Five Common Mistakes Fly Fishers Make with Leaders and Tippets
Podcast published on July 20, 2009
Hi! Welcome to the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast. This is Tom Rosenbauer and this week I’d like to talk about “Five Mistakes People Make with Leaders and Tippets.” Leaders and tippets are a critical part of your …tackle. Some people think the most critical part of your whole set up. And there’s lots of easy things you can do to make your fishing better and more fun.
Before I go on to the five most common mistakes people make with leaders and tippets, I just want to mention that the podcasts have been growing, our downloads have been growing. Thank you very much. If you like the podcast, please go in to iTunes and leave a comment there, or if you don’t like them, leave a comment there. The nasty ones are always more interesting anyways but I hope you don’t.
I opened up Midcurrent.com this morning and I noticed that my good friend, Marshall Cutchin had a little article on our podcast at Fishing the Surf. So, thank you Marshall. MidCurrent is a terrific site. I used it every morning for a little bit of fly fishing news. The other place to find out what’s going on is our Facebook page, www.orvis.com/facebook.
So, now that I’ve told you a number of ways you can waste time in the workplace this morning by browsing the web, let’s talk about five mistakes people make with leaders and tippets.
Number one, not testing knots. I make this mistake all the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve tied on a fly quickly, I’ve made a cast and either a fish breaks off or I just made a cast and come back with a pigtail on the end of my line because I didn’t pass the end of the clinch knot through the loop or I didn’t tighten it properly or I didn’t test it. You’ve got to test your knots. You don’t want to lose that fish of a lifetime because you were a little too sloppy in tying your knot. Give it a good pull, whether it’s a leader knot or an attachment to your fly, give it a good strong pull and make sure it holds. I can’t stress that enough.
Number two is not moistening knots. When you tighten a knot in leader material, whether it’s in flourocarbon or nylon, when you draw that knot down, there’s some friction and the friction prevents the coils from tightening properly in most knots and it also builds up a little heat which can weaken the tippet. By moistening the knot, just spitting on it or touching it with your tongue and then drawing the knot down quickly. Not real hard but give it a good firm pull, you’re going to have a knot that sits much stronger and much more securely. If you draw a knot down slowly, chances are the coils are not going to tighten properly. And also, if you don’t lubricate those coils, they’re going to bind and you’re going to get some heat and friction build up. So, moisten your knots every time you tighten them.
Number three is having a tippet that’s too short and too stiff when the fish are spooky. The tippet, the final piece on your leader is the most critical part of your terminal tackle. And if your fly isn’t behaving naturally because your tippet is too stiff or too short … in other words, if your fly is too close to the stiffer part of your leader it’s not going to float naturally in the current. Even in salt water where you’re not worrying about drag or currents, the longer the tippet, the better if the fish are in shallow water and the water is clear, because the lighter part of your leader is going to land softer. The heavy part of your leader, although a leader landing on top of a game fish doesn’t frighten it as much as a fly line because a fly line is opaque and thicker. The stiffer, heavier part of a leader can still spook fish so, you know, sometimes when fishing bonefish or striped bass on the flats when they’re really spooky, I’ll go to a four or five foot tippet. Now, it can be a pain in the wind but it’s probably worth the effort to go to a longer tippet.
And in stream fishing, most people use tippets that are too short, particularly when you have tricky currents and drags. So, get down to the lightest tippet you can use and still handle the fish properly if you’re in heavy water. You don’t want to go to 7X because you’ll have to play a fish forever and exhaust it but go to the lightest tippet possible for the size of fly that you’re using.
At the other end of the scale, when you have a wind or when you’re making a really long cast, sometimes people use a tippet that’s too long and too thin. When you’re trying to cast against the wind, that long tippet is just going to ball up. You’ll end up with a wind knots. You’re going to end up with leader wrapped around your fly. And sometimes you need to go to a shorter and stiffer tippet particularly when you’re fishing bigger flies.
When you’re going from a dry fly to a streamer fly, don’t keep that same tippet onto your streamers. Your streamer is not going to straighten. And tying a very thin tippet against that heavier wire or eye in the streamer means it’s probably not going to hold. So, you’ve got to switch back and forth when you’re switching from a dry to a streamer or even a small weighted nymph to a streamer.
The fifth most common mistake with leaders and tippets is not replacing tippets with wind knots in them. Now, wind knots are not actually wind knots, usually they’re casting knots. You did something wrong with your casting. You tied an overhand knot in your tippet. It happens all the time. It happens to all of us.
A lot of people try to pick the wind knot out with a couple of hooks or a needle or something. Well, the damage has already been done to that tippet. An overhand knot in a tippet can weaken the tippet as much as 40%. So, right away you’re starting with a big, big handicap. And once the overhand knot has been tied in that tippet, the stress has been applied to the molecules in the nylon or the fluorocarbon and you really got to replace that tippet.
So, if you find a wind knot or two in your tippet, cut it off and replace it. If you got a wind knot way up in the butt section of your leader, it’s probably not going to affect anything because your butt section is still going to be a lot stronger than your tippet. But wind knots in the tippet should be replaced immediately or you’re going to lose that fish of a lifetime.
So, that’s the five most common mistakes people make with leaders and tippets. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to leave a comment in iTunes, visit on Facebook and visit MidCurrent. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
Thank you for listening to the Orvis Fly Fishing Guide Podcast with Tom
Rosenbauer. Since 1856 anglers worldwide have counted on Orvis to help them get the most from their time on the water, to learn more and to shop the world’s finest fly fishing gear including the award winning Zero Gravity Helios Rod.