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Making a Fly Fishing Leader & Tying on Tippet

Leader and Tippet are a vital part of any fly fishing setup: you can have a good quality rod, the right fly pattern, your casting can be passable, but if your Leader and Tippet are not up to scratch then you might experience the following common problems:

  • your whole line lands in a tangled heap;
  • your Leader extends properly except for the last few feet;
  • your fly keeps working itself loose (knot doesn’t hold);
  • fish seem interested in your fly, until they get close;
  • your Leader keeps breaking even under the weight of small fish.

We will return to these problems later in this article, as there solutions for each one. However, if you are just starting out then the simplest way to avoid these issues is to  purchase a good quality tapered Leader. They are extremely affordable and will save you hours of frustration as a beginner.

Tying Tippet to Your Leader

Many online guides recommend a Double Surgeon’s Knot. This is in no way a bad knot to tie, but we prefer the Blood Knot: it is a little harder to get used to as a beginner, but repays the effort as you become more proficient.

Do a web search for ‘Tying Double Surgeon’s Knot’ and you’ll see that in every tutorial you need to pull the entire length of your Tippet through the loop twice to create the knot. Now, check out this article on tying a Blood Knot  and scroll down to the animation. Note that you work only with the end of each piece of line.

More importantly, the Double Surgeon’s Knot is not generally recommended for making your own tapered Leader, whereas the Blood Knot is one of the two most recommended. So, if you master this knot for tying on your Tippet, you will be able to go on to make or repair your own Leader.

Types of Fly Fishing Leader

There are three main types of Leader: one-piece knotless tapers (which we stock), braided tapers, and compound tapers.

Knotless tapered Leaders

Pros: no knots so minimum chance of fouling with weeds or other debris in the water.
Cons: cannot be made, so must be purchased at required length.

Braided Leaders

Pros: extremely long-lasting.
Cons: more expensive, can retain water which sprays out during casting.

Compound tapered Leaders

Pros: available in a wide variety of lengths and thicknesses – or you can make your own.
Cons: harder to maintain.

Making Your Own Leader

The 60 / 20/ 20 formula

Most fly lines use this formula because it means the line will turn over well when cast. The bulk of the line (60% or thereabouts) is made from larger diameter material, with 20% made from short lengths of decreasing diameter, and 20% made from only one or two pieces of the thinnest diameter. It is this final 20% that is referred to as the Tippet.

Whatever thicknesses of line you want to use, it is generally held that there should be a difference of no more than 0.002 inches diameter between neighbouring parts of your line.

Specific Examples

Please see our Advanced Leader Chart page which gives formulae for building your own Leaders in seven and a half foot, nine foot, and twelve foot lengths of varying thickness.

Be sure you know both diameter and pound test weight of your materials

Line material from different manufacturers (or even from different product ranges) could have the same diameter but different pound test figures (breaking strength in lbs), and vice versa. Pay attention only to the pound test and you could end up with a line that doesn’t taper correctly; pay attention only to the diameter and you could end up with a line where some sections are weaker than others.

Leaders for Wet Flies

Approaches taken here have tended to vary considerably, but more recently have been overtaken somewhat by developments in fly pattern materials and environmental concerns. Two traditional ways used to impart more weight to the lure are tying a small weight close to the end of the line, or using lead core line. However lead products are increasingly (and rightly) becoming expressly prohibited in US freshwater locations.

Modern nymph patterns have the extra weight built into the fly, and this is really where you want it rather than the line. Even where the desire is to fish a lighter wet fly pattern just beneath the surface, anglers increasingly use a second heavy nymph fly (or ‘dropper’) to pull this ‘point fly’ under. Whilst this requires some adjustment to casting technique, the payoff is fewer (or even no) adjustments to the line, not to mention a second lure in the water.

Common problems revisited

Following the advice above and referring to our Leader construction example charts should mean you avoid these issues.

Your whole line lands in a tangled heap

Your Leader is either too light in the ‘butt’ section (nearest the rod handle) or you are not using the right amount of taper in your line.

Your Leader extends properly except for the last few feet

Your Tippet is either too long or too light for the fly pattern you are fishing.

Your fly keeps working itself loose (knot doesn’t hold)

Your Tippet could be too small for the hook size: check our chart here.

Fish seem interested in your fly, until they get close

You are using too thick a Tippet and this is either noticeable or is causing too much drag on the line

Your Leader keeps breaking even under the weight of small fish

You have one or more sections in your line that are too thin / too weak.

If you’re still having problems, don’t despair: this is fairly advanced. If you’re determined to master tying your own Leader then being mentored by a seasoned angler could be advisable – but also do also remember that we stock both Tippet and Leader in common sizes at extremely affordable prices.

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