What Is Fly Fishing Tippet?

Fly fishing tippet may sound like a foreign language to most people. The fact is, tippet is a really simple accessory to help you catch more fish.

Tippet is simply clear level line that you tie directly onto your fly. There is both nylon and fluorocarbon tippets. Nylon is cheaper, and fluorocarbon is much more expensive. Tippet comes on spools (often 30 yards/90 feet). When you need to add flies or you break off your rig, simply use tippet to attach more flies.

Tapered leaders start out thick, and then taper down to the tippet. You can rebuild busted leaders by using different tippet sizes. Additionaly, for nymph rigs using multiple flies (2 or 3 fly rigs), tippet is used to attach the different flies.

Tippet is the final part of your leader system which makes fly fishing possible. It is the actual line that attaches to your flies, which makes the final connection of your system.

This article will cover the different types of tippet, and how they are used.

How To Use Tippet

When you buy a prepackaged tapered leader, you can simply tie on a fly and go fishing. The tapered leader gets thinner near the end, where the tippet is. Once you break off your fly, your leader will get cut back, this is when you need to add tippet.

By adding tippet with a blood or a surgeons knot, you can extend the life of your leader. Now that you’ve added tippet, your leader is back to its original length. By adding tippet to your leader, you can avoid having to purchase a new leader. It keeps it cheaper, since leaders start at $6 a piece.

The main way tippet comes in handy is with multi-fly rigs. Here in Colorado, anglers are allowed to fish up to 3 flies at once. This can be a nymph rig (underwater flies), or a dry dropper (surface fly and underwater fly). The way to build these rigs is – you guessed it – tippet! Once you’ve tied a clinch knot to your first fly, cut off some tippet and tie another clinch knot to the bend of that fly. Then you can add your second fly. For a third fly, repeat the process.

Tippet is basically how we build out our rigs when fly fishing. It is our connecting material from fly to fly. It also allows us to fish multiple flies at once.

Nylon Tippet

Nylon is the cheapest tippet available. It is usually between $5-$7 a spool. Nylon is more visible to fish, which can make it a bad option for technical or picky trout. However, it is the choice of dry fly fisherman because it floats very well.

For rivers with less educated trout, you can get away with nylon tippet. However, for technical tailwaters and spring creeks, nylon is not a good option. Trout will see it and will probably not eat your fly.

Fluorocarbon Tippet

Fluorocarbon is the most expensive tippet. It is usually between $15-$20 a spool. Which is a huge price jump! Fluorocarbon is less visible to trout, which can be very beneficial on technical fisheries and spring creeks. It tends to sink more than nylon, which makes it better for nymphing and subsurface fly fishing.

For wary trout in pressured areas, fluorocarbon tippet is a must have. There are some rivers where you need it if you want to catch fish.

Due to the price, many fly anglers avoid buying flurocarbon tippet. However, it can really improve your success on the water.

Tippet Sizing (Varies By Brand)

0X Tippet15.5 lb test
1X Tippet13.3 lb test
2X Tippet11.2 lb test
3X Tippet8.8 lb test
4X Tippet7.3 lb test
5x Tippet5.2 lb test
6X Tippet3.8 lb test
7X Tippet2.6 lb test


The test ratings above were taken from Rio’s fluorocarbon tippet. Keep in mind that each brand will vary slightly on their test ratings. Tippets are made in different factories around the world.

  • I never fish 7X. It is so weak and can break very easily. If I show up somewhere where I need 7X, i’m not interested!
  • For tailwaters and low flow areas, I will go with 6x as it is more invisible to the trout.
  • For most trout fishing in Colorado, 5x is my go to. It is thin enough to fool most trout, but strong enough to land them.
  • When the water is dirtier or off color, I like 3x and 4x. It offers more strength and you can get away with it in dirty water.
  • For streamer applications, I will fish 0x, 1x or 2x. When trout attack streamers, they aren’t concerned with tippet size. They just want to eat it!

Keep in mind that these are all variable based on where you are fishing. Hook size also plays a huge role in tippet selection. Smaller nymphs and dry flies will require thinner tippet, as the hook eye is much smaller. For big hoppers and streamers, thicker tippet is needed since the hook eyes are much larger.

You also want to take into account the size of trout you are targeting and how educated they are. Fish the heaviest tippet you can get away with. Unfortunately, some fisheries have large trout that are very educated, and you must use thin tippet such as 6x. It can be very difficult to land large trout on small tippets, but it is possible. Many anglers specialize in this – fooling large trout with small flies and light tippet. It is certainly rewarding, but can be frustrating.

One of the best ways to determine tippet size is to ask your local fly shop. Tell them where you will be fishing and they will give you an idea of tippet sizes.

Best Knots For Tippet

When tying your tippet onto a fly, there are many different knots you can use. The clinch knot and the improved clinch knot are the most popular. In multiple tests, it has been proven that the regular clinch knot is actually stronger than the improved. However, the improved works well too – and many anglers prefer it.

Loop knots are best for streamers, as they allow the fly to have more action. The non slip loop knot is my favorite. It is easy to tie and it gives the fly lots of play. You can also use a loop knot to a hopper to give it more action on the surface.

The list goes on and on with knots. There are literally dozens to choose from, so pick what works best for you.

One of the main things with knots is to wet them down. By applying saliva to your knot, it will help it “seat” a lot better to form a good connection. By not lubricating knots, they can get brittle and break.


Tippet may seem confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Building a collection of tippet sizes is a good way to start out. For trout fisherman, I often recommend getting 3x, 4x, and 5x. These sizes will get you by in most situations. As you fly fish more and more, you can add sizes.