I am sure there is “General” rule out there someplace. Large line weight / rod means you can cast bigger / heavier flies. Also, great for casting into the wind. I have used 5x tippet on my 7wt often when throwing large salmon flies to wary fish. With that said, I have used 3x tippet on my 3wt. The tippet has more to do with the size of the fly than the line weight you are fishing with. You would not want to use a 7wt rod to throw size 24 midges. No sense. When fishing small fly’s, presentation is the key, lighter rods equal better presentation. Heavy streamer fishing, you need heavy tippet to turn those fly’s over. Now, casting a large articulated streamer can be done with a 4wt, but if I am the one doing it, it will not be pretty. Now if I throw that same tippet and streamer with a 7wt and you can actually get a pretty decent cast.
In my opinion, I adjust tippet size for size of fly’s and the fish I am chasing. It is difficult to deliver a small sized 22 midge on tippet heavier than 5x. Not only the hook eye size is small, but you will not get a decent drift as the tippet will be too stiff and make the fly act differently than a natural. Same thing with bigger fly’s. Typically if a fish is going to put the smack down on a large dry fly, the fish is not as concerned about tippet (leader shy) as if that same fish was sipping baetis of the surface. Smaller fly equals smaller tippet.
Also lighter weight rods offer better tippet protection. Easy to land a big fish on a 3wt rod without snapping tippet. Put that same tippet on a heavy stiff 7wt, landing a big fish on 7x tippet would be tough. Rod does not flex as easily.
This begins a whole new discussion on tippet size and how fast a fish is landed. For a different day.
Cutthroat Leaders is right, there are charts out there which match the fly to the tippet to the leader to the line to the rod. In a number of my books somewhere around here (dang my wife's spring cleaning!) there are charts that state exactly those figures......BUT.......I would suspect they are simply generalizations in that many were generated decades ago, and neither rods, lines or leaders are the same as they were.
A simple google search might yield you such a chart.
In any case, it is all about the most efficient energy transfer possible. Keep in mind however, efficient in the case of fly fishing doesn't mean just the least work for the greatest result (distance), it also means setting a fly down just right so it just lites gently upon the water. So a perfect balance of power, distance, precision and delicate presentation.
So lets talk about what it isn't first off.....Ever notice on conventional fishing rods they list a weight in ounces (1/8-1/4, 1/4-1/2, etc.), and in kind list the weight often on lures? Well the point being to match the lure you're using to the rod, just like we're about to discuss.....Yet few people abide by them not utilizing the tool that the rod is in that it is nothing more.
The rod is a tool, just like a hammer or a screwdriver. In the case of a fishing rod it is essentially a Cantilever spring. When casting the weight of the lure at the end of the line, or in the case of fly fishing the line itself deflects the spring to an ideal point, the spring then assisting in propelling it outward toward a specific spot.....When catching a fish it also works as a shock absorber to help the line itself not break.
That said, you would not use a screwdriver to drive a nail.....You can but it won't work as well. Well, the average person might as well use a 2x4 as a rod due to the way they cast. Essentially just "heaving" the lure, and though the spring action works slightly, it does not to its best effect......So with conventional tackle you match the lure weight to the rod (though more rod to lure, though most folks have just one rod and many lures), and just as we do in theory should 10:00-2:00 O'clock cast it. The weight of the lure matched to bend the rod just right so the rod can do its job as a spring being nothing more than a tool.
Finally as to conventional tackle, the weight of the lure matters as to the rod in that the line follows it. IOW, the line simply goes where the lure takes it.....and that point is important for our discussion.
In contrast to the above in fly fishing, the lure (your fly) is ahead of the weight being the line which works the spring of the rod......Wherein with conventional tackle there is no turn over of the line, the line simply following the lure and feeding out, we have this space beyond the weight of the line being the line's taper, our leader, our tippet and finally the fly.....and we must somehow get the spring of that rod to get that fly to its destination.
More so, in contrast to conventional tackle we are often trying to do it so the heavy part (the line) and finally the fly do not make a splash on the water........and for the sake of discussion lets disregard weighted flys or shot on the line.
The following I'm going to state as absolutes which we all know to often be absolutely untrue!
The way we do that is by transferring the energy from the rod, to the weighted line, and through the leader to the tippet and ultimately to the fly....and if we do so correctly, the line will gently set on the water followed by the leader unrolling over it till finally the fly just lightly lites on the water. So we have to transfer that energy precisely, and to do so involves gradually losing energy in a controlled fashion while retaining enough to get the fly to where it is going.
Okay, so you match your line to the rod (or try to) by using the line weight stated for the rod (see were already ahead of the conventional fisherman). That said there is a range of fly sizes that also match that rod weight. That leaves the most critical and precise part of this connection, the leader and tippet.
So our spring (rod) transfers energy to the line's belly (the heaviest part) and propels it outward. The trouble is we now need to get the fly out ahead of the line's belly, and it does so by moving out the line through its taper to its tip. The reason it tapers is that having the same amount of energy applied to a lighter section it speeds it up to get it out ahead. At the same time however, being lighter, that bit of line cannot retain the same amount of energy....So, we progressively lighten the next section, and the next, and the next.
Using a knotted leader instead of a tapered as an example (though they both do the same thing, the tapered just slightly more efficient and gradual in the energy shifts), it is expected that there is so much energy at the line's end once it reaches it. So we reduce the weight of the first section of leader to again speed up and pass the line, yet in that it loses energy quicker, there is a length:weight ratio to retain the most energy.
So a knotted leader may look like this (and i don't have my charts in front of me so am making these numbers up).....and understand at this point "line test" relates directly to diameter and the assumed weight of the material.
18"-20#, 24"-15#, 27"-12#, 18"-8#, 12"-4#, 32"-2.5# tippet, the fly.
Each section speeds up passing over the last due to less mass, yet in doing so retains less energy so can only turn over efficiently ever lighter line till finally reaching the very light fly.
Assuming the line and rod match, if the leader/fly is too heavy then each section does not speed up enough as it doesn't have the power to do so and the cast collapses (your fly landing behind the loop of the line).....Too light and the energy is too much and besides the leader snapping out not precisely unfurling, it very likely will snap back again flubbing the cast.
All that said, today more then ever we have a gazillion variables that makes it virtually impossible for manufacturers to generate a precise chart. Variables like different rod actions and lengths, lines that are softer/firmer, different lengths of belly and taper. Different leader materials translating into stiffness and weight, and ultimately in that flies may vary greatly.
At that point it comes down to you tailoring your rod/line/leader/tippet/fly combinations to what you have.....The charts make a good baseline, but, you then need to fine tune that to optimize the efficiency of your set up.
Sorry for the long explination...(of which much of it might be wrong not being an expert).
I asked this same question when I first started fly fishing from my then-mentor, and got pretty much the answers you've already received. That was nearly eight years ago now. And they are absolutely correct; there is a chart, and that's how most of us tried to learn how to select our leaders/tippets. Some of us probably still do. And those guys/girls are probably much better fly fishermen than me.
But I'll throw my two cents in just the same.
Here's the 'guideline' I've come up with for picking leader/tippet sizes.
"Fish as big a line as you can get away with."
For my 5 wt. that means I usually fish a 3X leader, often with a 3X tippet, as I'm usually fishing for large browns/bows/tigers. Or the current is especially heavy, or there's a lot of brush/rocks whatever in the water that could cut my line. I only downsize tippet for two reasons. One, 3X won't fit through the hook eye of the fly I decided to tie on. Two, the 3X tippet is too stiff and is creating some micro drag that the fish don't care for.
I fish 4X leader/tippet combos on my 5 wt. if I fish dries smaller than #16, and on rare occasions 5X tippet if the fish seem spooky. I can't honestly remember the last time I fished a 5X leader, or 6X tippet. I've never even fished with 7X tippet.
Here's an example of what I mean: the first time I fished Lee's Ferry I was told that the rig was a 7.5 ft. 4x leader tied to 18 inches of 5x tippet (BB shot at the knot), then a Z-midge, then 18 more inches of 6x, the an SJ worm. Apply Thingamabobber indicator at appropriate point on leader for current speed (dependent on time of year and time of day). I was told under no uncertain terms that the fish wouldn't even look at my flies unless I used leader and tippet this light, if not lighter. So, do as the Romans do, right?
Well, the rig does get the flies where they need to be and I hooked up at least 50 times that day. I also tied over a dozen windknots, and at least that many break offs due to fish dragging the rig over rocks during the fight.
The rig as I modified it: 3X leader, 3X tippet, 4X tippet. I land at least half the fish I hook up at the Ferry now. And the rig is lots easier to cast.
The point being, that I discovered that fishing up one tippet weight didn't bother the fish one bit.
I don't have a 7 wt., but I do own an 8 wt. I fish a 0X/1X/2X leader and I don't think I get smaller than 2X tippet on that one. But I'm fishing big, heavy, wind resistant flies on that one, and after one session trying to fish 3X tippet, I made a note not to do that again.
I came up with this guideline basically just to keep things simple, and as a former bass fisherman, this was a tried-and-true rule from well before I was even born.
But that's just me. I have a hard enough time remembering how to tie all the darn knots I'm supposed to know, much less some leader/tippet chart someone invented apparently just to mess with novice fly fishermen like me.
Note: The above recommendations are from a non-professional fly fisherman, in fact, an absolute amateur. Caveat emptor.
"Three-fourths of the Earth's surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn." ~Chuck Clark
I think the only rule I follow is "use whatever tackle you prefer".
Bottom line: Don't stick to using a 3-4 weight rod if you fish big waters and find your #22 parachute ant blowing back in your face simply because someone wrote in a book that you must use a 3-weight line >> #18-22 flies or something. Try out things on your own, and adjust to get a system that works for you.
I use an 8-weight tfo pro II regularly for trout and cast all sizes of flies -- big streamers down to #22s, often with 5-6X tippet....I recently posted about this very topic. I have no problems. Lighter and more moderate action rods absolutely protect light tippet better....but then you have to accept the limitations of using light line.
Thanks for the input and discussion from all of you, much appreciated. I did not think of using google to find a chart but it would just be a guide line anyway. I fish a 3 and 5 weight Bamboo rods and 3, 5, 7, 8 weight modern rods. (No idea what is in some of them!) The reason I was asking was I just got back from a Steelhead trip in Idaho and had a horrible time casting the 8wt and used the 7 weight almost exclusively with 2X tapered leader and 3x tippet. I will try some different combinations on my next trip to the river with my 5 wt and see how it goes, thanks again for your input.
I know that there is a general rule of thumb for hook size to tippet size. Is there such a general rule for line size and the correct range for tippets?
What I am getting at is what would the best range of tippet sizes be for a 5wt rod/line vs. a 7 wt line/rod etc.?
This is how I explain leaders and tippets.
The tippet is the thinnest section of the leader that is on the end opposite the fly line. It is the level end section of leader that is attached to the fly.
The function of a leader is to transmit the energy of the cast from the fly line to the fly so as to deliver the fly accurately.
The function of the tippet is also to deliver the fly, but it's main function for dry flies is to eliminate drag. These two functions are opposites. To deliver the fly most accurately, the tippet must land straight; but to eliminate drag, the tippet must introduce slack. We control accuracy vs slack by controlling the tippet length, diameter, and stiffness. The shorter, thicker and stiffer the tippet the more accurate the tippet; the longer, thinner, and limber the tippet, the greater drag free drift.
One does not choose the leader or tippet according the rod weight but according to the size, weight, and air resistance of the fly. We are choosing the leader and tippet according to how difficult the fly is to cast. The more difficult the fly is to cast, the stiffer, shorter, and thicker the leader and tippet. So match the leader to the fly and not the rod.
Generally the fly size in terms of hook size is used as a guide for choosing the tippet size. Then consider the weight and the air resistance of the fly to go up or down a tippet size.
There are two "rules" for choosing the correct tippet size for a given hook size. They are the rule of 4 and the rule of 3. The rule of 4 is for beginners and the rule of 3 is for intermediate to advanced casters. You divide the hook size by either 4 or 3 to get the tippet "X" size. The rule of 4 results in a thicker tippet than the rule of 3, and beginning fly fisher needs a thicker tippet than an advanced caster to deliver the fly as accurately.
Example: For a size 16 fly, the beginner would use a 16/4 (rule of 4) or 4X tippet and the advanced caster would use a 16/3 (rule of 3) or 5x tippet.
I also tell beginners to start with a 2 ft rule of 4 tippet, then as they get better, lengthen it to a 30 inch and then a 36 inch rule of 4 tippet. Then switch to a rule of 3 tippet and gradually lengthen that to 36 inches. As they become better casters, the tippet gets longer, then thinner and longer.
Everything starts with the fly we need to cast. Fly selection determines leader and tippet size; and also determines the increasing weight of fly rods that are needed to cast that fly as fly size increases. This is actually no different than spin fishing in which the weight and size of the lure determines the line, rod and reel that are used to fish that lure.
Like the tippet, a fly rod has two functions. We have mentioned the first which is to cast the fly. The size of the fly then determines the type of leader and the fly line weight (mass) that is needed to cast the fly efficiently. The fly line then determines the fly rod rating. You see how EVERYTHING works backward FROM the FLY?
That is because the basic physical principal of fly fishing is that the fly line and leader casts the fly, and the fly rod casts the line and leader.
The second function of the fly rod is to fight the fish. So even if we did not need a heavy line rod to cast a given fly, if we were going to be catching large fish, we would use a heavier rod and line than was needed just to cast the fly.
So the two things you need to consider when choosing a rod is what flies am I gong to be casting and what fish am I going to have to subdue. For that decision comes the design of the leader and tippet to deliver the fly in a manner that will fool the fish.
There is no maximum to the tippet size that you can use with a 5-7 wt fly rod. You can use a 0X tippet if you want. The thinnest tippet that you can use really depends on the rod action as well as the line rating. A slow or soft action will protect tippets better than a fast action but there are other ways to protect tippets. You can use shock gum which is an elastic that is placed between the fly line and leader to protect thin tippets. You can also use a slip strike to protect thin tippets. But if I were forced to give you a number, I would say that a 5X tippet is probably the thinnest that I would use with a 7 wt rod and a 7X with a 5 wt rod.
But if I were forced to give you a number, I would say that a 5X tippet is probably the thinnest that I would use with a 7 wt rod and a 7X with a 5 wt rod.
I'd say this is about right for any given rod in those weights.
I was just going to add that if you find yourself using a 2-3 weight rod and line and you're suddenly casting streamers and using 0-2X, you should probably consider using heavier tackle on that same piece of water next time . Don't ask me where this comes from......