That piece of line with a knot at either end plays a key role in good fishing, as JAMIE ROBLEY explains
Leaders are one of those modern buzzwords we hear thrown around in fishing circles time and again. While the concept of leaders is possibly as old as sports fishing itself, over the past few years a very bright spotlight has been cast over leaders as a focal point of many different styles of Aussie angling.
Speak to any keen bream or barra angler these days and it will only take a few minutes for the topic of leaders to come up and be discussed with enthusiasm.
Why are leaders so important ? The main reasons are that leaders can either deter or encourage a fish to take a bait, lure or fly and then can make a big difference in whether the fish is actually landed. So let’s take a look at the main concepts of leaders that may be applicable to your fishing and why, when and how to use them properly.
A leader is a length of line that is tied to directly to the main line and, in most cases, the length of a leader is about the same length or a bit longer than the rod being used.
Leaders can be lighter or heavier line than the main line and most are either good old nylon mono or modern-day fluorocarbon.
The style of fishing, gear you’re using, the environment and species sought are factors that determine what sort of leader set-up works best. There is certainly no single rule that should be applied right across the board, but there are a few guidelines for different types of fishing that will help when it comes to working out the best way to go for you.
Generally, big fish require thicker or heavier leaders. Fish with sharp teeth require very tough leaders, sometimes wire, and some smaller, timid species respond much better to the finest and lightest of leaders.
Leader length may depend on the length of rod you’re using and which species you’re chasing.
One aspect of all leader set-ups is that you may need to learn a few new knots to make sure the leader is secure and hassle-free. There are a number of fishing websites that have various knot diagrams and even in-depth discussion on knot-tying, and there are various books and magazine articles on the subject.
One of the best investments you could get your hands on are those Geoff Wilson knot books, some of which deal specifically with braided lines. These books are quite cheap, about the same as a box of hooks, but they are a must if you want to learn new knots.
The knots I mainly use are a spider hitch to form a double in my main line and an albright knot to tie the double to the leader itself.
There are a few different variations of the albright knot but the one that serves me well involves 12 to 14 turns going one way. Some people prefer to tie albrights with perhaps 10 turns going one way and then 10 more turns going back the other way, over the top of the first 10 turns. Personally, I find that too bulky and it takes slightly longer to tie.
As with all my fishing, I like to keep things as simple as possible but simple certainly doesn’t mean less effective.
I’ll start with bream because they are one of our more popular targets and the better your knowledge of leaders for breaming, the more bream you’ll catch.
In my early days of casting lures for bream I mainly just used 3kg nylon mono straight from the reel to the lure and that was that. Since the advent of braided lines the importance of leaders has emerged as one of the most vital aspects of breaming. Use braid straight to your lure and you may catch a few bream, but tie on a fine-diameter leader that’s about the length of your rod and you’ll catch 10 times as many fish.
Nylon and fluorocarbon lines can be used for bream leaders, with the trend these days leaning heavily towards fluorocarbon. Bream have superior vision and they’ll shy away from a leader that they can easily see.
Although it’s a tad debatable, fluorocarbon line is much less visible under water than nylon. There are heaps of different opinions scattered around on which is the best type of line to use for a bream leader and I suppose it would be hard to argue with the results of some of our top tournament prizewinners.
The fact is, most brands or types of line can be used successfully, as long as the line is very thin, not easily detected by the fish and stands up to a few scrapes along rocks or tree branches. The main leaders I use for bream are Siglon Fluorocarbon and Maxima Ultragreen mono from 2kg to 4kg.
Another tricky customer is the blackfish or luderick. These fish are very much the same as bream when it comes to keen eyesight and their dislike of anything that seems a bit suspicious.
In the case of leader set ups for blackfish though, things are a bit different due to the fact that the rig revolves around the use of a float, float stoppers, sinkers and split shot. So we’re really looking at what we call a trace, rather than a leader.
The concept of light, thin line is the same but the length is greatly reduced and runs only between a swivel and the hook, about 40cm to 45cm.
A good blackfish main line needs to be bright so that you can easily see where the line and float is in the water, but a bright orange, pink or yellow line down at the business end of things will spook most blackfish. So, as for bream, the leader (trace) should be fine fluorocarbon or mono from 2kg to 3kg in the estuary and 3kg to 4kg off the rocks.
The poor old flatty has a bad reputation as a line cutter and back in the dark ages, a wire trace was recommended for flathead. These days we know better, although it’s generally a good idea to use a slightly thicker, more abrasion-resistant for flathead.
I’ve recently been tangling with flathead around 4kg to 8kg range and these big crocs can quickly make a mockery of weak points in the line, leader or hooks. But it still pays to use the lightest leader you can get away with.
Flathead are nowhere near as fussy as bream or blackfish, but they can still see your line and in some cases can be put off.
For a while there I was using 10kg Schneider mono but after losing a couple of larger angry flathead, I stepped up to 12kg Schneider and really I probably should be going 15kg to give myself a better chance.
That’s for quite big flathead, but more common flatties up to 3kg or about 70cm don’t require such a heavy approach. When it comes to this class of fish, I’ve been using 7kg Siglon fluorocarbon with excellent results over the past year.
Another way to go for flatties is to use a rod length of a lighter leader that figures high in the invisibility stakes and use a short ‘bite leader’ of 10cm to 15cm of heavier, chafe-resistant mono joined with a double uni knot and tied to the lure.
Jewfish have got a set of sharp dentures but they are more like dog’s teeth in that they are designed for clamping down and holding, rather than cutting, and they certainly aren’t raspy like a flathead’s.
Jewies are however, big fish that we all want to catch so it’s not a good idea to muck around with light leaders if we want to give ourselves a fair chance.
When tossing lures for estuary jewfish, fluorocarbon or mono leaders between 5kg and 8kg are about right for most situations. If we’re after big jewfish like those often encountered around the mouth of the Hawkesbury or Clarence rivers, we are better off stepping up to 12kg, 15kg or even 20kg leaders.
Some anglers spinning for jew from the rocks or the mouth of a big river in flood will go up to 30kg or 40kg leader, which makes sense if the fish are big and the environment is made up of harsh reef and rock.
Bass aren’t known as an overly fussy fish when it comes to lines and leaders but they do have very sharp eyesight and a tendency to dive for the cover of thick weed or fallen timber once hooked.
So while we don’t want to use very thick or highly visible leader material, we certainly need something that will stand up to a bit of punishment. So a mono or fluorocarbon leader of 4kg to 7kg is about right for most situations.
In clear water there may be times when going down to a fine 3kg leader may make a difference between fish and no fish but, at the opposite end of the scale, some big bass may be better targeted with up to 12kg leader, particularly in a very harsh, snaggy environment or where rocks are sharp and very hard.
Fish like tailor and mackerel are totally different again – their teeth will quickly cut through line like a razor. Problem is, they can also be wary of thick line or wire.
In most cases 8kg to 15kg mono is fine for tailor when spinning or casting pilchards on a set of ganged hooks. The good thing about spinning with metal lures is that most tailor will have this chunk of metal or the hooks in their mouths and the line remains quite safe. When bait fishing, however, a swallowed bait will mean their teeth are right over the line.
For both species there are two options. Either use your fluorocarbon or nylon mono leaders and just put up with the occasional bite-off or try a thin wire trace or tippet section just near the lure or hooks.
A short length of single or multi-strand wire, say about 15 cm long, attached to your leader or main line via a small black swivel may slightly reduce the number of fish you hook in the first place but it will greatly increase the chance of actually landing them.