How many fly fishing leaders do you use in a year? Here’s a tip to make your fly fishing leader last longer.

Rio Leader & Tippet |

The problem: you connect a standard 9′ leader to your fly line and go fishing. How many times do you change flies? If you’re lucky, you catch fish on the first fly tied on the line. That normally doesn’t happen to me!

Instead, I change flies trying to find the “magic” fly. Every time you change flies, the tippet length gets shorter. What do I mean?

Well, a standard out-of-the-package leader is tapered. It’s thicker at the fly line and tapers down in diameter so it’s smaller where the fly is tied on. It’s designed in that manner to “turn the fly over” and continue the job of the fly line. The last section of a tapered leader is called the tippet. Generally, it’s about 20″ long. What happens when you change flies? You reduce the tippet length. Change flies often and that 20″ tippet is gone. It’s time to replace the tippet or some people replace the whole leader.

Let’s take an example: I generally use a 6X tapered leader for the spring creek waters I fish. The “X” designates the tippet diameter (larger the number, smaller diameter). When I change flies, I cut off tippet material. Do that enough times and I don’t have any tippet remaining. I end up in the 5X or 4X section of my leader. And yes, I still tie my fly on and fish it. That’s not what I want to do. I decided earlier to use 6X and I’m now fishing with a 5X or 4X leader.

I could never determine where the taper changes. I needed a different solution.

Here’s what I did.

If my goal is to fish with 6X tippet, I’ll purchase a 9′ 5X tapered leader. Upon attaching it to my fly line, I’ll cut off 12″. Yup, that’s right. I’ve already cut my new leader off! Next, I cut a 3′ length of 6X tippet and attach it using a triple surgeon’s knot.

Why? I want to continue the leader taper to my fly and using 20″ (that’s the normal tippet length) is too long. If I add additional tippet material to the 20″, the fly won’t turn over properly. By cutting off 12″, my taper is reduced to 8″. That’s where I add the 3′ section of 6X. I now have a total leader length of around 11′.

Fish bigger water and don’t need that long of leader? Purchase a 7 1/2′ 3X leader and cut off 12″. Add a 2′ section of 4X tippet and you’re fishing with an 8 1/2′ leader.

Now I start fishing…and changing flies…and fishing…and changing flies. You get my drift. Every time I change flies, I get closer to the surgeon’s knot. I know EXACTLY where the taper changes. My practice is to wait until I get about 12″ from the knot and I cut off the tippet at the knot and start over. Attach another 3′ section of tippet.

With this method, I’ve don’t purchase near as many leaders as I used to. They last much longer. I hope your’s will as well.

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  1. I saw this article when it was 6 years old. Instead of a tippet ring, I make a loop to loop connection between my tippet and leader. It accomplishes the same thing as the tippet ring. I think it’s as strong as any knot to secure the tippet.

    1. Tom

      Thanks for leaving a Comment. Sounds like it works for you. I find the leader turns over better for my dry flies with the surgeon knot.


  2. Regarding using a leader a long time and doing away with the various knots that have to be tied and then resized and tied again. I did away with all that and it works with a commercial leader or hand tied leader.

    As you take the new leader out of the package, tie on a 2mm tippet ring.
    These are available via fly shops on the Internet or I am sure your local shop can order it in for you. I keep the rings on a safety pin. I tie the leader knot to the ring while it is still on the safety pin. Once the knot is tied open the safety pin and remove.
    Now you can tie your tippet to the ring. They work with dries on the surface or nymphs subsurface. One nice thing about the ring is using two nymphs subsurface. The first can be tied to the ring with a short three to four inch dropper. The second on a 12 to 18 inch tippet.

    When you are done for the day. Clip off your tippet and dispose of in the trash. Your leader is still ready to go with a tippet ring for the next days fishing.
    Try it and you won’t go back to tying tippets directly to leaders ever again.

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