Fly Lines, Leaders & Tippets
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Fly Line, Leaders, Tippet and Backing
The Fly Fishing Line System
The fly line and leader combine to deliver your fly to the fish. These items are extremely important to get a proper presentation and need to work in conjunction with your fly rod, fly and each other.
Your fly line is just as important as your fly rod when it comes to casting your fly. A poor fly line on a really nice fly rod is like putting passenger car tires on a racecar. If you economize on a fly rod, and there are some very nice economical rods on the market, try to buy the best fly line.
With fly fishing, we are using a longer rod as a lever to move the line through the air while the relatively light fly goes for a ride, just the opposite of gear fishing. To make it easier and more efficient to cast, fly lines are designed with different tapers. The 2 basic tapers are weight forward and double taper. Weight forward lines comprise more than 98% of our fly line sales. They are, simply put, designed with a heavier taper up front to make casting easier. Double taper lines are mostly a lighter trout rod line and are often purchased more for historical reasons than practical.
Within the family of weight forward lines, you will find quite a number of specialty lines allowing you to really dial in the best line for your intended use. Lines for casting bass bugs, musky flies, saltwater fly fishing and more. Please feel free to reach out to us for help in selecting the perfect line for you.
The above info pertains mostly to floating lines but there are quite a number of sinking style fly lines available, from lines that only the tip sinks to full sinking fly lines that sink at up to 12 or 14 inches per second.
Picking the proper weight for your fly line is easy. All you have to do is match the weight of the line to the weight of the rod. A 5wt rod needs a 5wt line. There can be some variation in that but to keep things simple match the rod weight number to the line weight number.
There are two main types of tapers:
- Weight Forward (WF) - these lines have the majority of weight towards the tip of the line.
- Double Taper (DT) - double taper lines have the same taper on both ends and have a level section between the two tapered ends. These lines have the majority of the weight centered on the line.
Fly Line Types
There are three main types of fly lines:
- Floating (F) - the entire fly line floats on the water.
- Floating with Sinking Tip (F/S) - the front end of the line sinks with the remainder floating. The sinking tip sink rate will vary along with the actual length of the sinking section.
- Full Sinking (S) - Like the name implies, the whole fly line will sink. The sinking rate varies on these lines from intermediate sink rate, which sinks about an inch and a half per second, to lines that can sink very fast. Typically a line's sink rate is listed in the model name. A Sink 3 sinks at 3 ips, Sink 6 at 6 ips, etc.
Leaders are our relatively invisible link between the thick fly line and our fly. We can’t fly fish without them and they are often misunderstood. The typical leader is made up of 3 sections: the butt section, the tapered section and the tippet. Leaders can be purchased easily by buying a trout leader for trout, bass leader for bass and bonefish leader for bonefish for instance.
In trout fishing, an easy way to decide on leader length is to use a leader about the length of your fly rod. That’s why most trout leaders are 9 to 10 feet in length. You can use a shorter or longer one depending on the water conditions where you're fishing. This is pretty much the same for panfish. With fish that are less leader shy like bass or muskies, shorter leaders are usually used. We will be happy to help you pick the right leaders for your fishing.
The tippet section is where things get confusing for most folks. 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.
So now comes the mysterious part for many anglers, picking the correct tippet size on your leader. For many heavy leaders like we use for bass, steelhead or bonefish, for instance, 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 fish size you expect to encounter.
|Tippet Diameter (in)||Tippet Size|
Fly Line Backing
Backing has a few jobs on your fly reel. First of all, it’s an insurance policy that if you have a fish run more line out than your fly line length. For most freshwater fly fishing this is a non-issue but for saltwater fly fishing it is an important factor due to long running fish. Second, the backing takes up space on your reel that the fly line isn’t long enough to fill, keeping your fly line from forming memory coils.
Backing is available in 2 types of material:
- Gel Spun