Fly Fishing Gear - Tippet

The tippet is the final deceptive component in the overall fly-fishing system and of
course, is what the fly is tied to. You probably can’t even see it in this shot. It is also the
weakest link in the overall system.

Smaller size leaders are designated by their length and the tippet size number, which
is designated by a “X” that identify the size and breaking strength of the tippet. The larger
the number immediately preceded by  “X” the smaller the diameter and lower the
breaking strength of the tippet. Larger size leaders do not use the “X” system to
designate size. They are identified as being extra light, light, medium, heavy or extra
heavy and may also be designated by the diameter of the tippet. If the tippet size is larger
than the zero ”X” size designation, they are referred to by length and tippet size
designated as the tested breaking strength. For instance, a designation of a tippet may
be, a nine, foot leader with a .015-inch diameter tippet, or nine-foot leader with a
breaking strength of ten pounds.

The larger the tippet, the more difficult it is to make the fly look and act natural. So
from the standpoint of the presentation the tippet should be as small in diameter as
possible. However, since the tippet is also the weakest link between the angler and the
fish a balance of choices must be made between the quality of presentation of the fly and
the risk of a fish breaking the tippet.  

Tippets are usually made of nylon monofilament. Fluorocarbon tippets are popular
because they are less visible to the fish than monofilament tippets and have higher wet
knot strength. There is also what is called “bite” tippets, which are made heavy for a short
length in order to protect the leader from the sharp teeth of some species such as the
northern pike. These are usually made from single-strand wire, heavy monofilament,
nylon coated wire, fluorocarbon and other heavier material. Bite tippets, sometimes just
referred to as bite leaders, are not the weakest link between the angler and the fish.

The larger the fly, the larger the size tippet you can use without it adversely affecting
the presentation of the fly. For example, this larger size streamer fly can be effectively
presented on a much larger size tippet than this very small dry fly. Ideally, you would use
a very small, light tippet for the dry fly – as small as possible without it compromising your
ability to successfully fight and land the fish. Most anglers would much rather take their
chances fighting a fish on light tackle than to fish heavier tackle knowing that their
chances of getting a strike are little or none.

The length of the tippet is, of course, reduced each time you tie on a fly. At some
point, the reduction in tippet length will began to adversely affect the presentation of your
fly. For this reason, it is smart to tie on a new tippet of the proper length or change to a
new leader altogether any time the tippet becomes too short.

Long tippets are more so affected by wind than shorter ones. In fact, wind can easily
form an overhand knot in the tippet during a cast. This effectively reduces the breaking
strength of the tippet as well as the presentation of the fly. As a rule of thumb, you should
always use the smallest size leader and tippet that you can get away with.
Copyright 2013 James Marsh
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