Shop Talk: Leader and Tippet

By Jacob Milholland

It’s Delayed Harvest season, which also means its time to restock your fishing vest! I talk to anglers on a daily basis about the intricacies of gearing up for a day on the water, and often find that many anglers have not been educated properly in the jargon used to describe basics. Leader and tippet are a prime example. When should one use fluorocarbon vs nylon, or what pound test leader should I use? What is 4X?

Leader and tippet describes two different components to a system that work together to allow us to deliver our flies to the fish as well as create a tie-on point to our flies (you should never attach a fly directly to the fly line or tie knots in a fly line).

Leaders are tapered from butt to tip, and the taper allows our near-weightless flies to turn over. Since our leaders are tapered, we would prematurely ruin the leader’s taper if we were to tie our flies directly. Think of tippet as additional leader material. I can add tippet to the end of the leader with a connecting knot in order to create a termination section to tie the fly without cutting back into the leader. Tippet is also used to create a tandem fly rig (such as the dry-dropper), to lengthen our leaders or to downsize our tippet for line-shy fish.

Monofilament and fluorocarbon are the materials that leader and tippet are made from. To keep things simple, monofilament floats and fluorocarbon sinks. I use monofilament for my dry flies, and I use fluorocarbon for all of my subsurface flies. Fluorocarbon also offers better abrasion resistance.

With fly rods, we use delicate rods to protect very light line, so I typically ignore the breaking strength unless I know that I will be around larger than average fish. If you look at packaging, you’ll also notice leader and tippet use the “x” system in addition to length and a breaking strength. This is a standardized measurement of line diameter. When looking at the “x,” the larger the number, the smaller the diameter. For example, 4X is larger than 5X. I almost always start with 4X for trout applications and will adapt to the conditions.

Feel free to call us at the shop for a fishing report or come by and see us at the shop if you have questions! We are a full service fly shop and guide service with an inventory of guide-tested gear, located in the heart of downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Jacob Milholland is the Store Manager of Cohutta Fishing Company, Blue Ridge, Georgia. (706) 946-304.