What is a leader in fishing? An Easy-to-follow Explanation

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What is a leader in fishing? An Easy-to-follow Explanation

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:
What is a leader in fishing feature image

A leader in lure fishing is the section of transparent line that runs from the main fishing line (usually braided line) to the hook. This can be a fluorocarbon or monofilament fishing line.

The purpose of the leader is to introduce a transparent section of line to avoid spooking fish that would be put off by the colored braided line and refuse to take the bait or lure.

Leaders can vary in length from a couple of feet to several rod lengths depending on the type of fishing you are doing.

Leaders play a vital role in getting fish to take your lure and are the all-important connection to the fish when you are fighting it.

In this article we go through choosing the best leader length, selecting the right fishing line to make your leader and what knots you need to connect the leader to your line.

Fishing Leader Length Explained

Most fishing leaders are between 2 and 8 feet in length.

Longer fishing leaders can be used for additional stealth or to introduce some stretch (if you are using monofilament) as braided fishing line has very little stretch. Stretch can be handy to dampen shock and keep fish from breaking light treble hooks.

Sometimes we will fish with longer leaders when we know we will be making a lot of lure changes when kayak fishing. It is not always easy to tie the Double Uni Knot to join mono fishing line or fluoro fishing leader line to the braided main line on the water in really choppy conditions so having a longer leader allows for the loss of line from making frequent lure changes.

Leader Line Materials

Spool of fluorocarbon line with soft plastic lures and snap swivels
Fluorocarbon fishing lines are nearly invisible underwater and it has much better abrasion resistance making it a popular choice for saltwater fishing leaders.

As the leader is transparent, there are only two choices of material for leader lines – fluorocarbon line or monofilament line.

Monofilament fishing line is cheaper and more supple (easier to tie knots with) and using monofilament leader lines is good choice for many situations. However it is more visible underwater than fluorocarbon fishing line and can decay in sunlight and absorbs water over time. It is also less abrasion resistant if you are fishing areas with sharp rocks or other structure that fish can head for when they are hooked. That said, standard monofilament leaders work fine for most fishing situations except when water clarity is really high.

Fluorocarbon fishing lines are nearly invisible underwater, and fluoro has much better abrasion resistance making it a popular choice for saltwater fishing leaders. However, it is stiffer and you really need to pay attention when tying your knots to ensure they are good. Fluoro fishing line is also more expensive.

Despite the extra cost, fluorocarbon leaders are becoming very popular because of their line visibility properties and abrasion resistance.

Fly Fishing Leaders

The term leader is also used in fly fishing in a similar way. A fly fishing leader attaches to the end of the opaque fly line. The tippet is then attached to the end of the leader and the fly, in turn, to the end of the tippet.

A tapered leader – most commonly used in fly fishing – is made from assembled sections of mono or fluoro in descending thickness, although you can buy manufactured tapered leaders than don’t have knots.

Tapered leaders in fly fishing allow the line to unfurl correctly and the angler to put the fly in front of the fish without it detecting the line.

In some fly fishing situations, a tapered leader isn’t needed and you can attach a section of mono or fluoro fishing line of the required breaking strain to serve as the leader.

Fishing Leader Knots: Connecting Your Leader Securely

With a conventional fishing leader, we are attaching the clear leader line to a braided main line. There are two choices of knot for this: the Double Uni Knot or the FG Knot (there are others too, but these are the two that we find best).

The Double Uni Knot

The Double Uni Knot is easy to learn and tie consistently, even on a rocking boat or sitting on a river bank with cold fingers.

See here for our instructions on tying the Double Uni Knot

It is a very strong knot that rarely fails and it is the knot that we choose to attach the leader line to the main line.

The FG Knot

For large and powerful gamefish, though, something stronger is needed, and that’s where the FG Knot comes in. It is more difficult to tie properly and requires practice to ensure you are capable of tying it properly, but there is no stronger knot in fishing for this purpose. The FG Knot retains 99% of the rig’s breaking strength and is the choice of guides and charter captains for its unbeatable performance.

Click here for detailed instructions on tying the FG Knot and a tool to make it easier.

The Nail Knot

tying the nail knot

For fly fishing leaders, a different type of knot is called for. It is important that the know connecting the fly line and the leader is compact to pass through the small top guide on a fly rod. It must also be strong. The best choice of knot for this connection is the nail knot. Click here for full instructions and a selection of tools that make tying this moderately difficult knot easier. Some fly lines these days come with welded loops, in which case you can avoid the nail knot and just form a loop in the end of your leader by doubling it over and tying a simple overhand knot and trimming the tag.

Shock Leaders or Tippets

The final category of fishing leaders to discuss is shock leaders.

These are short sections of very thick and tough monofilament (40 pound test to 80 pound test) that you attach to the front of your leader when you are fishing for fish with very sharp teeth or gill plates.

The heavy line of the shock leader at the business end of your rig close to the hook will prevent you getting bitten off by these toothy species and losing fish.

A shock leader is commonly used for saltwater fish, but are also necessary when fishing for muskie or pike.

The most bite resistant form of shock leader is a wire leader, which is sometimes used on fish with really sharp teeth. The stainless steel used in these leaders will greatly reduce the chance of getting bitten off when you are fighting the fish.

Final Thoughts on Fishing Leaders

Your leader is the weakest link in your rig, so it pays to think carefully about the material you select. Should you use a fluorocarbon leader or is a standard monofilament leader fine? If your personal preference is monofilament, is your mono leader in good condition, or has it been in the sun too long? What line to line knot will you use to tie your leader to the main fishing line and to your terminal tackle (your lure or your hook)? Do you need a shock leader? Having these answers to these questions makes for a successful fishing trip and we hope that’s what we have provided here.

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AUTHOR
Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water.