It happened again the other day on the river, another angler commented on the tippet trap that is attached to my jacket pack. I didn’t even look down. What he was really telling me was that he can’t tie knots. It does not include tippet. And he couldn’t build a functional leader on the water if he had to. Whatever the reason, the tippet is a common weak point in an angler’s rig. Taking a little time to decipher the critical component the tippet plays in the terminal equation will answer common questions, introduce helpful tactics, and explain why anglers carry a tippet fan.
The fly fishing tippet is available in a wide variety of size and weight categories. The size means the diameter of the material. Tippet is measured and used more accurately when anglers understand this characteristic. However, nowadays anglers are more familiar with the “X”. And they buy leaders and tippet gear accordingly.
Tippet is available in two varieties of material, nylon monofilament and fluorocarbon. Gaining a basic understanding of these two materials is very simple. Understanding why and when to use one or the other is key to successful angling.
Nylon monofilament is a softer material. Mono, as it is commonly called, stretches slightly. And mono is easier to tie. As a tip material, mono will float and hold on the surface, making monofilament the tip material to use when dry fly fishing. Monofilament is cheap to produce and that cost translates into the cash register, saving anglers a few dollars.
Fluorocarbon is a stiffer material. Fluoro, as it is commonly called, does not stretch. The material is difficult to tie properly or in a hurry. And the fluorocarbon will sink. However, fluorine has a refractive index that makes it virtually disappear underwater. This feature alone makes fluoro the material to use when nymphing, saltwater or very abrasive conditions. But when it comes to the cash register, anglers regularly pay exponentially higher prices for this tippet material. The high costs of fluorocarbon production force anglers to pay more in the end.
When it comes to knots for tying your tip material to your rig, my favorite is a Double Uni knot or a Uni to Uni knot. This knot is easy to understand and tie. And with a modicum of dexterity, an angler can learn to tie correctly. As with all knots, lubrication is essential. Wet your line before tightening it. In this age of COVID-19, I hesitate to use my mouth. However, I fish and stand or float on the water, the instant wetness of the knots.
The tippet rack I carry on my jacket pack allows me to build a functional leader on the river if a terminal rig fails or an unrecoverable bird’s nest occurs. The Uni to Uni knot allows me to create a functional leader in a custom length for difficult fishing situations such as dry fly fishing on spring streams. Long leaders 12 to 15′ in length are needed to present the fly with a delicate touch and disguise the fisherman from wary trout.
A reflection on the tip that the harsh water conditions of recent summers have illustrated, anglers should strive to get away with the heaviest tip weight possible. The reason for this is that a trout caught on a 6X tippet needs a soft touch during the fight to avoid breakage, so the fight is inherently prolonged. While the angler using 4X tip material can work fish with a little more emphasis, shorten the battle and get trout into a net faster. In adverse water conditions, a heavier tippet is a more ethical choice.