February 24, 2021
By Jeff Weakley
The water was clear and the bites few and far between. I did what any fisherman would do—I downsized my leader. I figured 20-pound-test fluorocarbon would help close the deal with the next redfish that happened by.
The next redfish turned out to be a four-foot tarpon which bolted from the mangroves, ate my jig, erupted next to my kayak and raked its cheese-graters across my gossamer leader. Gone.
I knew the risks. When you “go light to get the bite,” you take your chances. Actually, it was laziness on my part. Usually I prepare my leaders for such encounters. I like to terminate my leaders with a short section of heavier material. Reserving the heavy stuff for only the last 12 inches or so helps with casting, and it certainly pays dividends in the stealth department. When you're selecting leader, stated breaking strength is seldom the worrisome part—it's what remains after abrasion or nicks that you should consider. Leader durability is basically a function of diameter, but then again so is visibility, even with the comparatively stealthy fluorocarbon. (Fluorocarbon, as you're probably aware, is line which has a lower refractive index than nylon monofilament. That means light passes through fluorocarbon more like it does through water, making it less visible than mono.)
What I usually do is calculate the optimal class of leader to deter breakoffs, erring on the side of caution. That's my front-load, which some call a bite leader. Next, I factor in other considerations.
For example: For most inshore casting, I like to start with about three feet of fluorocarbon leader at the end of my fishing line—which is usually 10-pound-test braid. The fluorocarbon section does a few things here. One, it's clear, less likely to frighten fish. Secondarily, it sinks. Fluorocarbon actually sinks faster than monofilament—and it sinks much faster than braided fishing line. Braid floats like a kayak—which makes sense because they're made of the same stuff, polyethylene. The effect is only slight, but I think it makes a big difference when you're working unweighted or lightly weighted baits like soft jerkbaits, artificial shrimp or even tail-hooked natural shrimp. That teensy bit of drag imparted by mono or braid compromises the action. Not an issue with topwater fishing, of course, but if you want a lure to get down to the strike zone, or wiggle naturally with the least amount of resistance, fluorocarbon is great.
Of course, if you're using more than a foot or two of leader, you'll have the nuisance click of a knot passing through your guides. One of these seasons I'll get around to mastering the FG knot, but until then I'm an old-school uni-knot angler— the uni is a fast tie and while it's not quite as smooth as the FG, it will slide through guides plenty quick with the right leader. Twenty-pound leader is about ideal for the typical 7- to 8-foot light inshore spinning or casting rod, assuming you don't have those ridiculous micro guides. With tarpon sticks and offshore- grade rods, 40-pound leader slips through most guides acceptably. Out there on the blue water we call it a wind-on leader.
Anyway, to the end of the long leader I affix my short bite leader—40-pound fluorocarbon is a good compromise on the flats and bays. It would have brought the aforementioned tarpon safely to my kayak, as well as the bruiser snook that may have been lurking around the creek we were fishing. For big tarpon, 60- or 80-pound is probably better.
I should point out that monofilament and fluorocarbon do not get along well. Knots between the two materials act in unpredictable ways—think oil and water, or nylon and vinyl (which is actually the case). If you select fluorocarbon for the ultimate stealth, you should then use fluoro for each section in your leader. Feel like monofilament is fine for the dark water you're fishing, or your fast-moving topwater lure? Stick with mono.
Ultimately, the proportions, lengths and classes of leader material you use will be dictated by your own circumstances, but I bet there's a good case for making your leaders in sections. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2021