Tips on Tippet - How to Choose the Right Tippet Size and Material

February 16, 2017

Tippet is defined as the terminal section of leader material that connects you to your fly, and of course to YOUR FISH!  If its too weak, the line will break.  Too heavy... and the fish won't bite. Doubting your choice of tippet?  Don't leave this part of your adventure to chance.  It can have a big impact on your success and we would like to share some "tips on tippet".  Don't let this simple yet critical decision cost you opportunities on trophy trout!  

Tips on Tippet:

  • Big flies require larger/stiffer tippet diameters
  • Big fish typically require big tippet
  • Small flies require smaller more flexible tippets in order to allow them to act natural
  • Fish don't see tippet very well, but they see fly behavior extremely well! 
  • Fluorocarbon tippet sinks
  • Tippet gets old and weak over time. Don't keep it more than 2 years at most. 
  • Mono/Nylon tends to float a bit more which makes it better for dry flies
  • Premium grade tippet is generally worth the extra cost
  • Don't skimp!

Successful anglers carry a large variety of different types of tippet material and size.  Below you will find a very basic guide to help you to choose the size and material.  Spools of this material are typically used to repair an existing tapered leader or to modify your leader for a different fly set up.

Start With a Tapered Leader

Tippet is only as good as the leader its attached to.  Out of everything you buy, don't cheap out on getting a few good tapered leaders.  If you are somewhat new to fly fishing click the video link on the left and learn about tapered leaders.  Play Video. 

Tapered leaders come R.T.F., ready to fish, so you don't necessarily need to add tippet to them.  Many anglers choose to make slight modifications to their tapered leaders however depending on conditions.

What Does the "X" Mean?

Tippet size is generally described in diameter rather than strength.  Here is an image of 4X Tippet which always has a diameter of .007".  The "X" in tippet describes the diameter of the tippet. For instance, 3X is actually bigger tippet than 4X and therefore stronger, assuming actual materials are the same. The smaller the number, the bigger the diameter, the stronger the tippet.  Larger diameters are also stiffer which is handy for making accurate casts with large wind resistant flies. Like a big shaggy hopper. 

Fluorocarbon Tippet versus Mono Tippet - Comparison

Mono is typically used for dry flies. It is less dense so it stays closer to the surface and doesn't have a tendency to drown your dry fly. It is also cheaper, so use mono in any situation that it is appropriate. The downsides are that it stretches a bit more and can cost you on the hook-sets when dealing with larger hooks and larger fish. It also possesses fiber optic qualities and is much more visible to the trout underwater.

The Most Popular Tippet Materials

Fluorocarbon is the best tippet material for nymph fishing or wet flies. This spectacular Cutthroat was fooled by a CDC Pheasant Tail on 5X Fluorocarbon. This tippet sinks fast and lacks fiber optic qualities and is much less visible to the trout. It tends to stretch less and is more abrasion resistant. Although it may not be rated as being stronger than mono per diameter, most of us at Red's Fly Shop agree that the Fluorocarbon is quite a bit stronger.

RIO Powerflex Plus and RIO Fluoroflex Plus 

The "Plus" is quite a bit stronger. It is also more expensive. However, it is actually a pretty good value when you consider that it might save you a few flies by spool's end!

Overall, we recommend using the Fluoroflex Plus in situations that require a little extra confidence. Big trout, steelhead, and flats fishing for trophy bonefish or the elusive Permit are species that come to mind.

How Do You Choose the Correct Tippet Size and Material?

This is a rough guide, but hopefully it will get you on the right track since there is no exact equation on what size tippet to use all the time. Bigger flies require bigger tippet, smaller flies require smaller tippet. Not so much because the trout can see it, but more because the tippet is what allows the fly to move and travel naturally in the water. Also, keep in mind that larger tippet tangles less, casts better, and is easier to tie. For beginners, it is best to error on the side of slightly larger tippet. Also consider the fact that bigger tippet removes itself from grass and trees much better than smaller stuff. There is a fine line though (no pun intended!). You still need to fool the fish, so please stay relatively close to the guide below. The tippet must let the fly move naturally in the currents so light tippet is essential for smaller flies. Flies that are being moved like bait-fish patterns, streamers, leeches, big grasshoppers, etc. are much less sensitive to tippet size as flexibility is not an issue.

Basic Guide for Choosing Tippet Size

  • Nymphs size 18 and smaller: 6-7X Fluorocarbon
  • Nymphs size 16-12: 5X Fluorocarbon
  • Nymphs size 12-10: 4X Fluorocarbon
  • Stonefly Nymphs/Streamers size 8-6: 3X Fluorocarbon
  • Stonefly Nymphs/Streamers size 4 on up: 0-2X Fluorocarbon
  • Steelhead Spey - 0X Fluoroflex Plus is pretty standard across the board
  • Steelhead Nymphs 1X to your big flies, 2X to your small to medium, and 3X to small flies in clear water (Summer Runs)
  • Dry Flies size 18 and smaller: 6-7X Powerflex

What Do You Do With Scraps of Used Tippet?

Throw them in the river.  HA!  Just seeing if you are paying attention.  Tippet is litter.  Plain and simple.  Fluorocarbon tippet doesn't break down very fast so it is especially important to dispose of it properly.  Clip this little itty bitty container to your pack or vest and you won't make a mess of your tackle bag.

Fishpond MicroTrash Container

  1. Good article but wait a minute on one point: "Tippet gets old and weak over time. Don't keep it more than 2 years at most. " This applies to mono (and small sizes at that) and not fluoro. Fluoro is not affected by UV or ozone and doesn't break down over time. It should last forever. You can probably get away with keeping 3X and stronger for more than 2 years unless it proves to start breaking. At most I'd consider tossing 4, 5, or 6X after a couple of years if it started breaking. Neither mono or fluoro are environmentally friendly. Mono takes about 500 years to biodegrade and fluoro takes 4000 least according to the article below! Another good comparison of mono vs fluoro here: I love my micro trash container!