When Main Line Isn’t Enough: How, When, and Why to Use Fishing Leaders Explained

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Braided main line is the go-to option for serious bass fishing, but as we’ve discussed before, superline offers some distinct disadvantages when used alone. These weaknesses necessitate the use of leaders, as many experienced largemouth anglers can attest.

And whether you run braid, fluorocarbon, or nylon monofilament, when you’re after sharp-toothed fish like pike, mackerel, barracuda, wahoo, or shark, a tough leader is essential.

That may leave you scratching your head, and if you’re confused about leaders, you’re not alone.

Wondering what’s the best option for you?

We’re here to help, and below, we’ll explain the ins and outs of leaders, discuss when and why to use them, and offer suggestions that’ll protect or augment your main line.

So keep reading!

Why Use a Leader

There are two reasons you need a leader.

1. To complement the characteristics of your main line

Braided superlines are simply awesome. Offering a winning combination of very high strength, very low stretch, incredible sensitivity, and virtually no memory, it’s easy to understand why serious bass anglers often choose braid over the alternatives.

But braid has distinct weaknesses, too. Its inability to stretch can result in line failures when sudden loads are applied, and its abrasion resistance is generally poor as a result of its multi-strand composition. Just as bad, braid can’t be produced in clear colors, nor does it take dyes well. That leads to very high visibility in the water, and for all but the murkiest lakes and rivers, that’s a real drawback.

An easy fix is a length of fluorocarbon or nylon monofilament leader. Both options provide just enough give to reduce line failures, markedly improve abrasion resistance at the working end of your line, and come in very low visibility options.

2. To protect your line from fish with sharp teeth or gill plates

When you’re fishing for species that sport a mouth full of sharp teeth–think pike, gar, shark, and the like–your main line just isn’t going to stand up to the abuse it can dish out. And even sharp gill plates and rough skin or scales can chew through tough line a lot faster than you’d imagine, and you really don’t want to try tying and casting super-heavy fluorocarbon main line rather than run a leader.

The easiest way to make sure that your line remains intact is to run a length of ultra-tough leader, allowing you to throw main line that casts well. For these applications, a metal leader is probably the best choice.

Leader Options and Attaching Leaders to Your Main line

Whatever your reasons for attaching your leader to your main line, if you don’t make that connection well, you’re crippling your tackle. Moreover, choosing the right option for you is essential, as different leader materials are designed to solve radically different problems.

Braided Main line to Fluorocarbon and Monofilament Leaders

We’ve written about main line to leader connections before, and this tricky bit of angling know-how is easy to get wrong. Tie the wrong knot–or tie the right one poorly–and you’re in trouble!

Step one in making a secure connection is line choice. If you run super-slick braid to a fluorocarbon leader like Seaguar Invizx, you may find that your main line just won’t provide enough bite on your leader to hold. And while this fluoro is one of our favorites, depending on the main line you tie to it, it can be a very poor choice as a leader.

Seaguar Invizx 100% Fluorocarbon 1000 Yard Fishing Line (15-Pound)
Amazon 

Our recommendation? Try it at home. Using the braid you prefer to fish, take your time, tie your best connecting knot, and pull the devil out of it. If you just can’t manage to stop it from slipping, line choice may be the issue.

And of course, the right knot matters. Many bass anglers like the Alberto Knot, and we’ve discussed its strengths and weaknesses in depth. I also recommend that you give the 5-Turn Surgeon’s Knot, the (Double) Double Uni, and the FG Knot a try. All of these are excellent ways to attach fluorocarbon to braided main line, and they work even better with mono.

There are a ton of options for fluoro and mono leaders, including both dedicated leader material and simple main line. In leader material, I like Seaguar Blue Label and Yo-Zuri H.D. Carbon–both are tough as nails and available in heavy weights, though the Blue Label stops at 80 pounds. By contrast, the Yo-Zuri runs all the way to 200!

Seaguar Blue Label 25-Yards Fluorocarbon Leader (20-Pounds)
Amazon 

Yo-Zuri H.D. Carbon Fluorocarbon Leader Line, Clear, 30-Pound/100-Yard
Amazon 

That’s enough to keep even the baddest pike on your line!

As good as leader material is, main line is no slouch either, and it can save you a few bucks, too. We’ve reviewed our favorites, and they’re worth a close look as leaders. Seaguar Invizx ties about as well as fluoro possibly can, making for a very secure connection to your hook. Another great option is Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon Professional Grade.

Both are available in weights of up to 25 pounds, making them great leader choices for bass. But for pike and muskie, where bite-offs are common when fishing slow-moving lures like jigs, in-line spinners, and spoons, professionals recommend at least an 18-inch leader of 50- to 80-pound fluorocarbon.

In my experience, and after much research, I’ve found that heavy nylon monofilament fits the bill better than fluoro.

Whatever you do, don’t discount mono as leader material. It’s just as invisible as fluorocarbon and very abrasion-resistant, while being both easy to tie and supremely shock absorbent. In fact, for most applications, it’s just as good as fluorocarbon and much, much less expensive.

Our top choice for leaders? Trilene Big Game. While it’s probably not the best all-around mono on the market, it’s exceptionally strong and comes in very heavy weights: 40, 50, 60, 80, 100, and even 130-pound versions are available.

If I were making leader for pike or muskie from mono main line, I’d start with 80-pound Trilene Big Game. Give it a try–you’ll be impressed.

Berkley Trilene Big Game Monofilament Custom Spool, Clear, 30 Pound
Amazon 

Braid, Fluoro, and Mono to Metal Leaders

For maximum protection against sharp teeth, many anglers choose metal leaders. And for big, nasty saltwater fish like sharks, they’re pretty much the only game in town. Yes, you can run exceptionally heavy mono or fluorocarbon, but they just can’t hold up like single strand wire. And if you’re hunting monster pike and muskie, it’s worth the added visibility of wire to ensure they won’t bite-off your lure.

A variety of options are available, running the gamut from stiff stainless leaders like Croch Stainless Steel Wire Leader to pliable–and tieable–wire like Rio Powerflex Wire Bite.

Croch Stainless Steel Wire Leader for Fishing with Swivels and Snaps 30LB (30LB 72PCS)
Amazon 

Rio Fly Fishing Tippet Power Flex-Wire Bite Tippet 30Lb 15'. Fishing Tackle, Clear
Amazon 

Stiff steel leaders are a venerable choice, and they’re plenty tough. Perhaps best of all, they’re priced right, and even the most budget-challenged angler can afford them. Paired with stout clips, they’re easy to use and simple to rig. These excellent Croch leaders have you covered with 30, 100, and 150-pound tests, and they’d be among my first choice where extreme abrasion, sharp teeth, or rough scales are going to eat my main line.

There’s no fluoro or mono in the world that can take the beating this inexpensive steel leader can, and as long as you can live with about 6 to 9 inches in the lighter weight and 19 in the heavier options, this is a tough product to beat. In the larger sizes, that’s just the medicine you need for pike and muskie.

But if I need more length or lower visibility than a stiff leader, single-strand wire is a fantastic choice. While multi-strand options are available–especially as you step up to really heavy grade leaders–they’re comparably weaker than single strand because of their woven construction. If just one of those strands is compromised, the leader’s strength is, too. Think of them as the braided superlines of leaders.

Do yourself a favor and stick with single-strand.

One option I really like is American Fishing Wire’s Tooth Proof Stainless Steel Single Strand Leader Wire. The AFW Tooth Proof is available in an incredible range of weights, and it’s pretty easy to tie and use. You can get a lot of it–think more than 400 yards–or stick with lengths of 30 feet.

If I was fishing offshore, or tackling monster muskie and massive pike, there’s no way I’d leave the dock without it.

American Fishing Wire Tooth Proof Stainless Steel Single Strand Leader Wire, Size 9, Camo Brown Color, 105 Pound Test, 30-Feet
Amazon 

To connect this wire, I recommend the Haywire Knot, an easy-to-tie connection between your hook and leader. With a barrel swivel to connect it to your main line, this is probably the most cost-effective leader you can find.

If you don’t know the Haywire, this tutorial will have you tying it in minutes:

Truly tieable wire like the Rio Wire Bite or Terminator Titanium Single Strand Leader is revolutionary stuff, and it’s in a different world than the AFW. Essentially nothing more than very thin diameter wire, it’s easy to work with and incredibly strong. With a good pair of fishing pliers, you can work this material into a tight connection in seconds.

Terminator Titanium Single Strand Leader (70-Pounds, 25-Feet)
Amazon 

Just watch how it’s done:

The only drawback to these products is their price-point, and in comparison with other metal options, you’re paying quite a bit per foot.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it: if you’re fishing bass with braided main line, a good length of fluorocarbon or nylon monofilament leader is just what you need to entice line-shy fish into a bite and keep them attached to your hook during a hard fight.

Depending on the size of the pike and muskie you’re after, an 18-inch leader of thick fluoro or mono is probably plenty.

But if you’re chasing gar, blues, barracuda, wahoo, sharks or anything else with skin that rivals sandpaper and teeth to match, a stout metal leader is your best option.

We hope we’ve demystified leaders and helped you make the most of your time on the water. As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

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