Leaders and Tippet

Fly leaders are tapered monofilament strands that connect the fly fishing line to the fly. They're designed to cast (present) flies the way the fish expects to see food items. Learn more here.

FLY FISHING LEADERS

Fly fishing leaders have three sections: the butt, midsection and tippet. The first fly line to leader connection is the butt, and in contrast to the tippet, is the thickest piece of monofilament making up the leader. To consistently turn the fly over in casting, midsection fly leaders must be tapered down from the thick, heavy butt to the narrow, thin fly fishing tippet. Tapering throughout the midsection – which takes up nearly half of the total leader length – allows for a smooth transfer of energy from the main line through the leader and tippet to the fly, which is needed for the line to straighten out properly. Leaders may be hand-tied, with smaller diameter leaders between knots, or purchased as a continuous knotless taper from the butt to the fly line tippet.

HOW TO SELECT LEADERS

The best fly fishing leaders and tippets are those that suit the fishing situation. For example, when you're fishing small flies on flat water for trout or panfish, the fly leader should be small in diameter. The leader must have a relatively soft fly fishing tippet for soft presentation of the fly, and it must be long enough to assure that the fish is not spooked by the line hitting the water during the cast.

Fortunately, leader manufacturers have labeled their products to help you choose the right leader for your fishing. For instance, a bass leader should be relatively short with a stiffer fly fishing tippet to turn over the large flies you will use. Saltwater leaders will not only be stiff from butt to tippet, but also strong and very abrasion-resistant to withstand the large, sharp teeth of saltwater fish and the powerful runs made by those fish. In addition, fly fishing tippet is measured according to an “X” rating system (see below) to aid in angler selection.

In general, the smaller the fly, the smaller the leader diameter at the tippet. Also, the smaller the fly, the flatter the water and the more easily spooked the fish are, the longer and thinner the leader needs to be to fool them. Some spring-creek trout are so finicky that you may have to go lighter, while in saltwater the fly fishing tippet may have a breaking strength of 20 pounds with a shock tippet of 100 pounds tied in.

LEADER LENGTH

A standard fly fishing leader for stream trout, bass and panfish is 9 feet. Some leaders may run as long as 22 feet, and spring-creek fly leaders are often 12 feet or longer. Regardless of length, most beginning anglers follow the 60/20/20 formula for constructing the leader as follows:


Formulas provided by Guide Recommended.

Just keep in mind that as the wind rises, casting longer leaders becomes more difficult.

CONNECTING FLY LINE TO LEADER


Image courtesy of Fix.com

Start by connecting the main fly line to the fly leader butt. While the needle nail knot is the most secure of all the leader-line connections, it takes more time to tie and is harder to master than loop to loop connections. Some leader line even comes pre-tied with perfection loops. Don’t let the amount of choices overwhelm you. A good fly shop will not only help you choose, but may even set up your line and leader for you.

HOW TO SELECT THE RIGHT TIPPET

The tippet is the thinnest part of the leader, and the part attached to the fly. You have probably discovered by now that there are no less than a dozen sizes of tippet to choose from – sometimes sold in single-size packages, other times sold on spools with a variety of sizes available – when you were being advised to add several different sizes of tippet to your fly fishing equipment shopping list.

You’ll be glad to know that manufacturers have devised an “X” rating system to assist anglers with tapering their lines to the right size based on what type of fish is being targeted. Tippet sizes range from the strong and stiff 03X to the light, wispy 8X for your smallest flies.


Chart courtesy of The Fly Fishing Basics.

DIVIDE BY THREE

Another great fly fishing tip for figuring out which “X” size tippet to use to attach your fly is to divide the size of your flies by three. So if you grab a Size 10 Woolly Bugger from your fly fishing gear box and divide ten by three, the result is 3.3333, or in tippet terms, a 3X tippet size. On the other hand, a Size 24 midge divided by 3 results in an 8X tippet size.

Just remember that the divide by three method gives you an approximate tippet size. There’s no reason to worry if you need to attach that Size 24 midge to a 7X tippet instead.