Tippet of the leader: one of most important components of a flyangler’s tackle. More important than flies, rods and reels.
The importance of the tippet
The tippet of the leader is the ultimate barrier between we – the anglers – and the fly. If it breaks under a too high tension, we loose. If it doesn’t, we win.
The leader’s composition has been studied, evaluated, proposed, modified so many times during the past, resulting in a lot of confusion on the subject. It is anglers’ general opinion that the thinner, the better. And manufacturers have grabbed the chance to study more and more resistant thinnest nylons.
In spite of the extremely high resistance offered by the new materials, using very small diameters is always a risk for the angler. We rely both of the tippet quality and the elastic properties of rods but a break is always round the corner.
This results in slow, careful, delicate retrieve of the hooked fish with battles lasting for many minutes before netting.
We are very proud to show a huge fish and stress the importance of having landed it with a very thin tippet but we often forget an important detail. We are flyanglers, with a mind naturally focuses on respect for our quarry.
What is the use of a barbless hook (which is the ultimate detail to grant release and preserve fish) after a too long battle which has caused a too high amount of lactic acid on fish? The longer the struggle, the higher stress we cause to fish and a properly unhooked animal may not survive due to an extreme stress.
We have fought a long battle trying to convince fishermen to adopt barbless hooks thus reducing harm or damage to fish. The next step should be trying to convince (fly)anglers that a too thin leader is dangerous for fish’ life.
Why do we insist in using these thin leaders? The tippet thickness does not prevent fish to take the fly or the lure. This is confirmed by the huge (to the fish’ eye) steel “tippet” used with pike and black bass.
I normally use leaders ending with 0.16mm tippets and when on rough water I normally use 0.20/0.24mm tippets. Thinner tippets (never thinner than 0.14) are reserved for very calm water (chalk-streams, for example).
I often go fishing/teaching on a moderately slow channel where other anglers use 0,08 or 0,06mm tippets.
Here I normally have excellent results fishing for chub using terrestrials on 0.25mm tippets: the bank is 1 mt or so above the water and lifting the fish to the landing net is compulsory. Using a thinner tippet would result in breaking it or stressing the fish even more.
I often hear friends switching from 0.16 to 0.12 because “less visible”. Are you convinced that fish can detect a 0,04mm difference in tippets? Nonsense!
The point is: you don’t catch the rising fish and switch to another fly or to a thinner tippet but you have no idea of what happens to your fly when on the water. Does is drag? Is it moving along the correct food path? Is it too fast? too slow? does it land too far or too near the fish? Don’t think that the fish refuse your fly because of the tippet dimensions!
There is only one thing to bear in mind when choosing a tippet: it should not be too thick to make the fly behave unnaturally nor too thin to break under a strong traction. Between the two, choose the first. A fly on a thick leader can be cast and managed properly. A fly on a too thin leader may result in too many breaks or too much fish sufferance. So, why run the risk?