A guy came into the shop the other day and was filling his basket with handfuls of tippet material. We got to talking and he told me he replaces all of his tippet every year with “fresh” tippet. It was his ritual. I know the old argument–heat, UV exposure, and water absorption all degrade tippet material, lowering its breaking strength over time. Well, as these types of conversations usually do, it got me to thinking …
Back home in my tippet drawer, I found a spool of 2X that was 14 years old. For years, I’ve been using it for bass and saltwater fishing and can’t remember it ever breaking. Orvis used to put expiration dates on all of their tippet spools–a practice most manufacturers never really followed or did but abandoned long ago. Digging a little deeper, I found that most of my stock of trout tippet was at least 2 years old–and I have still been using it. I’ve never even given a thought to the whole “stale” tippet theory, so I did a little unscientific research and here’s a brief summary of what I found:
Nylon monofilament takes an average of 600 years to completely biodegrade. It can weaken with prolonged exposure to water, UV light, and temperature. But the temperature must exceed 125° F to have an affect. That might sound high, but to put it into perspective, the trunk of a car on a hot day can easily exceed that. Fluorocarbon is more resilient and is not affected as much by UV and water absorption as nylon.
So my empirical evidence plus what I read leads me to believe we need not be overly concerned with tippet expiration:
- Most of us will probably use up all the tippet on a spool (or lose it) long before it ever really “expires”.
- Most of us store it in a dark, cool place away from direct sunlight and heat anyway like our packs, vests, gear bags, etc. So unless you’re leaving your spools on the dashboard of your car on a hot day regularly, you’re probably OK.
- Application matters. Most of my fishing is in small streams for 8″ – 12″ trout. If I’m using 5X with a test of 4.5 lbs., even if the tippet degraded by a full pound, it wouldn’t really matter. Now, if I were taking a once-in-a-lifetime bonefish to the Bahamas, I definitely wouldn’t chance it. I’d stock up on multiple spools of new fluorocarbon before I packed up.
So for most of my fishing, I don’t concern myself with tippet expiration. But I wonder about the guys who do. Have they actually had experiences where they lost fish because of old tippet? Or is it just an ego thing–a form of self-aggrandizing humble bragging where they like to imply that they catch so many big fish that they have to obsess over such details because their equipment has to be up-to-par with their superhuman fishing abilities? And, even if they were breaking tippet, who’s to say that it wasn’t because of abrasion or a poorly tied knot rather than degradation?
Part of me also wonders how much of the whole tippet-expiration phenomenon is marketing–a form of recurring revenue for the manufacturers they’ve conditioned us to sustain. I buy razor these blades that have a blue “indicator strip” on them. When the strip turns white, that means it’s time to replace the blade. Now of course, in the instructions, they tell you to “rinse the blade frequently”, which subsequently happens to wash the blue off the strip faster, thus prompting you to replace the blade sooner. But I’ve been using one of the blades which turned completely white long ago and it still works perfectly. Lots of other articles have been written about how the expiration dates on food are purposely overcautious–really meant to get you to just buy more of their product than to ensure your safety from food-borne illness. It wouldn’t surprise me if the same strategy were being employed by fishing line companies.
So, I decided not to toss that spool of 2X after all. I mean, it’s still got 586 years of life left in it!
Do you replace your “stale” tippet?
If so, how often? And is it because you have direct evidence that it really matters or is it just precautionary?
I have hard and fast rule, replace tippet when the spool is empty!
Keep up the good work Jason
I have a rule about tippet, I replace it when the spool is empty.
Keep up the good work Jason
I never thought of expiration date for a tippet. Same as Roger W, I get another one when the spool is empty. Thank you, Jason for sharing your experience.
Being cheap, I never change my tippet…. but that’s not to say that I didn’t have a twinge of guilt about it. thanks to your research, I’ll sleep much better tonight.
Good read. Thank you I was wondering about this the other day ??
I don’t buy tippet – I buy regular fishing line in the size I need. Trout SOS 2 lb mono is .006″/.16mm so I use that for 5x. Berkley Vanish flouro is .007″/.17mm so I use that for 4x. Other than the size, I don’t see any real performance difference between flouro and mono. No, I don’t carry those big spools with me. I carry several pre-cut 4′ pieces with a perfection loop in one end, rolled up in a repurposed hand salve tin separated by cotton batting like the stuff used in old leader boxes.
I only replace tippet when it breaks (which only happens on a snag) or when I’ve cut it too short to use. At 350 yds for the Trout SOS and 250 for the Berkley, I do not expect to run out of tippet in my lifetime. But then, I’m only 66 so maybe I just need to fish more.
Like others, I replace it when it runs out.
Very interesting system! And thanks for posting a picture of it. I know others who also buy conventional fishing line rather than what’s marketed as “tippet”. The savings is even bigger if you do this with fluorocarbon. But I’ve never seen a carry system like yours. That pretty ingenious! Are the cotton separators those cosmetic makeup pads or are you cutting them to size from a large sheet or something?
Expiration dates on tippet are marketing strategy.
Jason – I bought a small length of cotton batting from Walmart (they sell it by the yard), and cut them by hand. After I did this, a friend suggested I could just use heavy paper for the same purpose, and I suppose he’s right…
Joseph, maybe wax paper so it won’t absorb water?
I replace my tippet stock every year, and I do the same thing with any line. Not because I think that it went bad, but I’m the guy who cuts off a fly and reties the knot after every fish. I have lost a fairly large number of fish in my early years due to the tippet and/or knot failure. So, maybe I’m being greedy or stodgy, but new tippet material every year is just the same kind of precaution. For me, the stuff is cheap compared to losing a fish, and I want every possible disadvantage covered. Especially the ones that I do have control over.
Just tossed some spools of Nylorfi that were 30+ years old. Knots broke, and simple stretching with hands caused breaks on 3x to 7x.
I do not wait till I run out to buy new tippet. Just till I get the uncomfortable feeling I am getting very low. Then I buy a new spool and tie the old tippet to the new spool and wind the remainder on to the new spool. The knot tells me when I am using the new batch when I get to it.
Back in the days when I used nylon tippet material exclusively, and before climate change was affecting things as much as it is today, freezing nights at altitude (with its higher UV energy index exposure as there is less air to filter the light out the harmful rays above 10,000 feet) would degrade tippet strength considerably, especially if the rod was left strung up and exposed to below 32 degrees air temperatures and frost above timber line. Fluorocarbon tippet is considerably less prone to those kinds of problems and has a considerably longer break down time than nylon mono does, so I believe it is worth its higher price.
I also believe the replacing tippet yearly ritual is market driven, but the dated spools serve a useful purpose – If you have a choice, why not buy the most recent production run?
I replace my fluoro tippets only when I run out of the old stuff. I replace my nylon tippets (4x/6 lb and smaller) annually.
I began the annual replacement of nylon tippets on the basis of experience. One day, using 4X that was a few (five or less) years old, I broke off about six browns in the 18-20″ range while setting the hooks on streamers (fishing the bank of Big Hole River in Montana). That was a new experience for me, and I assumed I was losing whatever light touch I had. Maybe from too much bass fishing back home between visits to the West. I didn’t run into trout that size for a month or so, but when I did, I broke of the first one I hooked, a rainbow. The ex-guide I was fishing with asked if I was using old tippet. When answered yes, he tossed me some new 4X, I changed my tippet, and had no further trouble even though we landed a bunch of rainbows. From that day on, I have replaced my smaller nylon tippets annually. On that day, I also changed my attitude towards Abe’s Fly Shop on the San Juan; until then, I considered it a possible marketing ploy when they insisted on that clients buying new tippet material for each trip with one of their guides.
Jason – not worried about absorbing water, since the tin is waterproof and once I take a tippet out to use, it never goes back – it’s fished until failure.
I also should have mentioned – these tippets are the ones I use for my furled lines that have tippet rings. Now that I’ve seen your video on the One Knot, I’ll be using that for my level lines.
Paul, thanks for that story. That’s exactly what I was looking for–some anecdotal evidence. Just to play Devil’s advocate, could it have been a bad batch of tippet to begin with? Because that happens sometimes too. That is, do you recall it working fine when it was new, then starting to break suddenly years later?
No, Jason, this was not a bad batch of tippet. Breaking a 4X tippet was new to me, and I had been using material from this spool for several years without any problem. Bad batch is not a likely suspect.
Great discussion by all, and speaks to how important line is to us anglers, no matter how or where we fish. It can be argued that advances in line technology have certainly kept up with — if not exceeded — rod tech. (Copolymer!) When introducing the sport to newbies, I emphasize that the fish don’t care about your rod & reel, but as you start getting closer to them, it matters. There’s certainly been plenty written about fly and tippet selection . . . should I change the fly or go down in tipper size to counter refusals? (Rhetorical — not going there.)
We all have approaches that we believe in, based on 1st-hand experience or off-water learning. And they can be to varying degrees prescriptive or adaptive. Certainly, if you’ve booked an expensive outing to a distant blue-ribbon destination, going in with fresh tippet is academic — just a tiny fraction of the trip cost . . . though guides usually take care of that. But back on my home-waters, stalking High Sierra creeks with Tenkara rod in hand, where a wild trout are measured in inches instead of pounds, I’m not going to be too upset if hook a holdover stocker and my old 6X TroutHunter nylon tippet fails before the rod tip!
Well put Dennis. Agree on all points.
Jason, after a recent outing on a private lake in central Oregon, was using my 13.5′ Tenkara from a float tube and hooking up mostly 20 to 25″ trout (what a hoot!)… during this day’s outing however, I lost several hooks at the knot and even broke off a tippet line…were my knots bad? fluro line bad? my technique sloppy? …granted these guys were big and hit hard, but had landed successfully similar sized fish in previous outings on the lake…I was using fluro #4.5 tippet–changed a couple of times…
Back home, I did a deep dive on tippets including both fluro and nylon — their strengths/weakness/life spans including this article…
here are some conclusions I have reached:
(1) use a beefier tippet when possible,
(2) in particular waters(especially in this private lake holding big fish), fish may NOT be as leader shy as many often think, (plus, w/ Tenkara only the fly should be hitting the water)
(3) with only 4′ of tippet the standard with most Tenkara setups, thicker tippet’s effect on casting not real critical (imo),
(4) life expectancy of nylon (and fluro)?–a year or 2 or more?…one article suggested using the overhand knot test on 12′ of tippet–tie knot, stretch, when it breaks, does it happen easier or not depending on age/thickness of tippet, try a 2nd 12″ to see if similar… I pulled some 5 year old nylon tippet (5x) which had been stowed in a closed box and even temp, and it broke fairly easy after 2 or 3 knot tests–discarded…will use this test on a regular basis even while fishing–easy, quick, and telling if a spool (or end) of tippet has weakened…
(5) since most of my tippet was 4x and 5x (fluro/nylon) decided to buy Maxima bulk @ 5lb equal to 3x tippet and 6lb equal to 2x tippet, load them on old empty tippet spools and use Max tippets for “bigger fish” efforts…(chose Maxima Ultragreen as the go to brand for the 3x/2x as jt has similar thickness as “fly” tippet, costs way less, and under rates it test strength vs. purchased tippets, appear more supple that fluro, will stow to maximize shelf life beyond 1 year).
(6) will carry both 3x to 5x fluro and 5x to 2x nylon… still not sold on fluro’s longer life and “invisible” quality makes much difference–rather still think the fisher’s presentation/hooking skills regardless of tackle will determine most “fish on” moments especially with Tenkara’s approach… my 2 cents after hours of research…thought I would pass it on and add to the many good comments above…welcome any feedback on my conclusions…
Hi Brad, I think I agree with all of your conclusions except possibly #4. I would like to see a scientific study with a test gauge to see if there’s actually a breaking strength difference over time. The same person could tie the same knot 10 times, and none of them will be identical so that’s a little inaccurate. What do you think?
Jason, just got back to see your f/up comment on my post… in my deep dive, I found this study done in 2012 w/ a little f/up…has lots of stuff to “chew on” and interesting comparisons about “breaking strength”/stress of knots/etc….https://www.yellowstoneangler.com/gear-review/tippet-shootout/
In this article, they testing knot strength “6x’s” and averaged their measurements… using the overhand (wind knot) knot a few times is “good enough” for me…if it breaks easily 2 or 3 times for me, the tippet appears weakened from age, sun exposure, etc. and will get discarded… but would love to see a more recent study or a 2020 repeat of the above “shoot out”… but, as implied above, the “fisher’s choice and skill while on the water” become the ultimate “test” of tippet use and effectiveness. 🙂
p.s. (tried to post a MS Word doc of my summary, but it would not copy to this format–might send you separately using the email format above)
Thanks for this skeptically-minded article. There’s no reason to grant arguments from manufacturers, or from anecdote. Let’s try to find opposing anecdotes from folks who’ve landed 20″ trout on old 5x tippet that hasn’t been abused, or exposed to too much sunlight — why not?
I used to be a bike messenger. There are all kinds of guidelines cyclists have for when tires and other equipment needs to be replaced. I knew this from my early years racing. But at that point I had no money. I rode my bike for about a year after first passing the “tell-tale” signs that my tires needed to be replaced. 30 miles plus a day, in a city. A whole extra year before the tires went kaput. It opened my eyes.
Similarly, I was in Germany a few years ago, and two older German friends of mine (women in their 60’s) rode their bikes to Belgium and back — 60 miles round trip. They wore normal street clothes, flip-flops, and rode old, upright 3-speeds. It was great. I remember thinking, you’d never see that in the States. Certainly, the manufacturers and resellers wouldn’t recommend it! 🙂
Sorry for the tangents, but the theme is the same.