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How Long Do Prepackaged Leaders Last?

by Philip Monahan
photos by Marshall Cutchin

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Prepackaged Fly LeadersQuestion: Saw your column on prepackaged leaders. Here’s a parallel question: How long will those unopened, prepackaged leaders last in my vest or gear bag? When do I toss them, or should I wait until I start losing fish? Some even have expiration dates on them. Should I toss all that are past their date?

Fred M., via email

Answer: This is something I’ve often wondered about, as well, so I put the question to Tim Daughton, the product developer responsible for Orvis leaders and tippets. Here’s what he had to say:

“This is a difficult question to answer, as there are so many variables aside from time to consider—UV exposure, temperature, humidity, chemicals (DEET, sunscreen), etc. The one factor that many people fail to consider is heat, especially the kind that is generated in a car trunk or on the deck of a boat in July. These extreme temperatures can, over time, break down the material quickly, even though it is not exposed to UV.

You should store excess leaders and tippet in the house—not your vest—preferably in a cool place; some people even keep them in the freezer. Your vest/chest pack is actually the worst place to store leader and tippet. Take what you need to fish that day or on that trip, and leave everything else at home.

In general, fluorocarbon is going to last longer than nylon, because fluorocarbon is impervious to UV; it can, however, get milky with prolonged exposure, which makes it more visible to the fish. As a rule of thumb, I would replace material every two years unless it shows signs of degradation—then I would chuck it immediately.”

By the way, if you’re occasionally stymied by the challenge of unwrapping a prepackaged leader, check out my earlier column on how to do it correctly.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • merkincrab

    Of course, “replace material every two years”…..then you can go out and buy more! B.S. I’ve been fishing leaders kept away from UV in my vest that are five years old and more and they perform great. This is just like expiration dates stamped on many products: manufacturers want you to throw stuff away so you’ll buy more.

    • Merkin, a lot of folks — me included — aren’t willing to bet the minor savings of not buying new leaders every season against losing a big fish because of bad tippet material.  We lost a few tarpon in Key West using material that had gone bad after only one season.  Wasn’t worth it.

      • Rolland Hartline

          Tim suggested replacing every two years. Do you have a guess why yours went bad after one season?

        • Most likely it was left in a boat bag and overheated — can’t say for sure since it wasn’t mine.

  • Kiwioz

    Having read this it now occurs to me that the use of the rubber squeeze devices to remove memory and straighten leaders could comprise breaking strain  – as the operating principle is one of heat. This would apply particularly in the narrow end of the tappered leader. 

    • That’s probably true, especially since manufacturers have a hard time controlling strength at the end of the taper.

  • Sayfu

    Mono lasts for many years kept out of the sunlight.  I’ve got spools of mono that I tie my own leaders from, and a lot of my spools are 20 yrs. old, or more.  A key when talking about breaking strength is to measure how much pressure you exert with the rod.  Pick up some wts. from the floor.  Most anglers put far less lb test of pressure when using the rod playing a fish than they think they do.  Knowing this your tippet, and knot strength is often far stronger than the pressure you apply.

    • Chuck S

      I am in the same boat with you on this one Sayfu.  I have and am using spools of mono that I keep in a cardboard box and have had them for years.  Every so often I take a length off the spool and test for strength and “voila,” it’s still as strong as initially advertised.  I’ve done the same thing with leader left out in the light and moderate heat and it shows decreases in a year or so. (as if strung on a fly rod, over the door inside)

  • Sayfu

    Phil is right on keeping mono out of the heat.  I read the entire post now…store it in a cool area.  But packing it along with you covered up, but in considerable heat will break it down .

  • Sayfu

    Marshell…”Mfg controlling strength at the end of the taper?  What is your thinking on that one?  It is all about diameter.  What is the strength given the diameter.  If you are say .004 diameter at the end of the taper(tippet portion) you are the strength of .004 diameter.

    • That’s right. Manufacturers have trouble controlling diameter–which translates to strength.

  • Peterjbh

    New to the site so hello first. After buying prepackaged knotless leaders for a few years I decided to research leaders and start tying my own. Mainly because my fingers need dexterity practice and it helps my eyes with threading flies on. In doing so I’ve discovered some unexpected benefits. I always know how much tippet I have on. I was not good about repairing or adding tippet to knotless leaders and am now discovering a big improvement in my strike numbers.  I’ve started adding orange colored amnesia based on some research after the first butt section which makes a great strike indicator with nymphs and improves my drift immensely. I’m experimenting now with two sections of amnesia (the second is green) (15lb&12lb) to see if it helps me track my dry flies better but it also helps me from over mending by giving me a target. I mend just to the end of the amnesia.

    Question though on fluorescent tippet. Couldn’t find any freshwater 5x where I live so I paid 4 bucks more for 5x fluorescent tippet. Supposedly its almost invisible under water. I find though it seems a little stretchy. After I tighten my fly on and pull to be sure its on good it wrinkles up a little at the eye. Any thoughts on fluorescent tippet? Should I just abandon it or not get less than 4x fluorescent?

  • Anonymous

    I tie my own leaders, and what I do is cycle out butt material after 3 years. Most of the time I use enough of it over that period of time as to dispose very little as unusable. Tippet Material, well  I do not for example use as much 0X as I do with 4x 5x and 6x. So I keep more of that on hand. I use 7x and 8x a bit but mostly for those times when the water is very thin and the flies are very small 26 and 28’s. Just a few weeks in my season I go that small.  I have not bought a pre packaged leader in 40 years. I did have a Guild rig one up for some fishing on the San Juan some 21 years ago. I like making my own, I can match it to my casting style and line weight better. I don’t think one size fits all. Of course I spend a lot of time making fine adjustments to my leaders on the water. I keep good notes as well and it takes me just 15 to 20 min to build a leader. I will wear out a fly line before I wear out a leader butt section. Unless it gets kicked fishing, that happens a bit, when fishing the pocket water I so love to fish.

  • Jrwader

    Why is storing tippet and leaders in a fly vest a bad thing?  I keep all my materials in my fly vest and it is stored inside.  What is in the fly vest that harms the tippet and leader material?

  • UVRC

    I use leaders that were new in the early 1970’s. They have always been kept out of the light. I’ll admit that with the knotless leaders I clip off the last three feet and add my own tippet; that is because the tapered extrusion back then was not consistent.
    Of course, the pound test of a 1970 leader is much less than modern Nylon. The 7x below is 1# test. Modern Orvis SS in 7x is 2.5# test. Below is a knotted Nylon Orvis leader from the 1970’s and a knotted gut Orvis leader from a few decades earlier.