Some high-tech dry fly fishing is just around the corner here on the Missouri River, and a little discussion about leader design and tippet length is in order.
The leader can be the most important element to any dry fly rig. For most anglers it’s the weakest link (though we see some awful ratty fly lines as well). Leaders can also create quite a discussion in the shop, and many misunderstand how “factory” leaders are designed and how best to use them. If you build your own leaders, you can stop right here. This will all be information you figured out long ago.
I’ll skip to the end by asking a question:
Q: How much tippet do you use when you are technical dry fly fishing? (We’re talking long leaders, 5X, PMD’s Trico’s Etc.).
If you’re answer is less than 3 feet – and most anglers I see are using less than 2 – you’re really hurting yourself when targeting flat water trout on the Missouri, Henry’s Fork, Silver Creek, etc. I generally use 3 – 5 feet of tippet on technical flatwater fisheries. Hopefully my tippet is “invisible” to the trout, and I want that invisible section to be as large as possible.
Long tippets also land softer, allow a small fly to drift more naturally, mend with less disturbance and – depending on brand and material – may increase the amount of stretch or “shock absorption” in your leader (generally a good thing).
I am often amazed at the length of tippet I see on customers rods, especially when combined with a longer than 9 foot leader. I commonly see folks come in the shop with less than a foot of tippet. This person is often coming in asking why the fish won’t eat the fly we recommended. It’s also the same guy who ties 5X to 1X with some kind of sailboat knot.
Other customers worry about and debate the length of the factory leader to buy, yet don’t give any though to how long the “tippet” section of that factory leader is. I’ve only been asked how long the ‘factory” tippet section is a few times in my life. The general answer to that question is – not long enough!
I always add tippet to my leader (yes, even brand new ones), and I don’t know any proficient technical dry fly anglers who do not. And while some folks think it’s ridiculous that I add 4 feet of 5X to my 9’ leader, I know guys who add 6 feet or more. Just depends on their personal experience and the situation they are presented with.
Let take a look at how factory leaders are tapered. I’m speaking very generally here. A long time ago, they were built on some kind of 30/30/30 variation (33% butt, 33% taper, 33% tippet). They looked something like this: