Don’t Go By Pounds – Go By The Diameter (Generally Speaking….)

As a fly shop employee, and talking to the other guys who work here, we all notice one thing that is wide across the board. Confusion about tippet strength in pounds and the tippet diameters. Unfortunately most anglers do not use the diameter in consideration. The pounds listed on the tippet tends to be what most anglers are buying it for, and not to match the appropriate diameters. This is all a bunch of confusing information, but the reality is to drop the pounds out of the equation, and to use the diameters instead. In this entry, I am going to talk about three different sizes in general, and how the pounds gets confusing, and how the pounds vary per the diameters; yet the diameters all always consistent.

The first size we will talk about to clarify the point of this entry is the diameter of 4X. If you look at the picture above, you will see that there are many different pounds ratings for the different 4X’s shown, and also there is a 2X that has 6 pounds of breaking strength to it. What gives…..?

Many people come in and say, “Give me a spool of 6 pound tippet”, and then I ask them what tippet diameter do they want. They seem confused and say that they want 6 pound. I then let them know that we have many types that list approximately 6 pounds as the test, but they are all different diameters. Then we agree to 4X and I end up giving the person a 4X 7 pound spool of tippet, and then they end up complaining that they wanted 6 pound. If it is 4X it is 4X! The pounds are irrelevant when it comes to the tippet diameter. It is one thing to compare tippets that are stiff vs soft, but the pounds cannot be told by the organism looking at the fly being presented off of the 4X.

I will list the variables with 4X tippets so you can see:
Rio Nylon Tippet 4X = 6.4 lb
Rio Flouroflex Plus Tippet = 7 lb
Dream Cast Nylon Tippet = 6.0 lb
Dream Cast Ghost Carbon Tippet = 6.0 lb
Rio 9′ 4X Trout Leader = 6.4 lb
Dreamcast 4X Trout Leader = 6.0 lb
Maxima 2X Tippet (to make the point) = 6.0 lb

-All of these have the same diameter except the Maxima 2X; so this is a case of asking for 6# tippet, and you may get something that is more appropriate for streamer fishing and not size 12 dry flies.

If you now look at the picture above, you will see another example again, and this one has to do with diameters and pounds again. This is a good example for steelhead fishing. Also I will mention how different materials like nylon and fluorocarbon really have to factor in diameter vs. pounds. Many people come in and buy a Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader, and they buy one that is 12 pound test (.013 diameter). They then buy either 1X fluorocarbon or even 2X because the pounds are the match for them. The problem is that many times the fluorocarbon may cut through the nylon since the diameters are very different. A 12 pound Rio leader is almost 02X, while a 8 pound Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader is actually 0X. Really someone wanting to fish 0X should get an 8 pound Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader, and they should match it with 0X fluorocarbon (which is 15# test).

Again when looking at the picture above you can see the Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader is .012 and 10 pound test. You would be best off to match that with a 0X tippet whether it is nylon or fluorocarbon. That same leader can also be matched with 10 pound Maxima (.012) or 8 pound Maxima (1X .010).

The final thing to note in the picture above is that sometimes the pounds can fool you; like in the case of the Rio Ally Hard Saltwater Tippet, where it is .015 and it is 12 pound test. The diameter is .015 is 0/3X; so in this case the 12 pound test is thicker than the same pound test for a Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader which is .013 (02X). For another example, Maxima 8 pound tippet is 1x; yet Rio Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon Leader 8 pound is .011 (0X). They are very different in regards to diameter vs. pounds.

Here is a list of the materials in the above picture; so you can see the variable:
Rio Nylon Tippet 0X = 15 lb
Rio Flouroflex Plus Tippet 0X = 15 lb
Rio Bonefish/Saltwater Leader .011 (0X) = 12 lb
Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon Leader 15′ .012 = 10 lb
Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon Leader 9′ .011 (0X) = 8 lb
Rio Trout 9′ Tapered Leader 0X = 15 lb
Maxima Tippet .012 (01X) = 10 lb
Maxima Tippet .010 (1X) = 8 lb

You can see how you must factor in the diameter more than the pounds. Otherwise you will compromise your knots when they cinch down, and you will have variables occur like having a super thin diameter fluorocarbon tippet cutting through a thicker nylon section because you matched pounds with each other.

The final topic to discuss is how you can use the pounds and diameters to your advantage for certain applications. A good example would be for fall salmon fishing; where you want some serious pounds of strength to your tippet (if possible). If you look at the picture above you can see that .013 diameter (02X) is available in a range of 20 pounds to 12 pounds. Why wouldn’t you want to use the 20 pound test for a big fall chinook over 12 pound test? On the other side of things, if the water has no spookiness and tippet diameter isn’t a factor, then why wouldn’t you want to use some thicker tippet with more abrasion resistance like the Rio Steelhead & Atlantic Salmon leader or Maxima tippet where the diameter is .017 and it is 20 pound test? It would seem like a sound option; yet under crystal clear water and higher pressure, the .013 diameter Rio 20 pound test seems like a better move. Again you can see that you can have issues with adding tippet if you decided to add the 20 pound .013 to the 20 pound .017; so make sure you use the correct knots if you bond those two diameters together or the thinner diameter tippet may cut through the thicker tippet. Luckily in this exact case, you can bond .013 to .017 with a standard blood knot, and it will hold, but occasionally you will have the narrower diameter material cut through the thicker diameter tipper. There are knots that allow drastic diameter changes, but that can be another whole blog post.

The next time you are buying tippet or adding tippet onto a leader, think about the diameter and not the pounds test. If you are fishing for larger game where the pounds test is a factor, then think of how thick you want the tippet to be for the pounds test you are looking for. You will have less break offs with fish on, and you will spend less time re-rigging, and more time fishing. More time fishing leads to more fish caught. TIGHT LINES!!!


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