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Born Leaders (Part 1)
  |  First Published: June 2003



IT WAS getting late on day two of last year’s Gold Coast Flathead Classic and I was desperate for a large point-scoring fish. I had promised the editor of QFM a detailed account of the Classic, but so far I had nothing but small fish!

It all changed when I was fishing the last half hour of the run-out tide and working a massive 7in chartreuse soft plastic over a draining creek at Jumpinpin. This was big lizard country and that’s exactly what I was targeting. Jigging the huge plastic over a drop-off at the creek’s mouth, the lure came to a grinding halt before line started to peel from the reel. This fish had some serious weight in it, and I knew that anything that would snatch a plastic that big was going to put some much-needed points on the board. At the opposite end of the boat, Michael was into a smaller flathead and it was a mad scramble to get his in the net, on the ruler and back into the water before whatever was causing the bow in my rod surfaced.

A few minutes later, something resembling a small crocodile emerged from the muddy run-off, and Michael put the Environet in the water so I could steer the fish into it. It was obvious that the flattie wasn’t going to come easily, and because I was on light line I wasn’t about to force the issue. I let the fish run a couple of times before it was worn out enough to be guided towards the net. It’s not often that a fish makes me nervous, but this was the Flathead Classic! The apprehension was killing me as I watched the huge flattie’s head slide over the front of the net... before the fish gave one last head shake and my leader, obviously bruised and battered from the ordeal, finally let go.

The moment seemed surreal as I watched the fish I’d worked so hard for gracefully turn its huge body away from the net before leisurely disappearing into the murky water. Although I didn’t get the chance to put that fish on the ruler, I guarantee it would have been worth more points alone than I managed to score for the entire three days of the event.

So what went wrong? Was I too eager to get it in the net? Was it just one head shake too many? Was my leader too light? If I’d used a tougher leader, would I have hooked the fish in the first place?

I am still sobbing over losing that flattie at last year’s Classic but, to be fair, that’s what sportfishing is all about. As a sporting angler, I accept the challenge of catching fish on tackle that gives the fish a realistic chance of winning. As a reward, the tackle I use enables me to hook many more fish than I would if I were to use heavy line and a wire trace that would all but guarantee the fish would be dragged into the boat.

This type of sportfishing creates a whole new range of challenges. It’s no longer a matter of grabbing a rod and hauling a couple of fish on board. Fishing light requires a well-maintained and correctly adjusted drag system, a balanced rod, reel and line class as well as complete confidence in your rigging. Knots have to be able to cope with the strain, terminals have to be suited to the job and leader selection is vital.

Leaders are simply the line or material that’s used between the main line and the hook. When bait fishing, most leaders are made up of the same material as the main line, which is ideal. However, I’ll be writing about the leaders that are used in sportfishing when the main line is too light, the terrain is too rugged or the fish you are targeting have mouths loaded with razor blades.

What makes a good leader depends on what you expect from the leader. Some leaders are used to give abrasion resistance, others are used to hide a main line that’s quite visible and some are used as giant shock absorbers, but in most cases, it’s a combination of a few factors that will determine the correct leader for each situation.

WIRE LEADERS

Wire is often used for fish like sharks, mackerel, tailor and wahoo that are just scissors with fins. I never use the wire traces in the tackle shops – I find them too bulky with those big swivels and huge clips. I much prefer to have a good collection of wire at home where I can make up traces according to the species I’m chasing, the bait I’ve selected and the main line I’ll be using.

If I can avoid using wire I will, as a wire trace dramatically reduces your chances of hooking into a fish. While most of the seriously toothy critters will often bite at anything, when they are picky, wire will send them running. I witnessed this one day when I made a berley trail of chopped pilchards to attract a mackerel or two. The mackerel came all right, and before long they were visible behind the boat, happily snatching up my chopped pillies. I deployed a pilly tail on a 6/0 hook with a very short, single-strand wire trace, and the mackerel came at it before turning at the last minute, refusing to eat it. One of the guys on board rigged up a whole pilchard on four ganged hooks without a wire trace, and it was eaten in a flash. The gang hooks worked as a leader, stopping the mackerel from biting through the line. About half the fish that day were lost to bite-offs, but it was either to lose half or hook nothing at all. Not a tough decision.

The wire creates electrolysis in the water and the fish sense this and shy away. I’m not sure on the facts, but I guess the wire must create a stronger current in the water than the hooks alone. The same can be said when using big metal lures like the huge Raiders. Work a big hunk of metal without a wire trace and you’ll land a lot more fish. Obviously it isn’t that easy. If you are lucky enough to lip hook a wahoo you may land it without a trace, but if it were my tackle box being thrown at these fish, I’d give wire a good go before I’d attempt a wire-less rig.

I always use wire for Spanish mackerel, but a lot of guys from my fishing club believe this is the sole reason my mackerel fishing being a little hit-and-miss. I have a hard enough time stopping the mackerel from biting through the wire, let alone using nylon, but it’s true that the guys who go for the monofilament leaders hook a lot more fish than the wire twisters.

There are three main styles of wire: single-strand, multi-strand and nylon-coated. All of these styles come in varying thickness and breaking strains.

Single-strand wire

Single-strand stainless steel wire is easy to work with and ideal for fish like tailor, mackerel and wahoo. The breaking strain needs to be matched to the main line you’ll be using, but also needs to be matched to the fish that you’ll be targeting. 27ld wire is ideal for tailor, spotted mackerel and school mackerel, but is insufficient for wahoo and Spanish mackerel. For these bigger fish, thicker wire is a better choice.

Single-strand wire is easy to tie with a haywire twist, but it’s very rigid and creases easily, making it very difficult to store. Single-strand is also prone to snapping where there are kinks in it, so it must be replaced regularly.

Multi-strand wire

Multi-strand wire has the advantage of being a lot more flexible than the single-strand. Many anglers still use light multi-strand, but its more common use is for heavy wire traces for shark fishing, as well as in rigging skirted lures for game-fishing.

Multi-strand is tied by using aluminium crimps and a crimping tool. While it’s a lot more flexible than the single-strand stuff, it is also susceptible to being creased. For this reason, you need to take a lot of care when storing it.

As good as multi-strand is, it is very bulky and once you’ve applied the crimps and formed the loops, you have a big, serious fishing rig on your hands. Some multi-strand wire is so supple that manufactures say it can be tied like fishing line, but I’ll let you make your own mind up on that. I’ll stick to the old crimping tool.

Nylon-coated wire

In an attempt to overcome the electrolysis problem associated with wire, tackle manufactures came out with nylon-coated wire. Also available in various breaking strains, it is very popular with many tailor anglers. I have some nylon-coated wire in my leader material collection, but I rarely use it. I did have a couple of shark fishing sessions where I found the coated wire useful on small bull whalers, but have very little other experience with this wire.

Nylon-coated wire is simply twisted together and then a heat gun or a flame is used to melt the nylon, causing it to bind. Simple, but I wouldn’t like to put it to a test on heavy tackle.

Having a full collection of wire and various terminals like clips and swivels gives you the ability to make up your leaders specifically for each situation. Wire is not the best option for catching fish, but it’s certainly necessary in many fishing applications.

NEXT MONTH

Next month I will cover nylon leaders in depth, explaining the various materials, the better leaders on the market and a couple of helpful hints on avoiding bite-offs on mono line.

1) A collection of leader material from the author’s tackle box.

2) Multi-strand wire is what helped land this Spaniard. No wire at all may lose tackle, but it hooks a greater proportion of these speedsters.

3) The aggressive feeding action of tailor make them difficult to catch without wire. Even while the fish are hooked up, they continue their chopping action and can bite through line at any stage.

4) It takes more than a great leader to land monster-sized jacks, but with fish like this, knot strength, abrasion resistance and just a little stretch is a good start.

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