Pro Tips: 3 Ways to Protect Light Tippet

Late-season fishing usually requires downsized tackle and careful techniques.
All photos by Evan Jones

One big challenge of late-season fishing is having to use such small flies and light tippet. Lower flows, clearer water, and an entire season of angling pressure make trout much harder to fool toward the end of the year, so it’s not unusual for fly anglers to resort to size 20 hooks on 6x or even 7x tippet, which is rated at just 2.5-pound test. A rig that delicate requires some careful handling in order to remain intact, or you’re going to spend a good chunk of the day rebuilding it over and over with cold, clumsy fingers. So here are 3 tips to help you protect light tippet and keep it from snapping:

1. Use a Slower-Action Rod

The easiest way to protect light tippet is to use a more flexible fly rod–one with slower action. By bending farther down into the butt section, “softer” rods will provide more shock absorption when you’re setting the hook and fighting the fish, which will help to prevent the rapid changes in pressure that tend to break lighter tippets. Slower rods are also less likely to create the frustrating “bird’s nest” tangles than faster rods, because their tips don’t move back and forth as rapidly.   

The more flexible your fly rod, the better it can absorb the sudden shocks of hookups and fights.

2. Use Fine-Wire Hooks

Another way to help keep your light tippet intact is to switch to fine-wire hooks, such as these 1x fine caddis emerger hooks. Many smaller hooks use heavy wire in order to maintain strength, ensuring that your light tippet will always break before the hook bends out, particularly when you’re snagged on the bottom. But with fine-wire hooks, it’s actually possible to straighten them out–even with 6x tippet–which will save you from having to break off and re-tie the entire rig. The trick is to point your rod directly at the snag and begin applying increasing tension to the line as smoothly as possible, rather than jerking on the line abruptly. 

Taking a big step backward can help maintain tension during the early stages of the fight.

3. Fight Smarter, Not Harder

It’s possible to land a fish that weighs a lot more than 2.5 pounds using 2.5-pound (7x) tippet, so long as you never allow the fish to exert its full weight against your line. Granted, that’s a lot easier said than done, but there is a tried-and-true technique you can use to help manage your line tension in most situations. When you first hook a fish on light tippet, raise your rod and immediately take a few slow steps backward towards the bank. That will help to take up any remaining slack in the line without putting sudden pressure on the tippet, and will also turn the fish’s head toward you. Just try to maintain tension from there, walking backward even farther if that helps, and be ready to run downstream if the fish takes off, because you won’t likely be able to stop it.

Evan Jones is the assistant editor of the Orvis Fly Fishing blog. He spent a decade living on the Florida coast and now lives in Colorado.

4 thoughts on “Pro Tips: 3 Ways to Protect Light Tippet”

  1. There is no good reason to ever have to drop down to 7X tippet. None. And plenty of bad ones; especially when it forces unnecessarily long fights that stress larger fish. Even 6X is rarely if ever necessary. Trout see 7X and 6X as well as they see 4X. If you want to reduce drag, go longer (14′ – 18′ leader/tippets) but stay stronger. If you want to slice through current, add an extra spilt shot or a larger tungsten bead. It took me years to believe that this is true.

  2. “It’s possible to land a fish that weighs a lot more than 2.5 pounds using 2.5-pound (7x) tippet,”

    The weight of a live fish with a working swim bladder in water is 0.0 pounds.

    The strength of any tippet and/or knot in the system has to be strong enough to withstand the pulling forces exerted by the fish and current. The most likely forces to break a tippet are the impact forces of a hookset or a sudden surge by the fish, especially in close. Break-offs are extremely rare once you go long and strong and forgo the use of ridiculously light 8x, 7x, and even 6x tippet material.

    I always “tug-test” every knot and tippet section in my rig. As my mentor always reminded me, if you don’t, the next big fish will!

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