Thursday, January 13, 2011

On terminal tackle in fly fishing.

One of our members has a series of informational articles composed, and we will begin presenting them on a regular basis.  The lead-in set is on the layout and construction of a leader and tippet, the link between the fly line and the final piece, the fly itself.

Your arm provides energy for the casting stroke, which in turn is harnessed and stored by the rod. As a rod's energy is then transferred through the heavier fly line, it rolls forth and due to the taper of the line dissipates as it propels its payload, the fly towards the target. The leader is the final piece, where the fly line has tapered to its end, and the monofilament leader will begin to bleed off the final energy, turn over and present the fly. A well constructed leader, with tippet, will turn over just right, providing a skillful caster with a fly placed to target, with the appropriate amount of slack to assist in the drift.

Ergo, construction of the leader and understanding its components is of vital understanding in both the art and science of fly casting, and fishing.

Part one, Materials, after the jump...




 Terminal Tackle: Materials, Theodore P. Burger, MD

Any time the subject of leaders, tippets or knots comes up during a conversation among fly anglers the best of which takes center stage. Each angler expresses their opinion that he or she is using the best leader set-up including tippet and or knots for a particular type of fly fishing. The truth be known, each may be correct to a degree after one takes into the account the angler’s particular skill level, fly pattern, water conditions and the like. If one is to venture an opinion as to which set-up is the best, it is well to know some facts about the materials used in the construction of most terminal tackle used in Trout fishing.

The angler has several types of materials as well as manufactures from which to choose, the old Stiff Monofilament, the newer UV-protected Copolymers (Mono) and Fluorocarbon. There are a few others but most anglers choose one of the three or a combination there of.

One must consider the inherent properties of the material as well as the type of Trout fishing (dry, wet, nymph, streamer, lake or stream) that will be chosen when selecting a material for the leader and or the tippet. Since the majority of anglers use either Monofilament (copolymer) and or Fluorocarbon a comparison of their basic properties are in order. A good but slightly old article on Fluorocarbon vs. Monofilament can be found in the July issue of Fly Fisherman magazine. If I can take the liberty and summarize an overall comparison between the two but with some what of a jaundice eye, it would be as follows;


  •  Wet fluorocarbon is only slightly stronger than wet Mono.
  •  Fluorocarbon is more abrasion-resistant than Mono but there is few situations where this is significant to most Trout anglers.
  •  Fluorocarbon is 65% more dense than Mono and therefore sinks faster. That is fine for wets, nymphs and streamers but it will sink a dry fly. If you want to sink higher floating Mono, apply some “Mud” or “Xink Sink Aid”. I make my own Mud by mixing Child’s Molding Clay with Liquid Ivory Soap.
  • Fluorocarbon is said to be less visible under water but it is the same as Mono on top if you can get it to float. Its invisibility has a directional quality and only applies when it is between the primary light source and the fish’s eye (backlit).
  • Fluorocarbon is 30% stiffer than Mono so drag free drifts above and below that surface are more difficult.
  •  Fluorocarbon is 3 times the cost of Mono.
  • Fluorocarbon is nearly impervious to UV light and fails to break down over time. To this end I have some environmental issues with Fluoro but the modern UV-protected copolymers we call “Mono” are not much better.
  • I believe it is harder to get good knots with Fluorocarbon because of its density and stiffness. If one is in too much of a hurry in their knot tying these properties will result in knot failure every time.

Keeping in mind the material’s properties and the type of fishing one has chosen, one must now choose from all the different manufactures. Sadly the quality can vary greatly from one manufacture to another. Also some confusion may arise from the words used by manufactures when they describe their materials, for example stiffness (soft vs. hard). Several manufactures use the word “hard” in their name (Mason Hard Mono, Climax Hard Mono and Rio Saltwater IGF Hard Mono) and believe me they are too stiff for Trout fishing. Several advertize theirs as medium-hard or medium-stiff (RioMax Plus, Umpqua Tough Nylon and Maxima). The latter at least give you some idea about their stiffness. Then again some are just thicker than others and claim them to be stiffer than others. There is an effort out there to get them to change to supple vs. stiff. Let us hope so.

When it comes to tippet material, most manufactures at least let you know theirs is “supple” or “limp” which is what you are looking for in a tippet material.

Keeping in mind the properties mentioned above, most all anglers use Mono for their dry fly fishing. There are some anglers who choose to use only all Fluorocarbon for both leader and tippet or a leader of Mono and a tippet of Fluorocarbon for their wet, nymph and streamer fishing while some like my self use all Mono for their terminal tackle for all their Trout fly fishing.

For those just starting out or those that are just not satisfied with their leader-tippet performance may wish to take the advice of an angler they respect as to their specific choice of material and or manufacture. Irrespective of the advice, the satisfaction with the choice will depend upon ones casting style, line weight and rod length so modifications will likely still be in order. Some thoughts on the design of a leader with tippet along with material suggestions will be forth coming in the next installment.

(reprinted with permission of author)