Follow the leader
rUSTY CHINNIS | sun
When the action gets hot, there are so many things that can go wrong.
Make sure your leader construction isn't one of them.
I've heard it said before that if you follow your intuition, you're likely to have a better outcome on whatever you might be pursuing. To me that means paying attention to the things that might not be apparent that could have a profound effect on your desired outcome. For the fisherman, there's nothing more important and often overlooked than leader construction.
For the average angler this could be as simple as a 30-pound section of mono tied to the standing line of a spinning reel. It could also be as complex as a tapered leader for fly fishing. Not all leaders are as simple as a single piece of mono or as complex as a tarpon leader.
The variations of leader construction should be tailored to the specific fishing situation. While there are more combinations than could ever be covered in a short article, let's review a few specific scenarios and suggestions for leader construction.
One of the most basic and useful leaders is tied for spinning outfits for trout, redfish and snook. Start by doubling the standing line with a spider hitch (google it). Then tie a two- to four-foot piece of 30-pound leader (bite tippet) to the standing line with a uni-knot or a blood-knot. You could use a swivel to join the lines, but they can spook fish and interfere with the action of bait and lures.
Finish by tying your hook or lure to the bite tippet with a uni or non-slip mono loop. While knots are another article, remember to make at least three wraps when constructing leaders from mono and up to nine wraps with micro-fiber lines. Moisten and tighten all knots.
While the basic leader mentioned above works in most inshore and offshore scenarios, fishing for predators with sharp teeth requires a more complex system. The challenge is to connect the wire bite tippet you'll need to the monofilament section of the leader. As mentioned before a swivel in leader construction interferes with the action. When you're targeting species like Spanish mackerel and kingfish, there's another reason to avoid swivels. They often draw strikes on the unprotected section of the leader. Instead use an Albright Special to tie the two sections together. The finished leader will have a slim profile, be strong and require just one knot instead of two.
Under some circumstances (mid-day, high sun and clear water), swivels and even wire can spook fish. In this case, it might be better to avoid the use of wire and, of course, swivels. While you'll risk a cut-off, it's better than never getting the bite. The work around is to use long shanked hooks with live bait and long profile lures. The hooks function as a leader, and most lures can sustain the impact and teeth. You should also try this rigging any time fish are present but unresponsive to your presentation.
Fly fishers will want to tie tapered leaders so that the fly turns over (unrolls smoothly) at the end of the cast. While most modern saltwater fly lines are weight forward, meaning the line has a weight forward taper, properly tied leaders are tapered from the butt section (closest to the fly line) to the class tippet (weakest link in the leader). This only changes at the bite tippet, where a leader appropriate for the situation is tied.
This can vary from 12 pounds for permit to 100 pounds for tarpon. Once again, wire is advised as a bite tippet when angling for fish with sharp teeth. Since the butt section is tied to the fly line, use a short piece of leader tied to the line with a nail knot and make a loop in the end. This way you can change leaders quickly and not have to cut your fly line.
To tie a leader that turns over properly, it's important to make the butt section one half of the total length of the leader. Then tie progressively smaller sections until finishing with the bite tippet.
Here's an example when tying a 12-foot leader on an 8-weight rod and reel. The butt section will be determined by the line weight (approximately the same diameter as the line). Start with a 6-foot section of 30-pound leader, then tie in a 3-foot section of 20-pound, then 18-inches of 15 pound followed by a bite tippet approximately 18-inch long. If you'll be changing flies often, it's OK to use a longer bite tippet. I tie my tapered leaders using blood knots which are strong and have a slim profile.
If you're using flies in shallow water use monofilament for your leaders. If you want them to sink use fluorocarbon line which is denser and sinks faster. Whatever type of fishing you do pay close attention to the construction of your leaders. You'll enjoy the benefits of proper rigging and catch more fish.