As fundamental as setting up a good leader system may seem, there are still plenty of anglers who still struggle.
Sure, most understand the need for a leader system but when it comes to choosing the right leader materials, many are still confused.
In years gone by I was happy tying on any old length of fishing line as a leader. My meagre results reflected this carefree approach and it was pretty obvious things needed a little more refinement. Today fish seem more educated than ever, becoming increasingly wise to any glaring faults in our fishing systems.
How we approach and present baits to fish is critical. And at the very forefront of our system is the leader. Exactly what you choose will often dictate your fishing results, so it certainly pays to choose a leader system wisely.
I guess the main things to remember about setting up your leader system are where you’re going to fish and what species you’re likely to encounter. These two things alone should tell you what leader is likely to be the best choice.
For example, if you plan on fishing an oyster lease for bream you’ll probably be best opting for a slightly heavier system at the cost of reduced bites. Light leaders are fine on tidal flats and beaches but in rough bream country you’re better off fishing a little heavier to give yourself more hope of landing fish once hooked.
Ideally, you want to choose the toughest leader materials with the thinnest diameters. This may mean a short length of fluorocarbon or perhaps some traditionally hard monofilaments like Schneider, Maxima or Stren. The choice is up to you.
Leader colour is also very important. A few years ago I fished for mahi mahi with an angler who assured me he was a competent fisho, proudly telling me of his good hauls in past years. So I was a little surprised when he tied his metal lure straight onto his fluoro green pre-test line.
While mahi mahi are pretty ravenous critters and will happily charge out and strike most lures and baits, they do have phenomenal eyesight and on this day he couldn’t buy a hit. Instead of tying the lure directly to the main line, all he had to do was add a clear 2m length of 15kg to 20kg mono and he would have been hooked up all morning. He ended up changing his leader and he was soon enjoying the colourful antics of a school of high-flying 4kg mahi mahi.
Choosing the right leader set-up is a little more complex than just attaching a short length of mono or fluorocarbon. You need you to firstly choose an appropriate leader for the species targeted.
If you’re chasing mackerel, for example, you’ll most likely need wire. Species like Spanish mackerel usually require heavier wire than their smaller cousins the spotted, doggy, shark and grey mackerels. So picking not only the appropriate leader, in this case wire, but in a suitable thickness and length, is essential.
Go too heavy and you’ll miss many opportunities with the smaller, more prevalent mackerel species but go too light and you’ll repeatedly get bitten off by the bigger fish. As a guide, use around 40cm of 30kg to 40kg wire for the Spanish and an equal length of 10kg to 18kg wire for the rest. Depending on the mood of the fish, you may have to use lighter wire in shorter lengths, but don’t scale the system down until proven otherwise.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, species like estuary blackfish will require some light line and a little forethought. The thinking angler will take in water clarity, depth and colour into careful consideration before attaching a leader. A 40cm length of 4kg mono may be fine if the water is a little dirty (say, fishing the last of a run-out tide) or in the low light of dawn or dusk. But on clear days if the fish are spooky, 2kg to 3kg line is a far better option. You may get dusted more often as they thump around close rocks or timber but at least you’ll tempt fish that may have otherwise snubbed your offering.
As I touched on earlier, the same goes for bream. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using bait, lure or fly, bream can be very spooky at times and will require a little stealth and careful leader choice. By using ultra-light leaders you may tempt more fish but in unfriendly environments it stacks the odds of freedom in the fishes’ favour.
Again it’s a case of horses for courses. Fishing 1kg and 2kg leaders in an oyster lease is simply impractical but on an open surf beach with little wash and nervous fish, going super-light has plenty of merit. And choosing a monofilament or fluorocarbon with a tough outer coating will help reduce wear and tear during the ensuing battle.
Estuary jewfish and flathead anglers also need to put in a little forethought. Those who livebait usually need to adopt slightly heavier leaders than those who use lures because fish taken livebaiting tend to swallow the baits more regularly. While both species haven’t got particularly sharp teeth, both have choppers and gill rakers that will ultimately wear through inadequate leaders.
You also you need to consider the size of the fish regularly encountered. Big flathead and jewfish are pretty hard on leaders, requiring heavier mono than the smaller fish.
Nowadays I tend to use a leader set-up for jewfish and flathead that’s more geared towards the bigger fish. If the 1.5m length of 18kg mono causes smaller fish to shy away, so be it. At least when a serious jewfish or croc-sized flathead comes along, the odds of landing them have swung in my favour. If there are fewer and smaller fish in your area, you may find it more productive to scale down to lighter leaders around 8kg to 10kg.
Choosing the ideal leader for spinning for tailor off the beach and rocks can be a little tricky. All respectable-sized tailor have the ability to bite through light mono leaders. In fact, even heavy mono isn’t a real problem for hefty choppers.
The question is what to use, mono or light wire? I guess it depends on how much you treasure your ganged hooks and metal lures. Some anglers wouldn’t cast without a short length of 8kg to 10kg wire while other steer clear of wire at all cost, reasoning it will put off the fish.
From what I’ve seen it really doesn’t make that much difference, especially when spinning with baits or lures. Stationary baits may be different. Anything lying dormant that allows time to be analysed has the potential to be meet with some scepticism. I guess it depends on a combination of the mood of the fish, water clarity and light levels. Most of the time tailor will eat anything that comes their way but under some conditions they can be as fussy as a nervous estuary bream.
No matter whether you use wire, mono, braid or fluorocarbon for leader material, try to use the shortest, lightest length practical. If the fish are hot to trot and you find yourself dropping a few, you may want to scale the whole show up a tad. But by starting off nice and light you give yourself the best possible chance at drawing a strike if the fish are shy.
There are quite a few different leader connecting systems, some extremely complex and others dangerously simple. Somewhere in the middle is the good all-round braid-to-mono system I use that suits everything from ultra-light estuary to heavy offshore work.
First tie a double in your braid with a 40-turn bimini twist. It doesn’t matter whether you use 4lb or 80lb braid, 40-turn biminis are terrific knots for making good, dependable doubles. Next, join your double to the mono or fluorocarbon leader with a 14-turn Albright knot. Again, it makes no difference if the leader is 2lb or 80lb, a 14-turn Albright joins sweetly and has terrific knot strength, allowing you to fish your tackle to the limit.
With just a bimini and an Albright you can make a joining system that’s close to 100% of the braking strain of the braid and chosen leader, allowing you to confidently fish the upper limits of the mainline and leader.
Perhaps the only thing you have to keep an eye on is the folded mono or fluorocarbon tag end beneath the braid. With heavy drag settings the folded line can become more exposed as the Albright knot tightens and fractionally creeps back. There’s little risk of the connection failing but with heavier leaders the exposed tag end can clunk through the guides or, worse still, foul up completely during a cast with the lure swinging violently back at the angler. Anglers keen on belting out big poppers at cranky fish will know exactly what I mean. It’s annoying at best and can be bloody dangerous.
The bright side is that fixing the problem is very simple. First off, when pulling the knot tight, put plenty of lubricant (saliva) and pressure. The more pressure you apply, the more tag end will be exposed. This allows you to trim it down as close as possible before you hit the water. A pair of nail clippers is ideal for the job. When out fishing (and especially after a brutal fight with a solid fish, more tag end may become exposed. Trim any exposed leader with the clippers and you’re right to fish again.
I musty emphasise that this is not an issue with lighter lines and light to moderate drag settings, it’s just something to keep an eye on when breaking out the big gear and casting hefty lures.