How to

Lead on!

First off, a “leader” or “trace” is the length of line that connects the hook or lure to your mainline.

In general fishing, a leader is usually between 30cm and 2m in length, although you can have it as long or short as you like.

If you are keen on chasing records, be aware that gamefishing rules stipulate the maximum legal length of leader and double for tackle over 10kg to be 12.19m, with different rules for lighter tackle, fly and freshwater fishing.

Why use a leader?
There are two main reasons for using leader line. Firstly, a leader can provide increased protection against sharp and abrasive surfaces. The second reason is that using a lo-vis leader can make your bait or lure appear more “natural”, especially if your mainline is brightly coloured or has a thick diameter.

The use of a heavy, abrasion resistant leader is important when fishing in a hostile environment or when the target species has razor sharp teeth or line destroying gill-rakers, tails, bills and mouths.

Sharp rocks or the shellfish that grow on timber snags, bridge pylons and jetty timbers all play havoc with lines, both monofilament and braid, so a heavier or stronger leader will help keep the angler connected when the fish makes contact with nasty stuff.

Beware though, other than wire trace, leaders are not bullet proof, and the use of the more indestructible leader materials will produce less bites. It’s always a trade-off between getting the bite and landing the fish.

Alternatively, there are situations where anglers choose very light, thin leaders to add finesse to their rig in the hope of maximising the numbers of bites they experience.

Some species are notorious for their timidity and are put off by heavy and/or bright lines. Bonefish, luderick, trout, bream and even drummer fit this bill. These species, and many others, are often far easier to catch when a lighter leader is included in the rig.

Ideally, these fish will be encountered in fisho-friendly locales such as a snag-free sandflat or clean creek (probably not the drummer, though!) that allows the angler to fight the fish without fear of being cut off on an obstacle.

Water clarity, depth and surface conditions also play a part in determining the correct diameter of the leader. Murky and wind-ruffled waters limit fish vision and allow for stronger leaders.

The most challenging fishing conditions would be the combination of shallow crystal clear water on a windless, sunny day. In these situations ultra-light leaders, especially if you’re chasing wary fish, are virtually mandatory.
What Leader?
There are four options when it comes to the material used for making a leader, namely: nylon monofilament, fluorocarbon monofilament, single strand wire and multi-strand wire.
Nylon monofilament is the material that we all recognise as “fishing line”. Invented during WWII, it replaced gut and cord lines, revolutionising fishing as it was then known.

Nylon has a couple of features that make it a preferred leader option in several circumstances. First off, nylon has the ability to stretch when put under load. Put more simply, when a big fish smashes a lure or bait, nylon is less likely to break because of its elastic abilities.

A further advantage of nylon is that it is relatively inexpensive. Cost becomes important when you are fishing in areas that chew line.

Given that you can purchase nylons that are tougher than others, you can minimise cost while still having the advantage of fishing with a leader that can cope with snags and rocks relatively well.

A good example of nylon leaders coming into their own is when fishing coral reefs for species such as coral trout, nannygai, trevally and the emperors. These guys bolt for home when hooked, and nothing is as nasty on line as coral. It’s razor sharp and unforgiving; expect to wind in a bare line when the fish makes it home. Coral reef fishing is about using thick, heavy nylon leaders as these offer the best protection against the reef.

It’s a similar scenario when chasing big bream down south. These wary fish love to sit under moored boats and around jetties and bridges.

The trick here is to use a light leader that gets you the bite but which offers at least some abrasion resistance and strength. Again, it’s a compromise between being able to trick the fish into biting but then having a leader able to handle the pressure.

Many anglers, especially those in the tournament circuit, prefer to get the bite and then worry about extracting the fish – you’ll lose plenty but that’s preferable to not getting a bite at all!

Tropical waters are home for a plethora of line-shredders, with barramundi, mangrove jacks and the salmons being right up there.

Most anglers use 50–80lb nylon leader in order to cope with a barra’s gill-rakers, the snags a jack will put you in and the incredibly abrasive mouths of both barra and salmon.

Nylon does have downsides, of course. First up, nylon absorbs water over time and tends to sink, which is no good when using tiny surface lures for bream and bass. Secondly, it is much easier for a fish to see than alternatives like fluorocarbon.

In addition, nylon’s stretch can be a negative in some situations. Setting the hook securely into the hard mouth of a big mulloway or Spanish mackerel can be challenging enough without having to battle with line stretch as well!

Popular nylon leader lines include Penn 10X, Jinkai and Black Magic. There are many more specific leader lines to choose from. Quality lines such as those produced by Schneider and the Aussie company Platypus are personal favourites of mine.

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ABOVE: Rough-mouthed fish like barra and threadfin salmon really rasp your leader up. Tough nylon or fluorocarbon is needed to withstand these fish.

Fluorocarbon (FC) leader is a relatively recent addition to the recreational fishing market. FC has minimal stretch, it doesn’t absorb water (although it does sink) and is generally more abrasion resistant than nylon.

Perhaps the most frequently mentioned feature of FC leader is that it is said to be much harder for a fish to see (compared to nylon). This is because FC is designed to have much the same refractive index as water, thus making it maybe not completely invisible but pretty close to it.

The minimal stretch contained within FC makes bites and hits much easier to feel, particularly when fish are making gentle “enquiries”. It is for this reason that trout, bream, bass, snapper and kingfish anglers usually combine FC leaders with braided or gelspun mainlines.

FC can be a wise choice when fishing snags – as long as you can afford to lose it now and again. It may be argued that a marauding mangrove jack could reach a snag on the stretch of nylon alone.

In my mind, because NSW jacks are hard work, I’ll take every advantage I can in order to land one, and for me that means using FC leader.

At $20-$40 per 50m spool, quality FC is expensive stuff. However, that doesn’t deter everyone and many anglers swear by it. Daiwa, Sunline FC 100, Sunline FC Rock, Berkley Vanish, Sufix and Rovex all make great fluorocarbons.


ABOVE: Various leaders are available these days with most serious anglers carrying several types of fluoro and nylon.

Single-Strand Wire
Single-strand wire is most often used by anglers chasing mid-sized razor-gangsters such as mackerel which can bite through even the heaviest monofilament lines.

In addition to having a fine diameter relative to its strength, single strand stainless resists corrosion, meaning it can be used more than once or stored on the boat for weeks at a time.

There’s always a downside and mono wire’s bad point is that it kinks, which results in weakness. After a couple of fish, or in the event of a kink, single strand traces should be replaced.

Wire is obviously more visible than mono so many anglers tend to use very short (10cm or less) wire traces when targeting eagle-eyed speedsters such as mackerel, especially in hard fished waters.

Companies like Mason and American Fishing Wire (AFW) make single strand in a variety of breaking strands. It’s pretty cheap stuff and a standard pack will last for many fishing sessions – unless you live in mackerel or wahoo central!

You can also purchase pre-made wire traces, which generally come in 30cm lengths. These traces feature a swivel on one end and a snap by which to connect your lure or bait on the other.

WA-based tackle company Halco makes top quality wire traces. These style of traces used to be a standard feature for anglers targeting species such as flathead and tailor, and for trolling deep divers for barramundi.

Not many people use wire when targeting flatties or choppers anymore although the wire remains popular with some barra anglers as it helps get your lure deeper.

Multi-strand wire
As the name suggests, multi-strand wire is constructed of multiple strands combining to make a “cable” of wire. Multi-strand resists kinks, is very flexible, immensely strong but is obviously pretty chunky.

It’s commonly used to make XOS traces for shark fishing and is used by some anglers when constructing two-hook rigs for trolling lures aimed at billfish.

Multi-strand wire adds considerable strength to the rig and makes it almost impossible for wahoo and mackerel to steal your lures!

As mentioned, the downside of multi-strand is that it is very visible – a rig incorporating multi-strand can never be considered subtle or finesse … You also need to use a pair of crimping pliers and the appropriate metal crimps.

AFW makes multi-strand wire in various sizes, as well as single strand and a unique titanium wire incorporating controlled stretch. AFW wire is distributed by GCCR Tackle. Find out more at
Tying nylon and fluorocarbon leaders to a mainline usually involves specialised knots or the use of a swivel. Lure casters focus on streamlined knots that pass through the guides without making alarming noises and/or causing damage to the runners.

Knots such as Albrights, Double Uni-Knots, Slim Beauties and Deckie’s Knots are suitable for most modern sportfishing applications. You can view how-to videos showing these knots, and many more, at .

Things get a bit more complicated when it comes to wire. The most popular way to use single strand wire is via a Haywire Twist. This connects the wire to a swivel or ring (which you can then tie your mainline or trace to). Another Haywire Twist at the other end of the trace enables you to connect your lure or hook.

Haywire Twists are pretty simple after you learn the knack, although strong fingers are a must. A device called the DuBro E/Z Twist makes the job very easy.

As mentioned, multi-strand wire requires the use of metal crimps and hand-held crimping pliers.

You can buy pre-rigged wire traces for shark fishing but if you’re serious about targeting big fish on heavy wire you are best off investing in a crimping set and learning how to do it.

If you’re really keen, you can get a bench mounted crimping press that will allow you to make traces on even the heaviest multi-strand wire cable.


This story was first published in the Fishing World September 2013 issue.

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