An Expert Guide to Tippet Sizes
Learn how to size your tippet to manage line breakage and maximize the life of your leader with Fly Fishing Expert Marshall McDougal!
Tippet sizing can be intimidating when you are just starting out. Follow along to see how to size your tippet properly for any fishing application. This will not only save the number of leaders you use when fishing but will minimize line breakage when selecting the proper tippet.
What Is a Tippet?
Tippet is an extension of your leader. Companies like RIO Products, Orvis, and Scientific Angler will sell spools of tippet that make it easy to change your tippet size and keep handy when you are out on the river.
The quickest way to break down tippet is by diameter: 0X being the largest diameter and 8X being the smallest. A general rule of thumb for deciding what tippet to go with is to match that of your leader. If you are using a 4X leader, the largest size of tippet you should use is 4X, with the option of using a smaller diameter. A few things to take into consideration when selecting your tippet are tippet material, fly size, and tippet length/function.
Below is a tippet sizing chart that I use when choosing my tippet:
Tippet is offered in many different materials, with the most popular being monofilament and fluorocarbon. Generally, a monofilament tippet is the preference for most anglers and can be used across the board to suit your fishing needs. Sizes between 0X and 3X are most common for streamer fishing, while 4X to 6X work for most trout applications. Tippet in the 7X and 8X range is more for applications where extremely small flies are being used or the fish are very spooky.
Mono tippet is a nylon material that has been around for ages and is one of the most commonly used materials among anglers. This material is durable while offering a certain amount of stretch that protects against breaking better than fluorocarbon. It is my go-to dry fly tippet when needing a delicate presentation. This material is less dense than fluoro allowing it to float more effectively. Mono refracts less light and, therefore, will make it more invisible to the fish’s eye. One of the key features of mono is that it is the cheapest tippet on the market.
Flouro tippet is a stiffer, more abrasion-resistant material than mono. It also offers better resistance to sun damage and will not break down as quickly as the monofilament line. This material is denser than mono tippets, so they will sink faster, making them my go-to choice for streamer and nymph fishing. Fluoro does not refract light as well as mono, so it will be slightly more visible to the fish. The only downside to fluorocarbon tippet is that it is three times the price of mono, so I typically only use it in certain situations.
Fishing for toothy critters? Consider adding a bite wire to your leader. This tippet is only used when the target species have sharp teeth that will cut through mono or fluorocarbon and should be viewed as a specialty tippet. In the case that you find yourself needing wire tippet, you can typically get away with a single spool of it and do not need multiple sizes or strength ratings to choose from. Bite wire is offered in 20lb, 30lb, and 40lb and does not follow the typical tippet sizing chart.
This very specialized tippet is geared for nymph fishing. RIO, Orvis, and Umpqua all make a tippet that is geared towards fishing wet flies without an indicator. These tippets are great for euro nymphing and have their advantages when fishing without an indicator. This tippet is meant to provide more visibility when tight line fishing and should be tied in between your leader and final tippet length, creating a short section acting as an indicator. You will want to add an 18-24 inch section to your leader, followed by 12-24 inches of mono or fluorocarbon tippet to tie directly to your fly. The contrast in color that an indicator tippet offers allows you to fish without an indicator as you are watching for a subtle change in directions of the highly visible line. When you find yourself nymphing for trout, give this tippet a shot!
Fly Size and Type
Adding a section of monofilament tippet to the end of your leader in dry fly applications is the preferred method. Size ranges from 4X to 7X, depending on your leader and fly size. Smaller leaders and flies require the higher number tippet, while bigger flies will need the strength of a lower number tippet. Always match the leader size being used or use one size smaller. The monofilament line will be more invisible in the water compared to fluorocarbon and will also help the fly float better.
When nymph or midge fishing your tippet section should be a fluorocarbon line that matches or is one size smaller than your leader. The fluoro tippet will help your fly sink faster to get into the water column you are targeting. Although the fluorocarbon is more visible in the water, it gives you the added strength factor when fishing small midges to big fish. When you are running a double nymph rig, reference the fly size chart above to determine what size tippet you will need to run from the top fly to your trailing fly. Remember to set your drag tension to the breaking weight of your weakest tippet section.
For dry dropper setups, you will want to add a section of tippet from your leader to the dry fly that you are using, which will typically be a larger hopper or terrestrial pattern. This first section the of tippet should be monofilament which will help with the floatation of your first fly. The next section will be the line you run from the bend of the hook on your dry fly to your trailing fly. This can be mono or fluoro depending on the waters you are fishing and can be sized according to the chart above for your trailing fly. Just remember, the advantage to mono here would be low visibility for the fish, where fluorocarbon will add more strength to this section. Always set your drag to the low-strength tippet in this setup.
Depending on streamer size, a 0X to 3X tippet should be used. Mono and fluorocarbon both work in this situation. Use mono for fishing situations where stealth and less visibility of your line are needed while fluorocarbon should be used when more strength in your tippet section is needed. When fishing streamer, I ALWAYS match my leader size with my tippet size. Streamers will typically receive more aggressive strikes, and using a tippet that is weaker than your leader can lead to more line breakage even when your reel drag is set to the tippet breakage strength.
Tippet Length and Function
Tippet length will vary depending on your fishing situation. For warm water species like bass and inshore saltwater species, a 6-8ft leader is common, with the last 12 inches being your tippet section. Shorter leader lengths are also commonly used in small trout streams where there is little to no casting required. Look to add a 2-foot section to the end of a 7.5ft leader in these scenarios.
On medium size trout streams and rivers where there are lots of riffles or white water, look to use a 7.5ft-9ft leader with 12 inches of tippet. These types of runs where there are not many “glassy” surfaces will break up the visibility of your tippet to the fish, and you can get away with using a shorter length.
The most commonly used length is a 9ft leader with 12-18 inches of tippet and will be a sufficient setup for most trout streams. If you are lake fishing for trout or find yourself on a very calm stretch of river where visibility of your line is an issue, the recommended length for the leader is 11-13ft with an 18–24inch section of tippet. When the fish are extremely spooky, try extending your tippet section up to 4ft on top of a longer leader.
The function of your tippet is to improve the life of your leader. Adding even just a 12-inch section to the end of a leader will allow you to change multiple flies without ever getting into your leader section. When your tippet is running short, just snip it off and tie a new section on.
Outside of extending your leader life, the minor functions are creating more stealth for spooky fish which is done by trial and error. There is no good gauge to measure how spooky fish are, so if you see fish shying away from your fly, try extending your tippet section or sizing down in tippet diameter until those fish can’t see your line. Another minor function of tippet is to be able to add a trailing fly to something you already have tied. This is a hopper that you want to add a dropper pattern to or a midge that you want to double rig and put a different color on and run tandem. A section of tippet will come in very handy for many options!
Tippet is critical in fly fishing and has many uses. Using the sizing chart will give you a great start to knowing what size tippet to use, and depending on your fly pattern, you should be able to narrow down your selection. At the end of the day, and with most things in fly fishing, it is trial and error. Try your best to match some of these applications to your fishing scenario and if it doesn’t work, switch it up. Remember that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so if something doesn’t work, then please stay sane and try something new or you will end up being the cranky old fisherman on the river that doesn’t catch any fish!
For tips on how to attach your leader to your tippet, check out this awesome article here. If you need help with how to choose the right leader, check this one out here. If you have questions about tippet sizing or want to chat with someone about what tippet or leader you need, reach out to me or another Fly Fishing Expert here on Curated.