Material that cushions your tippet to prevent break-offs

Paul Prentiss

It's pretty obvious that the lighter the tippet a fisherman uses, the more strikes he'll get. Why? A lighter tippet imparts less drag on the fly, thus enabling it to drift and behave naturally. Moreover, lighter tippet is less visible to the fish. Unfortunately, these pluses are offset by the fragility of light tippets.

Almost 20 years ago I saw a product advertisement for flexible loop-to-loop butt sections in the Feather Craft Catalog. Curious, I ordered a few and shared them with my long time fishing friend, Bob Bush. They worked incredibly well. We could use 6X tippet material to deal with very large fish that would snap off our flies with frustrating regularity. In those days the tippet material was far less durable and lacked the strength of today's products.

After running through our supply, I called Feather Craft and ordered 50 yards of the stuff so I could make my own. I tied them directly into my monofilament and braided leaders via nail knots. Over time a variety of stretchy products called Power Gum, Shockgum, Elastic Shock Tippet, Shock Tippet, and so on appeared. At first glance these they look like a regular piece of leader material, but they are softer and more resilient, like a rubber band. They were sold in various colors and diameters. But the material never really caught on. The reason for this was the extra effort involved in using the material and confusion over how to incorporate it into leaders.

Guess what? It's still a great option. Last summer I spent one afternoon hooking and landing one large trout after another on the Yampa River while fishing with 7X. Adjacent fishermen using heaver tippet materials were getting almost no fish.

Today I use RIO's Shock Gum material in 25 foot spools that sell for just under $10.00. The Trout version has a .026 inch diameter and a breaking strength of 9 lbs. Front Range Anglers does carry it in stock.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that the elastic material seems to age with hard use and should be inspected and replaced if it shows wear. How often? It probably depends on your fishing habits. I replace it when I see vertical stress marks. Because of my periodic inspections and replacements of the material, I have never experienced breakage.

Because it is softer and stretches more than monofilament, elastic leader material is tricky to tie into your leader. You must carefully tie and tighten your knots. I've used the double-surgeon's knot, but I prefer the nail knot. I tie it in the same manner as the speed nail knot used to secure the leader butt to a fly line using a dubbing needle or toothpick to provide stiffness. The knots should be tied carefully so that the coils do not pinch and cut the elastic leader material. After gently snugging up the nail knot, tie a tight overhand knot in the tag end of the elastic leader material. This knot jams against the nail knot when you apply the final tightening and seating pressure.

Occasionally, I make shock leader "assemblies" beforehand, which saves fumbling, especially with numb fingers when winter fishing. I tie a six-inch piece of 2X or 3X tippet to each end of a strand of elastic leader material, using the speed nail knot. Onstream I can easily use a blood knot to tie an assembled shock tippet into my leader. I use 2X or 3X, since that corresponds to the place in the leader where I usually insert the elastic material. Because it is positioned near the end of the leader, it can be removed, or the leader lengthened, as desired.

I tie the elastic material into the leader at a point that is closer to the fly than the rod is long so that the material and its knots do not get tangled in the rod guides when I am landing a fish. If I am using an 8-foot rod, for example, I make sure the material is within eight feet of the fly.

Use a long enough piece of elastic leader material to compensate for the stiffness of your rod, your hook-setting technique, the breaking strength of your tippet, and your style of fighting a fish. The right length for you can only be found through trial and error. I personally like a 8 to 10 inch sections.