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What Is A Fishing Leader For? Do You Need One?

You may have noticed anglers tying on a smaller section of line to their main fishing line and wondered what they were doing. They are attaching leader to their line, but many beginner anglers don’t know what fishing leader is used for or if they need it.

Fishing leader allows better presentation of the lure or bait and protects the main line from abrasion, twisting and potential breakage. Leader is less visible than the main fishing line and therefore less likely to alert a fish away from a bite, and while you don’t need one it is recommended.

There are significant benefits in using fly leader on any fishing excursion. In this article we will discuss these benefits, as well as look at how and where you would use the different types of fishing leader and whether you should use them in both saltwater and freshwater locations.

What Is A Fishing Leader For?

A fishing leader is a small section of extra strong fishing line which is attached between the end of the main fishing line and the hook, lure or fly. Leader line tends to be only a few feet in length and is less visible in the water to fish. Two of the main purposes of using leader line is to protect the main line from damage and for better lure presentation.

Fly fishermen will always look to apply fishing leader line, but this extra section of line can solve a number of potential issues regardless of the type of fishing you pursue. In general, you should look to use a fishing leader when you need to strengthen or protect your main line.

The main benefits of using fishing fly leader are:

  • It’s less visible than the main line and therefore harder for fish to see what the bait is attached to. Fish approach their prey in different ways, but for those which are easily spooked the less visible leader line is an advantage.
  • Leader line helps prevent breakages in your main line, which are particularly annoying if you have added weights or swivels to the line. Your line can take a good buffeting below the water on rocks and other obstacles and can also be bitten off by the fish, so having the additional leader line offers protection.
  • Using leader line and a swivel attached to the main line can ease rotation and help prevent twisting when you are trying to land a particularly feisty fish. Twisted line is at increased risk from weakening and snapping completely.
  • Fishing leader also helps prevent snags on underwater features as you can make them in a way which keeps the hook off the ground.

Different Types Of Fishing Leader

When you are using fishing leader there are two main types of line to consider, each with their own pros and cons.

Standard Monofilament Leader

Standard monofilament line is often referred to as simply mono, and it consists of a single strand of thinly spun nylon. It forms a strong line which absorbs water and allows some stretch. This is the cheaper leader line option, making it a good choice for those on a budget.

PROS:

  • Good abrasion resistance
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Stretch, which allows it to absorb more aggressive fish
  • Flexible, making tying various knots easier
  • Floats

CONS:

  • Absorbs sunlight, and exposure over time to UV light will result in deterioration
  • The stretch in the line can make it harder to feel bites
  • Absorbs water, causing the properties of the line to change

Fluorocarbon Monofilament

Fluorocarbon monofilament is a more recent fishing leader option. It is still a single strand line, but the higher quality materials used provide some different properties. It is a denser line and less visible in the water, but those higher quality materials used in the manufacturing stage means it will cost you more.

PROS:

  • Excellent resistance to abrasion
  • Less stretch in the line provides more bite sensitivity
  • Less visible to fish in the water
  • Does not absorb water
  • Does not absorb sunlight and therefore does not deteriorate when exposed to UV light
  • Excellent knot strength

CONS:

  • More expensive
  • Tends to sink, although this can also be an advantage when you want to position your bait toward the bottom

Wire Leader Line

Standard monofilament and fluorocarbon monofilament are the two most frequently used fishing leader line types, but it would be amiss to complete the section without mentioning wire leader lines. These are extra strong leaders used when targeting huge fish which could also easily bite through your line.

These type of lines consist of a single strand or multiple strands of thin, flexible stainless steel wire. They come in various strengths and sizes, but are far more visible in the water. The line is silver and shines, but the disadvantage of the increased line visibility is offset by how much stronger wire leader is compared to the two primary types of fishing leader line.

PROS:

  • Very strong
  • Ideal for large catches

CONS:

  • Highly visible
  • Not good for small fish

How To Choose The Right Fishing Leader

As discussed, each type of fishing leader has its pros and cons, and these need to be taken into consideration when deciding which is the best option for you. If you are fairly new to angling, monofilament leader may always be preferable as it is cheaper and therefore a more affordable option while learning the techniques required to be a successful angler.

When you are fishing clear water, fluorocarbon leader makes complete sense as it is less visible. Both main leader types are abrasion resistant. However, the slight stretch in monofilament can be beneficial when you know there are rocky underwater features or a fair amount of vegetation on which the line could snag, as the extra elasticity can help free the hook.

This additional stretch in monofilament can also be useful when targeting soft mouth fish. Without any stretch there is the increased risk of the hook being ripped from the mouth of the fish. However, many anglers like the non-stretch fluorocarbon leader as it is more sensitive to a bite and makes it easier to feel.

The type of fishing will also be a major factor in which leader you use. Monofilament floats and is better for top fishing, although being porous it will gradually sink and need replacing. Fluorocarbon is the better choice when you need to sink a lure faster or when you are trolling or jigging for fish.

What Strength Of Fishing Leader Should I Use?

The fishing leader you use will tend to be the same strength as the main line or stronger. This is one of those many topics which can cause quite a debate among experienced anglers. However, the principal function of the leader is to enhance the main fishing line, and therefore it should usually be at least as strong as the main line.

That said, some anglers prefer a lighter leader in water which has a lot of vegetation. At the other end of the scale, you might prefer to use a stronger leader when you are fishing for stronger and more aggressive fish. Having a choice of leaders to hand when fishing can help you adapt to the conditions.

How To Make A Fishing Leader

When making a fishing leader you first need to consider the length of line you want to use. There is no exact equation involved here, but the fish you are targeting and the water conditions will be factors in the length of line you use.

Your leader line does not need to be too long, and generally will be up to 30 inches in length. A shorter leader length helps for shorter, more precise casting and can also be safer when making a cast. You want to make sure there is a little extra line on the leader so you can cut and re-tie the hook when required without the need to replace the whole leader.

Short vs Long Leader

Ultimately, you need to keep in mind the purpose of the leader and how you wish to target the fish. Shorter leaders help when top fishing as there is less line vibrating the water to spook the fish. However, when you are placing a lure or live bait which is left out to dangle in the water, a longer leader could be beneficial as more of the line will be less visible to the fish.

Once you have decided on the length of the leader it is time to make it. Your leader can be tied directly to the main line without the use of any tools and sometimes this can be appropriate for a beginner. However, this can see the line easily twist and would also mean having to cut parts of the main line when the feeder line breaks.

How To Make A Fishing Leader Using A Set Of Crimpers

A more effective way to make a leader uses swivels, connectors and a set of crimpers. To make a leader line this way:

  1. Cut the leader line to the required length and pass one end through a connector
  2. Add a swivel and then pass the leader line back through the connector
  3. The swivel should now sit within a loop of the leader line
  4. Use a set of crimpers to gently squeeze the connector
  5. Repeat the process on the other end of the leader line

When determining the length of your leader line always allow a little extra line for the loops when making the leader. Now, with the leader complete, it’s time to tie it to your main fishing line.

How To Put A Leader On A Fishing Line

Having made your leader, the last thing you want is to see it quickly break off or twist around the main fishing line. A good knot helps ensure that when you attach the leader to the main line you can get on with the job of fishing rather than constantly fearing the worst. Practicing knots as a beginner can certainly pay dividends once you are waterside.

If you are just starting out as an angler and are tying the leader to the main line without using connectors and swivels, you will find that a double uni knot may be the best approach. This is a good knot for combining two lines to form one strong link, although it does require a bit of practice to perfect. Applying lubrication before tying the knot can help.

If you have used connectors and swivels to make a leader, the Palomar knot can prove a good option when tying the leader to the main fishing line. It is one of the most popular knots used in fishing as it is easy to form and very versatile.

Learning how to tie knots has been massively boosted by the internet, with plenty of videos online showing you how to tie knots correctly. This can prove an easier and more effective learning tool than using a written guide while trying to visualize the process as you follow the steps!

Attaching The Lure Or Hook To The Leader

Once you have tied the two lines together you need to finally attach the lure or hook to the otherend of the leader line. Again, there are many different knots you could use for this, and over time as you gain experience you will no doubt settle on your favorite knots and the ones that seem to work best for you in certain conditions.

The Palomar knot works well once more for attaching hooks or lures to leader line. Other knots that work well include:

  • Nanofil knot
  • Uni knot
  • Improved clinch knot
  • Orvis knot
  • Eugene slip knot

Do You Need A Leader For Saltwater Fishing?

A leader line is an important part of saltwater fishing gear. Saltwater fish can be larger and stronger, and therefore a strong leader line can make or break landing these fish. Saltwater fish may also be more likely to bite through the line, making a strong leader line essential.

As the feeder line takes much of the brunt when fishing for larger, aggressive fish, it allows you to maintain thinner main line on the reel. This helps you cast further distances when either out on a boat or when fishing on large bodies of inshore water.

The leader tends to be longer when fishing with live bait and is robust enough for trolling when the fish takes the bait. Using leaders with additional strength also lets you use heavier baits to attract bigger targets without the need to upsize the line strength and diameter, which could cost you casting length and precision.

Pay Attention To Visibility

Big fish can be spooked just the same as smaller fish when faced with something abnormal. Therefore, the visibility factor of leader line is just as important when saltwater fishing. If your leader is nearly invisible, then the lure or bait will be more attractive to the fish.

You may also want to make your leader a little longer than normal for saltwater fishing to take into account the larger fish you will generally find. Fish can be more abrasive in saltwater, so by using a leader longer than the fish it helps ensure they do not come in contact with the main line, which could increase the risk of breaks.

Again, experience gained through saltwater fishing will hone your knowledge of how best to use leader line. By targeting certain species, you will at least start with a rough idea of the length of leader you will need and can make in preparation.

Do You Need A Leader For Freshwater Fishing?

While you can go freshwater fishing without using a leader line, for many experienced anglers the rate of success can be improved once you tie fishing leader to the main line. Leader lines can address a series of potential issues, including visibility and stealth, abrasion, and line twisting.

The species of fish you are targeting and the water conditions need to be considered on any fishing trip, and this holds true when using fishing leader. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is there lots of vegetation where the hook could become snagged?
  • Are there abrasive underwater features?
  • Is the water clear enough that the line could easily spook the fish?

Different lures can also have an impact. When fly fishing you may find the heavier fly fishing line a problem when you want to attach smaller flies. This issue can be rectified by using a leader line. Some lures, when using spinning gear can easily twist, but tying on a short length of fishing leader can reduce the risk of the main line twisting and breaking.

Final Thoughts

Fishing leader is designed to provide better lure presentation while protecting the main line from abrasion, twisting and breakages. Although you can fish without using fishing leader, adding a short length of leader to your main line can help increase your chance of success.