Understanding The Difference Between Tapered Leader and Tippet Line

Just getting started with fly fishing?  Awesome, fly fishing is a great experience, but can be sometimes challenging to understand what term means what.  Which is exactly why we are talking about the difference between tapered leader and tippet line.

Here is the short answer.

The difference between tapered leader and tippet line

Tapered leaders are the extra clear line that you attach to the end of your fly line.  Tapered leaders start thick and gradually decrease in diameter as they move further towards the end.  When the gradual decrease in diameter halts, it has reached the tippet line.  Tippet lines are the final few feet of thin, equal diameter line.

This is where you will tie your fly onto.

Additional tippet can and should be added onto the tapered leader, as you begin changing flies and trimming the original tippet.  Try to make sure that you have at least two feet of tippet on your tapered leader.

Everything else you need to know about tapered leaders

There are a couple other key factors that go into getting tapered leaders.  For one, you want the length of it to be the right size.


The length of your tapered leader should be the length of your rod.  There is going to be a lot of options for products to buy, make sure that it’s the right length.  This is the most standard method of getting the best tapered leader length.

This is a picture of tapered leader.
Rio Tapered Leader

X Rating

There is going to be an X rating on the tapered leader package.  The number before the X is there to show you the diameter of the tippet line, but you have to do a little math to actually get the diameter in inches.

In the easiest terminology I can come up with, turn the number before X into a thousandth (ex: 3X changes to 0.003).  Take that number and subtract it from 0.011.  That will equal the diameter of the tippet line in inches.

(0.011 – 0.003 = 0.008)

So in this case, a 3X leader will equal a 0.008″ diameter tippet line.

The higher the number before X, the smaller in diameter the tippet line is going to be.

I have no idea why that is like that, but it is what it is.  Packages will also typically have a weight range as well to make it less confusing for the buyer.

Related: Able Nippers Review 

Why you need a tapered leader

Tapered leaders are important because during a cast the energy will flow from the heavy line, all the way through to the thin tippet line.  You don’t want to tie only tippet onto your fly line because the energy transfer is going to die quickly.  This will result in inaccurate, short casts.

Everything else you need to know about tippet line

When you start getting the hang of fly fishing, all of this becomes fairly easy.  First thing you are going to want to know is replacing the tippet with spools of tippet that is bought separately.

This is a picture of tippet line.
Rio FlouroFlex Plus Tippet Line

Replacing Tippet

What will happen eventually as you start trimming your tippet line to put on new flies, is that you will start to reach the tapered part of the leader.  You don’t want to reach that  part of the leader when you are fly fishing.

What you want to do is add your own tippet line that you purchased on a spool.  This will save you money and you will never actually reach the part of the leader that is a gradual decline.

You want to make sure that you have at least two feet of tippet at the end of your leader.  That is usually the distance that will provide the best accuracy and energy transfer.  Having more than two feet is fine, just try not to get too crazy with it.

What to buy for tapered leaders and tippet lines

I personally recommend getting the Rio Power Flex Tapered Leaders.  It works very well for me and is very strong…



For extremely strong tippet line I recommend getting the Rio Fluoro Flex Plus tippet line.  It is some of the strongest tippet that I’ve ever used and highly recommend it.



Related: Best Fishing Pliers of 2020

Understanding Tapered Leaders and Tippet Lines Gets Easier

With time.  At the start is seems to make zero sense.  All you really need to know is that you should have a tapered leader attached to your backing.  The final couple feet of your tapered leader stop tapering and become tippet line.  This is the line that you tie your fly too.  This is also the line that you can buy extra spools of and replace the line as it gets trimmed down.

I hope that made sense for you, best of luck and tight lines my friend!

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