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Beginner Fly Fishing: What is Tippet and What size should I Use?

What the hell is tippet? Why do I need tippet for my fly fishing set up? Why are there so many sizes? Does it even matter when it comes to catching fish? These were questions that went through my mind constantly when I first started to research tippet and a fly rod set up. If you are asking these same questions then I hope this helps you gain some clarity and understanding. Overall it is easier than you might think.

When it comes to a fly line and leader set up it is designed with even energy dispersion in mind. Fly line is the second part of a three part set up for your reel. So when you are putting new line on a fly reel you start with the backing. This is usually used to take up space on the reel and make the final circumference , after the fly line is added, larger so you can reel in the fish faster. It is also there to add extra line so if the fish takes off you do not have to worry about running out of fly line. After the backing you have your fly line. This is the weighted line that is used to cast the fly to where you want it on the water. These lines can come in a variety of color, configurations, and sizes. What you choose depends on what you are targeting and what type of flies you want to fish. The last part of this set up is the leader/tippet. This is a tapered clear, usually monofilament, line that is attached to the fly line. Tapered meaning that the butt end of the leader is a larger diameter than the tip of the tippet.

Why is it set up this way?

I know I wondered this same thing when I first got started. Why spend money on multiple lines and leaders, and then the tippets on top of that? The fly line and leader are set up like this so it can disperse energy evenly down the line to the fly. This allows the fly to be cast easier and allows for the fly to land on the water softer and help for a cleaner presentation of the fly.


Leaders usually come in lengths ranging from 7.5 ft to 9 and even 10 and 12 ft. The length you want to choose depends on your rod length, what you plan to be fishing, and the type of river you plan on fishing. As mentioned before the leader is thinner at the butt where it is attached to your fly line and thinner at the tip where the fly is tied. If you are first getting started in fly fishing I recommend a nine foot leader, if your rod is an eight and a half or nine feet. If you have a shorter rod you might want a shorter leader. This has to do with casting and the ability to cast and present the fly when you leader length is paired well with your rod length. The first seven feet of the leader is usually a tapered section and the last two feet are a tippet. As you fish and change out flies this two feet of tipped will be shortened. You can know roughly your tippet length you have left by using the length of your rod as a rough measuring stick. This will help you know how much tippet you need to add to keep on fishing.

Tippet size

When you are thinking of buying tippet you need to have the right size for your leader and fly you are using. When I was first looking at tippet material I had no idea what the number followed by the letter "X" meant. Simply put, the number followed by the "X" is referring to the diameter of the tippet. The tippet that comes on spools at your local fly shop is not tapered like a leader. It is a one size diameter throughout the whole length of the tippet. These sizes can vary from 0x to 7x. The larger the number the thinner the tippet diameter. 0x is thick 7x is thin simply put. If you are familiar with fishing already you will recognize that this size set up is the same for hook size.

Why Size Matters

When picking tippet size a few things should be considered when choosing tippet size. The main thing to consider is the size and weight of the fly. The second thing to consider is the size of your fish. If you know you are targeting larger fish then you want to use thicker tippet. The main thing you should be thinking about is casting and presentation of the fly though. You cannot catch any fish if you cannot get any of the flies out to the fish.

So what size do you need for your fishing set up? The size of tippet you use depends on the size fly you use. So yes, you will need, multiple tippet spools varying in sizes. Yeah this made me a little irritated at first but knowing how long a tippet spool can last made it a little easier to justify a purchase. So fly size dictates what size tippet you should use. This is due to how the energy is dispersed down your line and leader. If you are using a tippet that is too small for the size fly you are using then your cast will not fully extend and will just fizzle out before it gets to the fly. This is due to the diameter of the tippet not being large enough to carry that energy traveling down the leader. If the tippet is too big for the fly being used then the fly will be slammed on or into the water. This happens because too much energy made it to the fly and was not dispersed evenly down the leader and tippet.

How to Pick the Right Size Tippet

So picking the right size is relatively easy. As mentioned previously this depends on the size fly you are wanting to fish with. The rule for this is to take the size fly you are using and divide that by 3 or 4. So for example, If you are wanting to fish with a size 12 fly, you will want to use a 3x or 4x tippet. So why divide by two numbers? This takes into consideration the type of flies you might be fishing with. If you are fishing with a heavier fly you might want to go with the thicker 3x tippet. If you are fishing a lighter fly then the thinner 4x tippet is a good choice.

Attaching Tippet to the Leader

When attaching new tippet to the leader on your fly line you will want to use the triple surgeons knot. This is tied easily and quick. Here is a picture showing you how to tie it because trying to explain it to you would not be very helpful in my opinion.

The darker line on the right would be the new tippet you are adding to your leader. The clear or lighter line on the left would represent your current leader on your fly line. I have found this knot to be the best way to attach new tippet to your existing leader. It is sturdy and quick to tie.

When you are adding tippet to an existing leader or tippet you want the size of the tippet to be the same size of the existing tippet or smaller. Using a bigger tippet size on a smaller existing tippet or leader will make it harder to cast the fly. It will also make the presentation of the fly not as convincing to the fish. For example, lets say you have a 4x tippet on your leader. The right tippet size to add to it would be a 4x or higher, smaller, like 6x.

As a budding fly angler you have probably found it irritating and frustrating at times to try and sort through the lingo and the different components you need to successfully fly fish. Tippet was one of those things for me. It bugged me that I not only had to buy tippet but also buy multiple sizes based on what I was fishing and the kind of fish I was fishing for. In the end though knowing why tippet is important and how the size of tippet can truly make a difference in how effective your casts and presentations are is advantageous. It is the basics that, once mastered, will make you a successful angler and make your fishing time more worthwhile and fun.

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