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Understanding fishing leaders

WHEN I first started sportfishing in the 1970s leaders weren’t really a thing. It was all mono fishing line back then and we used a “trace” down to the hook if you needed something heavier than your mainline to protect against a fishes teeth, etc.

All traces were joined to the mainline via a swivel or brass ring which these days sounds very agricultural and basic. I guess some people still fish that way with bait but bear in mind that a lot of modern gamefishing still relies on the use of mono mainline and heavy traces run to hooks or lures that are clipped to the mainline via a swivel. It’s a tried and tested technique that has stood the test of time and probably accounted for most IGFA gamefish records.

Sportfishers, on the other hand, tend to use braid lines and run a leader of either mono or fluorocarbon material. This style of fishing has really come on since braid lines hit the market 20 odd years ago. We all worked out very quickly that braid wasn’t the best thing to run straight to a hook or lure so a leader of some sort became a necessity.

That leader usually had to be joined to the braid with a knot that could be cast through the rod guides. In 20 years of sport fishing with leaders I’ve used everything from 150 pound mono on PE10 outfits for GTs and tuna down to 4 pound leaders on PE0.4 outfits for bream and whiting. I’ve also tied hundreds of fly leaders that tapered down to flies for tuna, trevally and trout. All of those leaders served at least one and up to three or four purposes so let’s have a closer look at modern leaders.

Leaders can be as basic and agricultural as a metre long length of 15 pound mono tied to a hook or lure to prevent being worn off by a flathead in the local estuary. Most sport fishing leaders are a little more involved than that however. To come up with a practical and efficient leader system you really need to understand what is required of that particular leader. Obviously the main objective is to eliminate the braid line being tied to your hook or lure but many other factors come into play

Whatever leader material you decide on have a serious look at the dispenser and its ease of use and practicality. I refuse to use any leader than can’t be secured efficiently on the spool because I got sick and tired of having a tackle bag full of lose leader line coming off spools.


Now that we’ve worked out what leader size and type is required we get into the contentious issue of which leader knot to use. Every serious and even novice sportfisher has his or her preferred leader knot and they will give you a dozen reasons why it’s the best. I’ve tried them all over the years but for the past few years I’ve more or less standardised on several that are yet to fail or let me down. All of my tapered fly fishing leaders, both salt and fresh are tied with Blood Knots. I find these easy to tie, strong and reasonably smooth and small. The other two knots are based on leader size. For any leader of 8 pound and smaller I use a Double Uni or a Slim Beauty knot. These both put a knot in the leader material but with lighter leaders I don’t have a problem with the bulk of the knot going through here. A long leader can help in absorbing the shock and stress of a heavy lure when casting.

A light leader can make a delicate presentation of a bream lure or flats fly a lot easier. A heavy leader can offer protection from structure when chasing fish that inhabit said structure. A heavy leader can even be used to trace a fish when it’s netted at the boat. Determining what’s required decides the size and length of any leader you tie on. You really should give that some serious thought.

Another decision to make is do you need a fluorocarbon (FC) leader or can you get away with mono? Most fishos opt for FC without really knowing why. Fluorocarbon does offer several advantages over standard mono for a leader. It is less visible in the water, it is harder and more abrasion resistant, it sinks quicker, it has less stretch and it is UV stabilised. Fluorocarbon is also more expensive, has more memory and is a lot stiffer than monofilament.

Using braid lines means there is very little stretch in the entire system to start with. Using a few metres of mono puts a little bit of leniency into the equation and may help the angler when fighting fish that kick and thump a lot. Myself, and quite a few others, use a two metre mono leader when chasing snapper on soft plastics because it adds a nice little bit of stretch into things. For most of my lure fishing I do prefer FC because it is less visible and offers slightly improved abrasion resistance over mono. rod guides.

The Double Uni is very easy and quick to tie on the run. For heavier leaders of 15 pound and up I use an SC Knot these days. It was an FG for the past several years but I find the SC a little quicker and easier to tie. I finish this off with several half hitches and a 10 turn Rizzuto to secure the braid tag end. The big advantage of the FG or SC Knot is that heavier leaders are left straight and don’t have to be knotted which is a big problem with thick leaders and casting through rod guides.

Leaders are an essential item for fishos and they play a vital role in casting, presentation and landing fish. Give them some serious thought and your fishing will be a bit easier and results improved.

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