Selecting a Leader for Fly Fishing – TOP 11 Best Picks for 2021


I think we can all agree that your line is important. After all, it’s the only thing keeping you attached to the fish!

As well as your fly, the leader you use can directly affect your catch rate.

Choosing the best fly fishing leader is a balancing act between strength, visibility, and performance.

I want to show you some really good leaders and tippets, and I’m going to run through how to fish them and what makes them so great.

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Besty Dry Fly Leaders

When fishing dries, you will see the bites, so you don’t need a visible line.

You also want it to be invisible to the fish too.

Here are some great suggestions if fishing on the top is your thing.

Rio Fly Fishing Tippet Plus

What RIO represents in lines and leaders, they also present in tippets.

Here’s what I love about this product.

It is one of the finest leaders on the market. I like to fish small natural-looking patterns. Using the finest leader I can get away with, I ensure that I get the most delicate presentation of the fly. A more natural presentation means more fish caught.

It’s that simple.

Although this leader is one of the finest around, there is no compromise on strength. The Fluoroflex plus will keep up with any commercially available standard tippet, no problem.

The spool comes on is low profile and narrow. This is great if you like to take a range of tippets on a leader bridge.

Due to its diameter, this leader is quite supple, making it ideal to ‘finish off’ a thicker leader.

Pros

  • Great for dry fly fishing.
  • Excellent fly presentation.

Cons

  • Because the leader is supple, it may not turn over as well during your casts.

Takeaway

If you are looking for a leader that will work well with small, delicate flies, then the RIO tippet is a great choice. It would also work well with thicker leaders.

Snowbee Fluorocarbon Leaders

Snowbee Fluorocarbon Leaders

Snowbee is a well-known fly fishing brand that gives good quality at an affordable price. At the end of the day, the trout don’t know how much you’ve paid for a leader, so if you are looking to cut cost without sacrificing quality, this could be the one for you.

These fluorocarbon leaders come in packs of two. You’ll get a 9-foot leader that tapers down into a fine point.

Here’s why you’ll want to use them.

Pure fluorocarbon leaders are a great choice if you will fish in particularly clear water and springs. These could also be a great choice if you are fishing on flat calm days on still waters where any hint of a line on the water is visible.

Pros

  • Pretty decent quality for the money.
  • Really low visibility.

Cons

  • If fishing nymphs, it might be hard to see the bites.

Takeaway

For clear and calm days, keeping your line as incognito as possible is vital in ensuring success. With this leader from Snowbee, you’ll be in really good shape.

Orvis Mirage Trout Leaders

Mirage Trout Leaders

The Orvis Mirage series of leaders are dense and strong.

Why does that matter?

You’ll often find with low-quality leaders that they are blended with nylon. This increases the visibility and reduces abrasion resistance. As you’d expect from Orvis, these leaders or premium quality, and there is no compromise regarding the materials used in their construction.

Due to the high fluoro content, they sink remarkably quickly, making them another great choice for present a nymph or streamer close to the bottom.

With leaders, a key quality is their performance in the cast as well as their visibility. A tapered leader transfers the power all the way from the tip of your rod down to the fly. Orvis offer patented extrusion technology, giving you a great cast, time after time.

Pros

  • Great anti-abrasion properties.
  • Superb castability.

Cons

  • While being invisible in the water is a good thing, it is hard to see for the angler. It isn’t ideal for nymph fishing.

Takeaway

As this leader is stiff and turns over well, it is great for naturally presenting flies straight after the cast. Making it absolutely ideal for dry flies. For me, one of the best dry fly leaders out there.

Rikimaru FC Fluorocarbon Leader

Simply put, Fluorocarbon is great for fly fishing.

And here’s why.

When it is submerged, it is practically invisible under the water because Fluorocarbon has a low refractive index. If the trout can’t see it, then it makes your fly appear more natural.

Each spool provided by Rikimaru will give you 50 yards of leader. Considering the average leader should be around 9 feet, that means you are getting an average of 5 leaders a spool. That’s a great value!

One key quality of Fluorocarbon is that it is stiff and highly abrasion-resistant. If you are fishing subsurface, then you want something that will stand up to catching and rubbing on rocks and underwater features.

The stiffness of Fluorocarbon makes it a great choice for turning over the cast.

Pros

  • Amazing value.
  • Excellent abrasion resistance.

Cons

  • The large spool doesn’t fit well on a leader bridge. This means you’ll have to stow it in a pocket or pack.

Takeaway

The only downside to this leader is the spool size. Aside from that, it’s really great and works well. If you have pocket space, this won’t be an issue. If you are struggling for pocket space, maybe it’s time for a new vest? Click here and see how much storage space you are missing out on!

Best All-Purpose Fly Fishing Leaders

Not decided on how you want to fish?

Want to fish a few different styles, all with the same leader or tippet?

You’ll want something that can be adapted for either style. Here are some great options.

Scientific Anglers Absolute Fluorocarbon Tippet

Scientific anglers are new to the game but are fast becoming an established brand on the fly fishing scene.

Are you looking for simple and effective?

This is it. Scientific anglers boast a 15% strength increase for their leaders’ given diameter, with excellent knot strength. This trout spool is low profile and low visibility, making it ideal for fishing dries in clear conditions.

As with some more premium options, the spool also comes with an integrated line cutter. This is so handy when you are unspooling the line from a line bridge. You can even do it one-handed!

Pros

  • Excellent strength to diameter ratio.
  • Another spool with an integrated line cutter.

Cons

  • There are similar spools at a lower price with more capacity.

Takeaway

This is a great all-around leader that works especially well with dry flies. If you are struggling to choose, then this will suit most purposes. It isn’t the cheapest, but it works really well. Use it straight through from your mainline!

Maximumcatch Maxcatch Fluorocarbon Leader

Suppose the idea of spending a large amount on leader doesn’t appeal to you, or you just want a bulk solution. In that case, you will be looking for something that offers performance and great value.

Max catch promises both.

Aside from getting a colossal 55 yards of leader material in each spool, you’ll also find excellent knot-holding properties. After all, nobody wants to lose a fish due to a knot failing.

Maximum catch offers a 15% increase in strength compared to regular mono tippets. This can only be a good thing for putting pressure on a hard fighting trout.

Again the leader is constructed from Fluorocarbon, giving you the best possible chance of hooking even wary fish.

Pros

  • Lots of leader for the money, great value.
  • Super strong line holds a knot well.

Cons

  • There is no taper on the leader. For a basic setup, it’s ok, but beginners may struggle to cast.

Takeaway

For me, simple solutions are the best, and I have been known to tie a tipper straight onto my mainline. For a great value, no-nonsense leader, you’ll get your money’s worth from Maximumcatch.

Rio Powerflex Trout Fly Fishing Leaders

If you’ve seen my article on the best fly fishing brands, you’ll know that I think rather highly of RIO. They specialize in making high-quality lines.

And when I say ‘high quality’, here’s what I mean.

These tapered leaders offer everything that you want. They are easy to attach to your mainline with a tapered loop. They then taper down to become extremely fine. You can choose to extend them with a lighter line or snip away a section before attaching a tippet.

You’ll get a nice turnover in the cast as the section closest to your mainline is slightly stiff, ensuring power is transferred from your cast loop. This means better presentation, especially with dry flies.

Pros

  • A really trusted brand when it comes to fly fishing line.
  • Great casting qualities.

Cons

  • 9 feet might be a little long for beginner anglers to handle in the cast.

Takeaway

For an uncompromising choice, RIO offers the best when it comes to line, hands down. Provided you can handle casting a long leader, this will not let you down.

Orvis Superstrong Leader Tippet Combo

Orvis Superstrong Leader Tippet Combo

Let me ask you a question… Do you like good value?

Of course, you do. In this pack, Orvis has been kind enough to include both a leader and a tippet. Because they are from the same manufacturer, they will work together seamlessly. You’ll get a pair of 9-foot leaders and just over 30 yards of nylon fly fishing tippet.

Because the leaders are nylon, they will sink easily. While this isn’t ideal for dry fly fishing, a sinking leader is something that you are definitely going to need if you want to fish nymphs, streamers, and wet flies.

And there’s more.

Depending on the size of fish you (hope) to catch, this leader combo deal is available in several breaking strains and sizes.

Anything else?

One neat feature that you don’t see often is the integrated line cutter in the tippet spool. No nippers required. This would make a great addition to a leader bridge on your fly vest. If you haven’t seen a leader bridge, then swing by my articles on the best fly fishing packs. There are a fair few to see there.

Pros

  • Leader and tippet all in one package.
  • I love the integrated line cutter.

Cons

  • While combos are great, I would like to mix and match my leader and tippet. You are just a little limited as Orvis decides the ideal combo for you. A great quality leader with the best fly fishing tippet thrown in for good measure? Ideal.

Takeaway

If you are getting kitted out and looking for a one-stop-shop, this pack is ideal.

Best Indicator Leaders

If you are looking to nymph fish, then you’ll need a visual indication of when a trout has had a slash at your fly. You won’t see it, especially in choppy water.

The ideal solution is a leader that has just a touch of color above the surface.

Here’s what I mean…

Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader

Orvis Tactical Nymph Leader

When fishing streams, it can be hard to pick up bites, especially when nymph fishing.

Here’s an answer.

Orvis has a lot of experience when it comes to making fly fishing products that work. This multi-colored leader is really easy to see in the water, making bite detection when fishing nymphs easy. The section closest to the main line floats, so when fishing, if it disappears, you’ve had a take.

I really like that each leader is finished with a small tippet ring so you can ‘finish it off’ with a much lighter line giving the ultimate fly presentation.

The ‘perfection loop’ should make it a cinch to attach to your main line. Aside from this loop, you can fish entirely knotless.

Pros

  • Excellent visibility (for you and not the fish).
  • The tippet ring is excellent for joining other finer line.

Cons

  • The large loop knot at the top could be a little bit of a nuisance if you cast it in a tight loop.

Takeaway

I choose Orvis a lot when it comes to fishing products. They are one of my most trusted brands for fly fishing. If you are going to go premium, then this leader from Orvis would make an excellent choice.

Aventik Fly Fishing Indicator Line

Just getting started?

If you don’t want to blow the entire budget on leader but are looking for something that will be easy to see, I’ve got just the thing.

This is my best budget option for leader. You aren’t going to find masses of technology or fancy features.

But here is what you will get…

A brightly colored line that is strong and highly visible. You’ll get two spools, giving a total of 66 yards of leader. For the money, that is seriously good value.

You won’t be able to use this all the way down to your fly, but this will be more than sufficient for constructing butt ends of leader. Because it’s highly visible, it will make a great choice for nymph and wet fly fishing.

Pros

  • You get a lot of leader for your money.
  • Highly visible.

Cons

  • You will need to buy another spool of tippet along with this as it can’t be used all the way to the fly.

Takeaway

Ok, so it’s the cheaper end, but the fish don’t know that. For those on a budget who don’t want to invest in a ‘big brand’ name, this could make the ideal choice.

Scientific Anglers Absolute Indicator Leader

Nymphing can be a delicate art, so delicate that it can be difficult to detect bites, especially if you are a beginner. Trout are quick, and when it comes to nymphs, will suck in and spit out a fly before you can blink.

Scientific anglers have a solution.

This 3 pack of indicator leaders will allow you to fish successfully while also being able to see the line and pick up bites more easily. The butt section of the leader is bright orange and super visible. This tapers off quickly into a fine tip allowing your fly to be presented optimally.

Pros

  • Superb visibility and easy bite detection.
  • Great value, with three in each pack.

Cons

  • Tippet is nylon meaning it might float, affecting the fly presentation.

Takeaway

Another great choice for the nymph fishermen. This offers many of the benefits of more premium products at a fraction of the price. When you consider that you are getting three leaders in one pack, Scientific Anglers offer outstanding value for money.

A Quick Buying Guide to Fly Fishing Leaders

Right. Let’s get down to business. There are a fair few options there, and it can be difficult to know what’s right.

I get it.

And for that reason, I’m going to go through some key features and things you want to look for when choosing a leader.

catch of a rainbow trout with a fly

Breaking Strain

Let’s start by looking at the breaking strain. Make this the first thing you consider

Here’s why.

You could have a leader that 100% guaranteed a bite.

Sounds great, right?

However, if this leader broke every time you caught a fish, your catch rate would still be ZERO! Choose a breaking strain that is too weak, and this is exactly what will happen. As a good starting point, I’d say go between 4-6 pounds as the best fly leader for trout.

This thickness is enough to give you decent pulling power when you hook a fish but isn’t so thick as to spook wary fish.

How Do You Fly Fish?

Your choice of fly fishing leader will also be dictated by the style you intend to fish. They aren’t all equal, and some leaders have better properties for certain styles of fishing.

Don’t be put off by tippets that sink. This is what you want, even with dry fly fishing. By keeping your line under the surface, you stop shadows and ‘crinkles’ on the top of the water, which is enough to turn the fish off.

You will want a leader that sinks and is highly visible towards the butt end for nymph fishing. You can see plenty of examples of this in my product review above.

fly fishing rod with flies and canvas hat

Spool Size

This isn’t a deal-breaker as I’ve had plenty of good trout fishing leaders that came on a large spool.

But here’s the rub…

If you are looking to travel light and stow everything in your pockets or on your vest, a large spool will make this harder. I love to use a leader bridge on my vest. A big spool prevents that, meaning I would be carrying two lots of line.

Visibility

I mean this in a couple of ways. First, pick a leader or tippet that the fish won’t see. This doesn’t matter so much toward your main line, but you want it to be invisible once you start getting towards your fly.

Anything else?

Yup, when checking visibility, make sure that you can see the line. This is vital for bite detection, especially when sub-surface fishing.

fly fishing rod and fly box on the bank of the stream

Taper

Ok, so you may have noticed there is a lot of talk of taper.

There’s a good reason for this.

Aside from the obvious regarding line visibility, a proper taper is vital in ensuring that your cast is successful. An efficient taper transfers the energy from your rod all the way down to the fly so that it lands in a straight line.

Without taper, your fly might end up being behind your mainline when it lands on the water. This isn’t conducive to catching a lot of trout!

Abrasion Resistance

If you are subsurface fishing or fishing in areas with lots of rocks, you will need a line that will not wear away quickly, especially when you have a fish on!

Aside from potentially losing fish every time the line snaps, you have to attach a new leader. This isn’t cost-effective if you are doing this several times a session.

The answer?

Pick a line that offers great abrasion resistance.

fly fishing equipment rod, tools, box with flies and landing net

FAQ

More questions?

Don’t worry, it’s what I’m here for. Let’s give you some answers.

What is the difference between a leader and a tippet?

Ok, so ‘leader’ in fly fishing has a couple of meanings. It generally means any line between the main line and the fly. This can be a specialized tapered section of line or a straight piece of Fluorocarbon straight off a spool.

A tippet is a very fine piece of line that goes on the end of a thicker leader to ensure a fly’s perfect presentation. You can use one long piece of tippet to form a leader, straight from the main line.

In basic terms…

A leader is any line between the main line and the fly (including a tippet)

Tippet is any other line attached to a thicker leader.

What is the best fly fishing leader material?

Ok, I don’t normally deal in absolutes…

But the best material for fly fishing leaders is Fluorocarbon. Hands down. Fly fishing is all about hiding your line and making the trout think an artificial fly is natural food.

Natural food doesn’t have nylon sticking out of it.

Fluorocarbon is invisible in the water. In addition to this, it is great for casting and is supremely abrasion-resistant.

How long should a leader line be for fly fishing?

Your leader length depends on a couple of things.

Let me explain.

The first is your experience level. Long leaders are harder to cast. Beginners getting to grips with casting should use a short leader. I always recommend starting with a 5-foot leader for beginners. Once they have got their casting down, then they can make it longer. 9 Foot is an optimum. It’s still pretty easy to cast but will allow you to reach deeper fish.

And the second thing?

The second is how deep the fish are. If the fish are feeding on top in a shallow stream, you don’t need a massive leader. As a good rule of thumb, the leader should be no longer than your rod.

If you are looking for some casting tips for longer leaders, why not spend two minutes checking this video out.

Should leader and tippet be the same size?

This is a definite no. You don’t need a leader and tippet to be the same size. On your line, the leader will do the bulk of the work. The tippet can be added at the end to make your line less obvious. If you make them the same size, you are going to struggle to cast.

If you are talking thickness, then the answer is still no. There’d be no point. Use a tippet that’s slightly finer than your leader as a minimum.

Can you use normal fishing line as a leader?

Yes, you can. It won’t be optimal, however.

Can you think why?

Some regular fishing lines float (I’m looking at you monofilament). This is the last thing that you want when fly fishing. A line on the surface pointing to your fly saying ‘fake’? No thanks!

For the money, leaders aren’t expensive, so why not invest in a few and make sure you are properly kitted out?

Why do you need a leader on fishing line?

Take a look at the fly fishing line.

Notice anything?

It is seriously thick. The weight of the line is what is used to achieve distance in the cast. But trout don’t like eating anything attached to seriously thick line. So we need a way to cast out but is also thin enough to fool a trout.

Your answer?

A leader.

Can I make my own leader?

Yes, you can! I could describe it, but a picture paints a thousand words. Here’s how you can create your own leader.

You can even make tapered leaders, so buying a 60-yard spool of tippet might be the way forward!

Summary

Leaders and tippets can be the difference between success and failure. Choose the best fly fishing leader based on how you intend to fish, and my guidance above and the rest should fall into place naturally.

Are you fully kitted out? Why not check at my dedicated article for essential fly fishing gear?

What do you think is the ideal breaking strain for trout fishing?

Let me know in the comments.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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