Leader and tippet

As somebody asked, I take the opportunity to write about this subject which is, among so many others, of  primary interest.

I’m always amazed to read in french magazines the description of leader with 6 or 7 different segments with millimetre precision. Each time, I wonder who could, for God’s sake, take full advantage of this ultimate precision and fine hand-made job? Who is really capable of stretching out this leader to gently set his fly and wouldn’t be with a simpler solution.

Let’s go back to the inception. If I give a good vertical sinusoidal movement to a string, the wave will propagate along the line but simultaneously will die. More stiff is the string and more rapidly the wave will fade. If the line is tapered, it must offer a lower resistance and the wave must keep most of its amplitude. In fact, maths would show that this attenuation is more logarithmic than linear and the taper should be too. But even will all the latest evolution, we saw in lines, they are still very simple and we are very happy with the big belly and fast taper.

I know many very good fishermen, including the great Claude Bousquet, for whom the leader is a length of the right nylon. These guys throw their fly 75′ away and the fly goes so smoothly than it doesn’t even make a wave in the water.

If I love spey casting, I don’t like large and heavy rods, but I love to fish with overlengthed leaders of 18′. For pure aesthetic pleasure, pleasure of doing the best knots and to give good habits to my students, I always use knotted leaders.

3-3-4 formula

After a long quest, I finally found the Graal, a simple formula: 3-3-4. It means the first stretch of the heavier nylon is 30% of the total length, the middle section is 30% and the last section is 40%. By example, for a #7, 9′ rod, it would be : 3′ of 10 lb.,  3′ of 8 lb., and 4′ of 6 lb.

A fast rule of thumb, usually 3′ is the span between your hand and the opposite shoulder, while 4′ goes to the elbow.

Strength of nylon

I gave the size for a line number as I consider that you choose your rod according to your fishing. In this case, a #7 line would be fine for nice stream trouts or small salmons. If I’m chasing brook trouts, I’ll take my beloved Thomas and Thomas #3 and the leader will be  6 lb., 4 lb. and 2 lb. but keep the same formula.

But the real way to choose your leader strength is the fly. If I’m fishing low water salmons, I’ll fish with smaller flies and I’ll use a lighter leader. Don’t think it is because with less water, I believe the fish will see my leader! The truth is that the stiffer nylon won’t let the lower inertia fly be natural.


3-3-4 formula is ‘my’ common solution for every days but there are the other days. Lets say there is heavy wind or it’s your skagit day, etc. In these worst cases, use the reverse formula : 4-3-3. That means the heavier stretch is now the longer which gives a stiffer leader.

But if the wind starts and keep steady, there is a quick solution. Just cut off the last and lighter stretch of your 3-3-4 leader. The leader will be a 5-5, half heavier, half medium and 40% shorter, it will stab the wind like an arrow!


There is a great misunderstanding in between these two words, tippet and leader. I must confess that for pure literary reasons I often exchange them two. The tippet is an even lighter stretch of nylon which goes after the leader and must hide the line to the fish. IMHO, a long leader and a good presentation will do the trick in most cases.

There is only one case where the tippet is valuable, when you buy tapered leaders. In this case don’t tie your fly at the end of the taper as at each fly you’ll shorten it of one inch and it will be ruined very fast. Add a 1.5′ of nylon with the same diameter than the taper end, it will let you change your fly without changing the taper.

I use tippet in two cases. First if I want to give a try with a smaller fly to give it the natural freedom I was talking before. Second, if the trouts are so shy that even a light leader is too stiff for the smallest fly.


Choice of the nylon is based on water colour, stiffness and abrasion resistance but of your own taste too.

The colour of water is certainly the main reason to choose one or another. I don’t believe in full invisibility of fluorocarbon and to be frank I hate its limpness. I like Stiffness of Maxima Chameleon, particularly to help beginners fully extend their leader.

Anyway, if you can remember the 3-3-4 formula and it helps you having nicer loops and gentle flies, I’d have reached  my goal.