When I learned the art of angling from my Grandpa, fly fishing tippet gave me the hardest time. It was a hard-to-grasp concept, especially the sizing and the complicated knots.
If you are an amateur angler like I was back then, this article will help you understand the science behind fly fishing tippets. You need to know what tippets are, why we use them, and many other similar details to gain expertise in the sport.
What Is Fly Fishing Tippet?
A fly fishing tippet is the last line that attaches your fly to the leader. It is the thinnest of all the fly lines and utterly transparent.
What Is Tippet Used For?
A tippet has many uses. Here’s a list of reasons I find it necessary for my fly fishing rig;
- It extends the fly fishing line
- It helps in presenting the fly quietly
- You can add knots to it to sink the fly
- The fly mimics natural insects more closely due to its clarity
Do You Need A Tippet For Fly Fishing?
Now that you know what a tippet is, you must wonder why I need it? And the answer is: it depends.
I will discuss the different factors that determine whether to use tippet or not, later in this article. For now, here’s one reason why you can’t just tie your fly to the main fly line as you did during your spin fishing days:
Well, the fish are smarter than you’d think! If you present a fly tied to a thick, heavy, colored fly line, it will not look natural to fish and will easily scare them off. You need the fly to look just like an insect they love to eat.
So how do you do that?
By attaching a few extra feet of a fine line that goes unnoticed. The fly fishing leader is also transparent, but it is considerably expensive. You don’t want to cut it off every time you need to change the fly tied to its end. Hence, attaching a smaller segment of a much cheaper line is better, called the fly fishing tippet.
What Is A Fly Fishing Tippet Made Of?
The tippet material can be either fluorocarbon or nylon. I won’t go into their detailed physics but rather explain their pros and cons.
1. Fluorocarbon Tippet
Fluorocarbon has a much closer refractive index than water, so it is almost completely invisible to the fish. Also, it is less elastic and tangles less. The low elasticity also means a stiffer line that is more durable and less prone to breakage.
The only downside is its price. The best fluorocarbon tippets cost significantly more than nylon ones.
2. Nylon Tippet
Nylon tippets are widely used because of their affordable price and all-rounder properties. It is an excellent material when using dry flies because it floats much better on the water surface.
Nylon is not as invisible as fluorocarbon but works well when fishing in less clear waters. The knot strength is satisfactory but considerably lower than fluorocarbon. Plus, it absorbs water and weakens after a few hours in water.
How Long Should Tippet Be?
So now you must be wondering what size tippet do I need? Usually, 13 feet is a sufficient leader and tippet length. And out of this, how much tippet on leader? Tippet is around 2 to 4 feet long, and the diameter matches or is less than the thinnest tip of the leader.
The basic purpose of using a tippet is to create distance between the fish and the angler, so the fish don’t spook off easily. But this doesn’t mean your line can get longer than necessary. The exact length or tippet gauge depends on the size of the fly you use. The bigger the fly is, the heavier your tippet needs to be. Learning the relation between tippet to fly size is essential in catching more fish. Usually, we use a rule of three. According to this rule, take your fly size and divide it by 3. Hence, if you are fishing with a size 12 fly, use a 4X tippet.
Tippet Size Chart
Now, what size leader and tippet for trout fishing? The X sizes can be a little confusing for determining trout tippet length. Here’s a simplified chart for it;
|Tippet Diameter (inches)||0.11||0.10||0.009||0.008||0.007||0.006||0.005||0.004||0.003|
|Breaking strength (pounds)||15.5||13.5||11.5||8.25||6||4.75||3.5||2.5||1.75|
|Fish species||Steelhead, salmon||Bonefish, redfish||Bass||Bass and trout||Trout||Panfish and Trout||Trout and panfish||Panfish and Trout||Trout and panfish|
The above chart also shows tippet pound test results by giving the breaking strength for each size. Hence, you can also refer to it as a tippet strength chart.
Tying Fly Line To Tippet
For attaching the tippet to the leader line, you need to tie a Double Surgeon’s knot. Place the tippet’s front end on top of the leader’s rear end for this knot. Together with the two lines, tie an easy overhand knot. Now, before you tighten the loop, pass both ends again for a Surgeon’s knot and once more for a Double Surgeon’s knot. Finally, pull all four ends apart, and the knot should resemble a figure eight.
Here’s a video to explain more;
Fly Fishing Leader Vs. Tippet
There are many instances when you don’t need a tippet, and tying the fly directly to the leader line is better. But how do you determine the winner of this tippet vs. leader battle?
Here are the scenarios explaining where you can ditch a fly tippet and where you cannot fish effectively without them;
Advantages Of Fly Fishing Without Tippet
So, do I need a tippet with a tapered leader? Anglers often decide to tie their fly to leader directly due to these reasons;
1. Fewer Knots To Tie
Let’s be frank, tying those complicated knots isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Without a tippet, your total knots count decreases by at least two because you don’t need to attach the tippet to the leader and then fly to the tippet.
2. Maneuver Less Casting Space
Sometimes, the river landscape has several obstacles around which you need to maneuver your fly line. In such a case, a longer line with an additional tippet can be a burden to manage, so it’s best to ditch it altogether.
3. Avoid Sizing Confusion
The tippet sizes and strengths can be confusing for some. Although we recommend clearing your concepts, sometimes, all an angler wants is to enjoy fishing without having to grasp the science behind tippet sizing.
4. Start With Minimal Line
If you are an entry-level angler and are just starting to know your fly fishing reel rig, several feet of fishing line may be difficult to tackle. Starting without the tippet may save some trouble in that case.
5. Fish In Shallowest Waters
An extremely shallow pond or creek may not require a tippet to create sufficient distance between the fish and the angler. Here you could try going without a tippet and hope for the best.
Disadvantages Of Not Using A Tippet
Skipping the tippet has some consequences that you need to think about. Here are a few points you need to consider before ditching tippet fishing.
1. Worn Out Leader
Every time you need to change the fly, you’ll have to cut the line attached to it. In the case of a leader-fly connection, this means losing your leader’s taper gradually.
Leaders are generally expensive, and most anglers try to preserve them at the cost of the tippet.
2. Limited Accessibility
With a shorter line, your casting distance decreases. Hence, you cannot reach those corners of the lake that could be a haven for small trout. Using a tippet may be the smarter choice here.
3. Ineffective Lure
You can mimic natural nymphs better with a tippet because of the option of adding weight by adding knots. The weighted fly sinks quickly and can fool the fish into thinking they are the real deal.
If you plan on buying a tippet, you can choose a good fly tippet according to your need and budget from Scientific Anglers.
With this brief overview of what is tippet, you can take your fly fishing skills up a notch. The tippet extends your fishing line and preserves the leader line for longer. Plus, it helps in fooling fish better due to high invisibility. So keep this handy line in your fishing gear at all times to enjoy the sport to its fullest.