The leader, tippet and fly are three very important components in fly fishing. To exemplify, put yourself in a fish’s fins for a moment. Imagine yourself as a fish at a fancy restaurant surrounded by a room full of hungry diners. Everyone’s waiting to feast on the special, Crawdad Thermidor. The host seated you at your favorite table, the one on the quiet side of the room surrounded by green flora. After giving your order to the waitress, the special of course, you wait patiently watching the flow of waitresses as they pass by, carrying trays of food. Finally the line of waitresses extends your way and the leader prepares to deliver your dish. She approaches your table so quietly and so gracefully that the only thing you notice is the cuisine drifting your direction. She eloquently presents the dish in front of you, and without hesitation, you take a bite.
So what should you get from that yarn? Basically, fly fishing is all about presentation – inconspicuously putting a fly in front of a fish and making it look good enough to eat. That’s where the appropriate combination of the leader, tippet and fly is so important. Discussion.
In our last article selecting a fly line was discussed. As you will notice, fly line typically comes in a variety of colors ranging from plain white to hot pink. The color of the line is for the fisherman’s benefit and allows good visual recognition in most light conditions. For the most part, the fish don’t care what color your line is, it just looks black to them. However, something black attached to breakfast would not be appealing. That’s where the leader comes into play.
The leader is attached to the end of the colorful fly line and gives the fisherman a virtually transparent connection between the line and the fly. Commercially bought leaders come in a variety of lengths with 7.5’- 9’ being most common. Most leaders are tapered monofilament nylon, meaning they are a larger diameter at the butt end, which attaches to the fly line, and a smaller diameter at the tip, where the tippet or fly is tied. During the cast, the taper allows the leader to shoot through the air more efficiently and rest more softly on the surface of the water. Leaders come in different weights and strengths. The correct leader weight is primarily determined by the size of the fly.
So what is tippet? Tippet is a specific gage monofilament line that is attached to the end of the leader, to which you tie the fly. The tippet is usually the smallest gage line on your rig and is virtually invisible to the fish. Tippet is also very flexible and allows your fly to float or swim more naturally. Normally the tippet is 2’- 4’ in length and matches, or is smaller than, the diameter of the leader’s tip. The biggest advantage to using tippet is that it extends the life of the leader. Leaders can be expensive and if you change flies often, little by little the taper of the leader is cut away. By tying on tippet, losing taper can be avoided.
The fly is tied to the end of the tippet. What type of fish you are angling for, determines the type and size of the fly. Flies come in all different shapes and sizes that range from very small #28, to large #2. There are flies still larger, but they are categorized on a different scale. To help determine what gage leader and tippet to use with a particular size fly, many leader manufacturers insert a small chart inside their packaging. More information on flies and selection will be address in future articles.
Did you know: According to Guinness World Records, “Maria Dolores Montesinos Fernández (Spain) cast a weighted fly into a fish bowl with a neck diameter of 17.5 cm (6.8 in) without touching the sides from a distance of 7 m (22.96 ft) at the studios of El Show de los Récords, Madrid, Spain on 11 December 2001.” It didn’t say if she caught anything.