Beginner Series: Fly Lines, Leaders, and Tippet

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Louis Cahill Photography

Louis Cahill Photography

By Justin Pickett

So you’ve decided to dive into the world of fly fishing and need to outfit your new rod and reel purchase with a fly line, leaders and spools of tippet.

Does it matter what line you get? And what about leaders? What the hell is tippet?! These are all typical questions that the beginning angler will have, so don’t worry. We’re going to work on flattening that learning curve!

Fly Lines

To a beginner, trying to learn about all the little intricacies of fly line tapers is about like trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. The good news is that you don’t need to get too caught up in tapers and grain weights to catch fish. Learning about the various aspects of fly lines will certainly help you down the road, however we’re going to focus mainly on weight-forward, floating lines. Today’s fly rods are typically faster than those made even ten years ago, almost requiring a more compact, heavier line to properly load the rod. Some “beginner” lines are even manufactured a half weight heavier to help load today’s faster rods. As a beginner, a weight-forward line will better suit your casting needs with the more popular five weights found in fly shops, and a floating line will enable you to cover a large majority of fishing scenarios. All of the fly lines listed below are inexpensive and are great all-purpose fly lines whether you’re slinging parachute adams or foam poppers.

Airflow Super Dri Xceed

Orvis Hydros HD

Scientific Anglers Boost

Rio Mainstream WF Trout

Leaders and Tippet

Leaders and tippet are other items that you will need in order to get going and hook up with that first fish. You’ll hear of many anglers that tie their own leaders and have their preferred recipes. While you may one day tie up your own leaders created from your own secret formula, for now, keep it simple. I would say the universal length of leaders found on the rack is 9ft, and they vary in tensile strength. Here’s where you’ll start to see the letter “X” following numbers on the package. What does that mean? The “X” on the package is just a simple way for manufacturers to describe the diameter and breaking strength of monofilament/fluorocarbon. You will see this on every spool of tippet, and every packaged leader, however, the tensile strength isn’t consistent between manufacturers. But, again, don’t get hung up on this. Just like myself, you were probably raised up fishing with a Zebco spooled up with 8lb test Stren, so choosing leaders and tippet based on the breaking strength will be the obvious thing to do. Typically, manufacturers place the diameter and the breaking strength next the “X” rating of the leader/tippet with higher values indicating lighter tippets. As far as length is concerned, I would suggest getting a few 9ft leaders, as well as a few 7.5ft leaders. The strength that you will need will depend on the species you seek. Trout and panfish rarely require anything much lighter than 5x or 4X, which usually carries a breaking strength of around 5-6lbs respectively. For bass or light saltwater fishing, I would suggest tippets in the 10-12lb range, which should carry a rating of 2x-1X. When it comes to tippet, you’ll want to get a couple spools of varying ratings/breaking strength to give you the ability to either add on to or repair a leader, as well as the ability to size-up or size-down depending on the fishing conditions. The next choice you’ll be faced with is: Monofilament or Fluorocarbon? There is some debate as to whether or not fluorocarbon gives the angler any advantage when it comes to the “near invisible to fish” claims that you’ll see on packages, but fluoro does definitely hold its value when it comes to abrasion resistance. The biggest difference you’ll likely notice is the vast price difference in the two. A spool of tippet will usually cost you in the neighborhood of six or seven bucks, while a spool of fluorocarbon will cost at least double that amount, if not more. Likewise, fluorocarbon leaders are more expensive. You’ll just have to weigh your own pros and cons on the Mono vs. Fluoro debate. Any of the Leaders/Tippets below will get you on the water and deliver your flies to the fish!

Orvis Superstrong Plus Leaders and Tippet

Rio Powerflex Leaders and Tippet

Umpqua Trout Taper Leaders and Tippets

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Beginner Series: Fly Lines, Leaders, and Tippet

  1. I’m disappointed with the reviews. The fly line links gave us verbage and no specs. eg head geometry, head weight in grains, front and rear taper lengths etc . BM

    • My guess was the “reviewer” received compensation for putting those links in the article. That’s the best way to help beginners……tell them where to spend their money. All the reviews in general on the internet are disappointing.

    • The article is for beginners. Most folks starting out just want something that works good. They don’t care about specs. They want to catch fish and have fun. I deal with this on a weekly basis of helping people get into the sport and outfitting them. This article said the facts and then suggested some products that are good for beginners. And all the specs you want are available on most manufacture websites.

    • Bruce, sorry you didn’t find the info you were looking for when hitting the links. I honestly figured that if someone were interested in the taper info, then they would likely go to the manufacturer’s page. This wasn’t meant as a review of the fly lines, but simply a list of suggestions for those looking to get into fly fishing. Thanks for the input!

  2. Good article, Justin. For beginning anglers, it might be valuable to explain the difference between leader, tapered leader, and tippet. Also why tippet is even necessary if the tapered leader already has 4X or 5X line. It was a point of confusion when I started.

    • Scott thanks for the suggestion. That definitely leaves something to be expanded on in future writings. I too had the same question concerning tippet when I started. Thanks for reading!

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