How Long Should Leader Line Be?

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Leaders are a critical component for many types of fishing, whether they are used for stealthy presentations, to protect the line from sharp teeth, or a combination of both. The length of your fishing leader is also important for many reasons, and in this post, we will take a look at how long your leaders should be.

Ideal Leader Length for Fishing With Braid

The length of a fishing leader will vary depending on multiple factors like lure type and the species you are pursuing, but there are a few general rules to base your decisions on in regards to leader length.

Glide Baits

For lures like glide baits, the leader length should be around the same length as the fishing lure, and for optimum performance with these types of lures, you should use straight wire.

To make the glide baits have a maximum side-to-side swing, I use a straight wire leader without a barrel swivel and without an attachment clip when fishing for species like pike and muskies, and I only use a split ring.

Using a split ring alone on a straight wire leader eliminates the pivoting points that the barrel swivel and clip create, meaning more momentum is transferred to the lure, and it eliminates unnecessary fulcrum points.

This leader setup will also work well for other lures like twitch baits, crankbaits, and jerk baits.

Other Lures and Live Bait

For other lures like spinners, crankbaits, topwater, and live bait, leader length can still vary, but a good rule of thumb is to run a leader length of 12 inches to 24 inches for large predators like pike, muskies, walleye, and many species of saltwater fish.

You don’t want a leader that is too long if you have a barrel swivel connecting your mainline to the leader.

When you try to get a fish in the net or boat with a very long leader you might struggle due to the amount of line that is still out.

When I Use a Longer Leader

There are several situations in which longer leaders – up to a rod length – are preferred when fishing.

If you plan on trolling, a longer leader length is going to work better than a short leader, especially in clear water.

Many fish follow a lure for a substantial amount of time when trolling and if the fish spots your main fishing line due to a short leader they might get line shy and not bite.

Using long leaders for bottom fishing can also work well, especially in clear water conditions. Along with trolling, you can also add a three-way swivel where you connect the leader line to the main fishing line.

Using a three-way swivel will allow you to add weight to either get trolling lures to dive deeper, or to keep the bait close to the bottom when bottom fishing.

Using a fluorocarbon leader for drop shot fishing also keeps your stealth at a maximum when fishing in clear water.

When I Use a Shorter Leader

As mentioned earlier, fishing leaders for glide baits should be done with short leaders that are about the size of the bait.

Other instances where short leaders are the best approach is when you want to avoid losing lures to fish like pike, and in these cases, you don’t need more than 6 inches of wire leader line, sometimes even less will do.

Using short leaders made of thin wire is common among bass anglers fishing jigs who fish in northern regions that contain large numbers of pike.

Predators like pike, musky, and pickerel will in many cases aim for the head of a bait like a jig, or miss entirely and get the line in front of the jig, and the razor-sharp teeth will cleanly cut the line resulting in a lost lure or jig.

How Leader Size Affects Casting

Leader line size is a very important consideration for fly fishing, and if you do not match the proper leader line or tippet and fly size, you will find that your casting distance and accuracy will suffer greatly.

Leader line sizes and fly fishing leader lines are a fairly complex topic, and will take a bit of time to learn and remember all the factors that go into making the perfect fly fishing cast.

If you have a long leader line with a barrel swivel connecting it to your main fishing line, you will encounter problems casting, as the long leader line that is out from the rod tip will greatly reduce casting distance and accuracy.

Other Factors When Deciding Leader Length

If you are fishing or trolling small crankbaits with small hooks and using a braided line as your main fishing line, you may lose fish to hook pull out.

Other factors for leader length can depend on the species you are targeting, and the type of leader material used.

For species like musky and pike, stealth isn’t as critical in the majority of fishing situations as it is for other species since most of the lures used are constantly moving and the aggressive behavior of the fish means they typically don’t care.

For species like musky and pike you can get away with using stranded wire, nylon coated wire or straight wire, but for standard retrieve baits like bucktails, most anglers still choose to use a fluorocarbon leader.

For fish like walleye, bass, and when trout fishing, leader stealth is more crucial due to the nature of the fishing, with typically finds anglers jigging on the bottom or imitating insects using delicate flies, these presentations make it easier for fish to detect the leader.

For trout fishing or fishing for many other species in both fresh and saltwater environments, fluorocarbon and monofilament leaders are your best option.

How Important Is Your Leader Line Visibility?

Leader line can vary in importance from negligible to critical when it comes to water clarity and visibility.

If the water is moderately clear to stained in color you might not need to really worry about stealth, and you can find that wire leaders and nylon coated wire leader lines will work just fine.

In moderately clear to very clear water, especially in lakes with high levels of fishing pressure, stealth can be critical to catching fish, and using a leader line made of fluorocarbon leader material is a good idea.

You will be surprised, however, that in many cases anglers will catch fish in clear water lakes with visible leaders like a monofilament leader, or even a wire leader, but this can change on a lake-to-lake basis.

For fly fishing, using fluorocarbon leader line is always the recommended method, as fish like trout are very line shy, and you want the ultimate in stealth leader line at all times.

How Does Abrasion Resistance Affect Your Leader Line?

Abrasion resistance depends on the type of leader you are using, and out of the three common types of leader line wire is the strongest, whether it is the solid stiff wire or braided wire like the seven strand brand.

Fluorocarbon is pretty abrasion-resistant, invisible, and features low stretch, and for this reason, it has become very popular.

Fluorocarbon is resistant enough to abrasion that even musky and pike anglers use it at around 80-pound test for leader material, and it is rare for even a very large musky to shear through the leader.

Monofilament leaders are definitely the weakest type of leader out there, but it still has a valid time and place and is great for when stretch is advantageous for shock absorption.

Many anglers who troll use monofilament leaders due to being more cost-effective and absorbing the shock of a fish getting hooked at higher trolling speeds.

Does a Long Leader Affect Your Hook Set?

When it comes to leader types like wire leaders and fluorocarbon leaders, there is very little effect on the hookset, especially if you are using a braided line as your main fishing line.

When it comes to monofilament leaders as well as using monofilament as your main fishing line, there is a high level of stretch, and this can affect your hookset for better or for worse.

For lures like crankbaits, a monofilament line is actually advantageous, as the stretch helps prevent the small treble hooks from getting ripped out of the mouth of the fish.

The same reasoning for crankbaits also can be applied to trolling in many cases.

For wire leaders and fluorocarbon leader lines there is little to no stretch, this means you will have to have the optimum level of drag set on your reels.

If you are fishing or trolling small crankbaits with small hooks and using a braided line as your main fishing line, you may lose fish to hook pull out.

Final Thoughts On Leader Length

Leaders are a very important part of angling success and the right leader length and type can make the difference on the water and turn lookers into biters. Be sure to use the right leader for your fishing application and species, and you will find success will come easy.

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Shawn Chapin is an experienced fishing writer and guide based in Wisconsin, where he loves targeting muskie and a range of other species. Shawn's fished extensively for pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth and panfish species. He's developing a passion for chasing trout on the fly rod.
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