Leaders and tippet tend to be the most intimidating part of your set-up, and even the most experienced anglers spend time researching to improve their leaders/tippet. It can make a huge difference in your ability to cast, drift, mend, detect strikes, and land fish. We received a question on Facebook regarding leader and tippet length, so I am going to address that here. Joe has written some phenomenal blog posts on leaders as well. I’ll probably rehash some of the same points he did, but I still suggest you check them out.
“What is the minimum amount of tippet recommended from the end of the tapered leader to the fly? Does it depend on water depth and/or clarity?“
This is a great question, and one that even most experienced anglers don’t often think about. The short answer is that there is no minimum amount of tippet, and it depends on several factors. For starters, tapered leaders are actually designed to be used straight out of the package without tippet. They generally have several feet of “tippet” built in to the end of the leader. After you’ve retied several flies, or perhaps broken off on some rocks or trees, you’ll start to run out of the thinner “tippet” material and end up with the slightly thicker tapered material. At this point you can either change to another $5 leader, or add a few feet of tippet and save some time and money. Obviously you are going to opt for the tippet. So when should you add tippet, and how much should you add? Here are a few points to consider
1)Lengthen Your Leader
Some conditions require longer leaders than others, such as deeper flows or delicate presentations on still water. Instead of switching to a 12′ leader, you can just add the appropriate amount of tippet to your 9′ leader. In this case the amount of tippet you add will be dependent on how long you want the finished leader to be.
2)Save a Used Leader
This is generally the most common reason we add tippet. You’re 9′ 5x leader has seen some wear, and it now down to a 7.5′ 3x leader. In this case the general rule of thumb is to lengthen the leader back to its original length. Luckily 9′ leaders and 9′ rods are the most popular length for fly fishing. Simply add enough tippet for your leader to be roughly the same length as your rod, maybe a few inches longer.
3)Change Tippet Size
Some anglers like to have a wide selection of leader sizes for every condition. Personally I find that to be too much of a hassle. I usually just keep a few 9′ 4x leaders in my vest. If I feel like I should be fishing a 5x leader, I just add about 18″ or so of 5x tippet to the end. If I want a 6x leader, I do the same with 6x tippet. Keep in mind this only works if you are using smaller tippet. Putting 3x tippet on a 4x leader is not going to work, because it creates a weak spot in the leader (the 4x will break before the heavier 3x).
In all of these cases, I would not suggest less than a 12″ interval between your tippet/leader knot and your fly. Do the fish care? I don’t know, it just bugs me. The knot also catches junk in the water and can become discolored, and you really want to keep some distance from your fly to ensure a good drift. Another pro tip: add your splitshot above the tippet knot. That will keep them from sliding down in front of the fly.