
- 24 and smaller
One must also think about the
length of the leader itself. Leaders are sold these days anywhere from 4 feet
to 15 feet. There are many things to consider when deciding on length, some
are variable like wind and water clarity. Other variable are static like size
of fish, current, etc.
Typically the easier it is to
spook a fish, the longer the leader you will need to use. So
The industry seems to have settled
on 9 1/2 feet as a good all-around length. For everything from trout to
steelhead to tarpon. It is a good length to handle for all levels of fly
casters, and it gives enough distance between the splash down of the fly line
and the fly as to not spook most fish under most circumstances.
From this standard we can then
begin to think of reasons we might need to adjust. Spring creeks or spring
fed lakes will probably require 15 feet of leader. Whereas sinking tip lines
used in spring run-off will use as leaders as short as 4 feet. A weed choked
largemouth bass pond will require a shorter, stouter leader, and therefore
you will be able to muscle your fish away from snags. But a trout caught in a
spring creek will have the advantage because your leader will easily break
off due to its lightness. Windy days might require one to shorten up a bit to
ease in casting. When switching from nymphing to dry flies one might need to
lengthen a bit.
I hope this has clarified and not
complicated things a bit. What all this means is one must carry a good
assortment of tapered leaders and even more importantly tippets with them at
all times. There are many times I switch sizes in the same day. If I am
fighting fish deep in faster current during the day, I might go down one X
factor, and then in the evening if I am dry fly fishing in shallow slow
water, I’ll go up two X factors.
Not having the correct tippet can
handicap one’s ability to land fish, either by breaking off if too small, or
spooking them if too large. It is a nominal expense compared to the rest of
your equipment, and a bad place to start watching that fly fishing budget. So
make sure you’re well stocked for every imaginable situation before you hit
the water. I guarantee you at some point you will be glad you are.