What is a leader and tippet? This has to be one of the most commonly asked questions those new to fly fishing have. This review will help simplify the difference & help you select the right leader length, size & material for the species, flies & conditions you will be fishing in.
What is a Leader? For the purpose of simplicity, we will call the leader the entire section of material that is connected to the end of the fly line (usually loop-to-loop connecting) and ending at the point in which the fly is attached. Leaders are usually tapered and are thicker towards the butt end which is attached to the fly line & thinner as you get towards the point at which the fly is attached.
What is tippet? Tippet is level (non tapered) material in various diameters and strengths. It comes in spools and is attached to the end of the leader.
What Are Leader and Tippet Made Out of?
Leader and tippet are made of either monfilament nylon or flourocarbon. Monofilament is lighter than water and so it floats. It also reflects light so the fish can essentially see it under water. We use monofilament when we are fishing small dry flies so the tippet & leader don’t sink the fly. We also use it with big streamers where the weight of the fly will sink the leader & tippet. Furthermore, if the fish are aggressive enough to chase a big streamer they aren’t going to suddenly shy off because the can see the tippet. Flourocarbon leaders & tippet material have a higher density then water so that it sinks. It also has virtually has less light reflection than water and virtually vanishes underwater. It is also far more abrasion resistent & generally stronger then monofilament. Why wouldn’t you use flourocarbon than? That’s a good question. The only reason we sometimes don’t is because it costs more than monofilament and in some situations the fish don’t care what you’re fly is attached to.
A compromise: Buy monofilament leaders and save money there, but always buy flourocarbon tippet.
Why Use a Leader and Tippet
As you fly cast, energy is transferred through the fly rod, into the fly line through the leader and to the fly. In order for this to happen smoothly there needs to be an ever transition between the fly line and the fly. This is what the leader does. It is tapered so that energy is gradually transferred from the thick heavy end of the fly line to the fly. If our leader is to thick for the fly we are throwing it will turnover to fast and hit the water harder then intended. If our leader is to light for the size fly we are throwing the fly won’t turnover at all.
So what is tippet in all this? Tippet is essentially the piece of material at the end of our leader where it levels to a thin diameter. The leaders you purchase come tapered but eventually level out to a specified diameter which we will call the “tippet portion of the leader.” So essentially, your leader comes with a section of tippet. The reason you buy spools of tippet is because more often then not we change flies, loose flies and switch tactics throughout the day. Every time we tie on a new fly we cut off a little bit of that tippet material. Eventually, those little tag ends we trim add up and our leader become shorter and it also becomes thicker towards the end because we’ve used up all the level “tippet” end. So instead of throwing the leader away and using a new leader, we add tippet to the end of the ‘leader’ using a surgeon’s knot or blood knot to replace what we’ve cut off.
What Size and Length Leader should I use?
First, the weight of your rod has nothing to do with the Length and size of your leader. By this I mean, if you have a 9ft 6wt rod, you DON’T need to use a 9ft 6x leader. You can through any size leader with any size rod. What is the ‘X’ behind the number? Fly fishing leaders and tippet are rated on this X scale. The origins don’t matter so let’s move past that. The smaller the number behind the X, the heavier the tippet. Thus 1x has a break strength of around 15lbs and 7x has a break strength of roughly 2lbs.
Deciding a leader strength 0x-7x has to do with the size of flies you are using, how spooky the fish are & how clear the water is. Bigger flies, dumb fish & dirty water allows you to use heavier leaders & tippet. Small flies, smart fish & clear water usually means lighter leaders & tippet.
Deciding Leader Length: Leader length is generally insignificant. You can always add tippet material on to the end to make it longer or cut some off to make it shorter. As a rule of thumb, if you need to fish deeper or present your fly delicately and keep the fly as far away from the line as possible, use a longer leader. In most instances we buy shorter leaders 7.5′ and make it longer if need be.
Rule of 2 with Leader & tippet: Can you add 3x tippet to the end of a new 6x leader? NO–the 6x piece is not as strong and it makes no sense to add stronger material because it will break at the weaker point behind what you added on. Can I add 7x tippet to the end of a 3x leader? NO–the difference in diameter is too much and your knot will loose strength. It a rule of 2. Never jump more than two tippet sizes between connection knots. What if I know an Albright Knot–than I can jump more than two tippet sizes right? Alright Mr. Know it all, this article wasn’t written for you if you know how to tie an albright knot.
Powerflex Trout Leader
New for 2012. RIO’s new Powerflex Trout Leaders are designed to turnover with ease under a variety of conditions.
- Manufactured to exacting tolerances using the latested technology and materials
- These leaders are the strongest possible and turnover under the most demanding conditions, whether casting dry flies, streamers or an indicator with weighted nymphs
Rio Indicator Leader
This is an excellent leader for chironomid fishing or whenever you need the flies to sink fast.
- 10 ft tapered leaders feature a short orange butt section for attaching an indicator to
- Level tippet does not slow down the sink rate
- Heavy butt section makes casting the indicator easy
- Ideal for nymphing out of a drift boat or in lakes
Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon Leaders
Specifically designed for anadromous species.
- Leader has a thicker butt of slightly stiffer copolymer for propelling large flies
- Use with RIOMax Plus or Fluoroflex tippet material
Rio Bass Leaders
Knotless freshwater bass tapered leaders.
- Clear leader of slightly stiffer copolymer
- Thick butt for casting bushy bass flies
Rio Fluoroflex Leaders
RIO Fluoroflex tapered leaders are the solution when a nearly invisible presentation is required for wary fish.
- 100% fluorocarbon with high abrasion-resistance
- Excellent knot strength
- Leaders have a long butt section for easy turnover
Fluoroflex Steelhead Leaders
Leaders are made from 100% fluorocarbon and have high abrasion resistance and great knot strength.
- Perfect for summer fishing and low, clear rivers
- Use with Fluoroflex tippet material