Leaders can be complicated at best, different sizes, different lengths, different strengths, and yes even different colours. They can be made of monofilament or fluorocarbon. Leaders are made up of a butt section, a tapered, and a tippet. What is tippet you may ask; well, I will get into that a little later.
Let us start off with why you need a leader. Plain and simple, you need a leader so you can attach your fly to the fly line. The fly line is too thick to directly tie your fly to it, so you then need a leader, tapered or otherwise to attach your fly.
A leader is typically tapered; it goes from thick at the fly line to thin at the fly. Leaders can be purchased knotless, or you can build your own using different gauges of mono or fluoro. The reason that you need a tapered leader is to correctly propel your fly forward when you cast and also correctly turn your fly over in the water.
The three sections of a tapered leader are as follows:
The Butt section is the section that you join to the fly line. The butt section is thick and is usually made from stiff mono that usually matches the thickness of the fly line.
The Middle section is between the butt section and the tippet and helps transfer energy from the butt section to the tippet.
The Tippet is the thinnest end of the leader where the fly is tied to.
Leaders usually come in lengths ranging from 7 ½ feet to 12 feet. Length usually depends on the clarity of the water and size of the fish that you are going after.
Now what is the difference between monofilament and fluorocarbon? Mono is normally the standard for leaders, it is less expensive than fluoro and is more widely available in stores. Mono seams to float better in the water than fluoro but it is not usually used for any type of deep water fishing because it can absorb water, loosening your knots.
Fluorocarbon is more transparent in the water compare to the mono and sinks faster. It has less stretch and, is more durable and more abrasion resistant.
What is the X Factor?
It is the rating system used by manufactures. Leaders usually range from 8X to 0X with 8X being the thinnest and least strong and 0X being the thickest and strongest. The rule of thumb is that you take the size of hook that you fly is tied on and divide that number by three to get your X Factor in a leader.
The chart below shows the strengths and thickness for your typical leaders.
Tippet Size Tippet Diameter Pound Test
8X .003″ 1.75 lb.
7X .004″ 2.5 lb.
6X .005″ 3.5 lb.
5X .006″ 4.75 lb.
4X .007″ 6 lb.
3X .008″ 8.5 lb.
2X .009″ 11.5 lb.
1X .010″ 13.5 lb.
0X .011″ 15.5 lb
How long does a leader last?
Well, the short answer is, its all up to you. I have seen fly fishermen put on a new leader after changing two flies and I have seen others that use their leaders for months. Now, as you change flies and or break flies off on fish or deadfall, your tippet section will start to disappear and you start getting into the the midsection of the leader, this you do not want. That is why manufacturers sell separate tippet material on spools so that you may tie on a new section as soon as you need to. There are many knots to tie tippet to a leader, but I find that a double surgeon’s knot works the best.
I can go on and on and on about leaders, but I think that you get the meat and potatoes of it. If ever you needed help in this matter, just visit your local fly shop and they will be more than happy to take care of you.