Fishing Leader Systems-An Introductionby Capt. Terry Rand
What is a leader? Why should I use a leader? When should I use a leader? Well, the world of sport fishing is vast and we won’t be able to address every fishing scenario. But, let’s start will some basic salt and freshwater situations to get started. The information you gleam from this article should help you in understanding the concepts and how to apply them in other settings.
To begin with, a leader is any length of fishing line (monofilament, fluorocarbon, braid or steel) that is attached between your main running line and the bait or lure you are going to fish with. There are a number of reasons why you should use a leader. One is to minimize the visibility of the fishing line attached to the lure. Another is to prevent toothy fish from biting through your line. Another is to add a shock absorption system to your fishing line.
Here in the Northeast, we experience a migratory run of saltwater fish in the fall months. Three particular species, the false albacore, the Atlantic bonito, and the Spanish mackerel invade the reefs and shorelines as they head South, gorging on small baitfish for their long venture to warmer waters. All three of these fish can be extremely finicky and line shy at times. They have excellent visibility and if something doesn’t quite look right to them they will pass up even the finest dressed offerings. The best remedy for this situation is the use of a fluorocarbon leader.
Fluorocarbon has a near 0% light refraction quality under water. The thinner the diameter of the line, the less light refraction it causes. Since these fish rarely exceed 10 pounds the use of a 20 lb. test fluorocarbon leader is just about perfect for tackling these pelagic speedsters. I have seen the results fishing side by side with other anglers who were not using fluoro leaders and proof is in the pudding. Catch rates are significantly increased with the use of fluoro leaders. A four foot leader is a good place to start. This will give you a little extra length to retie lures until the leader is less than three feet. At that point, tie on a new leader.
Those anglers who fish with braided lines will benefit in most scenarios by adding a monofilament leader ahead of their lure. Braided line has a much higher visibility factor than monofilament line. Therefore, the use of a mono leader will significantly increase your strikes. The other consideration here is that braided line has a 0% stretch factor. Adding the mono leader will give you some shock absorption while fighting a fish. This becomes important if you’re fishing a fast action graphite rod that does not absorb as well as a slow action or fiberglass rod. It can also be important when trying to land a large fish on a short line next to the boat. Again, start with a 4-5 foot section of leader and change it out when it gets below three feet.
A steel leader becomes necessary when fishing for toothy critters. Northern pike, muskellunge, barracuda and bluefish all bear some nasty sets of chompers. Fortunately, none of these fish really seem to be very line shy most of the time so using a highly visible steel leader is not really a concern. Choose a steel leader that suits the fish you are after. A 20-30 lb. leader is sufficient for most pike and musky situations while blues and cudas require a leader of a thicker diameter. For blues, usually a 40-60 lb. leader is sufficient and for barracuda I recommend stepping it up even higher since I have seen a large cuda cut through an 80 lb. single strand wire like it was nothing. Blues and cudas have scissor-like teeth the mesh tightly together giving them increased bite off abilities. Pike and muskies, on the other hand, have more needle-like teeth so biting through steel leaders is not quite as prevalent with these species.
As you can see, using leaders of different styles can be a very important factor in your approach to fishing for different species of fish. It may mean the difference between having a productive day on the water and going home empty handed. You don’t want to risk missing out on the fish of a lifetime just because of a four foot piece of leader material.