Pro Tips: How to Choose The Right Leader Length


For a beginning fly fisher, the wall of packaged leaders in a fly shop can be intimidating. How do you decide which length you need? In this video, Dave Lovell of Trouts Fly Fishing in Denver, Colorado, offers a quick breakdown.

One thing that Dave doesn’t mention is that, if you want to make your leaders last longer, you can add tippet to the leader as soon as it comes out of the package. That way, as you use up tippet by changing flies or cutting “wind knots,” you are not shortening the leader until it’s too thick at the end. So, if you want to fish a 9-foot 5X leader, for instance, you can buy a 7½-foot 4X leader and add 18 inches of 5X tippet to it. When the tippet starts getting short, you simply replace that part, leaving the leader intact.

3 thoughts on “Pro Tips: How to Choose The Right Leader Length”

  1. What about leader length to size/weight of fly? I always thought that played a roll in what length and weight leader/tippet you use?

    1. Yes, it does. The info in the video is true, but it doesn’t take into consideration diameter. Diameter is very dependent on fly size and construction. Larger flies are generally harder to turn over and require heavier tippet. Smaller flies can use lighter tippet. The idea is to have a system that turns the fly over almost all the way, leaving a little slack in the system right before the fly. If you are having trouble turning a certain pattern over, try heavier tippet or lighter tippet. Conversely, if the fly is turning over to hard, try longer and/or lighter tippet. Also, there is no point in having 3x tippet on a size 20 fly – the hook will bend or pull out long before you get near the breaking point of the tippet. So use lighter tippet and get a better drift. If you need a really good drift and still need strong tippet for large flies and large fish, try a very long, heavy leader/tippet system. In small streams, a small leader, like 6 feet, is great. We fish some 12 foot and up 2x leaders in some places and 6 foot 4 or 5x in others. But a 9 foot 4x is still, by far, our most common leader. So when in doubt, start in the middle and adjust. Not only can you add more, lighter tippet to soften the way the fly turns over, you can back a leader and then add a little heavy tippet to help a large, bulky fly turn over easier.

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