Published Jul 2. 2004 - 20 years ago
Updated or edited Aug 12. 2022

Leaders&Tippets Q&A

This small article is a selection of questions and answers about leaders and tippets accumulated over the years. Martin Joergensen has harvested the most popular questions with the assistance of his fellow GFF partner Steve Schweitzer.

Do you have a leader question?
Post it in the comment form below or in the Fish Better forum, and we will try to add the answer to this page.


What is a tippet?

A Forum user - Stan Wright - had this suggestion:
"I always thought it was the smallest pound test or weakest part of the leader. For instance, while fishing for peacock bass here in Hawaii, I use a 9 foot, 12 pound test, knotless leader and tie on a 24 inch piece of flora carbon leader as my "tippet". (either 8 or 10 # test) I'm more interested in something that I can cut back as I replace flies to make my leader last longer. When fishing for bluegill and red devils, I use a 24 inch piece of 6 pound test flora carbon leader as a tippet. It works better on smaller flies, and again, I can add a new piece after I've cut it back from tying on new flys or it gets some abrasion from rocks or gill plates.

I think the IGFA refers to tippet as the breaking strength of the weakest part of the leader."

I think the common understanding of the word tippet is - as Stan indicates - the tip of your leader, which is usually also the thinnest part of it. But some leaders do have a very thick part attached in the terminal end - like on leaders for tarpon or pike.

My own use of the word is for the part that I tie on the leader to use for attaching my fly. And - as Stan also mentions - this part is the part that gets worn down as you change flies, eliminate casting knots etc.

What is a wind knot?

A wind knot should rightfully be called a casting knot, because you need absolutely no wind to tie one.
The term refers to knots that seem to materialize on your leader while you cast.

They "tie themselves" because the fly crosses over the fly line or leader and manages to curl so much that it ties an overhand knot (or several) on the leader. The knots soon tighten and can become almost impossible to untie. And untying it is quite important because the knot will weaken the line.

If untying is not feasible, trim down the leader or tippet and use it shorter - or retie the removed section with fresh line.

How do I untie wind knots... and should I?

This can be a subject of some debate.
Some argue that wind knots should always be untied. They weaken the line considerably.
Some will say that the untying will possibly weaken the line even more than the presence of the knot itself, and just leave them there.
Some will just not accept any irregularities on the leader and tippet, and will change particularly the tippet, if it's knotted.

Personally I untie knots that are not too tight on tippets that are not too thin.
5X and 6X tippets and thinner I just change unless the knot is really loose. Thicker than that I usually untie. I leave knots on the thicker part of the leader if they are really tight. If not, I untie them.

Untying tight knots can be eased by pushing a hook tip into the knot to loosen it. This can sometimes loosen it just enough to enable the removal of the knot. Two hooks can also be used to open really tight loops. Remember to check the line for nicks and bruises with your fingers and lips when the knot is gone.

What is a polyleader?

Polyleaders are compound leaders made with a core and a coating - much like a fly line. They are available in many lengths, tapers and densities and are usually attached to the fly line with a loop-to-loop connection. In the terminal end it can end in a loop as well as a monofilament tip, to which you attach your tippet.
Polyleaders usually have very good turn-over capabilities, but I personally consider them best for larger and heavier flies.

Which knot is the best for tying knotted leaders?

The blood (or barrel) knot is usually considered the best for tying sections of monofilament together to form a tapered leader. The knot is strong and first of all slender and straight.

I have bought a pre-tapered leader made out of one piece of monofilament. How do I tie the fly on to it?

First you attach a tippet section. This is the outmost part of your rig before the fly, and probably the weakest part of your line, so choose it carefully.
If your leader has an X-classification (like 5X or 3X), aim for a tippet in that class or a class lighter (5-6X and 3-4X in the above mentioned examples).
Use a surgeon's knot to attach the tippet, which should be 1-2 feet or 30-60 centimeters in length depending on the circumstances.
Now tie your fly on to the newly attached tippet with whichever knot you prefer.

Can I use a leader and not a tippet or do I have to use both?

In some instances you can use the straight tippet line as the whole leader, but in the far majority of cases you will need a real tapered leader to turn over the fly. Some anglers, like many English lake fishers, simply use a single long piece of straight mono for the leader, and tie the fly or flies directly onto that. But they also use long rods and the wind to help turn over the rig when they cast.

You can also use the leader with no tippet and tie the fly directly on it, but it will cost you a bit of leader every time you tie on a new fly.

So it makes a lot of sense to use both - a tapered leader to lead from the thick fly line to the thin tippet and a piece of tippet to lead from there to the fly. The tippet is essentially just a piece of straight, cheap mono, and a lot less expensive and easier to change than the leader itself.

How do i tie backing on to new fly line with a loop on it?

If your fly line has a loop in the back end pointing towards the backing and the reel, the easiest way to attach it to the backing is by making a loop on the backing and threading the fly line through that. If you make the loop large enough, the whole reel can pass through, and you will be able to change the fly line without having to pass it all the way through a small loop.
Alternatively, you can simply tie the backing onto the loop with a trilene knot or and improved clich knot, much like you would tie a tippet into the eye of a fly.

What determines your length of the leader?

The leader length is determined by several factors:

1) Type of fishing
2) Casting skills
3) Rod length

Some fishing requires long and thin leaders, like when you are dry fly fishing for very spooky fish. You may need two rods lengths of leader or even more. Other types of fishing will have very small demands on leader length like fishihng for pike or other extremely aggressive, predatory fish. In this case just a small bit of leadermaterial at the end of your fly line will do.

Casting skills (and casting style) have an influence on leader length too. There is no reason to fish with more than a rod length of leader if you can't control it! You might do more harm by having a long leader and messing things up than by having a shorter one, which you can actually control.

Longer rods can control longer leaders both when casting but also when landing fish.

Why won't my leader turn over at all and tend to land in a curled-up pile?

There are three primary things that could make your leader design not turn over properly.
  1. The leader butt is too light for the line weight you are casting.
  2. The leader material is not stiff enough.
  3. The middle taper is too stiff.

This assumes that you are casting correctly for your chosen leader design.
If you cast too slowly, you are not generating enough line speed to turn over your leader properly. Check your casting technique before messing with a leader design. Even with the poorest of leader designs, you can still make them turn over by adjusting your casting stroke.

Why does my leader slap the fly on the water?

You are casting with too much forward and downward speed and/or too stiff a leader.
Slow your cast down or use a more supple leader formula.

Why does my leader 'hinge' - and not turn over well?

Several items to check:
  • The fly may be too heavy
  • You may be casting too slowly
  • There might be more than a 60% difference in diameter size between leader sections
  • You may be using too soft leader material for butt section

Should I re-fix the tippet end of my leader after each outing?

Yes, certainly! Unless you go fishing almost every day, your tippet and knots will weaken by being soaked and dried - and just by usage, wear over rocks and logs and what else an eagerly fished tippet can experience.
Thin tippets are particularly prone to weakening in this way, and changing them occasionally - maybe several times a day - should be done by any concerned flyfisher.

Should I reknot my fly after a certain number of hook-ups?

Any snag, rough hookup or prolonged fight will stress your setup - particularly the tippet and the knots in your leader. Check everything with a strong pull in the fly, and change routinely for every other or third fish if you really want to be sure.
Are huge fish in reach, I prefer reknotting after each hookup.

Which leader materials do better under hot weather conditions?

Fluorocarbon is very durable - also to heat and sun. Sun is the enemy no. 1 of nylon and heat number two.

Is it really bad to leave your fly-rod in the car during hot summer days?

Almost a rhetoric question, huh? Leaving the rod in the trunk or the reel packed away will not harm anything unless the heat is really extreme. But dunking your rigged rod in a really warm car on a hot summers day is probably not the best way of storing it.

Heat might eventually ruin not only the leader but especially the fly line, which can "sweat" some of its chemical components and become either stiff or sticky - or both.
But this breakdown will most likely take more than just a single sunny day.

But do not leave your spools of spare leader and tippet material in the sunlit rear window. Line is best kept in cool shadow, and some people even stock their bulk spools of nylon in the refrigerator.

Are hand made leaders weaker than machine made due to the knots?

The weakest point of your setup are the knot to the fly and the knot between the leader and the tippet (the outmost, thinnest part of the leader). This is tied by you, and will usually be considerably weaker than any knot further up. So there will basically be no difference in strength between knotted and tapered leaders under normal trout fishing circumstances.

How long and/or what factors play a role in the strength of a leader over time/use?

I personally have fished with the same leader butt for more than one season, while I change my tippet section several times during an outing. The basic leader should last you anywhere between a week and a season if it's not marred by rocks, plagued by casting knots or sharp bends etc. Check the integrity of your leader by running it between your lips, which can feel any small nick or flaw in the line. Change it if it's damaged.

Where can I learn more about leaders and tippets?

Right here on the Global FlyFisher:



Martin Joergensen's picture

Jon, Fluocarbon i...


Fluocarbon is not invisible! It might be closer to the refraction index of water than nylon, but you can see it, I can, and so, I'm sure, can the fish. I think the main benefit of fluocarbon is that is sinks and doesn't lie on the surface creating a "dimple" and the resulting shadows and reflections. It might be less visible, but it's not invisible.

Regarding being a novice, we have all been there, and I'm afraid that the only way out and forward is to get some routine. I usually say "fish more and think less!"
Time on the water, experiences with fish and practical experiments will lead to a lot more improvement than any book or web site can (even this one!).
And listen to fellow anglers who seem to know what they are talking about - and catch fish. A good mentor is one of the best things you can have when learning.


Hello all concerned,...

Hello all concerned,
I would like to ask a couple of questions if I may ?

Firstly, Is Flourocarbon tippet material really invisible under water ?
I am finding it increasingly difficult to believe that it is...... because I see fish just turn away from my flies !
Or is it the fly that is putting the fish off ?
Secondly , are my expectations of trout fishing too high for a novice? And should I be more patient and not expect a result every time I go to the water ? Is this way of thinking about Trout fishing a common trait for a novice fly man ?
I appreciate any responses, I have tried to read as much as possible on the subject casting is very accurate and I can cast a good distance if knot tying is ok and my presentation is a first when I use a dry fly !
Very much appreciate the chance to express my thoughts here, thanks again.
Look forward to reading any comments>

Martin Joergensen's picture

Jim, Yes, in some...


Yes, in some instances you can use the straight tippet line as the whole leader, but in the far majority of cases you will need a real tapered leader.
And yes, you can also use the leader as your tippet and tie the fly directly on it, but it will cost you a bit of leader every time you tie on a new fly.

But it makes a lot of sense to use both - a leader to lead from the thick fly line to the thin tippet and a piece of tippet to lead from there to the fly. The tippet is essentially just a piece of straight, cheap mono, and a lot less expensive and easier to change than the leader itself.


can I use tippet mat...

can I use tippet material line in place of a leader line? And can I use a leader line and not a tippet? Thanks Jim

what determines your...

what determines your length of leader

For martin fisher. ...

For martin fisher.
Just try and keep it simple at the start. A good, rod, reel, fly line, some dry and wet flies and some buzzers, landing net and good leaders. It all comes with practice, practice and practice. Mix fullers earth with dish washing liquid to make a paste, rub this lightly on the leader between your finger and thumb before you cast - this sinks the leader.
Hope that his helps. Tight Lines all.

Martin Joergensen's picture

Hank, That someon...


That someone is me, and it's fixed. Thanks for the heads up!


Howdy, Went to see ...

Went to see what was on the "Production Leaders" page and got this;

body { background : #ffffff; } body, td, th { font-family : arial; font-size : 10pt; } a { color : black; } a:hover { text-decoration : none; color : black; } aaa:visited { color : black; } button { vertical-align: middle; font-size : 13px; border : solid 1px #aaaaaa; margin : 1px; } input, textarea { border : 1px #000 solid; font-family : arial, verdana; font-size : 95%; } .radio { border : 0px } textarea { padding : 2px; } a.zoom { text-decoration : none; }

someone might want to fix that.

Thankyou, thankyou a...

Thankyou, thankyou and thankyou. Just started in fly fishing for trout in the UK., and the more you read the more confused you get! Lots of magazine articles mentioning (to me) improbable leader lengths/tippets etc. A web-site that gives me answers until I know enough to make my own mistakes.


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