Selecting Manufactured leaders and tippets
for today's True Ultralight fly rods.

Article and images by Bill Byrd.

In recent months Jerry Siem of Sage Fly Fishing and I spoke about Jerry's latest UL creation -- the Sage Triple Ought weight fly rod, its new companion line, and generally what leader/tippet would best perform with his newest ultralight creation.

Then we began discussing the ongoing problem that fly fishers in general and ultralight fly fishers specifically have: Where to find and how to select the best manufactured lines, leaders, and tippets for Light/Ultralight fly fishing.

I believe that before you can really work with lines, leaders, and tippets you need a good, accurate micrometer. The images below are of my automotive micrometer which cost about a hundred dollars.

There are digital, mechanical, and combinations of digital and mechanical micrometers. The bottom line is that they enable you to measure diameters, find tapers, and much more.

Good micrometerEasy to read in thousandths

Why bother to go to this much trouble?

We have manufacturer's websites, retailers websites, catalogs, and the displays at fly shops to search for the right leader.

What constitutes the RIGHT leader? That may actually vary from fly fisher to fly fisher. Again, THIS IS VERY subjective stuff. How heavily you want your rod to load when you cast, the weight and bulk of flies you'll cast, actual conditions on site when fishing, how you want your rod to perform when you are picking up your line off the water to cast -- there are MANY issues.

It seems to be as confusing as it is helpful but many manufacturers have a huge variety of lines, leaders, and tippet material, and many don't indicate specific specs like the diameter of the butt of the leader. Only the X rating or tip diameter is displayed on leader packages in many cases. I believe that we need to know more to be able to create the fly fishing systems we prefer.

I have found that sometimes the "specs" that are in catalogs and on web sites just aren't accurate! Also the stiffness of the leader material as compared to your fly line's stiffness and the diameters of the two components can make a big difference in power transfer from line to leader. I have never seen a rating for stiffness on a line, leader, or tippet material though it varies dramatically, so we have to figure it out.

The websites of Cabelas, Orvis, Rio, Climax, Scientific Anglers all have fly lines, leaders, and tippets but don't necessarily have specifications that really define their leaders. Today some manufacturers do have extensive info even with taper diagrams.

On many modern leaders the butt diameters are thicker than many modern ultralight fly lines. Why is that a problem? Hinging and smooth transfer of power down your fly line to your leader. Also the attachment knot will be larger on the tip of your line with thick diameter leader butts. Another problem is that many top sellers of leaders don't have their leader's butt diameter specs on the web except Umpqua. While Orvis has the butt diameter specs on the leader's packet, they aren't necessarily readily viewable on the web. This makes it more difficult to web shop for prospective leaders.

If you own a good micrometer, you may find that the given line or leader tippet specifications aren't correct, but if you have a micrometer, you can define what they are. Then you have the correct information that you will need.

In 1994 I learned to examine the specifications of many top manufacturer's leaders in catalogs and at local fly shops to gain an understanding of their butt and tip diameters, stiffness, and length.

When I bought the leaders that I felt would do the job, I would check out their stiffness. If they were close to the stiffness of my fly line I could "dial them in" by sliding my micrometer down the leader butt to locate finding the proper splice point by diameter in thousandths of an inch. My target is about .005" to .010" less than the diameter of my fly line. Then I cut my leader and nail knotted the leader butt to my fly line tip. Usually it this produces an excellent marrige of line and leader.

The image right shows a nice, strong, small nail knot that will slide through rod guides readily. To make it even slicker a drop of knot sense will smooth it even more.

As we fish our leaders and wear the tippet sections down, just nip and replace as needed and continue to use the upper leader so long as it is in good condition. New sections can be tied with a 2 turn surgeon's knot and for extra fine tippet material like 8x thru 12x -- use a 3 turn surgeon's knot.

This process is just short of really modifying the leader. Soon I'll post an article which will deal with actually modifying manufactured leaders to make them work best for you.

The simpler way is to buy manufactured knotless leaders with fine butt diameters. By fine I mean .013" to .019" -- diameters that marry with WF1F/DT1F, DT0F, WF0F, DT2/0F, and DT3/0F lines. The diameters of these respective lines run from about .025" to .028" so to get the desired step down to my leader I look for leaders with thin diameter butts.

Who makes them? Does .001" or .002" in diameter make a difference? So far as I'm concerned not much. One thing I know -- with finer butt diameters I get a smaller 5 turn nail knot that slips effortlessly thru my 1 weight thru 3/0 weight rod line guides. That is important to me.

Where to locate manufactured leaders, and tippet material.

To go to the Orvis website and see Orvis leader and tippet choices, please click on Orvis Fly fishing . For information on Orvis leaders and tippet please call Orvis Atlanta, GA. at 404-841-0093 and ask for Shannon Ward, fly fishing manager. You can order by phone. Shannon, himself an avid ultralighter, knows and fishes these lines, leaders, and tippets on true ultralights. He can tell you about Orvis' Mirage knotless tapered 7 foot leaders with 6x tippet and .016" butt diameter. This will work well with 1, 0, 2/0, and 3/0 lines.

To go to the Rio website and see leader choices, please click on Rio leaders and tippets. .

To go to the Cabelas website and see leader and tippet choices for 2008, please click on Cabelas Fly fishing . Leaders available here.

To go to the Climax website and see leader choices, please click on Climax Fly fishing .

To go to the Scientific Anglers website and see leader and tippet choices, please click on Scientific Anglers website.