What Is Fly Fishing Tippet Plus Tips to Catching More Fish

Everybody wants to catch more fish when fly fishing, but is a tippet really that important?

The Quick Answer to What is Fly Fishing Tippet?

A fly fishing tippet is a monofilament line attached to the end of the leader.  It is a specific gauge, and you tie your fly on the end of the tippet.  It is the thinnest line on your fly fishing setup and is designed to be difficult for fish to see.  Ideally, a good tippet is flexible enough that it lets the fly float freely and naturally so it looks more like a real insect.

What size tippet should I use?

First, understand that the gauge of tippet that you use is somewhat a personal preference.  There is no exact science to the thickness of tippet that will work best.  However, there are some guidelines you can follow to get started.  The larger and heavier your fly is, the larger your tippet should be.

The smaller it is, the thinner your tippet should be.  The reason for this is because pairing the correct sized tippet with the correct fly will make it float more naturally in the water.  This makes the fly look more like a real insect to the fish.

In addition, when you are able to use a thicker tippet it will be much easier with which to work.  These tippets will be easier to tie, they will be easier to cast, and they will be less likely to become a tangled mess.  Larger tippets are also better if you get tangled in grasses or trees, when smaller tippets would snap and you would lose your fly.

However, you cannot just use a thick tippet on every fly.  You do want to attempt to match the tippet to the fly whenever possible.  When using a small, light fly, you must use a thin tippet.  When using streamers, leeches, hoppers, or minnows you are fine to go with a thicker tippet as the movement of the fly is not as important.

As for visibility to the fish, you will hear just about everything.  Some anglers claim that a fish can see even the thinnest tippet.  Other anglers will say that the thickets tippets are still invisible to the fish.  I am more inclined to focus on the size of the fly when choosing the tippet.  Here is a general guide:

  • 6-7X for dry flies 18 or higher
  • 1-3X for steelhead nymphs based on the size of the fly
  • 0X for steelhead spey
  • 0-2X for stoneflies 4 and up
  • 3X for stoneflies size 8-6
  • 4-7X for nymphs based on size

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What knots to use attaching a tippet to a leader

There are several different knots you can use to attach a tippet to a leader.  Below are instructions on five different options you can try:

Double Surgeon’s Knot – This knot is by far the most popular knot for tying a tippet to a leader.  It is easy to learn, fast to complete, and works in all conditions.

  • Place the leader and the tippet side by side so they have about a six-inch overlap.
  • Grab the leader and tippet and pinch them with your left thumb and forefinger.
  • Use your right hand to tie and overhand knot, but do not tighten it until instructed.
  • Feed the entire length of the tippet through the overhand knot.
  • Grab the loop with your left hand and again pass the entire length of the tippet through again.
  • Tighten by pulling the ends.
  • Trim the ends.

Ovis Knot

  • Put the tippet and leader next to each other with about six inches of overlap.
  • Pinch the overlapped section and fold it back on itself to make a loop.
  • Wrap the ends around the loop and bring them up above it.
  • Feed the whole tippet through the loop twice.
  • Wet the knot area and pull the tippet and leader tight.
  • Trim the ends.

J Knot – This knot is likely the strongest leader to tippet knot to use. Field and Stream tested it to be stronger than the other most popular knots.

  • Lay the leader and tippet next to each other with an overlap of six inches.
  • Make a loop by forming an overhand knot.
  • Feed the length of the leader through the loop.
  • Feed the end of the tippet and the entire leader through the loop from the backside.
  • Feed it through the backside again from the top.
  • Feed it through the backside again from the bottom.
  • Moisten the line and pull both ends tight.
  • Trim the ends.

Blood Knot – This knot works best with thicker tippets.

  • Overlap the leader and tippet by six inches.
  • Twist one around the other five times.
  • Feed the tag end between the two lines.
  • Twist the other in the opposite direction five times.
  • Pull the lines tight.
  • Trim the ends.

Slim Beauty Knot – This knot is a fairly recent development and was invented in the Florida Keys.  It is effective because of its low profile as well as its grip for joining slippery lines.

  • Form a double overhand knot in the end of the leader.
  • Pull it half way tight which creates a figure eight.
  • Fold over two feet of the leader into a loop and feed it through both top and bottom of the figure eight.
  • Wrap four times down the leader and then back three.
  • Feed the loop through the first gap in the wraps.
  • Pull everything tight.
  • Trim the ends.

What Tippet do I recommend? Read all about it HERE – > RECOMMENDED FLY LINE, LEADER and TIPPET 

How long should a tippet be?

It is very common to be fly fishing a river and see anglers with one to two feet of tippet.  They seem to think it is okay.  They have forgotten that the point of a tippet is to let the fly move naturally.  If it is too short, you might as well just attach the fly to the leader.  The other purpose of the tippet is to make the line near the fly less visible.  If there is a leader one foot from the fly, it tells the fish that something is wrong.

You also need enough tippet so that you can cut line to change flies and factor in any snags that might snap your tippet.  It appears almost everybody uses a tippet that is too short.  I suggest at least four feet of tippet for a nine to twelve foot leader.  If your leader is longer, go with a five foot tippet.  If you have a braided or furled leader, you can go with a six foot leader.  If it is not windy, these leaders have the weight to straighten out six feet of tippet.

Can you fly fish without tippet?

There are people that do tie their flies directly onto your leader.  However, it is cheaper and more effective to attach a tippet.  If you have your fly attached to the tapered end of your leader, every time you change your fly you will lose more of that taper.  This will make the line attached to your fly very thick.  The fly will not lie and float properly, and the line will be more visible.  If you want to save money and have a more effective cast, use a tippet.

How do you use a tippet ring?

tippet ring

A tippet ring is a small metal ring on which both the leader and the tippet are tied.  The intention is twofold. One benefit is that you can quickly and easily switch out tippets as needed.  The other is that you never lose any of your leader as long as you have that same ring attached.

One simply uses a cinch knot to tie the leader and the tippet to the ring.  However, some people feel that there is no real benefit.  They say that it makes the tippet more likely to break, and that the ring is too visible.  You can make your own decision.

What’s the difference between fluorocarbon and nylon tippets?

what is tippet

what is tippet

There are two choices for tippet material.  You can choose fluorocarbon (FC) tippet or nylon tippet.  FC tippet breaks the surface tension of the water and dips below.  This makes it harder for fish to see.  You do have to be sure an FC tippet will not drag a fly under.  Nylon tippets will float on the surface so there is no need to worry about it dragging down a fly.  However, sunlight often reflects off of nylon tippets making it more visible.

It really comes down to the type of fly you are using. This is why a good fly fisherman will change tippets often to accommodate the fly type.  Below is a guide of the proper tippet material for different types of flies:

Dry Flies – You absolutely must go with a nylon tippet.  It will float on the surface keeping your dry fly floating naturally.  This is key to it mimicking the movement of an insect.  FC tippet will potentially drag down a dry fly.

Nymphs – The best option is FC tippet.  It sinks so you need less weight on your fly and leader to get the fly to the right depth.  In addition, because it sinks you can use a thicker tippet without it being spotted by the fish.  Sometimes you need that extra thickness to keep that tippet from breaking under the fight of the fish.

Streamers – With these you can go either way.  There are pros and cons to both.  Nylon will flex a bit which makes it stronger when fighting a big fish.  FC sinks so it is less visible, and it will last longer.  You can use streamers with so many different types of fish that the tippet really comes down to the fish and the water.  In rough water you don’t need to worry about visibility, so nylon is fine.  In calm water you need FC. If a fish will strike harder, you want the give you get from nylon where FC might snap.  However, you can go with a thicker FC because it is less visible.  You must take this one on a case by case basis.

Salt Water Flies – With these you want the sink and stealth of an FC tippet.  No matter what inshore species you are going after, there is no real benefit to a nylon tippet.

How long does fly fishing tippet last?

There are several factors that affect the life of a tippet such as humidity, temperature, light, and exposure to sunscreen or bug spray.  Heat is the one that shortens the life the most.  Leaving your tippet in the trunk of your car or on the deck of a boat can ruin a tippet quickly.  Storage is key.

The worst option is leaving it in your vest.  You need a cool spot, and some people even keep it in the freezer.  FC tippet will typically last longer because sunlight does not degrade it.  If you properly care for a tippet, it should last two years.  At that point, get rid of it and buy some more.

Tips for using tippet to catch more fish

  1. If fishing for easily spooked fish, down size your tippet.
  2. Increasing tippet length is a great way to reduce drag.
  3. You can make any tippet float better by applying floatant to it.
  4. The leader to tippet connection is usually the weakest link, take care to lubricate the knot well.
  5. In windy conditions, go with a thicker tippet.
  6. If you are going to fish abroad, know your tippet weight in inches and centimeters instead of X.

In the end, the proper tippet can be a huge advantage when you put on your waders and vest.  However, you must consider the length, weight, material, and other factors.  Tippets need to be stored properly so you are not replacing them constantly.  Take the time to use the proper tippet with every cast, and you will be sure to catch more fish.