Tactics and Techniques

Replace Worn Tippet Before It’s Too Late.

I knew I would catch a fish there when I saw the hole appear around the bend of tall grass.  It was only a question of how many or how big.  It was early morning.  I had caught a few smaller fish and had decided it was turning into a good day’s fishing.  One of the trout I had caught had run under the cutbank and wrapped around some roots.  And I had already achieved a not too uncommon wind knot in my tippet.  I told myself I could fish this frayed and knotted tippet a bit longer.  Had I known, I might have replaced my worn tippet.  But of course, I should have known.

It was fast water along the bank that bent ninety degrees back toward me and at the corner was a slow, small back water eddy that made the seam.  I cast upstream far enough to let my fly reach the bottom before the drop off. 

I set as much on the flash as I did on the indicator, surprised at seeing the colors through deep water.  My line was tight in an instant, then the trout’s wide, long, golden brown flank rolled through the chop at the surface and dove down. We both paused.  My rod dug into my forearm and tilted away from the fish.  The fish deep in river.  When the line went slack, I knew I had only myself to blame.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Look Through and Fish the Flash.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | What Make’s a Good Day’s Fishing.

Tippet Condition.

Tippet is tough stuff but depending on the conditions you are fishing and how your day on the river is playing out, you may end up with tippet of degraded capability.  This typically happens to me from wind knots, snags, and occasionally fighting fish. 

For me, wind knots almost always have less to do with wind and more to do with poor casting.  Tailing loops are more likely the culprit.  These typically result from not enough pause in my back cast and pushing too hard on my forward cast.  All made worse by having a dropper tied to the lead fly.  There is some debate about how much these knots can degrade the integrity of the tippet.  I lean more towards avoiding them if possible.  I just seem to break off more with them than without.

Frays come from snags are another thing I am often encountering on the river.  Snagging sticks, trees, bushes, and rocks.  They may also come from fighting fish that run down and around rocks.  I will work hard to avoid this at all costs to not lose the fish, but sometimes it is unavoidable. The teeth of a solid trout can eat up your tippet as well.

I try to check my tippet after catching a fish, any snag, and following any untangled rat’s nest.

Finally, using old tippet that was buried beneath the floorboards may not be the best material to tie on.  How old is too old?  I get nervous if I am fishing something more than a couple years old.  Worse, and more likely, I do not know how old it is.  Bad tippet tends to become obvious quickly with frustrating and unexplained breaks.  I have fished 4X tippet when 5X was preferred because I was not confident my 5X was in good shape.

Taking the Time.

The obvious solution to preventing a lost fish due to your tippet being beat up is to check it more frequently and change it out if required.  But fishing takes a hold of us.  The one more cast idea does not just plague us at the end of the day. 

We usually know when it is time to check our line.  The problem is more to do with taking the time.  Time away from casting and mending and catching.  The balance between moving and waiting.  Casting and observing.  This balance is there to tell us to slow down. 

Tactical anglers take the time to get things right.  Being tactical means being efficient.  Efficient is fast. 

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Slow is Smooth.  Smooth is Fast.

If you knew that a monster trout would hook up with your next cast, you would replace worn tippet without a thought.  Perhaps a bit more optimism would be useful for persistent tippet maintenance.

What’s In Our Control.

There are many things that can end up in losing a big fish.  Experience fighting them is one of the biggest.  A good sized fish has been around and knows the game.  They are less likely to be fooled by your fly unless presented well and once hooked up, they know what to do.  If you are not prepared to take the fight to a big trout, odds are you’ll lose. 

Experience is hard to prepare for.  One thing in our control is the condition of tippet we are fishing. 

Can you get away with fishing through frayed tippet and a wind knot or two?  Sure.  Will you regret not replacing it when you hook into a fish that requires all the strength that was engineered into that tippet and then some?  For a Wadeoutthere fly fisher, I’d say without a doubt. 



Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    George M. Semel
    October 18, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    One of my most memorable days on the stream occurred when I was on the way to fish the San Juan River, in NM. I was a few days early and decided to stop in Wolf Creek, Co. Nice motel, and even nicer restaurant that served great center-cut pork chops and other things. There was a stream behind the Motel, Wolf Creek so I decided hell I am going to fish. Low water, mid-September. My kind of conditions. So I get down to the stream, I look around and noted a spot, Ok no problem, Sage 8’6″ RP II 5 wt and 6 x tippet and an # 18 pheasant tail nymph tied the way frank sawyer tied them. My second drift I hooked and landed a nice 18″ Rainbow. I see another spot up ways on the other side of the stream. it looked deeper, so without thinking about checking my tippet, I made my own leaders. I got into a good position and made a cast. the indicator I was using made a slight move and I lifted the tip of the rod and I had a fish on, two shakes and off on a downstream run, three jumps and gone. At that point, I was in the backing. I reeled in my DT-F fly line, My reel is a Hardy LRH love those. and I checked my leader, there must have been a nick or a bad knot when I tied the tippet. It was fresh stuff I just bought it a few days before my trip. This was back in September 1990 two weeks after well you know what was going on in the Middle East at the time. One of my most memorable days on the water. Oh, I had a great week on the San Juan too. Sometimes the break-offs are more memorable than the fish you land.

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      October 20, 2021 at 1:04 am

      Wow. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story. Yes. Often the lost fish are the ones we remember most. Or at least the ones we learn from the most… Thanks for reading and the wonderful comment, George.

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