How to

Lines, Leaders & Traces

OF all the things that connect an excited angler to their fishy prize, few are as vulnerable as the line. You’ve all read or heard about the importance of keeping your lines as light or as fine as possible in order to increase your chances. This is absolutely true as in most cases the finer the line, the greater the chances of getting a take. The finer lines  allow for longer casts, meaning you cover more water; they also have less resistance in the water which creates more natural presentations and allow for a greater depth range in diving lures.

With this fact, however, comes the inevitable “equal and opposite reaction”. Lighter, finer lines break more easily under direct pressure, are damaged more easily under general use and are all but useless against a quarry with teeth.

So when first starting out, after breaking a few fish off or losing gear to snags, it’s easy to understand why the knee-jerk reaction is to beef up your tackle and go for line that can pull out a tree stump. While this may reduce the amount of bust-offs you get, there is no question that you will also miss opportunities to catch fish.

Finding an appropriate balance when choosing the most suitable line is often not easy. This is because of one of the great drawcards in fishing – the sheer unpredictability of it. While you can plan for one fishing scenario, dozens of others may eventuate and throw your best laid plans into disarray. What is possible, though, is to stack the odds in your favour.

Let’s start off with some definitions. When I say “line” I mean main line, which is the line that comes directly off the spool of your reel. When I say “leader” I mean a length of line tied to your main line via a knot down to a piece of terminal tackle. When I say “trace” I mean a short length of line in between the hook and another item of terminal tackle, such as a swivel or ring. When we talk about the breaking strain of line a common misconception amongst new comers is that it represents the maximum size fish that can be caught with that line. This is completely inaccurate.  Huge fish can be caught on extremely light lines through a combination of angling skill, good knots, quality equipment and sheer luck. The right breaking strain line for you will come down to a range of very individual variables.

For example, while 3kg line is a pretty good option for trout fishing, there are certain fisheries where that might be too heavy and others where it might be too light. The best way to get good advice on choosing the right line weight is to speak with your local tackle store. Tell them what fishing you want to do or ask them what they recommend then they will be well placed to advise on the line that will suit that type of fishing.

The other decision anglers have to make when choosing line is whether to go with monofilament or braid. You can find a brief explanation of the difference between these lines (and others) on our new videos on our website,

My very general advice is to stick with monofilament while you’re still learning. It’s generally not expensive, is east to tie knots in and simple to manage. In my opinion, braided line comes into its own for most types of lure fishing, deep water bottom fishing and beach fishing. Once you’ve mastered a few knots and started to specialize more in your fishing pursuits, then you’ll be ready for and able to appreciate the benefits of braided lines.

While we’re talking about knots, the absolute bottom line for anyone wanting to get better at fishing is to learn to tie the correct knots properly. Failure to do so is the single greatest cause of losing fish in novice fishing. Again, check out the website at for video demonstrations on how to tie some of most effective fishing knots.

When you switch to braid, and probably before, you’ll need to start using leaders. Leaders can be used for a variety of reasons. You can use one to add a length of heavier line to the end of your system, which can take the strain of casting heavy weights and provide some wear and tear protection at the business end of your tackle. You can also use one when fishing with braid or brightly coloured monofilament line to add a length or clear, less visible line at the end to reduce the visibility of your presentation.

Using leaders adds a knot into the system and while even most novice anglers can tie their line to terminal tackle, joining two lengths of line can be more challenging.  My personal preference is the Double Uni Knot because it’s very strong and quite easy to tie.  Again, check out the website on how to tie it. However, even a good leader knot has its problems. The continual attrition of the knot hitting the guides at speed with each cast can cause them to fail. You have a couple of options to resolve this. Firstly, don’t get hung up on having to tie really long leaders. Traditional convention when I was growing up was that leaders should be one and a half times the length of the rod. Nowadays I would suggest leaders of this length only when their purpose is to provide a shock absorber for casting heavy weights, such is beach fishing. When you have to use a long leaders try a product called “Knot Sense”. It is a liquid that you dab onto your knot. When it sets (very quickly) it essentially protects the knot in a hard resinous cocoon. If you don’t need a leader for casting, you can keep your leaders down to 30 or 40cms. This way they spend little if any time inside the guides and therefore avoid the damage that constant casting causes. Don’t be put off by short leaders as heaps of very experienced or tournament anglers do this.

Traces can be utilised in many ways.  You can use a heavier length of line protection from abrasion, you can use wire trace to protect from toothy critters or in some cases you can even use a lighter line than your mainline. I often do this when whiting fishing. My mainline is usually three or four kilos but I will often use a one kilo trace from the sinker to the hook. Sometimes people also use this set up so that when they get snagged they don’t sacrifice the entire rig.  Obvious caution needs to be exercised when fighting fish with this set-up.

Well, that’s the end of the line so it’s time to be a leader and leave without a trace!

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