How to Choose the Right Leader and Tippet

So you’re standing on the bank, looking out over the waters you are about to fish, and you think to yourself, “What leader should I put on?” Now for a lot of people its a simple 9 ft 5x leader, but many situations call for some variations. Need help figuring out how to match your leader and tippet to your fishing? Read on!

Choosing the Material: Mono v Fluoro

The most basic and least subjective choice and angler faces when deciding which leader or tippet to use are which of the 2 dominant materials to use. The choice simply boils down to, are you fishing your flies floating on top (dry flies, gurglers or poppers) or below the surface (nymphs and streamers).  In the case of flies on the top of the water, the monofilament is the material for you! It floats on the top of the water and will keep your fly on the surface of the water for longer. Fluorocarbon is more transparent than its counterpart and sinks through the water making it the clear choice for subsurface patterns!

Size of the Fish You’re Pursuing

The next thing to consider is the size and behavior of the fish in the waters you are fishing. Are they bonefish on the flats of the Keys? Stocked trout in a creek in Pennsylvania? Redfish in the Low Country? Or perhaps they are decent size bass in a local pond. Each fish fights differently and grows to a unique size. Try your best to match the test strength of your leader and tippet to the fish and then figure out what the heaviest test strength is that you can get away with, without spooking your targets. This will help you prevent losing a fish during a fight and up your chances of fooling the smarter and warier fish.

Water Clarity and Fish Spookiness

The clarity of the water and how spooky the fish are also important to consider. With cloudy water with limited visibility, typically you can get away with a heavier tipper and leader because the fish will have a tougher time seeing the line in/on the water. In gin-clear waters, leader choice can become imperative, using a thinner, lighter, even longer leader, can greatly improve your odds of sneaking up on and presenting your flies to, that big wary brown trout. In situations like that, it can be key to drop your tippet as light as you are comfortable with before you make that cast.

Leader Length

The golden standard for leader length seems to be 9 feet. This is the most common length you will find in any fly shop. However, the length of your leader can make the difference between spooking a fish and not. Fly line is heavy by design, and unless you cast like Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It,” you’re probably going to make a splash when your line lands. The splash and/or impact of the line is very easy for fish to detect, so in situations with wary fish, lengthening your leader can increase the distance between the fish and the impact and in turn, spook less fish, and grant you more opportunities in more technical waters!

What Does the Bottom of the Creek Look Like?

This is usually the last and sometimes forgotten consideration when selecting a leader and tippet, can be the difference between winning a fight with a trophy, and watching that trophy swim off with a new piercing. Fish are smart and have enough basic instincts to try and break you off at every opportunity while you are fighting them. You can prevent the inevitable swearing and frustration by stepping up your leader and tippet strength when you fish in areas with structure and cover that you may have to yank a catch out of!

Bonus: Do they have teeth?

This is a no-brainer really if you are pursuing a fish that has large teeth or tends to snap line easily, try using a knot-able wire leader or a super heavy shock tippet to prevent these toothy critters from breaking off!

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