There is one question that is asked of me more than any other. What leader/tippet should I be using? You would think that only beginners would be asking this but even experienced anglers will ask for my advise. This will be about size and length, we'll save the conversation about what the leader/tippet is made of for another time. There are a few things to consider when making a decision.
The first thing to consider is what method of fly fishing you will be using; dries, nymphs or streamers. Lets start with streamers. These are flies that are usually a larger size hook that have a bigger diameter to the wire. If you match a light leader and tippet to a bigger fly, say 4x or 5x, your knot will break. The size of the hook is too much for the leader/tippet. A larger diameter leader/tippet will keep your knot from breaking if you tied it well. Streamer fishing will usually target the bigger fish in the river. A bigger fish needs to be faught on a heavier poundage or you may watch the fish swim away with your streamer. You not only lost the fish but you also lost your streamer that was working. The length of your set up will also affect the roll out of your fly. With a nine foot leader your cast will usually run out of energy before the fly fully rolls out to complete your cast. You may have noticed your fly falling out of the air with 3 to 4 more feet of leader left to roll out. Switch to a seven and a half or eight foot leader. Now your cast will have enough energy to roll your fly all the way out.
I use the widest selection of leader/tippet for nymphing. I've used every size from 0x to 5x. Size of the fly is a factor but so are depth and action. Some days call for a long rig to fish deep while others require a short rig to fish shallow. A good example is when nymphing the Missouri. Some leaders come in ten, twelve and even fourteen feet to be able to fish a deep section when the fish are eating at ten to twelve feet down. Then the very next day the fish have shifted and they are feeding in four feet of water, now I'm back to a seven and a half foot leader. This is a river that I usually need to use a smaller size leader. At times the fishing conditions dictate that I have a 5x leader/tippet. This is a light setup so you need to play the fish a little more or you will break off a lot of fish. Other times I'm using a bottom bouncing rig with tags. This type of rig needs a heavier poundage tippet, mostly 3x. If you use something that is too light your tags will tangle with the main line. A tag made of 3x will stay "posted" off of the main line.
When dry fly season rolls around all my rigs are usually at least ten feet but my poundage will vary depending on the size of the fly and how I want it to be presented. The only time I use something shorter is when I'm casting very big dries. A big dry has a lot of air resistance. These bugs will cast and roll out better on a short seven and a half leader with a higher poundage. I cast these with a 1x or 2x leader. Small dries are the opposite. They will present better for you on a lighter leader. They will also get a more natural life-like drift. The ligher poundage will let the micro currents move the fly just like a live bug.
I hope that this blog helps shed some light on one of the most confusing parts of fly fishing. I tried not to get to in-depth and too technical. The last thing I want to do is add any more confusion to the subject of leader and tippet.
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