Fly fishing line setup can be confusing for beginners. Unlike spin-reel fishing, fly fishing typically involves four different types of lines connected in a specific order: backing, fly line, tapered leader, and tippet material. In this article, we will explore these line types and answer the question: do you need a tippet for fly fishing?
Short answer, no. You do not necessarily need a tippet for fly fishing. You can get away with just a tapered leader, as the last 16 inches of the tapered leader functions as a tippet.
However, if you keep reading you will learn why, even though it’s not absolutely necessary, you should probably be using a tippet on your setup.
What is a Tippet?
Tippets Vs Leader Vs Fly Line Vs Backing
Backing is just that, the “back up” line that makes sure you have enough if you hook a large fish with a long run. It is thick in diameter, commonly sporting 12 – 30 lbs. breaking strength, and most often made from florescent Dacron. You will generally have 50 to 300 yards of backing material tied directly to the reel spool using an arbor knot. You can look up the manufacturer’s recommended line amounts for your specific model if necessary.
The fly line is the line that actually does the work the majority of the time. It is tied to the end of the backing using an Albright knot. The reason that fly casting is possible is because of the thick, weighted construction of the fly line allows the force from your movements to be effectively transferred into the line. If you’ve ever tried to cast a spin reel like a fly rod then you know it’s almost impossible because the line just doesn’t have enough weight to transfer the force gracefully into the line. You will generally have 90 to 110 feet of fly line attached to the backing.
The next, and possibly final, component is the leader. Most leaders are 2 to 12 feet long and tapered to be thinnest at the end of the leader. The thickest portion attaches to the end of fly line using a nail knot. The taper serves two functions.
First, the thinnest portion is meant to be nearly invisible to the fish because it is so small.
Second, if you were to slow down a cast and look at it, you would see the line unfolding from a loop and the fly landing smoothly and flatly on the water. The taper accomplishes this by regulating the force from the cast through the line to allow for a smoother dissipation of energy.
The tippet, if you are using it, is tied to the end of the leader using a surgeon’s or blood knot. It is nearly invisible and not tapered. Essentially, the tippet material just extends the length of your leader, and the fly is tied to the other end of the tippet with an improved clinch knot.
What is the Purpose of a Tippet?
As mentioned above, the primary purpose of a tippet is to extend the length of the tapered leader. This provides two primary benefits.
- Tippet has a super thin diameter that, like the end of the tapered leader, is nearly invisible to the fish. Most trout streams have very clear waters, and that means that you need to be extremely stealthy with your line. Keeping your line just 2 to 4 feet further from the thicker, more visible, portions of your line might just be the enough to fool even the most cautious fish.
- Using tippet material allows for the constant changing of flies without using up the precious, and expensive, leader. I often go through multiple flies before finding the one that the fish are feeding on that day. If you were to do that with the leader, then you would quickly get to a portion that is too thick to be effective. A brand-new leader is quite a bit pricier than just tying on a couple feet of tippet material.
More Uses for Tippet
To Fish with Multiple Flies
There simply isn’t another way to fish multiple flies than with tippet. Think about it, how would you tie more than one fly onto the end of a tapered leader? You can’t. The tippet extends the leader, but it also allows you to tie multiple flies in series.
To Keep Weights from Sliding when Nymphing
When nymphing, it’s a good idea to add a section of tippet above the first fly. The knot between the leader and the tippet should stop any of your weights from sliding down the line and ruining the presentation of your fly.
To Save Money on Leader
Of course, replacing a leader is more expensive than tippet material. But, did you know you can also run a cheaper monofilament leader with more expensive fluorocarbon tippet? Best of both worlds if you ask me. All the transparency of fluorocarbon without having to pay an arm and a leg for a full fluorocarbon leader.
When Should I Use a Tippet?
The easier question to answer is, ‘when don’t you need to use tippet?’. A tippet is always going to provide you with the benefits mentioned above, but there are at least two reasons why someone might choose not to use tippet on their fly line setup.
First, if you know for sure you are fishing with just only fly or if you need to change setups quickly. If you are using just one fly, then I suppose there really isn’t much reason to take the time to tie on a tippet. Furthermore, if you are fishing with a double nymph rig and you notice fish surfacing, you might need to just quickly cut off what you are using and tie on a single fly without any tippet.
Second, if you are streamer fishing. In this case, you should actually avoid tippet as a rule. I’ve felt the way fish strike at a streamer, and let me tell you, they tend to hit streamers harder than anything else. A tippet can be a bad choice here because it can compromise the overall strength of your setup, and there is nothing worse than losing a fish to a broken line.
How to Tie on a Tippet
Tying on a tippet is incredibly simple. It is tied to the end of the tapered leader with a surgeon’s knot. Don’t worry, though, you don’t actually have to be a surgeon, or have a surgeon’s skill, to tie this simple knot. In fact, it can be done in just 4 simple steps.
- Lay the tippet and leader on top of one another, overlapping each other by several inches.
- Form a simple loop
- Pass both the tag end and the entire leader through the loop 2 times.
- Moisten the knot and pull all 4 ends tight.
How Much Tippet to Add
Everyone that I know will tell you that 2 to 4 feet of tippet is what they use. However, you can actually add more or less if you have a specific reason for doing so. I remember, one time, I was fishing this big river that was extremely clear, and I was worried that 4 feet just wouldn’t give me the length or the stealth that I wanted. So, I tied on somewhere between 6 and 8 feet and it worked perfectly. Another time, I only had about a foot of tippet left on the spool, but I didn’t want to use up the length of my pricey tapered leader, so I tied it on anyway just to have something that I could use as sacrificial material.
Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below
- I love chasing brown trout, big lake run monsters, night time trophies and memories of big boys that got away. Read 👉 The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Brown Trout
- The Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Rainbow Trout 👈 Steps through the gear, flies and setup for casting flies rainbow trout.
- I’m not sure if any fish is more beautiful than a brook trout. Learn how to find and fish for these beauties 👉 How To Fly Fish for Brook Trout
- The perfect evening for me is floating in a canoe on a tiny lake at that “Magic Hour” around sunset and casting to Bluegills. Read 👉 How To Fly Fish for Bluegill
Different Tippet Materials (Advantages and Disadvantages)
There are two types of tippet materials, monofilament and fluorocarbon.
Monofilament nylon is strong and stretchy. It’s cheap to produce, and therefore is the cheaper option. However, its stretchiness may allow knots to come undone easier. It’s also more visible in the water and less durable than fluorocarbon because nylon absorbs moisture making it less resistant to abrasion-induced line breakage. However, it’s a great option for dry flies because it doesn’t sink as easy in the water.
In comparison, fluorocarbon is more expensive and stiffer. Knots don’t come undone as easy, and it is much more transparent in the water. It’s resistant to the elements and also less affected by UV exposure than monofilament. As mentioned, it also sinks easily in water, so it’s great for nymphs. However, if your leader is monofilament, you don’t need to worry about a couple of feet of a fluorocarbon tippet sinking a dry fly.
How Do I Choose the Right Tippet Size?
The size of your tippet is going to depend on the overall weight of your fly fishing setup. An easy way to determine the best “X” size of tippet for your leader is to simply compare the diameter of the tippet with the smallest diameter of your tapered leader. Your tippet should be the same size, or slightly smaller than the thinnest end of the leader. Use this chart to help you make the right choice.
|Tippet Size||Tippet Diameter (In inches)||Approx. Breaking Strength (In lbs.) *||Fly Sizes||Fish Type|
|8X||0.003”||1.75||22, 24, 26, 28||Trout & Panfish|
|7X||0.004”||2.5||18, 20, 22, 24||Trout & Panfish|
|6X||0.005”||3.5||16, 18, 20, 22||Trout & Panfish|
|5X||0.006”||4.75||14, 16, 18||Trout & Panfish|
|4X||0.007”||6||2, 14, 16||Trout|
|3X||0.008”||8.5||6, 8, 10||Bass & Large Trout|
|2X||0.009”||11.5||4, 6, 8||Large & Small-Mouth Bass|
|1X||0.01”||13.5||2, 4, 6||Bonefish, Redfish, Permit|
|0X||0.011”||15.5||1/0, 2, 4||Salmon, Steelhead|
|0.012||0.012”||18.5||5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0||Salmon, Steelhead|
|0.013||0.013”||20||5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0||Salmon, Steelhead|
|0.015||0.015”||25||5/0, 4/0, 3/0, 2/0||Salmon, Steelhead|
Do You Need Tippet for Fly Fishing? (Find Out)
Fly fishing line setup can be confusing for beginners. Unlike spin-reel fishing, fly fishing typically involves four different types of lines connected in a specific…
Unlock the Power of Fly Line Tapers: Boost Your Casting and Catch More Fish
As a fly fisherman, you might know that fly fishing is a bit different from other forms of fishing because the fly line is the…
The Cortland Fly Line Review You’ve Been Waiting For
All the top fly line brands, like SA, Rio, and Orvis, have specialized fly lines for a wide range of fishing scenarios. Nymphing requires a…
Amnesia for Fly Fishing – Sighter and Running Line for Salmon and Steelhead
Sighter lines are game-changers in the fly fishing industry; in fact, with the right sighters, you will never have to guess where your dry fly…
How to Fly Fish with Sinking Fly Line
As anglers grow more comfortable with a fly rod, the methods and opportunities to target fish drastically increase. The transition into new methods or equipment…
Can You Use a Swivel Fly Fishing (How to and When)?
Using swivels in fly fishing can at times be a must have requirement to keep line twisting to a minimum. In my experience this is…
Last Cast with Tippets
Tippet line is a great way to extend the life of a leader. Fly fishing gear can be expensive enough, so it’s nice when you can save some money by wearing out a couple of feet of inexpensive tippet, and not need to replace an entire tapered leader. In almost every circumstance, I use tippet on my setup. Even though you can technically just use the leader, I can’t recommend leaving it out of your kit.
Author Hunter Winke
Hunter is an avid outdoorsman who loves to fish, hike, and even do a little bushcraft when he gets the chance. When he’s not outside, Hunter is always writing something. Whether that be a fiction story for his college’s classes or an article about one of his favorite topics, he has deep a love and respect for the written word.