What Is Fly Fishing Tippet?

The Missoulian Angler has been in business for over 35 years, and without doubt we answer the most questions about leaders and tippet. How long a leader, what size tippet. What do the X’s mean? When first looking at tippet in fly fishing, the whole system seems impractical, unnecessarily annoying and impossible to understand.

It’s not as difficult as you think

What is tippet? Well, the simplest (but not best) way to think about tippet in fly fishing is by pound test. In most fly fishing situations, the tippet is found at the end of the leader. The tippet has the smallest diameter and defines a leader’s breaking strength. When is the thinnest tippet in fly fishing not found at the end of the leader? When fishing for toothy or abrasive fish like pike, tarpon or sailfish.

When chasing those species, a very thick mono, or a wire “bite” tippet is attached to the end of the leader. This prevents teeth or gill plates from instantaneously slicing through the thinnest section of the leader. When using bite tippet, the thin, low pound test section is known as the class tippet. It still defines the strength of the leader but isn’t what the fly is tied to.

That’s another definition of tippet in fly fishing- the section tied to the fly. Tippet is your only piece of equipment that actually affects the fly on the water. The choice of tippet is critical to how flies drift in the water.

Experienced trout anglers carry 4-5 tippet spools on the water, between 0X – 7X depending on the fly size being fished.

That last sentence is THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to understanding tippet for fly fishing. Tippet is sold by diameter, NOT by pound test. The higher the X value, the thinner the tippet. Tippet in fly fishing is chosen to match fly size, using the rule of 3 or the rule of 4. If you have a size 12 fly and need to decide on tippet size, divide 12 by 3, which is 4. Or divide 12 by 4, which is 3. A size 12 hook needs a 3 or 4X tippet.

So much of trout fly fishing requires a drag free drift. Using tippet that’s too thick (in this case, 0X, 1X, 2X) negatively affects drift. Thicker equals stiffer, and stiffness impedes drag free drift. Conversely, using tippet that’s too thin (5X, 6X, 7X) negatively affects accuracy and leader turnover. Thinner equals less energy transfer. Without proper energy transfer, the leader won’t “turn over” (extend correctly), impeding accuracy and tangling while casting.

Matching tippet to fly size is critical for success on the water

Our last concept about tippet in fly fishing is sometimes the monofilament is tippet, and sometimes it’s part of a leader’s midsection. With a size 6 fly, the proper tippet is 1 or 2X. When you change from a size 6 to a size 12 fly, you tie the thinner 3 or 4X to the 2X. With a size 6 fly, 2X is a tippet- with a size 12 the 2X is part of the midsection.

This is the tip of iceberg when it comes to tippet, how it interacts with the leader. If you want more information (and you do, because again, the leader is the only piece of tackle actually attached to and affecting the fly), click here for a highly detailed blog on leaders and tippet.

Want to learn even more about Fly Fishing For Beginners? Click the image below to learn everything you need to know about beginner fly fishing.