Choosing the Right Tippet Size

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Sometimes it pays to go against the textbook when choosing tippet size. Photo Louis Cahill

I’ve talked quite a bit about how important it is to correctly select the proper tippet size when your fly fishing for trout.

Most fly fisherman have no problem grasping this, after all, small fly patterns generally call for using smaller tippet and big fly patterns call for larger tippet, right? Well, that’s a general guideline most anglers fish by on the water, but it’s not the only factor fly fishermen should use when choosing what size tippet to fish with. Equally important in tippet choice by anglers is how clear or stained the water is that’s going to be fished, and also what level of fishing pressure the water sees (how educated the trout are).

Choosing the Right Tippet Size Guide

(This is your typical text book guide you would find for a beginner wanting to learn to match the appropriate tippet size with fly pattern size. For the most part it’s spot on, but I think it’s important to point out and understand you don’t always have to follow it exactly) 

Tippet Size          Hook Size
0X                               2, 1/0
1X                               4, 6, 8
2X                              6, 8, 10
3X                             8, 10, 12, 
4X                            10, 12, 14, 
5X                            12, 14, 16, 
6X                           16, 18, 20, 22
7X                           18, 20, 22, 24
8X                          20, 22, 24, 26, 28

Take for instance hopper fishing. Most anglers would say that 3X tippet is the appropriate size tippet to use if we’re talking about fishing with a good size foam hopper imitation. I would agree this is correct and it’s probably what I use most of the time for this type of fly fishing, however, I’ll never forget floating out west a few years back where my buddy opted instead to use 4X tippet and he dominated us and was the hot stick that morning. The point being, we as anglers shouldn’t always stick to the book when it comes to how we rig up and fish. That morning we were both fishing hoppers. I was in the bow of the boat with 3X and my buddy was in the stern with 4X. I had several refusals at the last second from trout, and on multiple occasions my buddy in the back of the boat caught those fish. It just goes to show, it might be worth putting up with a few line twists if you’re going to catch twice as many fish. It’s not all about presentation always, sometimes tippet size is the deciding factor on whether or not a trout eats your fly.

Have you ever been on the water where you were certain your tippet was the correct size? So certain in fact, that you ruled it out completely for you not catching fish, and just kept on fishing and changing fly patterns? It happens to all of us, particularly on water that is super clear or when we’re fishing to trout that have been super pressured. The one important point that I didn’t mention in the previous story where my buddy showed me up with 4X tippet hopper fishing, was that it was during the tail-end of the season. Many of those trout had already been caught a few times on hoppers during the season and many of them had also obviously smartened up and had become wise to tippet size. Don’t get caught in a routine and think you know everything. If you’re not catching fish and you’re covering plenty of water, most of the time it’s because something in your rig is wrong.

We’d also like to provide a very humorous post from a very active Gink & Gasoline follower Mike Sepalak. He posted it on his blog back in September 2010. It’s a very good read that describes the unpleasantries of using fine tippet in fly fishing. Check it out.

Mike Sepelak’s Tippet Tantrum 

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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9 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Tippet Size

  1. Right on Kent. I nmy earlier years of fly fishing I used to get so caught up changing flies that I would forget about trying smaller tippet all together. Now if I’m fishing low, clear water on pressured streams, I’ll tie on 6x or 7x and throw everything on it all day. For me, once I make it to 7x I can truly eliminate that as a factor when the trout aren’t taking anything. Later dude!

    • Justin,

      I agree, if your fishing 7x and getting good drifts but having no luck, its one of three things. First, you spooked or alerted the fish with a poor cast or loud approach. Second, the water you’re fishing is void of trout. Three, your fly pattern is wrong. Four, your flies are not drifting at the correct depth.


  2. Another factor to consider; a longer than normal, and finer tippet allows your nymph to sink faster, placing it in “the zone” for a longer period of your drift.

    • Bob,

      Great point and glad you brang this up. Using a longer section of fine tippet or a niche nymphing leader can really improve an anglers ability to quickly get their flies in the strike zone and keep it there as long as possible.

      We love it when folowers add input and suggestions on the topic at hand. Together we can provide powerful information to help all catch more fish. Thank you.


  3. I never go below 6X, and most of the time, find that if I go longer with 5X, I still get the required gentle presentation. To me it seems like a drag free presentation on a mirror like spring creek surface is much more important than tippet size. And I worry about playing the fish too long on 7 and 8X.

    Then I am getting old and can’t hardly see 7 and 8x and then there is my “quick trigger finger” striking, which doesn’t work well with 7x.


    • Greg,

      I hear you and yes most of the time I would completely agree you can get away with 5X or 6X tippet most of the time, but I’ve had days on the water fishing micro nymphs or dries where we could only get a bite with 7x tippet.

      Thanks for your comment. Two thumbs up.


  4. Pingback: Tippets: Hardy Commemorative Reel, Mapping Fishing Spots, Choosing Tippet Size | MidCurrent

  5. I would like to offer a different point of view. I used to fish a lot of 6x tippet with smaller flies. Fishing tailwaters, I would hook a fair share of nice trout, many of them however broke off on the small tippet material. Whether it be hoppers, dry stoneflies or small mayfly/caddis, what the trout wants is a realistic fly THAT ACTS LIKE A FLY.
    I found after lots of experimentation, I had to lengthen the tippet to allow the fly to float without drag. In the story above, I would guess an additional two feet of 3X and the refusals would have been zero. Ralph Cutter wrote an article one time that mentioned the difference between a 5x and 6x tippet is 0.002. If we think a trout can see the difference we are fooling ourselves. It is action or behavior of the fly that is important. If it were the size of the tippet, no one would ever catch a fish using a loop knot. Try and experiment on your own, you might surprise yourself.

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