Fly Fishing Things

Fly Lines, Tippets, Leaders   Back to Categories

The right choice means flawless line control.

General information.  Most all fly lines are comprised of a braided nylon monofilament core coated with a polymer that gives it slickness and density.  Nylon monofilament cores stretch.  There is a class of fly lines however, that use no stretch cores.  No-stretch core lines are great for bite detection. However; because they don’t stretch, you’re more likely to break a fish off if you set the hook too hard.  Lines that stretch are more forgiving in that regard.
flyfishingthings.com/sharkskin fly line
Less density causes the fly line to float and vice versa more density causes the fly line to sink.  Lines are weighted in grams and numbered 1- 14. The higher the number progresses the larger the fish the line can handle.  This is due to the core strength of the line. The line number corresponds to rod weights.  Thus a 5-weight rod takes a 5 wt line, and so forth and so on.

Fly lines come floating, sinking and a combination of both.
  Those that both float and sink are called sink tip lines.  Sinking lines are classed by sink rate in inches per second (ips).

#1 line 1.25 to 1.75 inches per second.

#2 line 1.5 to 2.5 inches per second.

#3 line 2.5 to 4.5 inches per second.

#4 line 3.75 to 5.5 inches per second.

#5 line 6.0 to 8.0 inches per second

Floating line performance is dependent upon the type of coating and density of the coating. Some coating reacts better in cold water than in warm water.  Additionally the type of coating used on the line effects line memory.  Most all-fly lines have memory and have to be stretched when first used.  Line memory is retained more in cold water than in warm water. Line coating that is clear is use for slow sinking lines primarily for bonefish fishing. Finally, the way a line is coated has a lot to do with how the line “shoots” through the guides.  Slick lines tend to shoot very well.  Tournament lines are made more for distance casting than for fishing.  So keep that in mind when you make your purchase.

  flyfishingthings.com/airflow sixth senseThe line color of a floating line has nothing to do with performance and is relative only to the casters visual preference. A floating line appears black on the surface of the water to the fish regardless of the lines' color.
   On the other hand, line color is important when fishing sinking lines.  Most sinking lines are some shade of olive, brown or gray.  And as mentioned above some are clear.  These colors minimize visibility to the fish.

Floating lines have tapered portions in the front section of the line.
  The way the line is tapered affects the casting performance of the line, and therefore, it is imperative that the caster understands how the taper affects the lines' ability to deliver the fly.

Very small flies such as a midge dry fly requires a delicate taper without hardly any bulk in the front portion of the line.
  A double taper line is ideal for this kind of fishing, because it allows the caster to make a cast that turns the line over softly thus landing the fly gently on the waters surface.  Spring creek fishing would be an example of this type of fishing. 

Normal fly patterns (sizes 16 through 12) can be handled quite well with both a double taper, or a level tapered line.  
Either of these lines is also ideal for nymph fishing.

Large flies like big streamers, bunny leaches and other pike flies, or bass bugs, require considerable weight in the forward section of the line to deliver the fly; especially if the fly is being cast in windy conditions. These types of lines have shooting heads and the tapers on these types of fly lines are commonly called, bug tapers, tarpon tapers, bass taper, or weight forward lines.

Sinking lines do not require tapers to cast heavy flies because they are more dense to begin with and will load the cast easily. Fast action rods are more suitable for casting sinking lines than medium or slow flex rods.

To distinguish one style of taper from another, manufactures have a two-letter terminology that identifies the type of line and its taper:
  for example.  An F-5-DT translates into a Floating, 5 wt, and Double Taper line.  An Intermediate F/S-5 would be a 5 weight floating line with a sink tip that sinks at an intermediate sink rate (2.5 to 4.5 ips).   Tapers are coded for example:  L for level, SH for shooting taper, WF for weight forward,  DT for double taper,  F/S for Sink tip, BT for bass taper,  and so on. 

When all is said and done the angler must know the style of fishing he intends to do in order to buy the appropriate line that will allow him to do that.  Further more, because the style of fishing changes from month to month the angler will most likely need more than one style of line.  That’s why when you buy a reel it’s important that it comes with extra spools.

To encompass the variety of fishing presented on this website, five different types of lines are needed:  1.  A double taper floating line for general all around dry fly and nymph fishing.  2.  A weight forward bug taper floating line for casting big flies into the wind.  3.  A #1 sinking (I prefer a clear line) line for fishing sub surface over shallow weed beds.  4. A  #3 sinking line for general lake fishing. And 5.  A # 5 sinking line for heavy water streamer fishing like you get during run off. 

Fly line technology is constantly changing so you should be up to date on what the changes are and how they will affect line performance when you go to purchase a fly line.

Finally, as a general rule more expensive lines last longer and are less likely to have the surface coating crack over time.  If the line begins to crack it will affect casting performance and should be replaced. 

Fly lines range in cost from less than $20 dollars to more than $100 dollars with most being around $60 to $70 dollars.     


 flyfishingthings.com/SA fluroracarbon leaderLeaders are of course that part of the line system that connects from the end of the fly line portion to the fly.  Often a tippet is attached to the leader to facilitate presentation of a fly to the fish and to keep from having to cut back the leader every time the angler changes flies. More about tippets a little later.  

The primary purpose of the leader is to allow transfer of energy from the fly line through the leader to the fly.  Because flies tend to be very small and very light weight, the leader is tapered from a heavy butt section down to as little as 5X diameter in order to turn the line over and present the fly softly on the water. If not for the leaders taper the fly would land in a heavy splat on the water.  In addition the butt section of the leader keeps the line from hinging, which tends to kill any energy that is built up in the cast thus all line control is lost in presentation. Leader material can be both hard and soft. The choice again depends on the style of fishing you intend to do and how you want to present the fly.  Hard leaders are generally used for casting bigger flies where as soft leaders are for more delicate presentations.

Leaders come in various lengths ending with different diameters.
  For example:  A 7’3X hard leader would be a leader seven foot long with one end of it narrowing down to a 3X (8lb) diameter.  A leader like this would most likely be used for streamer fishing, or for casting big bushy flies.  On the other hand, a soft leader 9’5X would be ideal for dry fly fishing.    flyfishingthings.com/SA leader seven ft long

I prefer one-piece leaders to hand built leaders.  A hand built leaders is very specific to a targeted type of fishing, and personally I don’t think they make much sense unless you’re fresh out of leaders and need to build one.  The leader has little to do with your ability to catch fish and much more to do with how the fly is presented.  The right leader is much more important for dry fly fishing than in nymph fishing or streamer fishing. 

Finally, with the invention of fluorocarbon, both leaders and tippets are much stronger and more abrasion resistant.  However, they do cost more. “Soft” fluorocarbon leaders can be purchase now where as before they were not useful because they were too stiff. 


  flyfishingthings.com/Rio fluroflex tippetTippets are the terminal end of the fly line system.  Your ability (and skill) to fight and land a fish depends on the strength and abrasion resistant of the tippet. Like leaders, the properties of tippet material can be both soft and hard. A soft supple tippet is desirable for casting small dry flies, where as a normal tippet is adequate for most other styles of fishing.  Tippet material comes on individual spools and has a numbering system to distinguish the strength of one size tippet from another. The system goes something like this:  7X, 6X, 5X, 4X, 3X, 2X, 1X and 0X. Or worse yet they describe it by using diameter.  Here’s an example of this insane system:  OX = 0.28mm, or 12lb test, or 5.5kg test.  Why the manufacture doesn’t just designate the strength of the tippet by its tensile strength is beyond me.  It would be so much easier for everyone.  I guess old habits are hard to break.   

Most of your dry fly fishing will be done with 4X and 5X tippets.  When fishing tiny midges to leader shy trout, you’re going to use 6X, 7X or possible 8X (1 lbtest) tippets.  Lake fishing with leeches and woollybuggers; you’ll use 3X and 2X depending on the size of the fish.  With steamer fishing, 2X and stronger can be used.  Always,  it depends on the size of the fish and how heavy the flow of the current.  Big fish in heavy current means shorter leaders and heavy tippets.    flyfishingthings.com/SA tippet

Fluorocarbon.  The strength of the tippet relative to its diameter is one of the main reasons for the popularity of fluorocarbon tippets.  A 3X fluorocarbon tippet is as strong as a 0X monofilament tippet and much more abrasion resistant.  Additionally fluorocarbon is harder for the fish to see than conventional monofilament tippets and is the preferred tippet material for fishing to tippet shy trout, or bonefish.  Like wise fluorocarbon is more expensive, but it’s worth it.

Finally, it is both the nature and necessity in fly-fishing to change tippets regularly and often.  You will constantly find the need to change out a tippet because of changing fishing conditions. Sometimes just by switching to a smaller size diameter will induce the fish to strike.  Another example: you may be fishing something small without producing much result and decide to switch to fishing something bigger.  Tying on a size 6 woollybugger  with a 5X tippet,  your just asking to lose the fly if a fish happens to strike.  The diameter of that small of a tippet on that big of a hook will not hold as well as a larger diameter tippet.  This compulsion causes you to switch to a 3X tippet, which is more appropriate for the fly you now intend to fish.  This constant need to switch flies is one of the reasons you need to have a good supply of tippet material on hand.  I rarely carry 6X or 7X tippet material, unless I know I’m going to fish really small flies…and that ain’t to often.  I mostly carry 3X through 5X.  Here’s a tip.  Make a series of two feet long tippet sections and loop them end to end on a spool.  You tie a loop in both ends.  Then when you need to change tippets, you simply un-loop a pre-tied tippet, clip off one loop and loop it to the leader. It’s quick and fast.  Just make sure you loop to loop correctly.  See the knots' page for how to loop to loop.