Make or Break

Choosing the Proper Leader Length and Test

Matt Arnholt April 17, 2017

Florida’s inshore waters offer anglers countless opportunities to successfully pursue a bevy of prized game fish. Though, hooking and landing these fish is seldom accomplished without the use of fortified terminal connections, which begin with leader selection. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple formula that covers all technique specific applications. Choosing the proper length and breaking strength for a specific scenario requires you factor in numerous variables, in addition to having constant awareness and attention to changing conditions around you.

Saltwater sport fishing is all about balance between hook, leader, main line and rod/reel outfit. While much consideration is often given to a selected hook or lure, leaders are more easily overlooked even though they’re absolutely critical to success across inshore venues statewide.

When joining leader to main line it’s imperative you create a connection with a unobtrusive knot that easily passes through the guides.

In the most basic form, leader is a length of fishing line that provides an increase in breaking strength and abrasion resistance to that of the main running line. Whether casting to redfish on a remote grass flat, jigging for snook from atop a bridge or live baiting tarpon in the pass, anglers must be able to quickly assess the situation and alter their approach accordingly.

Although offshore anglers at times rely on lengthy wind-ons, shock cords and wire leaders to subdue the open ocean’s most powerful predators, inshore leader construction is much simpler and the vast majority of techniques used in the shallows require anglers connect braided running line to a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.

To the naked eye fluorocarbon may appear identical to monofilament, but there are significant differences between the two. Monofilament is highly desirable because of its inherent floatation and stretch, but it’s also widely endorsed because of its price point. Fluorocarbon can cost upwards of double the price of mono, but it has less stretch, sinks, is more abrasion resistant and proven in its ability to reflect light, which results in a definitive stealth advantage.

However, fluorocarbon retains greater memory than mono, which makes sense considering it is stiffer and provides less elasticity, though these seemingly negative attributes translate to enhanced sensitivity. In the end, fluorocarbon’s greatest advantage is definitely stealth, but there are situations where the additional cost is unwarranted.

With material selected, you’re now faced with the challenge of choosing the appropriate length and breaking strength. While specific applications call for more critical assessment of your leader system, in general you want to use a leader that’s slightly longer than the fish you are targeting. If you think there’s an over slot snook ambushing baits under the mangroves, then it would be wise to tie on a 30- to 36-inch leader.

It’s true that the rough and abrasive mouths of inshore predators like snook, tarpon, jack and redfish can easily chafe through light line, but if a fish doubles back and takes off in the opposing direction your line is also at risk of damage from the tail, pec fins and gill plates. This is precisely why your leader should extend beyond the length of your targeted quarry.

When selecting the appropriate breaking strength a common generalization is that it should roughly match the weight of fish you are hoping to catch. The best approach is to use the lightest leader that will get the job done, but you must tailor your entire setup to the target species and application, with specific situations at times requiring much heavier or lighter leader.

Let’s take snook for example. Snook can be caught on the beach during the middle of the day, but they are also targeted in the middle of the night under bridges with swift current. Even though it’s the same target in both cases, these two scenarios require very different approaches.

When the sun is bright and the water is clear, snook are typically line shy and will likely avoid your presentation if anything seems off. Most anglers fishing the beach rely on 30-lb. fluorocarbon leader, but for finicky snook in shallow water anglers of-ten scale down to 20-lb. test.

Sure, light leaders require you finesse fish and apply pressure with care, but on the beach there’s generally not a lot of structure around that fish can use to break free. Additionally, if you present small whitebait on circle-hooks your leader will be out of harm’s way with corner hooksets.

If you’re a night owl and prefer targeting snook around bridges with heavy jigs in swift current, it’s recommended you beef that leader up to at least 50-lb. Since pilings are a useful tool for fish on a mission to break you off, and the darkness inhibits their ability to see heavier line, you can get away with more fortified terminal tackle.

When joining leader to main line it’s imperative you create a streamlined connection that easily passes through the guides. Knots that catch guides greatly decrease casting accuracy and distance, and can also result in wind knots.

It’s also highly advisable you routinely inspect for abrasion in the leader and main running line or you’ll forever be telling stories of the one that got away. Although you can’t win every battle, poor rigging is the leading cause of lost fish.

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