Tippets on leaders are often confusing for fly anglers getting started. The tippet is the final section, and usually the thinnest, of the leader that attaches to your fly. The confusing part is you can also purchase spools of tippet material. You can fish the fly leader right out of the package it came in. However, as you shorten the original portion of the leader by changing flies, breaking off fish, etc., instead of throwing away the leader you can add tippet material from a separate spool to get back to your normal leader length and keep fishing. This will be a lot more economical than just putting a new leader on the fly line. So, while the tippet is part of the leader, you can add more tippet material to it.
The mysterious part for many anglers is picking the correct tippet size on your leader. For many heavy leaders like we use for bass, steelhead or bonefish, it is pretty easy. The leader's breaking strength is noted on the package i.e. #8, #10. Pick the breaking strength based on the water you are fishing and the fish's size you expect to encounter.
Things change a bit with the smallest or lightest leaders we use. These are typically the trout or panfish leaders. These leaders' sizes are noted as an X number. While confusing, it is simple if you remember one number. That number is 3. If you divide the hook size you will be using by 3 you will get the tippet X size to use. For example, a size #12 fly would balance and cast best with a 4X tippet, #18 with a 6X. With #14 you could go either to a 4X or 5X. We like to error on the smaller size to fool the fish easier.
If you want to take it a bit further remember one more number, the number 11. If you subtract the X number from 11 it will give you the tippet diameter in thousandths of an inch. For instance, an 8X tippet is .003 and 5X is .006. Notice the bigger the X number the thinner the tippet diameter. You don't really need to know this but it will show you that no matter what brand you are buying the sizes are the same.
|Tippet Diameter (in)||Tippet Size|
One more word on tippets. They are made of either monofilament or fluorocarbon. Most anglers use mono tippet material but fluorocarbon can be very useful in some scenarios. Fluoro is more abrasion resistant than mono and less visible as well. This makes it a good choice for saltwater fishing and other instances where bigger fish are found in areas with rocky bottoms, coral or around wood and brush. Fluoro also sinks so be aware you don't want to use it on topwater flies. It can be used in nymphing for trout too.
Hopefully, this clears things up for you but if you still have questions please reach out to us for help.