Fishing leaders are lengths of fishing line that you add to the end of your main line.
They can serve a few different purposes such as reducing line visibility near your hook, they can also provide more protection at the business end of your line, and they also allow you to provide a better bait presentation and get your lure down into the water column where the fish are feeding.
In this article, I will reveal what a leader line is, the different types of leaders commonly used, when you should be using each type of leader, and how each one of them can enhance your fishing experience and improve your chances of hooking up to more fish.
Is it necessary to use a leader line?
There are some situations where a leader may not be required, and that will depend on what rig and method you are fishing with.
One situation where I sometimes don’t fish with a leader is if I am fishing with a bobber, and I use either mono or fluoro line all the way through.
But there are many more situations where using a leader line is beneficial and will help you produce better results, and I have gone into more detail about these situations in the next section of this article.
When should you use a leader on your fishing line?
Before we get into the different types of leaders, I want to go through the different situations when using a leader line is beneficial.
When using braid as your main line
The first situation is when you are using braid as your main line.
Braid has become a very popular line to use as the main line on a reel, but it is not translucent so fish can easily see it under the water.
So to prevent the fish from becoming spooked when they see braid line trailing behind your bait or lure, a length of leader line is tied to the braid.
This leader is usually made from fluorocarbon line, which is transparent and hard for fish to see underwater.
When fly fishing you should always use a leader line. There are specific fly-fishing leader lines for this, and you will need to look at the type of fly and rig you want to use to determine what kind of leader and tippet line you should use.
When targeting toothy fish
If you are intentionally targeting species that have mouths full of razor-sharp teeth, then your mainline would be shredded the second the teeth came in contact with it.
So in this situation, you would need to use a stainless steel leader so you have the protection you need to be able to hook and land these sharp-toothed fish.
What type of line should you use for a leader?
The type of leader you use will depend on your target species, the rig you are using, and also the main line you have on your reel.
Fluorocarbon leaders are one of the favorite leader lines to use by many anglers, as the line is almost invisible underwater and extremely hard for the fish to see.
They are ideal if you are fishing in very clear water, where the fish may see a mono leader line. They are also good to use if you are targeting finicky fish that get spooked at the slightest thing.
Fluoro leader line is more of an expensive leader than mono leader line, but it carries many benefits. It is a strong leader line to use, and
It has excellent abrasion resistance, more so than other lines, so it can take some scrapes up against any structure, although it will fray and break if the abrasion is severe.
Fluorocarbon leaders have excellent knot strength and they work exceptionally well with a braid main line.
One thing to know about fluorocarbon line is that it is much heavier and denser than mono line, and it sinks. So if you want to use a leader line for surface lure fishing then this is not the best option to use.
Stainless steel leader lines are essential in some fishing situations. If you are targeting a species with sharp teeth that will cut through a fluoro or mono leader line as soon as their teeth touch it, then you are going to lose a lot of fish.
So in this situation, a stainless steel leader is the best option.
Monofilament leaders are widely used as mono is a cheaper line to purchase than braid and fluoro.
The standard monofilament leader and comprised of a single strand of line that is easy to handle and is a great option to use in a wide range of fishing situations.
While mono line is reasonably hard for fish to see underwater, it is not as translucent as fluoro line, so if you are fishing in very clear water, then a fluoro leader would be a better option over mono.
But if you are fishing in dirtier water conditions and the water clarity is not so great, then a mono leader can work well.
Monofilament line is not as dense as fluorocarbon line, which means it is softer, more flexible, and easier to tie knots.
It also has a lot more stretch, so if you want some shock absorption in your leader then mono is the perfect option.
Another of the key advantages of monofilament line for certain types of fishing is that it floats, whereas fluoro line sinks. If you are fishing surface lures this is a really important factor to get the best action out of your surface lure.
If you used a fluoro leader when fishing a surface lure, the leader will sink and pull the front of the lure down into the water, which affects the action of the lure.
So using a mono leader that floats will allow the front end of the surface lure to stay on top of the water and generate the action it is designed to do.
Tapered leaders. What are they and when are they used? A tapered leader is used for fly fishing, and as the name suggests, the leader will taper from a thicker end where the leader and main line are connected, down to a much thinner end where the leader is tied to the fly.
The reason for having a tapered leader is for a better presentation of the fly on the cast. As the fly is cast and the line starts to lay on the water, the turnover, which is when the end of the leader that is looped during the cast, will straighten out and land the fly softly onto the surface of the water.
As these leaders are tapered, each time you attach the fly to the leader, then cut the line off after use, the thinner end of the leader will start to widen the shorter the leader gets. This is where you need to use tippets.
A tippet is not always required but is often used when the leader length needs to be extended if using a nymph rig for example. It is also used so that you do not have to keep changing tapered leaders, you can use the tippet to connect to the leader and the fly.
Tippet materials can vary so you have options to suit all of your fly rig requirements. The correct tippet selection is important to get the optimal presentation of your fly.
Shock leaders are used when surf fishing and their purpose is to absorb the huge amounts of pressure generated when casting out heavier weights for long distances.
A thinner main line will help generate longer casting distances, so you may want to use 20lb braid for your main line for example. But this may not be strong enough to withstand the pressure of casting a heavy lead weight out into the surf.
So this is where the heavier leader lines, aka shock leaders, come into play. You can attach a longer section of line, up to an 8-foot leader at times, that will be of a much heavier test weight than the main line.
You then attach the lead weights within the length of the shock leader, and this will enable you to really sling your casts out a long way without any fear of the line breaking under the strain of the cast.
How to fix your leader to your main line
To fix your leader line to your main line, you can either use a swivel or tie a strong knot to hold the main line and leader line together when under great strain from a hard-fighting fish.
Using a swivel is a good option with many types of rigs. This will prevent you from getting any line twist, and can add as a buffer if you have a sliding weight on your main line.
Swivels are very easy to attach, you just need to tie the main line onto one and of the swivel and the leader line onto the other end.
They come in a wide range of sizes and strengths (based on weight), and they are pretty cheap to buy.
You can also buy swivels that include a snap-on clip in the design. This makes it very easy for changing out your weights or lures.
Always look at using a swivel that is relevant in size and weight capacity to the type of fishing you are doing.
For example, if you are using a lighter main line of around 6-10lbs then you don’t need to use a huge swivel designed for 50lb + line.
If you are going to tie your leader to your braid main line then you want to ensure you are using a reliable knot that will handle the hard fights with aggressive fish you will hopefully have.
Popular knots to attach fluoro to braid are the Albright knot, Double Uni knot, and the FG knot. Choose the braid to leader knot that works best for you.
How to tie the leader to the lure / hook
There are many different knots that can be used to tie your leader to your hook or lure. A simple blood knot is a good example, and it works perfectly well to tightly secure the hook to leader.
But there are many situations where securing the hook or lure tightly to the line may not be the best option.
If you want to get more action from your bait or lure then having the tightly secured knot is only going to restrict its movement, which is not what you want.
To have your bait or lure moving around in a more natural way, free of any restriction will often lead to more bites.
You can achieve this by using a loop knot, which is an easy knot to tie and will allow your lure or hook to move around freely.
There are several ways to tie a loop knot, but one of the best is the Lefty Kreh loop knot. Another popular method is the later Rapala loop knot, but personally, I prefer the Kreh non-slip loop knot as the tag end does not protrude as much as the Rapala loop, so there is less chance of it catching on anything.
I hope the above information will have helped you understand exactly what leader lines are and what they are used for.
All successful anglers will always use a leader for a lot of their rigs. You just need to understand what the right leader line option is for the type of fishing you want to do, and this will help you fish with confidence and ultimately catch more fish.