Stillwater Anglers Fly Leaders and Tippets

Easy How To Guide To Understanding Fly Leaders and Tippets

We don’t like to admit it, but fly leaders and tippets can be a little confusing! Regardless of whether you fish all the time or are just getting started, all the terms and numbers and materials can get a little overwhelming. Here we give you some guidance on how to understand them a little more so that you can feel a little more confident and prepared out on the water.

Decoding Fly Leaders and Tippets The Easy Way

It’s not the Da Vinci Code, but figuring out all of the info behind fly leaders and tippets can feel like some big decoding game. Let’s discuss some definitions first, and then we will give you some helpful hints on what to use and when.

What is a leader anyway?

A leader is simply a length of material (or materials) that connects your fly line to your fly. The object of a fly leader is pretty straightforward – to connect your fly to your fly line in a way that helps you catch fish.

Sometimes leaders are one piece, others are made by knotting together shorter sections. They can even be braided or furled. Most leaders are tapered monofilament nylon and typically between 7.5 – 9 ft long. This means they are larger in diameter at the butt end that attaches to the fly line, and a smaller diameter at the tip where the tippet or fly is tied. In a past blog, we discussed how to choose the right fly line and the difference in tapers.

Tippets? Never heard of them!

The tippet is the very end of the leader, the piece that attached. When using a tapered leader, the tippet is always the thinnest section. Tippet material comes on spools typically, and it’s usually the same material we use to build leaders from scratch.

This rating system for fly leader and tippet can be a little confusing at first. Tippet material is measured in Xs, for example, 3X, 4X, 5X, etc. The X describes the breaking strength and diameter of the fly leader and tippet material. The usual scale ranges from 0X down to 8X. 0X is the thickest and strongest and 8X is the thinnest and lightest. This Fly Fishing Basics Blog has a good chart for determining the fish size that typically correlates with each tippet diameter.

Different brands have different breaking strengths, however. A good rule of thumb is that the higher the number, the thinner the diameter.

The Bottom Line With Fly Leaders and Tippets

We know what you’re thinking. How does this information correlate with fly fishing and catching for trout?

Here are our tips: if you’re fishing dry flies on the surface or trying to drift nymphs below a floating line, you’ll want to use a relatively long, tapered leader. For bigger fish and choppy water, you’ll want to use heavier leaders in the 2X to 3X range. But if you’re using smaller flies and the water is smooth, you can use a thinner leader. The rule of 4 is a general rule of thumb, meaning divide the size of the fly you’re fishing by 4 and that will give you a rough idea of what size tippet to use.  

Though a lot of people like to customize, there is definitely no rule that says you need to. There are so many varieties available today, and they are all easy to use so anyone can fish right off the shelf.

The last tip we can give you is to find a brand you like and stick with it. Don’t try to fight various combinations, just use what works for you. If you’re not sure what to use or wonder about whether to use mono or fluorocarbon let us help you! Come to The Fly Shop and let us show you all of our favorite gear so that you have a great day out on the water.