Eye of the Guide

LEADERS AND TIPPETS - Along with the importance of Wind, Inches and Angles

Tom Travis - Jul 30, 2012

"The only way to learn is to be open minded."

Many fly fishers are going to read these words and be upset, because much of what I have to say goes against much of the writing and conventional wisdom of the day. I would just ask that you read, digest and consider the conclusion I will present. These methods, practices and understandings have stood me in good stead over an angling career that has spanned more than fifty years. These are also the methods I teach at fly fishing clinics and on guided fishing trips for the past thirty five years, and these practices have been proven to be effective time and time again. These methods did not spring full blown into being; they were developed over time and by learning from others, including those that I was instructing.

This past season I was helping some friends of mine with a filming project for a new DVD on learning how to fly fish, we were doing the basic learn how to cast sequence, and then they asked me to explain line speed, loop size, single haul and the like. I thought about this, and suggested that if this was truly a beginners "learn how to DVD" that we they should not over-load them with information they are going to have a hard time digesting and understanding at this point in the learning process.

Consider this, today many people attend a fly fishing school to learn how to fly fish, others go with guides to learn how, but the majority of the people learn to fish by going out with a friend or a relative and with little or no explanation are given a rod and told to have at it. They can't cast very well, but you know what? They slap the fly out there and it floats down and the fish eats it! I have seen this many times and I am sure you have, but why did this beginning angler get the fish to eat?  Actually it is simple. The angler did not have any knowledge of proper casting or drift lines or feeding stations, but, that cast that was slapped out there on the water was full of all kinds of slack line and it floated down to the trout in a drag free manner and the trout ate it. To say that beginning angler was excited would be an understatement. For many that is the way they started, and as we learned more we began to catch more trout.

As we progress we learn more about rods, reels, fly lines, casting, presentation methods and more about the trout and gradually we improve. We discover the fly fishing magazines and the rich literature that fly fishing has to offer and some are bitten by the fly fishing bug and progress even further. Sometimes as we gain knowledge we are also sucked in by the marketing and the hype given to certain segments of our sport. We spend a considerable amount of money on various fly rods, which are touted to make us a better caster, on reels that have drags that will stop a tank and fly lines that are now so specialized that they supposedly do everything except talk to us. Then we have leaders that the trout can't see and are strong enough to tether a battleship or so we are led to believe.

However, in my opinion we have become lax and often ignore a very simple yet important part of our fly fishing equipment, and that is the connections of the leader to the fly line and the taper of our leaders. Many anglers understand that casting accuracy and proper presentation of the imitation is important to the success of the day, yet time and time again I find poor connections between the fly lines and the leaders or improper tapers on the leaders which will have a decided impact on the success of the day.

The connections and tapers are one of my pet peeves. As a guide I cannot tell you how many times I have checked out the leaders and the connections between the leader and the fly line and found problems. Many times these problems have been ignored by the guides they were out with on the previous day. In fact, I find it to rather disgusting and totally unprofessional. Please allow me to digress for a moment from the topic at hand to explain.

Guiding anglers is about more than just taking them out and getting fish! Yes, I want my clients to catch fish, and I always work very hard toward that end, however, I also want them to understand why they caught the fish.

I fully realize that most anglers spend many days on the water without the services of a guide, therefore I want to help my clients improve their skills and understanding of this sport for which I have such a love and passion. Therefore, I endeavor to teach them as much as they can absorb on any given day they spend with me. "I am as concerned about how many trout you will catch tomorrow without me as I am about how many trout you will catch today with me." This is the motto and creed that I have guided by for the past thirty five years. That is why I consider teaching so very important and I am upset when others of my profession gloss over or ignore potential problems. Now, I will climb down off my soapbox and continue on the subject of connections and tapers.

The fly rod has received as lot of press over time, but when all is said and done the rod is, in basic terms, first a delivery tool and once the trout is hooked then it becomes a tool to fight the fish. The fly line has also received a fair amount press and yet it is only part of the delivery system. Now, we come to what connections should we use to attach the leader to the fly line.

The connections that I have seen used most often during the last few years are as follows; Braided Butt Connectors, Looped Fly Lines, The Nail Knot, which was used to attach a heavy stiff section of monofilament to the tip of the fly line. The final connection which I have encountered is the Needle Knot, which again is a method of attaching a stiff heavy section of monofilament to the tip of a fly line.

This following is my opinion on the four connections; The Braided Butt Connectors are easy and convenient, however unless the base of the braided connector is butted up against the very base of the fly line tip you will have gap and the gap will give you casting accuracy problems, as this gap will cause a hinge! The second major problem that I have encountered with the Braided Butt Connectors is that they soak up water and must be coated with floatant or that fact alone will create presentation problem.

The Nail Knot connection is without a doubt the one that I encounter most often. Though this connection is strong and somewhat reasonable, it also creates some problems for the anglers.


This knot is often used to join a butt section to the fly line. It doesn't go through the guides as smoothly as the Needle Knot; however it is easy and quick to tie when you are streamside.

Leaders and Tippets

As you can see, this knot originates on the outside of the tip of the fly line. This can create problems in getting the line out through the guides and once a trout is hooked, bringing the tip of the fly line and this knot back through tip top of the rod and through the guides may cause major problems if the fish decides to run again. I have seen many anglers frustrated by their inability to get the line out of the tip of the rod because of this knot. I have also seen anglers grab the leader and attempt to pull the line out and in doing so have candy-caned their rods and broken them. I have also seen anglers reel this knot into the tip top of the rod and the fish, decided to make another short dash, and in doing so the knot got hung up in the tip top and the trout broke off. Therefore, even though this connecting is the one I see the most and the one that I know many fly shops use, it is my last choice as a connector!

The next knot to consider is the Fly Line Loop Connection. Today many of the new fly lines come from the factory with a small tight loop already built into the tip of the fly line. I have no problem with them and they work very well. However, unless the fly line has a built in factory loop, the connection method that I have found to be the most effective and efficient is the Needle Knot. This knot allows for the smoothest means of joining a leader butt section to the fly line. This is also the knot I prefer to use when joining the fly line to the backing.

It is very important that you monitor this knot, as eventually the fly line at the top of the knot will crack, when this happens, it's time to redo the knot. To do this knot you don't need any special tools, just a large eyed sewing needle.


Leaders and Tippets

When attaching a butt section of monofilament to the fly line, select a type of mono that is stiff and about 20" in length. Prior to inserting the mono into the hole in the fly line trim it to fine point and moisten. If that is done the mono will slide through the hole like a greased pig. Once the knot is completed and trimmed, form a perfection loop on the end of the mono, then you can use a loop to loop system for connecting the leader to butt section.

Some anglers use a much longer section and then knot their leaders to the butt section. This means that the length of the butt section is always changing and if you fish a lot, you will redo your butt section throughout the season. I would rather have a constant length on the butt section and not have to fool with. Also the loop to loop system of attachment allows for a quick and easy method to change leaders.


This knot is the one often used to place a loop in the butt section of a leader, and is also used when preparing dropper strands.

Leaders and Tippets

NOTE: To attach the leader to the butt section of the fly line or to the fly line itself use the loop-to-loop system, as pictured. Remember, never put the leader through its own loop this will cause hinge and effect casting accuracy.

Leaders and Tippets


This knot is used to join two sections of leader material.

  1. Lay the two lengths of lines alongside of each other, overlapping about six inches. Hold the lines at the midpoint and take five turns around the standing line with one of the tag ends and then bring the end back between the two strands where they are being held at the midpoint.
  2. Hold that part of the knot in position and take the other tag end and repeat the process on the other side. The two tag ends should protrude from the knot in opposite directions.
  3. Wet the material and slowly tighten the knot, taking care that the two tag ends do not back out of their positions. The wraps will gather into a tight spiral as they come together. Ensure that the wraps do not overlap.
  4. Pull the knot tight and clip the tag ends as close to the knot as possible. I prefer this knot as it is a flush trimmed knot and no tags need to be left.

Leaders and Tippets

Many of today's anglers are consumed with long leaders varying from twelve to eighteen feet and with 6X, 7X and even 8X tippets while fishing small flies on lakes, spring creeks and tail waters. I never go lighter in tippets than I have to, and I never go with longer leaders unless the situation demands it. Most the time I am using seven and half foot to nine foot leaders. For example, most anglers have heard of the spring creeks of Paradise Valley, (Armstrong's, DePuy's & Nelson's) and the general consensus is for long leaders, 12 feet being the most popular and fine tippets starting with 6X. On these spring creeks, I generally start the season in the spring with 4X, if I am using a two fly rig, I might place the dropper on 5X depending on the type and size of the imitations I am using. As the season progresses and we get into late June, which is the prime time of the PMD hatch, I will switch to 5X. Here again with a possible 6X dropper, depending on the size of the imitations.

Once August arrives I am generally using 6X for all of the imitations, with the exception of certain terrestrial patterns and of course leeches and minnow imitations. With those patterns I may be using anything from 2X, 3X or 4X depending on the imitation and the method employed to fish it effectively. It is a rare instance when I ever use 7X. However, I often hear anglers state that they had to go to 7X or 8X and had to lengthen the leader before they could get the trout to eat their offerings.

Being a long time fly fishing guide with a reasonable amount of experience on the spring creeks and tail waters, and having spent considerable time observing those anglers I have discovered that their problem wasn't the need for finer tippets nor longer leaders. The problem was one of dealing with the wind, understanding the effects of the wind on the drift and the angle of cast, changing the angle of approach and the casting angle, casting too long of a line, casting to far above the intended target and not casting accurately! Even a light breeze can cause drag problems that the angler may never see or realize, however the trout will!!

Much has been written about leaders and tippets, how the trout see them and shy away from the presented imitation. There is copious amounts of printed material out there on the different brands and how brand X is better than brand Y and how if you use brand Z, it is invisible and on and on. Most of this is nothing more than marketing and pure Bull & Bunk!!!

Consider this, do leaders and tippets swoop down and grab the trout with sharp talons. Do they chase them and scoop them up in broad bill as do Pelicans. Do they swim underwater and chase them as otters, mink, cormorants or mergansers do? Of course not!

The leader and the tippet is the connection between the fly line and the fly. I have read and heard statements about the leader being to shiny or the leader is to dark thus creating a contrast that the trout notices. Or the tippet was too heavy and the fish rejected my offering. Therefore, I need a finer tippet this is limper and that will allow for a better presentation. (This has some validity in certain situations.) However, more times than not, all of the above are excuses and not the real solutions to the angler's problem. When does a leader or the effects of a leader spook a trout?

Well, in my experience if you hit the trout in the head with the leader, he will be bothered, if you cast directly over a trout on smooth flat water on a bright sunny day, you will cause him to shy off, but other than the above mentioned examples the single biggest cause of the trout shying off is DRAG!

Drag can be cause by a number of factors, the most common are; wind, current between you and your target and choosing the wrong angle of presentation, casting too long a line for situation and casting too far above the target.

Over the years of my career I have seen many situations where drag was the problem and the correction had nothing to do with longer leaders or finer tippets. Allow me to relate a situation I encountered in late June 2011 on DePuy's Spring Creek.

Angler X sighted a very nice brown trout; the trout was positioned slightly up and across from his position. The day was clear, there was no wind and it was a bright blue sky, the water was flat and smooth, and the water depth was between thirty and forty inches in depth. The Pale Morning Dun hatch was ok, but a touch on the light side, therefore the trout were not holding in strong feeding positions, rather they were moving around a fair amount to feed.

Angler X took a position slight below and across from the trout, and he started out with a Nine foot, 5x leader with a PMD parachute emerger and a PMD nymph dropped off the emerger on 6X dropper. The dropper was fourteen inches long. He was in trouble from the very beginning, because he saw the trout feeding and didn't take a few minutes to watch the trout to determine at what depth the nymphs were being taken, thus the dropper he was using was too short. Secondly, it was thirty casts and change flies; thirty casts change flies, then lengthen the leader and go to 6x with 7x droppers, and still no trout. So back to thirty casts and change flies!

Then he tried to change his position so he could cast across and slightly down to the trout, but on any of his across stream presentations he was getting drag from the currents between him and the target. Therefore, he then tried to mend the line, but his mends were sinking the dry parachute emerger.

Then to make matters worse, a north wind came up and began to blow at 5 mph up the creek, nothing that unfishable, but I could feel the steady increase to around 7 or 8 mph, and this breeze was being to retard the natural drifts of the insect on the water.

He resumed his original position and the wind was now effecting the drift speed of his fly line, helping to create even more drag problems. Still it was thirty casts and change the fly.

Even though I was guiding Angler X and have done so for many years, he was not heeding my counsel. Sometimes this happens and you have to let the anglers enjoy a certain amount of frustration and failure before they are willing to listen and to learn and remember the lesson. Angler X is really a very good angler, but sometimes incomplete knowledge is dangerous knowledge. This is not me boasting, this is just a plain statement of fact.

As the hatch progressed, finally the time arrived when Angler X said, "Ok, what do think I should do", as the trout were still visibly feeding but were not interested in anything Angler X had shown him so far. The first thing we did was to switch back to a nine foot leader with a 5x tippet and a low floating PMD parachute emerger, and a 5x dropper that was 22 inches in length and the original PMD nymph he had started with. The selection of the patterns and the dropper length was determined by a few minutes of observation on the depth at which the trout were feeding and the weight and sink rate of the nymph we had chosen to use. We also examined the feeding area where the trout were working and all the currents leading into the feeding area and the current between Angler X and the feeding area. Then I explained how the wind was retarding the natural drift of the floating fly line on the water and the fact that the wind was also effecting the natural drift of the adult insects and how few the trout were feeding on. Next, I greased the entire leader so it would float, right down to the para-emerger. We needed the leader to be floating if we need to make a mend to achieve a natural dead-drift presentation.

Then we dropped down-stream from the feeding trout and started presenting the imitations, and then watching each drift, we would take another step out in the stream to right, and soon we were almost straight below the trout. Angler X was worried about lining the trout, but I told him to use a hook cast so the trout would see the fly before he detected the line or leader. I also pointed out that the wind was ruffling the surface of the water and that we had approached slowly and the cast would not be a long one.

After the fifth cast, he was hard and fast into a 21 inch brown trout, which was landed, taped, photograph and released. Angler X commented that he doubted that he could have landed that fish on 6x or 7x, as it took several trips through the weed beds before it was tired out enough for us to slip the net under it. Angler X, armed with this new lesson, carefully altered his position and went from trout to trout, hooking and landing several more fish before the hatch faded for the day.

That afternoon at lunch we discussed the problem encountered, the tippets, the patterns, the currents, the effect of the weed beds, and most importantly we discussed the progression of steps the angler should follow when solving a problem. Angler X admitted that once he saw that trout feeding that he was intent on hooking it. He really did want to waste any time watching the fish, or attempt to figure out the problem with the tippets or the patterns and when he could be casting to it. Does this sound familiar, if not it should, for we have all been in Angler X's shoes at one time or another! By taking time for observation and the consideration of all the important information dealing with the angling situation you will be able to fish more effectively, while others around you may be dealing with the frustration and failure.

Many anglers seem to turn off the thought process when the trout begin to rise, but the thirty casts and change flies and/or tippets is seldom the proper solution. Taking the time to watch how the trout is feeding, where in the water column the feeding is taking place, the depth of water in question, the speed of the currents, looking at the currents between you and your intend target, understanding how and when to mend your line is generally a better and more productive practice.

Greasing your leader and the tip of your fly line so everything is floating nicely, checking the wind and factoring in what effect will be on your presentation are part of the game. Also know what the trout is feeding on and select the proper imitation. Then choose your presentation angle and begin working the trout, knowing that you may have to alter your angle based on wind, currents, weed beds and so forth.

This all sounds very complex and I am sure that there are those individuals who will shun and ignore this advice.

I once had someone ask me if I went through all of this with a new angler, and I replied, "Some of it." Learning is a progression of steps and I try not to overwhelm the student all at once. However, when others are doing the thirty cast and change fly method you can be taking trout in a consistent manner by just taking a little time to consider the situation and reacting accordingly.

Is all drag bad? The answer is NO. A couple of years ago I was fishing with a friend on the Henry's Fork of the Snake, and there was a very nice rainbow trout feeding on PMD Spinners. The trout was located at the end of a weed bed and the casting lane was very narrow and the natural were zipping right along due to the currents created by the weed beds.

My friend finally gave up in frustration and was sitting on the bank, when I worked my way up to him. Now he had taken many other trout on spinners that evening but he wanted that fish and was sorely frustrated. He pointed out the trout and after watching the feeding trout I understood his desire, but I had noticed something that he had failed to realize. He explained that he had tried every angle and method of mending that he could think of and was unable to get a decent drift to the trout. What I had noticed was that the naturals were also zipping along the currents in a most unusual manner. I told him that the problem was that he was trying to get a dead drift in a situation where the naturals were zipping (dragging) along in a most unusual manner, so instead of changing leaders, tippets and fly patterns, pick the pattern you caught the other fish on and grease up the leader so it won't sink and screw up the unnatural drift and make the cast.

As I explained, the light of understanding burned bright in his eyes and within a couple of minutes he stepped out and deftly laid out the leader and fly above the trout into that narrow feeding lane. I am always amazed by his casting skills. He gathered the slack line as the river fed it to his rod tip which was held low just off the surface of the water, the imitation skittered, jerked and juked just like the naturals and the trout tipped up and ate!

Now, I would love to tell you how he masterfully handled this large rainbow and how we netted, photographed and released this wonderful bright and beautiful fish. But alas, he had changed flies several times and had gone from 5x to 7x while trying to solve the problem and once I had explained my conclusions he had switched flies back to his original pattern, but had neglected to change is tippet back to 5x. The trout dove into the weeds and went out the other side, leaped once and dove into another weed bed, there was a surge and the fly line and leader floated up and the trout was no longer attached. "Well, at least I fool him," he said with a wry smile. As he has told me many times since, it was a lesson that he never forgot. I find myself more effective when working over a large trout if I calm down and consider everything and take my time! We have all had similar experiences, the trick is to learn from your mistakes and remember the lessons.

Now, we come to the subject of do the trout see the leader? It is possible that the trout does see the leader but they see a lot of things. They are unmoved by those things which pose no threat to them. Remember, they are natural creatures that react to things that pose a threat. Do they notice the leader when it is dragging, maybe, but they would notice that the imitation is not acting in a natural manner. Thus they refuse or ignore the fly. Now, there has to be some thought given to the selection of the leader and tippet, and these must be selected based on the type water, and the size of the imitation and finally the angling situation you are faced with. As I stated earlier, too many anglers quickly chose, 6x and 7x for small flies (Sizes 18-28). I never give the trout anything they don't demand when it comes to tippets. I never use 5x when 4x will work and so on.

Several years ago I watched Doug Swisher take a leader with a 4x tippet and turn it around attaching the tippet to the fly line and tying the fly to the butt section, and then I watch him proceed to take several trout during a hatch on that setup. The point being that by showing the trout the fly before it sees the tippet, leader and line you can be successful.

Consider this, what is the diameter of 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x and so on, and what is the diameter of the steel hook the fly is tied on. If they are seeing the tippets and leaders then chance are they are seeing the hooks and if that was the case, would we catch any trout? We have binocular vision where the trout have monocular; therefore their vision is not as sharp and clear as ours. While they are seeing out of both eyes, but their eyes are on opposite sides of their head.

So yes, they may see the leader, but if the leader hasn't hit them in the head or slapped the water over their heads they pay no attention to as it offers no threat to them. The same is true of flies, if the imitation is correct, meaning that the size, shape and color are acceptable then they make take the fly.

When they take the fly, whether it is a nymph, streamer, wet fly or dry fly they are setting up to take the imitation before it arrives at their position, but they actually can't see the fly as they eat because of the location of their eyes in relationship to their mouth. Again, it is the angle of presentation and the pattern which are important, the leader and tippets are important as long as they are suitable for the task at hand. If the trout are so shy of leaders, how come I have watched trout rise and try to eat the small flame color indicators I use on some of my nymphing rigs?

One afternoon I was fishing on Armstrong's Spring Creek, when a large dark thunder storm began to billow up in the west, blocking out the sun and causing the bright light of the morning to fade into a late evening type light. As the storm and the winds had not yet arrived, the PMD spinners came out and began to fall on the water. The trout were after them like a bunch of kids after a bowl of candy. At the time this event was happening I was fishing the base of a riffle and was able to approach very close to the trout and cast almost directly over them because of low light conditions.

At times I would see trout actually bump the leader with their head during the rise and knocking the fly out of the drift lane. I would simply take a step to the left or the right depending on the situation and recast to the trout and get a take. If trout realize what the leaders are and could see and understand what the hooks are we would never catch them, and we all know that trout can be caught. Let us take a look at the diameters of the smaller tippets:

Rio-Tippets were used for this chart.

4x 0.007 diameter = 6.4 lb. test

5x 0.006 diameter = 5 lb. test

6x 0.005 diameter - 3.4 lb. test

7x 0.004 diameter = 2.4 lb. test

I once heard Lefty Kreh say that no trout in the world can tell the difference between 0.005 and 0.006 and I agree, and if we run into a trout that can, we should probably eat that trout for lunch and not let their genes be passed on. It is angle of presentation and the presentation which are critical not whether is it 5x or 6x.

Now, what type of leaders and tippets do I prefer? Leader and tippets represent some of the greatest advances in fishing tackle that we have seen in the last twenty years. Prior to that the materials were not all the same and some were better than others, but today most of the materials are pretty decent. I use Orvis SSS, Rio, Umpqua and Dai-Riki. However, I always use Orvis Leader and Orvis SSS, and I never mix the materials, if you get my meaning. For still waters, spring creeks, tail-waters, and general match the hatch type fishing I use knotless leaders, generally starting with nine foot leader. However, on very small creeks I will use seven and half foot leaders. I do build some leaders for sink tips and full sinking lines and I do build some special leaders that I use for wet fly fishing.

These special leaders I build with Maxima leader material. I find that most of the modern leaders will turn over just fine as long as you are choosing the correct leader and tippet diameter for the situation.

As far as choosing a leader and tippet material, if you have a favorite, then use it. There may be something else that is better, stronger but if you are having success with what you are using stick with it. If someone comes up with a new material that is touted as being revolutionary, ask yourself, "What will it do for me that I am not already doing?" Remember, companies that produce new material want you to believe that the stuff you are currently using, even if it's their product, is inferior to their newest and greatest product. They don't make any money if you keep using the old stuff that you current have in your vest.

I know some anglers that use 12, 14 and even 18 foot leaders and they are very good with them. However, short, close casts are more difficult for the average angler using a long leader, and if you are going to try to use one and have no prior experience with them I suggest that you practice your casting with those long leaders before you take them on the water.

Now, what do I think of Fluorocarbon leaders and tippets, well, not much and not often. I have found that the biggest different between regular Rio and Fluorocarbon tippet is about $10.50!! When the Fluorocarbon material came out and became popular I bought and tested several different brands and have determined that this new material will not do anything for me that I cannot achieve with other regular materials. To me, this is all marketing!

It is like someone who wants to buy a new fly rod to become a better fly caster. The new rod will not make him a better fly caster. Without the proper instruction and lots of practice on the water he will be no better caster than he was before, but he will have a new rod! It is the same with Fluorocarbon and Regular Leaders, it is learning the angles of presentation, understanding the currents, and having the ability to cast properly and considering all of the factors that will affect your presentation.

I guess I have never understood why the fluorocarbon fishing lines are even allowed in these days of environmental concerns. Regular monofilament, when disposed of improperly, caused concerns but regular monofilament will breakdown with the UV rays of direct sunlight. However, fluorocarbon does not decay in sunlight and thus is a greater threat to the environment. Go figure!

I remember a funny incident, I witnessed a few years ago when I was in a fly shop where I was to meet one of my clients.

As I was talking to the shop owner when another customer walked in seeking information on dealing with the spring creeks, and when it came to tippets 6x was suggested to the customer. He replied that he only fished 7x, 8x and 9x tippets. Therefore, the owner coolly looked over at the customer and said, "OK, here is some 9x and I'll see you again around 1 p.m."

The customer replied, "1 p.m. why then?"

"By then you will have lost all of the flies you have just bought."

"Why, because of the 9x?"

"Yes sir, I told you 6x but you replied that you only us 7x, 8x and 9x, and therefore I recommend 9x."

"But why 9x?"

"Well sir," the owner replied with a half grin and twinkle in his eye, "Marketing, my friend, marketing."

After the customer left, I stood there laughing. I don't think I have ever heard an exchange like that ever before.

On a more serious note, the finer the tippet the longer it takes to land a trout. That is a true fact even when the experts are doing the fighting and landing. For those who don't get to fish all the time, they tend to tire the trout out far beyond what is necessary simply because they don't have the experience of landing fish on a regular basis.

As one of my comedian friends observed; "Why he had that fish on for so long he grew two inches".

Matching Tippets to Fly Size

4x - Fly Sizes 12, 14, 16, 18

5x - 14, 16, 18, 20

6x - 16, 18, 20, 22---Even some 24's

7x - 20 to 28

Remember these suggestions are guidelines only, they are not cast in stone!

Now, what do I think of some of the new tippets such as 9x, 10x, 11x, or 12x. My own personal view is that these tippets are utter foolishness! They have more to do with marketing and fly sales than offering a serviceable and sensible material for the angler. Have I tried them? Yes, for I would not offer an opinion on something I hadn't tried and experimented with. Do I think that they add anything useful to the angler's ability to effectively take trout? NO!!!

At this point in my fishing career I use very little 7x or 8x because I simply have not found the need for it. At one time I used a lot of 7x and even a fair amount of 8x, but then I learned that by changing angles on approach and presentation I was able to take fish on 5x and 6x tippets and I landed more trout and lost less. Even when using soft action fly rods, you simply lose too many trout due to the breaking strength of the finer tippets.

As for the 9x to 12x tippets, I see a couple of major problems. First is the breaking strength of the material, how well will it stand up under the surging run of a brown trout through a weed bed or the airborne antics of a rainbow? The second concern is that in an attempt to land a reasonable trout on the fine diameters of this material the angler will play the trout to point of exhaustion, thus reducing its chances of being successfully revived and released.

Fishing Tips Concerning Leaders

By using Uni-knots or Duncan loops to attach the imitation to the tippet, you will accomplish two objectives. First, these knots allow a greater natural movement of the imitation which may assist in the proper presentation of the fly. Secondly, the small loop left at the eye of the hook, which allows the movement can also act as a mini shock-absorber if a larger trout takes the fly. On a heavy strike or hard run, the knot will tighten down to the eye of the hook. If the loop tightening down seems like a small thing it is often the small things that make the different between landing and losing a nice trout.

Remember, observation is one of the most important factors which lead to success. I have often observed that when the mayflies are hatching the dun will float along drying their wings in a dead drift manner; during this period I have seen trout ignore the drifting duns. However, just prior to taking off the duns will do a little hop, skip and flutter, and at that moment the trout will take them. I have seen this happen with a variety of different mayfly species. I believe that is it the movement of the duns on the surface which is the trigger for the trout. However, we have often read about dead-drift presentation methods with dun mayfly imitations. However, as I have often said of fly fishing; "The rule is, there are no rules."

In that situation I suggest greasing the entire leader, along with imitation and place the cast, say 20 inches above your intended target and as the fly reaches a point just a few inches above the trout's feeding station Then twitch the imitation to simulate the hop, skip and flutter of the natural. I have used this technique many times, successfully. It is very important to grease the tip of the fly line, the butt section and the entire leader and you want everything to float so you can mend your line and leader if necessary and manipulate the imitation at the proper time. If the leader is sinking, any mending of the line or manipulation will cause the dry imitation to flounder and sink, thus defeating the whole purpose of the operation.

Anytime I am fishing dry imitations I want my leader to float so I can properly mend the line or manipulate the fly. Therefore, I am always greasing my leader with floatant. When I am nymphing and using a strike indicator, again I will grease my leader as far down as the indictor. This is done so I may properly mend the fly line and leader when necessary.

Knotless v/s Knotted

Over time, I have played with the ancient twisted horsehair leader of the past. I have found these leaders to be stronger and more elastic than you might imagine. However, I still prefer the new modern materials.

I have also used and played with the gut leaders of my grandfather's time and which were at one point in history the most popular and most commonly use leader material in the fly fishing world. This material had to be soaked prior to use and though these were used in great numbers, they tended to be a bit brittle in the finer tippet sizes.

The advances in leader materials has been remarkable, I chuckle when I recall some of the leader material of my youth. Some today would regard those old leaders and tippets something akin to hawser rope, but there was a constant progression of new and improved leader materials. Some better than others, but we tried them all. The old Berkley or Gladding materials worked and many of today's anglers would be amazed that these old leader actually held fish and allowed you to land them. However, I am glad for the new leaders and tippets that we have today.

At times we made our own leaders in the early days this was because the taper designs of the early machine drawn leaders were not balanced and often anglers had problems turning the fly over during the cast. However, for the most part the machine drawn leaders of today are pretty good and for the most part I enjoy the ease of use and the convenience that they offer. I prefer knotless leaders for much of my fishing. For spring creeks, tail-waters and many of the still water angling situations the knotless leader allows for cleaner and easier fishing. These types of waters often have extensive weed beds, and when you have heavy weed beds, you also have a fair amount of floating debris. Lord knows, the knotless leader catches enough of this stuff. Unfortunately, the knotted leaders are worse, as each knot may collect floating weeds, seedpods and the like. Furthermore, when fighting a trout that has run through a weed bed, the knotted leaders offer a series of small knots that catch the weeds causing little jerks on the leader which can lead to lost fish. In these rich waters I prefer as few knots as possible, as I generally don't need any help in losing fish and a knotted leader would give a greater advantage to the trout.

However, having stated my beliefs, I will tell you, if you are happy and confident with your choice of knotted leaders then us them! It is not that I haven't used them and won't use them again. I am simply stating the facts as I see them.

The knots that I use to attach flies to the leader are as follows: the Duncan Loop or the improved Clinch Knot. I have used both knots for years and have had no problems with either knot.


One basic knot, which can be varied to meet many needs of the angler, is the Duncan Loop Uni‑Knot. This knot can be used to tie the backing to the reel spool. It can be used to join two lines together and it can also be used to attach the imitation to the leader.

  1. Run leader material (tippet) through the eye of the hook. Fold it back to make two parallel lines, and then bring the tag end back in a circle towards the eye of the hook.
  2. Make five turns with the tag end around the doubled line and through the circle. Hold the double line at a point where it passes through the eye of the hook and pull the tag end to snug up the knot.
  3. Now slide the knot down the line to the eye of the hook. Once again, pull on the tag to secure the knot and trim off the tag.


NOTE: Depending on the type of imitation being used you may want to leave a loop of 1/4 to 1/2 inch between the knot and the eye of the hook. This will allow for natural movement of the imitation. On larger fish this loop can also act as a shock absorber.

This knot can be used when fishing for various fresh and saltwater species.

Leaders and Tippets


The most popular knot used to attach an imitation to the tippet is the Improved Clinch Knot.

  1. Pass the line through the eye of the hook. Take the tag end and five make wraps around the line. Holding the wraps in place, thread the tag end through the first loop above the eye of the hook and then through the big loop as shown.
  2. Hold the tag end and standing line and slowly tighten the knot. Ensure the wraps are in a spiral, not overlapping each other. Slide the knot tight to the eye of the hook and trim the tag.


Leaders and Tippets
Now, you have it, my thoughts and opinions on tippets and leaders. I hope that it helps you the next time you go fishing.

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