One of the things that have changed most in fly fishing over the years is the tippet and leader materials available but which ones are best?
What is a tippet and why is it so important?
Your tippet is the last connection between your leader and your fly and it’s the one part of the line a fish such as a trout is going to see. This is what makes it so important because if a trout sees your tippet, then the likely hood is that it’ll refuse your fly.
Tippet Materials – Nylon Vs Fluorocarbon
The two types of tippet material anglers have to choose from are nylon and fluorocarbon. They are both good materials but they each have different features so let’s take a deeper dive into each of them.
Nylon monofilament is possible the best all-around leader and tippet material out there. It has excellent knot strength, good breaking strength, it’s affordable and it floats for a great drift.
Nylon is a great material to use when dry fly fishing thanks to the floatation but it is not so great for nymph fishing as it is quite visible to fish underwater. But it would actually work fine in colored waters just not in gin-clear water.
In my opinion, it is always worth having a spool or two of this in your bag and your leaders should always be made of nylon.
Fluorocarbon is designed to be nearly invisible when underwater, which is the main difference that has made it so popular and chosen over nylon most of the time, but it is expensive.
The fluoro material has a refractive index of 1.42 while water has one of 1.33 which makes it almost disappeared so no fish or wily trout will spot it and take your fly.
These aren’t the only advantages of fluorocarbon though. Fluoro sinks for nymph and streamer fishing, it’s longer-lasting than nylon, has more abrasion resistance than nylon, tangles less, has less stretch, better knot strength, and has better breaking strength.
When compared, a fluoro tippet will break at a larger pound test than a nylon mono tippet in the same diameter. This means you can have a thinner tippet tied on for a big spooky fish that still has enough breaking strength to land it.
Fluorocarbon is great for fishing flies subsurface, especially in crystal clear water, and as you can see has a huge amount of advantages compared to nylon.
You might think that you can’t use it when dry fly fishing but when combined with nylon leaders, the fluoro tippet sinks to provide a drag-free drift actually improving the fly’s presentation and removing the chance of a wise fish seeing the floating nylon.
Which is the best tippet material for fly fishing?
Fluorocarbon is the clear winner. It’s stroft (strong and soft), the strongest of the two materials, and the least visible monofilament that you can find plus it will last a long time too.
Overall you’ll find it’s stiffer, will cast better, tangle less, ties strong knots and you can use it in every kind of water from crystal clear to peaty.
The only annoying this is that it’s expensive so you should use it in combination with a nylon leader. This way you’ll only have to add a few feet of expensive fluoro to your otherwise affordable leaders.
Is Fluorocarbon Leader and Tippet Worth The Money?
At around $0.15 a yard, nylon is almost a third the price of fluoro at around $0.46 per yard, so it is an investment but is it worth it?
This comes down hugely to personal preference. In my eyes, you have already spent up to and maybe way over $1000 for your rod, reel, backing, fly line, flies, net, license, waders, and travel costs to fish where you’re standing. So why not spend an extra $20 on a better line to make sure your leader and tippet don’t spook that fish of a lifetime you have been waiting so long to catch?
Diameter and The X Rating Explained
When you go shopping for your leaders and tippets the first thing you need to understand is the X ratings that come on the spools.
Every spool you pick up will be rated from 0X to 8X and the higher the number the smaller the diameter of the tippet or leader material, and the lower the breaking strain. So 0X will be the thickest and the strongest tippet while 8X will be the thinnest and the weakest.
Here is a handy guide to tippet diameter vs strength and the size of the flies that match each of them.
Which brands make the best fluorocarbon tippet?
As with all fly gear, the quality and features of fluorocarbon tippets per each of the brands change, just like it would with fly lines.
The main contenders for the top spot are the same companies you have heard of before and include Rio, Scientific Anglers, Maxima, Orvis, and Trouthunter. Of these, the most popular three are Scientific Anglers, Trouthunter, and Rio tippets so let’s see how these three compare against each other.
Even when you look closely at a spool of line it’s hard to work out the difference in pricing between the next spool. A Maxima spool might be in feet, an Orvis in meters, while Rio spools have more line on them. So which spools are the most affordable?
The cheapest spool is the Rio Fluoroflex Plus guide spool which gives you 110 yards at $0.36 per yard. A little more expensive is Trouthunter at 0.42 per yard, then Scientific Anglers at $0.46, and finally Rio Fluoroflex Plus (30-yard spool) at $0.50.
Naturally, you really want a strong a tippet as possible even with a few knots tied in it so when you’re casting a dry fly to that monster trout, you’re not still worrying in the back of your mind that your tippet might break.
When a 3x of each brand was compared for breaking strain, here is what was found. The strongest by a little was Trouthunter which broke at 8.6 lbs, close behind was Rio Fluoroflex Plus at 8.5 lbs, and really quite far behind was Scientific Anglers at 7.1 lbs.
All of the above brands make excellent tippet and if you are loyal to any of them, I’d advise sticking with them. But if you want to know what spools are in my bag, it’s not Rio or SA, it’s Trouthunter.
Not only is Trouthunter the best in breaking strain, and one of the best in terms of value but I and many guides I know have put it to test in front of the best fish eyes on the planet.
The eyes of an Indo-Pacific permit are second to none and if you make the right long cast, these fussy fish will eat more flies with Trouthunter than any other I know of.
How many different spools of tippet and leader will I need?
The short answer, a few, but it does depend first on where and what you are fishing for. If you’re fishing for trout you’ll want every sized leader and tippet from 4x to 8x plus even more if you’re fishing a homemade tapered leader.
I’d advise getting two of each from 4-8x in fluoro and then two of each from 3-02X in nylon so you can build your leaders and keep your costs down by only using fluoro for the tippet.
Knots & Tippet – Which are best
No matter what kind of tippet you use, low stretch, Rio, or any other, you’re going to have to tie a knot at the end to connect it to your leader, so which knot should you be using?
The most reliable and strong knots to connect your tippet to your leader are either the blood, improved blood, double or triple surgeons knot. Most of you will probably know how to tie them but in case you don’t here is a video explaining it.
The thing all of these knots have in common is that they create a tough connection using both ends of each line. A blood knot is harder to tie but less bulky when finished, while a surgeon is easier but looks a bit ugly.
If you are interested, you can also see our post here about the Orvis Knot.
Thanks for reading my article about tippets and which is best. I hope you found it useful, interesting, and have been convinced into trying out some fluorocarbon if you haven’t already. It really will make a big difference when you’re on crystal clear rivers and lakes, especially if you’re going after smart, monster fish.
Thanks again for reading and please share my article around with any of your fishing buddies who might be interested. You may also enjoy checking out some of our other articles – we cover most things in fly fishing from saltwater to fresh, rods to reels, and the destinations in between.