Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, it’s always worth understanding fishing basics and how to develop and build on that knowledge and its principles to improve the chances of landing your target species. In today’s global community we now have access to thousands of fishing sub-cultures, each with plenty of differing techniques and tactics on offer which, if we pick apart, offer gems that can be applied to our own local fishery. The only problem is … who has the time?
Sometimes overlooked, the humble nylon monofilament certainly shouldn’t be forgotten. It has a bit more stretch than fluorocarbon, which means it’s much better for shock absorption, and it’s also quite buoyant.
Well, we at New Zealand Bay Fisher have! We are here to bring you back to basics, but also empower you with some new skills along the way. So let’s get into it …
The idea of using a ‘leader’ is certainly nothing new in the world of fishing, but let’s review why we use them. Primarily, a leader is designed to enable a section of heavier line to be attached to the hook or lure to protect your connection to the fish.
Even if your target species doesn’t have sharp teeth, under significant strain you could break ordinary line as a result of it rubbing on the fish itself or, if the fish is smart enough, on the rocks and trees it swims past, over or through as it tries to get to cover. Another reason for using ‘leader’ is to have a buffer of invisibility between your main-line and your hook, which is extremely important when you’re fly-fishing, or using modern braided lines.
With technology constantly improving and our fishing gear ever-evolving, let’s look at the common materials used in leaders today.
Fluorocarbon monofilament line originated in Japan before invading the U.S Bass Tournament circuit and quickly spreading to all forms of fishing after proving itself with anglers putting their tournament wins down to this new ‘invisible line’.
While more expensive than traditional nylon monofilament, it boasts some highly beneficial properties including better abrasion resistance, faster sinking and the ability to be even less visible in the water. Fluorocarbon use is widespread in all forms of fishing, its popularity especially apparent with lure and fly fishers who are looking for any advantage available. It’s also now the ‘must-have’ for game fishermen, particularly when live-baiting for fish such as marlin, as they often wear through a leader very quickly with their raspy bills.
Sometimes overlooked, the humble nylon monofilament certainly shouldn’t be forgotten. It has a bit more stretch than fluorocarbon, which means it’s much better for shock absorption, and it’s also quite buoyant, which makes it a perfect material for top water lures, stray-lining and float fishing. It does lack abrasion resistance when compared with fluorocarbon, though.
Another benefit of nylon is that it’s significantly cheaper, and therefore perfect for situations where you’re prone to losing a bit of gear – such as when rock fishing or taking ‘Uncle Tangles’ out fishing for the day.
A copolymer line is also a monofilament made of a combination of resins; nylon and polyvinylidene fluoride, which is fluorocarbon. These are combined when the line is drawn, or extruded, and the fluorocarbon may even be a coating on a nylon core. This combination of materials provides the best of all worlds: some stretch, some buoyancy and superior abrasion resistance. It’s also close to invisible in water and knots well.
Although not commonly used, wire is still required for a handful of fishing scenarios when you’re chasing anything large and bitey. Wire is available in different forms: from single strand and multi-strand through to piano wire. Generally wire leaders are very short, with a 10-30cm section close to your lure or hook and kept well away from entering your rod guides!
How Long Should My Leader Be?
It’s one of the most-asked leader questions. Your leader length is something of a personal choice, which will ultimately be driven by application. For example, if you’re targeting marlin or a very finicky trout, you’d want a significantly longer leader than if you were chasing something like snapper.
Obviously there are completely different reasons behind each choice, but overall your success should come down to ensuring you’re fishing the right leader in the right way in the right situation. Simple, right?
Let’s start with the basics.
If you’re a lure fisherman, a rod length of leader is a good starting point. When you’re setting this up though, ensure you’ve selected a good knot that has high strength retention and a thin profile. This is important, as your leader will be constantly making its way through the guides of your rod, cast after cast. If you’re a bait fisherman, you can get away with a much shorter leader – and even use a swivel to create the connection between your main line and leader, sometimes with your running sinker above the swivel.
How Heavy Should My Leader Be?
When selecting your leader diameter and test strength, be sure to think about when and how you’ll use it. Sure, that seems like common sense, but sometimes it’s quite hard to work out where to start.
Essentially you need to balance your need to prevent being bitten off, but still improve your chances of a bite with a line that’s ‘invisible’ to the fish. To make your choice a little easier, here’s a bit of a formula to help you choose the right leader for your targeted application.
A good rule of thumb is to start with a leader at least 2 or 3kg heavier than your mainline.
If you’re unsure about what strength of line you have, try to match your leader with the line rating of your rod. This also ensures the safety of your equipment when dealing with a snag or a larger fish – you can be confident that your leader will break before your rod does!
Do the fish you’re targeting have some fairly sharp teeth? Do they live in a heavily structured (snaggy) environment? Will the fight be prolonged due to the size of the fish?
Contributing factors such as these may see you increase your leader strength to compensate for some of these elements, but may also drive you to pick a different leader type such as fluorocarbon, with its greater abrasion resistance. Heck, you might even choose some wire if your target species has a big ol’ set of chompers!
Other factors that could also influence your decision are water clarity, water depth, how subtle your presentation needs to be ... or even the cost of the leader itself. And leader can cost a bit, although it’s easily justified if you’ve just spent thousands of dollars chasing that once-in-a-lifetime fish.
Need another good example of the importance of choosing the right leader and knots? How about a fisherman targeting light and ultra-light line class records? Not only do they have to ensure the leader is strong enough to hold up to a potentially lengthy fight on light line, but they also need to factor in the standards required to ensure that they can legally claim a record; these being leader length, strength and material.
At the end of the day, it’s worth having a variety of leader strengths at hand. We’ve all had days when we’ve been in the right place, on the right tide, and thrown the proverbial tackle box at a fish, only to draw a blank. It’s times like these that a leader change is your next-best tactic. In this instance it may be worth dialling back your leader strength to something a little lighter and maybe a little longer; if you’ve tried everything else it’s certainly worth a go.
Main-Line to Leader
One of the most important components of fishing with a leader is getting your main-line to leader knot connection tied correctly and as strong as possible. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than losing that fish of a lifetime due to the line breaking at the knot!
In a recent study conducted in the U.S, fifty-three different knots were tested using the International Game Fish Associations Instron 5543 tensile testing machine. This machine is normally used to certify world records, so you’d hope it’s pretty accurate! During this testing, they concluded that some knots can retain up to 90% of the line strength, but the complexity of tying those knots is much greater. It’s important to find a balance, as it’s just not practical to tie some of these on a rocking and rolling watercraft.
Here are a couple we found worth adding to your repertoire.
FG Knot: 73.4% of Line Strength
A knot that’s reasonably new to the fishing circuit, this one has revolutionised the braid-to-leader connection. While some people have shied off the FG due to its complexity, it has become popular both with those fishing heavy tackle for larger sports fish and light tackle specialists, due to its thin profile and overall strength. And don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it sounds. Here’s how to tie your own FG knot:
PR Knot: 84.3% of Line Strength
This knot, most commonly used to make braid-to-leader connections before the advent of the FG, is still very strong and effective, and also retains most of the strength of the line. It’s a good knot for ease of travel through guide rings but has perhaps lost a little of its appeal in that it requires a bobbin and some mastery to make it really well. But the knots are every bit as good as the FG and will stand a great deal of testing. They are as useful on light tackle setups for softbaiting and slow jigging as they are when dropping heavy metal. See how to tie the PR knot here:
Double Uni: 55.5% of Line Strength
The Double Uni has a very thin profile, and while it’s not one of the strongest, it is exceptionally easy to tie. This makes it a perfect knot for beginners or when you have to tie one at sea, in rough conditions. Learn how to tie the Double Uni here:
Like connecting your main-line to your leader, your leader to hook/lure knot also needs to be spot on. Whether you’re tangling with monster kings or chasing blue cod, be sure to select the right knot for application and strength.
Like you tied with your mainline, the Uni knot is easy, strong and applicable for both lures and hooks. This is a great knot for beginners.
Learn how to tie the Uni knot here:
Lefty’s Loop knot:
Created by the well-known fly fisherman Lefty Kreh, the Loop Knot is the perfect application for lures and some flies; the slack in the loop of the line allows the lure a little bit more action. And it’s strong and very easy to tie! You can learn to tie Lefty’s Loop knot here:
The Snell is an interesting knot. Instead of tying off to the hook eye, the line is tied around the hook shank and secures your line directly to the shank itself.
This is a great knot for two-hook rigs or live-baiting with circle hooks, as it keeps the connection stiff and helps that circle hook slide into place.
Learn how to tie a Snell here:
While some of these may take a little longer to master, it’s important to use not only a strong connection but, depending on your application, a thin profile also.
So the next weekend when it’s too miserable to go fishing, pour yourself a drink, practise these knots ... and practise them again. You’ll then be ready to deploy them in the field and fish with confidence!