Fishing leaders are sometimes the most overlooked, yet most important, pieces of fishing equipment. Leaders decrease visibility in the water and can protect you from a snapped line.
Understanding what a leader is and the proper ways to attach them can mean the difference between a successful fishing trip and coming home empty-handed.
What is a Leader?
A fishing leader is a short, extra-strong piece of fishing line that you attach between the end of your main fishing line and your lure and hook. The fishing leader is less visible to fish but is more resistant to breaking than your main fishing line. The leader length can be anywhere from 12″ long to 20 + feet long.
You may want to simply tie the lure or hook to the end of your main fishing line and start fishing, but using a leader has many benefits and dramatically increases your chances of success.
Types of Fishing Leaders
There are several types of fishing leaders to choose from, and which one you will use will depend on several factors. These are the most commonly used types of fishing leader setups.
Standard Monofilament Leader
A standard monofilament leader uses a single strand of strong, thinly-spun line. Monofilament leaders usually absorb water, are resistant to abrasion, provide some stretch, and absorb sunlight.
Monofilament leaders are relatively cheap. They’re flexible as well, so they’re easy to work with when tying various knots. They provide excellent abrasion resistance, and with their slight stretch, they absorb the impact of aggressive fish.
These leaders do have some disadvantages to keep in mind. Because they absorb sunlight, they deteriorate over time with exposure to UV light. Their ability to stretch can make it challenging to feel smaller bites.
Fluorocarbon Monofilament Leader
Fluorocarbon leaders also use a single strand of monofilament, but these leaders are more expensive due to some key differences. These leaders are less porous, even less visible to fish, and have less stretch.
Fluorocarbon leaders don’t stretch much, so it’s easier to feel smaller bites. These leaders are even more resistant to abrasion and provide excellent knot strength. Fluorocarbon leaders don’t absorb water and don’t deteriorate in UV light.
The only real disadvantages to fluorocarbon are that they’re slightly more expensive and tend to sink in water.
Wire Fishing Leader
Wire leaders come in various sizes and lengths and come in single-strand, multi-strand, and knottable types. Wire is not as invisible as other types of leaders, but they are extra strong when trying to catch massive fish with sharp teeth. Heavy duty steel fishing leaders can be difficult to work with, but they are sometimes very necessary especially when saltwater fishing with live bait for trophy fish.
Main Benefits of Fishing Leaders
All fishing leaders provide significant benefits compared to using only a main fishing line, but the benefits will vary depending on the type of leader you choose.
However, there are two main benefits you can expect from any leader, no matter the type.
Lower Chance of Breaking
Depending on where you’re fishing, sharp rocks and barnacles can cover the terrain under the water. These conditions can easily snag your line. Main fishing lines often can’t withstand repeated rubbing on sharp terrain.
Some fish also have rows of sharp teeth, and the main fishing line alone may not stand a chance against these fish. Monofilament leaders are abrasion-resistant and provide some stretch to prevent breaking.
Better Bait Presentation
Using the right leader can make your leader line virtually invisible to fish, increasing your odds that they’ll go for the bait.
Fluorocarbon and monofilament leaders have a refractive index that is very close to water, so sunlight passes through them quickly. This type of leader is highly effective when fishing in clear water.
When Do I Need a Leader?
The short answer is that it’s never a bad idea to use a leader. Most successful anglers will use one the majority of the time that they’re fishing.
It would be best to use a fishing leader whenever you feel you need to protect or strengthen your main fishing line. Fishing leaders will also provide better bait presentation, so it’s good to use one in very clear water. This is all but required for fly fishing.
How to Attach Leaders
There are several options for attaching a leader to your line, and the right method will depend on the type of fishing you’re doing, the conditions of the water, and the kind of fish you’re targeting.
The best method to use is ultimately the one that works best for you.
There are two main knots that anglers commonly use for attaching a leader to your main fishing line. These knots are the double uni knot and the albright knot.
Many anglers widely consider the albright knot to be the most reliable knot for attaching a leader. Anglers often use it when connecting unequal diameters of monofilament and braided lines.
I personally prefer to use the double uni knot
You can also use it for creating shock leaders and connecting monofilament to wire.
How to tie an albright knot:
- Create a loop at the end of the heavier line, and hold it in place with your thumb and forefinger.
- Thread about 10 inches of the lighter line through the top of the loop.
- Clasp the tag end of the lighter line together with the two heavier strands of the loop. Tightly wrap the lighter line about ten times over the three strands, wrapping towards the end of the loop.
- Thread the tag end of the lighter line through the underneath of the loop. The lighter line will enter and exit from the same side of the loop.
- While holding the heavy line, slide the wrapped lighter line towards the end of the loop. Pull tightly on the strands of the lighter line and the ends of the heavy line. Make sure it’s pulled tight and secure.
- Trim the tag ends of the lines to finish the knot.
The double uni knot is a simple knot used to tie a fishing leader with a loop to the main fishing line.
We’ve got full instructions with step by step images here.
Using either of these knots should create a firm attachment between your fishing line and leader. One thing to note is that using only a knot to connect your lines won’t reduce the chance line twisting.
A swivel is a device that utilizes two rings connected to a pivoting joint. You can use a swivel to attach a leader line to the main length of line.
Swivels can be beneficial for attaching leaders to your fishing line because they eliminate line twisting.
Whether or not to use a swivel to attach your leader depends on the type of fishing you’re doing and the bait you’re using. You shouldn’t necessarily use a swivel in all circumstances.
When line twisting is the primary concern, such as when using a bait or lure that’s likely to twist, you should consider using a swivel. If you aren’t concerned with line twisting, it’s best to go with a regular knot attachment.
Swivels will add a little bit of weight, which can cause more fragile lines to become even more vulnerable. It also takes a little longer to attach a swivel than it does to connect with a knot because the swivel will require two knots.
Most fishing leaders only need one swivel as a connection to the main fishing line. Your swivel’s best placement will be at the top of your leader, well away from your lure or bait.
The most reliable knot for attaching a swivel between your leader and fishing line is the offshore swivel knot. The main benefit of this knot is that if one strand breaks, the other strand is still likely to hold.
How to tie an offshore swivel knot:
- Pass the loop of a double-line leader through the swivel’s eye. Rotate the end of the loop to create a single twist between the end of the loop and the swivel’s eye.
- Fold the loop over the swivel to the two strands of line. Hold the loop against the two strands of the double line.
- Rotate the swivel through the center of the loops about six to seven times to cause the two loops to twist together.
- Release the end of the loop that you were holding, but continue to hold onto the double-line strands. Pull the swivel and the double-line strands to tighten the knot.
- To finish securing, hold the other end of the swivel with pliers, grasp the double-line strands tightly, and push the loops tightly toward the swivel.
Repeat the process for the knot on the other end to attach the line to the swivel. Your fishing leader should now be firmly attached, and you shouldn’t have to worry about the potential problems of line twisting.
What is the difference between a fishing line and a leader line?
The main line is the line that is spooled onto the fishing reel. The leader line is a separate length of line that is attached to the end of the main line or lure/hook.
How do I choose the right leader?
The right leader depends on the type of fishing and the fish species you’re fishing for. Factors to consider include water clarity, fish species, the strength of the main line and the type of lure/hook being used. It is recommended to use a leader material that is at least 2-3 times the breaking strength of the main line used.
How long should a fishing leader be?
The length of the fishing leader depends on the type of fishing and the fish type you’re fishing for. In general, a leader should be at least 2-3 feet in length, but can be longer for different types of fishing such as finesse fishing or when you’re using thick and highly visible braided line as your main line.