February 25, 2016
Wire leader options for fly fishing.
Cero (shown here) and other mackerels are adept at clipping monofilament. Wire bite tippet gets the job done.
If you fly fish in saltwater, at some point you'll need to add a trace of wire to your leader in order to catch fish. Bluefish, mackerel, barracuda and sharks all require wire tippet. Or, you could donate lots of flies to the fish in question, especially bluefish and mackerel.
For a long time, leader wire came in three flavors, single-strand stainless steel and plastic coated or uncoated stainless steel cable. Single-strand users used a haywire twist to attach the fly to the wire. At the other end they had a choice of again using a haywire twist to attach a swivel, or using an Albright special to attach the rest of the leader, usually monofilament.
Single-strand wire still works. Fly fishers generally use the coffee- or camo-colored wire. For smaller fish, No. 2 wire (about 27-pound test) works well. Go easy on the length—more than 6 inches or so, and your casting will really suffer. If you're going to use single-strand for big sharks you'll want a thicker piece of wire.
The advantages of single-strand wire are that it's inexpensive and relatively thin. It kinks, though, and breaks where those kinks form. Because it kinks, for those big sharks cable is usually a better choice. If, like me, you don't use single-strand very often, making a decent haywire twist is slow and hard to do. Making those twists well takes practice.
Seven-strand, plastic-coated stainless steel cable doesn't kink. You can attach it to the fly with either a snell (you'll have to tie the fly to accommodate this), with a figure-eight knot, or with the melt-the-plastic knot. For the latter method, after putting the end of the wire through the eye of the hook, wrap the tag tightly around the main piece of wire five times, then loosely a few more. Use a cigarette lighter to heat the wraps just until the plastic starts to melt. Then use a wire cutter to remove the tag.
Plastic-coated cable has some disadvantages. It's more visible than monofilament or single-strand wire, and fish teeth or abrasion can shred the nylon coating, allowing corrosive salt water to get inside the nylon coating.
Uncoated, 49-strand stainless steel cable is still the choice for most big-game fishing. I don't know how many fly fishers are big-game fishing, but it can't be very many. This product must be rinsed with freshwater after use to slow corrosion.
A few years back a new type of plastic-coated cable appeared on the market, sold under the names of Surflon and Tyger Wire. These were the first stainless steel knottable leaders for toothy fish. You can tie knots with them, using the same knots you use with nylon or fluorocarbon. They are wonderful products for someone who doesn't need wire very often, although I would be suspicious of their use in big-game applications. Needless to say, they were more expensive than other products available at the time they were introduced.
I carried some Tyger Wire around for years without using it. On a recent trip to the Florida Keys we ended up fishing for cero mackerel. My having the Tyger Wire was the only reason we caught any fish.
Recently, a new wire leader product has appeared, made from titanium alloy. This new leader wire stretches and recovers to set hooks and prevent bite-offs. You can tie titanium wire to hooks and line using, respectively, the basic clinch and Albright knots. Two manufacturers of this product are knot2kinky and American Fishing Wire.
Yet another possibility is a pre-built leader incorporating a wire trace. Scientific Anglers is one of the vendors of these products.
So, if you use lots of wire you'll probably want plastic coated cable or single-strand wire. If your use is occasional, a convenience of a tie-able product probably offsets its higher costs. FS
First published Florida Sportsman November 2014