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Adult steelhead. A Thom Glace watercolor Illustration. See more award-winning art from Thom Glace.

By Skip Clement

Somebody asked me about the “X” system the other day after a Zoom meeting, and I had to admit I was not in full command of the information I was once so familiar. I didn’t want to admit to age helping eat away at my memory pod, so I gave witness to having been away from freshwater fly fishing for 25 years. I was fly fishing in the salt and there it’s pound-test, and the digits are generally beyond “X” values.

Fly Fishing Leader and Tippet  ‘X’ System

The ‘X’ rating system for fly fishing leader and tippet is confusing at first but doesn’t need to be. Manufacturers use a simple rating system, denoted by the ‘X.’ It describes the breaking strength and diameter of the fly fishing leader and tippet material.

Manufacturers use a simple rating system, denoted by the ‘X’, that describes the breaking strength and diameter of the fly fishing leader and tippet material. The typical scale that these run on are a range from 03X down to 8X, with 03X being the thickest and strongest and 8X being the thinnest and lightest. So, the ‘X’ size of the leader determines how strong and thin the leader and tippet are.

Fly Fishing Leader and Tippet  ‘X’ System:


Tippet Size  Tippet Diameter  Pound Test       Fish Size is Arbitrary


03X                         .015″                      25 lb.                 Big Game Species [Not qualified for IGFA record listing]

02X                         .013″                     20 lb.                 Large Salmon [IGFA max is 20-pound test.]

01X                         .012″                     18.5 lb.              Striped Bass

0X                           .011″                      15.5 lb.               Salmon, Steelhead

1X                           .010″                      13.5 lb.               Bonefish, Redfish, Permit

2X                          .009″                    11.5 lb.                 Large & Smallmouth Bass

3X                          .008″                    8.5 lb.                  Bass & Large Trout

4X                         .007″                    6 lb.                      Trout

5X                         .006″                    4.75 lb.                 Trout & Panfish

6X                        .005″                    3.5 lb.                   Trout – Easily Spooked Fish

7X                        .004″                     2.5 lb.                   Trout & Panfish / Delicate Presentation

8X                        .003″                     1.75 lb.                 Trout & Panfish / Small Flies

Coho salmon [Oncorhynchus kisutch] fresh from the ocean. A Thom Glace watercolor illustration.

Example usage:

A common rule that helps determine what ‘X’ size tippet to use to attach your fly is to take the size of the fly, say a Size 16 Parachute Adams for example, and divide that fly size by 3. In this example, our fly is size 16, divided by 3 gives you 5.3333. That would work out to be approximately a 5X tippet size. Say your fly is a size four streamer… Four divided by 3 gives you 1.333, which would, in turn, be approximately a size 1X tippet. It’s a simple and easy rule to determine the proper tippet to use while out on the water.

Chart source . . . 

Featured Image: Analytical Diagram Showing Parts and Proportions of a Salmon Fly from The Salmon Fly by George Kelson, (London 1895). Mike Cline – commons image.

 

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