by Jarrod Day
Think of fishing as an equation, first you need a bunch of numbers, add more numbers and you’ll get an answer. In fishing we have our fishing outfit plus line, leader, terminal tackle and bait which will equal success. Should you have an incorrect number in the equation the answer could be wrong which in fishing if there is a weak link, your fish is lost. One of the most vital pieces of the fishing equation is the leader used between your mainline and hooks. This is due to the leader being the section that receives most of the pressure and damage during a fight.
Snapper can have sharp teeth, knowing the right strengths leader to use is very important.
Leaders have always been an important part of fishing and twenty years ago when I was a young lad, it was an off cut of old fishing line that was used. Today, leaders have come of age in leaps and bounds and with the development of braided lines, the importance of fishing with the right leader is vital. Leader material these days comes in a wide variety of poundage's but also types and brands and they do differ from one another. While there are many attributes with leaders, it is the material, poundage and strength that are main factors in determining which is used and when.
To the average fisho, attaching a secondary section of fishing line to the end of your mainline may seem silly but is vital in being successful. Leaders can be attached to your mainline in various ways but it is imperative that the knots be one hundred percent secure otherwise you’ll lose your catch. Leaders are mainly attached to the main line with specific knots including the slim beauty, Albright or more commonly used double uni also known as a back to back uni knot. If anglers are not confident in their knot joining ability, a swivel can be used with the mainline tied to one end and the leader to the other. The only downfall to this is that you will only be able to use a short length of leader as you will be unable to wind the swivel through the rods top guide, although some attempt to when winding in a fish from time to time.
Flurocarbon leader comes available in a wide range of brands, strengths and diameters.
A leaders main job has a few purposes, firstly it is used for abrasion resistance against foreign obstacles you’ll encounter including rubble, reef, weed, pylons and of course a fishes teeth. Secondly, leader material these days is made from either nylon or fluorocarbon. Both of which have higher breaking strains than your typical monofilament fishing line and have been engineered to cope with more pressure resulting in more fish landed.
In situations where the water is clear, flurocarbon leader is highly recommended.
Fluorocarbon leader is undoubtedly the most beneficial for all anglers on all species of fish but still has a place when it shouldn’t necessarily be used. Fluorocarbon is significantly more expensive than typical nylon leaders mainly due to its cosmetic makeup. Fluorocarbon is made from carbon which is less likely to absorb water, thus it sinks. Being made from carbon, it has a refractive index meaning it absorbs light rather than reflecting it like nylon. With the ability to absorb light, when in the water it is almost 100% invisible making it ideal when targeting fish in crystal clear water or when they are quite finicky. Fluorocarbon also have a high abrasion resistance than nylon making it the perfect leader for all offshore uses, although it has less stretch than nylon which may offer a disadvantage in a likely situation.
Nylon leaders are the most common sold in tackle store mainly due to there price. Nylon is quite cheaper than fluorocarbon and comes in two main types, supple and tough.
Fish such as trevally can shy to nylon leaders, flurocarbon leaders are recommended.
Nylon - Supple:
Supple leaders tend to be the go to leader for many anglers. Supple leaders contain a hard inner core while their external is quite soft. This allows for easy knot tying ability but continuing to contain excellent knot strength. Having a soft external coating allows the leader to move more freely such as when presenting a bait on the hook. In the water, the flow or waters current will allow the bait to look natural as it swims or moves with the waters pressure. Supple leaders do however have there own disadvantages especially if they become damaged or knocked during use. Any damage in the leader can create a weak point and should a fish power off after being hooked, the leader will easily break. In which case, should it be known of such damage, it is vital to regularly change leaders otherwise be ready for heartbreak.
Nylon - Tough:
Tough leaders on the other hand are tougher than supple containing both a hard inner core and external coating. Not as stiff as fluorocarbon, they are the perfect leader for targeting fish in snags or over reef where the chance of the fish being cagey isn’t a concern. The harder coating allows for more wear and tear and will often out perform other leaders in the right situations. It can be difficult to tie and pull knots tight in higher strengths where you might consider crimping instead.
Some species such as mackerel have very sharp teeth, wire leaders are the only option.
There are specific places where wire leaders can be used but it is within reason. Some anglers fishing the surf for gummy sharks or Western Port for that matter like to use wire leaders to prevent being bitten off. The only downfall to this is that many sharks have the ability to sense wire and tend not too take the bait, especially school and gummy sharks. In this situation, a heavy fluorocarbon leader with a circle hook would be a better option. Wire leaders are best kept for when targeting species with teeth such as mako, sevengil, bronze whaler and thresher sharks. Wire is also a good advantage for when trolling lures for tuna. In this situation when a hard body lure is being trolled, a 3ft length of 100lb single strand wire can be attached to the lures tow point and then to the end of the windon leader. Ideally this is best suited for open water at Portland rather than for pike, barracouta, salmon or snook as it will drastically reduce the chance of a lure pulling out of the water when trolled.
If you are trolling for pike, barracouta, salmon or snook, use a tough nylon leader in either a 40 or 50 pound strength. This will have enough abrasion resistance to cope with their teeth without being bitten off.
There is no set length for leaders but most of the time the length is set based on the species being targeted. As a general I like to use around a meter but that all depends on what species I am targeting. For instance, if I am bait fishing for whiting, I will use a three meter length. The reason for this length is because the last meter has my paternoster rig tied into it rather than attaching a swivel then the rig. If I am casting lures for bream, I will opt for a shorter length say 1-1.5 meters to allow for abrasion resistance if I cast a lure to the back of a snag and if I change lures often, I have enough leader to allow me to do so as it will shorten throughout the course of the day.
Barnacle encrusted snags will hold fish, but leaders don’t stand a chance. 80lb flurocarbon may be an option in this situation.
On the other hand when I am fishing for gummy sharks and snapper in Western Port, I will attach a 3 meter length of 60lb supple trace to my braid with an Albright knot. Slide on an ezy rig sinker clip and swivel attached to the end of the leader. Then, I tie a 1 meter length of 80lb tough trace to the end of the swivel which has the hook set tied to the other end. The 80lb tough trace then becomes the bite leader in which for these two species is more for the abrasion resistance for when they roll and wrap themselves up in it rather than biting through it.
The only time a leader should exceed these length is when trolling for game fish such as tuna, mako sharks and marlin. In these cases, most leaders tend to be in the form of what’s called a windon leader. Windon leaders are a 10ft length of either fluorocarbon or nylon with a loop of Dacron attached to the end of the leader. This is used to attach to the end of the mainline. The windon leader serves two purposes, one of which is for abrasion resistance should the fish become tangled in the line and for when tracing a fish to the boat. The thicker leader makes it easier to hold onto when bringing to the boat. There are other benefits for its use also especially when trolling light skirted lures as the thicker leader will aid in keeping the lure in the water on windy days but this is just a small off spin to using a windon.
When fishing in snags, light leaders are a no go.
Choosing the right leader strength all depends on the fish being targeted. For bream you might opt for a 6lb which is around standard but find the fish are quite shy to it. In which case you may have to go down to 4lb, then you will face many challenges such as being busted off from too much pressure when the fish runs or it will break easily if the fish runs around a snag.
As a rule of thumb, it is said that the strength of the leader be twice the strength of the mainline, although in some cases you may want to have some heavier on hand. If you use my gummy setup as a guide I’m using 50lb braid but would not use 100lb trace for the leader. In some cases, you have to think realistically of what you are going to use within reason.
At the end of the day, leaders are imperative to use and are one of the most important pieces of the fishing equation. Gone are the days of using discarded pieces of old bright blue, green or pink monofilament. If you really want to make a difference to your fishing, pick up a few different strength leader spools and get rigging. You’ll notice how beneficial leaders are on the next fish you catch.