02/21/13 – I’m often asked what’s the difference between leaders and tippet. My general answer is that tippet is part of leader and that overall leaders have taper and tippet sections don’t. Then I mention that the tippet section is the terminal section of the leader that is tied to the fly and that the tippet size should match the fly. Sometimes that’s enough explanation and other times it starts a long question and answer period.
Another common question is do I tie tippet to a new leader? My reply to that one is you can but you don’t need to because new leaders come with a tippet section ranging from 2′ to 4′ generally. Which in my opinion is too short so while you don’t need to tie a new section on, if it isn’t windy, adding a couple of feet of the same size tippet material or a size or two smaller is a good idea. And there’s the added benefit if having a knot for a reminder to add new tippet as you consume tippet while changing flies.
Thinking about questions like that got me wondering about tippet and so here’s a list of things I’ve come to know about tippet.
Tippet is sized backwards. The bigger the number the smaller the diameter of tippet.
Tippet is assigned an X number. The X number is based on the rule of 11. The X number of tippet and the diameter of the tippet (in thousands of an inch) always add up to 11. 4X is .007″ (4+7=11), 2X is .009″ (2+9=11), OX is .011″ (0+11=11)
Tippet must be stiff enough to turn over a fly – if your fly lands on a pile of mono your leader isn’t rolling out try a shorter tippet section or stouter tippet section.
Tippet should match your fly size. To calculate this (in whole number – forget the fractions) I use the rule of 4 which is fly size divided by 4 plus 1 will give you the proper tippet for a fly size. (size 14 fly / 14/4=3 plus 1 gives you 4 so 4X is correct. (although some would argue for 5X but this is just a guide so if someone wants to go up or down an X number they usually can)
Tippet causes dry fly drag. Short tippets, thick tippets and stiff tippets all work against a drag free drift. I’d rather have 4-feet of 4X tippet than 2-feet of 5X when drifting a size 14 Elk Hair Caddis.
There are lots of knots that you can use for tippet sections. The most common are the Blood Knot and Surgeon’s knot. I like the surgeon’s knot it’s both stronger and easier to tie.
4X is my default size for must uses.
And so there’s my take on tippets. If you want to add anything or list some of your own observations or perhaps have questions on the topic be sure and visit the forum.