I’m going to stick with my “July on the fly” theme and talk about an often overlooked aspect of fly fishing, and that is tippet and leader selection. One of the most common mistakes I see is anglers under-sizing on their tippets and leaders.
Naturally, we are predisposed to think that smaller is better. A 7X tippet is smaller than 5X, so it automatically offers stealth advantages, and thereby increases your odds of hooking fish. Right?
I have spent many hours under the water in scuba gear watching trout and other fish eat, and the one common factor is that tippet or leader size seems to matter less than almost anything else when it comes to presenting a fly or a lure. And sometimes leaning on smaller monofilaments and fluorocarbons will hurt your cause more than they help it.
Here’s why: In a fly fishing situation, the very most important factor is presentation, in other words, making a fly behave exactly like a natural insect in the instance immediately after it hits the water. In the case of many mayflies, that means drifting entirely at the mercy of the current, with no drag, and no wake that will spook fish.
I see too many anglers get refused by trout, and immediately switch to a smaller tippet, when, in fact, the real problem was that they were dragging the fly. It is better to aspire to make a perfect drag-free drift with 4X tippet than to use 7X tippet as a crutch. You’ll catch more fish with 4X and a greater drift than you ever will with 7X and a poor drift. Most of the serious angler friends and the guides I know seldom fish anything lighter than 5X tippet, ever.
Of course, there are other advantages to sticking with larger tippets and leaders. A larger leader will turn over in windy conditions. Perhaps most importantly, larger tippets and leaders allow you to land fish faster, and break fewer off. If you are a catch-and-release angler, it’s best to land your fish and let them go before you fight them to the point of exhaustion. And nobody wants monofilament or fluorocarbon strands left behind in the lake or river (especially not hanging out of a fish’s mouth).
Trust me on this one. If you aspire to fish larger, thicker leaders and tippets, you will improve your presentation game, and thereby hook more fish. And because you’re fishing with stronger materials, you’ll land more of them also.
It’s a win-win.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.