Fluoro tippets too weak for steelhead?


Junior Dave Monti fan
So, where I should be posting my "first steelhead" story, I am instead posting a question. Is regular heavy trout tippet (1X-2X) widely accepted to be too weak to handle steelhead?

Background: fishing buddy and I drove out to the OP this weekend to fish a coastal river small enough that I won't name it here, since someone would probably be miffed. Around midday, we actually got him his first steelhead, which is great -- he's been obsessed for two years, while I've been strictly a trout guy.

Anyway, we're further upstream toward the end of the day, and I've just changed my rig from a stone nymph of some sort to a size 8 prince. In the process, I downsized from some heavy monofilament by adding a short length of 2X tippet (10 lb). I'm standing on a log shortly thereafter, running the nymph through a narrow trough, and suddenly hook up. The fish goes straight down for a moment, then straight up to show himself just a few feet in front of me. He's big. Right about then, I think "Oh sh*t. I wish I had a steelhead rod." I was using my 6-weight trout rig. Sure enough, this big guy decides he's heading under the large log I'm standing on, just a few feet upstream. I knew that was trouble, so I clamped the line and put the wood to him as much as I could. Sadly, as I mentioned, I had brought a "knife to a gunfight". Without any effort at all, the buck bent my rod almost in half and chuckled as he ducked under the log. A few seconds later, he surfaced in a small space between that log and another one laying parallel on the other side. Right then, the line broke at the fly. Schooling complete.

Again, it seems unlikely I could have landed the fish (12-14 pounds) anyway with that rod, but my buddy insisted that my big error had been using tippet material instead of heavy mono line, and that I should never use tippet for steelhead. Since I know nothing about steelheading, I just thought I would ask for some input/clarification on this issue.


Mouse doctor
Seems to me you and the fish have already answered your own question. Since the fish are not leader shy, why would you want to use fluoro anyway? Ten pounds should be enough to land that fish, but not if (1) your tippet/knot breaks at less, or (2) you are fishing in a small river near logs and snags. I'd use at least 15 pound maxima in that kind of water so that the fish can't get you in that stuff.
No matter what you use, catching big steelhead in small streams with lots of logs and other snags is NEVER going to be easy.

The type of tippet doesn't much matter in this case. Fcarbon tends to lose its strength with very little fraying which is probably what your buddy was talking about. Good mono like Maxima Ultra Green will remain strong with a shocking amount of fraying. However, in this case the break was at the fly so the steelhead just used the log as a unforgiving anchor and popped your knot. Had the leader frayed and broke than you could blaim the fcarbon......maybe....but as I say big steelhead in the conditions described is always going to lead to lost fish; bad hookup to landing ratio.

As far as your 6wt.......I would go at least an 8 and with lots a structure maybe bigger as in 9 or 10 and 15lbs test at least. This rig is no fun to cast on those small pretty streams but if you really want to yank a 15lbs steelhead away from a logjam you need some beefy gear.
Yeah, I don't think you were going to land that one anyways without a much stouter rod and tippet of any variety and even then there are some fish that are going to be tough to land in those conditions. I fish a river in Alaska that is essentially lined with alders its entire length that hang in the water. The steelhead almost always head straight for them and many times there is nothing you can do to stop them.

As to your question, the problem with the FC material is that it frays and then becomes very brittle. In a river your line gets frayed easily and quickly loses its strength. I'd stick to monofilament line. The only time I use the FC leaders is when the river gets really low and clear and the fish are ultra spooky. Even then, I can't for sure say it has ever made that much of a difference, but it simply removes one more variable for me when I am having trouble hooking up.


Active Member
1x is not too weak for the kind of steelhead I tend to catch, which rarely go over 8 lbs. Fluoro is more abrasion resistant than mono, but it is often finer than the same lb test mono. So if you are going to switch from mono to fluoro, look at the diameter of the mono you are using, buy a similar diameter fluoro, and you should see the benefits fo fluoro. Fluoro is also stiffer, which makes it blow for dry fly work, and you'll really see that if you attach your fly with an open loop knot, like a non-slip loop. the loop will "kink" at it's end (where if meets the hook eye), and you bet your bippy it's going to break there. I tend to not use fluoro when I'm going to use loop knots and the fish are going to be big. SRCs? Lake fishing? knock yourself out. But steelhead I'm using "uni-knots" or snelling hooks for use in tube flies if I'm using fluoro. I learned the ins and outs of fluoro in bluewater fishing. It's a great tool, but it's not for every situation, or knot!


Banned or Parked
Fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistant than most standard nylon monofilament materials and also has a higher breaking strength for a given diameter. If you broke the fish off at the fly like you said, chances are your knot broke. Was it a clean break or was there a little curl at the end? You can put a LOT of pressure on 10# without it breaking, in fact more pressure than you're capable of exerting with that 6 weight unless you're pointing the rod straight at the fish.

As for your buddy's claim about "tippet material" not being the right choice, that's total crap. The only difference between a material called "tippet" and one called "heavy mono" is that one comes on a smaller spool and usually costs more.


Active Member
alpinetrout said:
As for your buddy's claim about "tippet material" not being the right choice, that's total crap. The only difference between a material called "tippet" and one called "heavy mono" is that one comes on a smaller spool and usually costs more.
Hah! It's true! For years Lefty Kreh used to tie ALL his leaders with Berkely Trilene. Dude fished so much his "tippet spools" were 750 yds... And I certainly used to build my saltwater leaders out of Berkley Big Game. Awesome for 20 lb class. When fluoro was new, I used to buy mine for saltwater from bass pro shops in 200 yd spools and it cost about the same as 27 yds from the fly shop. pretty UV resistant so I didn't worry about waste, and I was leading trips in those days and we actually went through tons of 20, 27, 35, and 80. Haven't checked recently buy I'm sure that situation has changed :thumb:
Even with a six weight you should be able to hammer down on a fish if you have appropriate knots. The worst thing that can happen is you pull the fly out of the fish's mouth. You can always beat yourself up about it later, but it is better then loosing it in a downed tree.

Philster and Alpine are right one in regards to Flouro. I seldon buy a new leader and usually end up with only a small section left of the original leader on my line within a month. I then attach Flouro 15, 12 and 10 pound to the end of that and use that until it breaks. When I am in a cheap mood then I attach a section of 25 or 30 pound mono as a butt section and then add the flour from there. Stick with it, the flour should help you get into a few more fish.


Well-Known Member

There's nothing wrong with your leader tippet unless you tied a crummy knot. Ten pound test tippet will land any steelhead in the state, all else being equal. Your breakoff could have been facilitated by using the trout rod. When you clamped the line, if your rod went straight with no bend in it, that would concentrate all the force you and the fish were applying to your tackle in the knot that held the fly. I think using an 8 wt rod may have provided additional cushion

It always has been, and always will be a bit of luck of the draw to land steelhead, especially larger ones, in small streams that are littered with woody debris. You could use 40 pound test tippets, and you would still lose quite a few steelhead. It's a false belief that if the tippet were strong enough, you could simply pull the fish away from logjams and rootwads. Not so. A fresh steelhead will go if it's determined. With infinitely strong line and leader, the fish will still go, and if your gear doesn't yield any line, then you'll end up with the hook straightening or simply pulling out. That is why we play steelhead instead of just dragging them up into the shallow water. Lack of clear space in a small stream to play a steelhead pretty much ensures that a higher percentage of those hooked will be lost.

Don't worry. Be happy. You hooked a winter steelhead on a fly. You had an excellent day. If you can, you might be happier to have an 8 wt for steelheading, tho.


Salmo g.
Philster said:
Fluoro is more abrasion resistant than mono, but it is often finer than the same lb test mono.
alpinetrout said:
Fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistant than most standard nylon monofilament materials
HHHHMMMMMMMMM......I don't mean to be a fire starter but my experience is directly opposite to this on MANY brands of fluoro. They may say it is more abrasion resistent but I don't think they are being all that truthful. Here is why: I think this judgement is based on the fact that fluoro is MUCH harder than mono but ironically this is the reason why it gets more abrasion. The soft and forgiving mono slides around and over rocks where as fluoro gets shattered (figuratively of course). The only problem with my "research" is that I only fish one brand of mono: Maxima Ultragreen. And if you don't already know, the stuff is made from the hairs of Gods and is VERY abrasion resistant and remains strong even when it looks hairy.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Ultragreen is not mono, its god.

Furthermore they underate pound-test on the stuff and if you check diameter 18lb flouro and 10lb maxima have the same diameter with the flouro being only slighyly stronger, but more abrasion resistent also.