A leader at the end of your line can make or break a day on the water, literally depending how well it performs. Not all leader designs are equal when composition and application are taken into consideration. Components that are too heavy or light for the intended species can jeopardize your success.
Many off-the-shelf leaders are built too bulky. It is rare that nylon-coated steel cable festooned with heavy crimps, large snaps and multiple drops are needed. The excessive weight of this rigging may actually tip off your quarry that something is amiss. I've found that using a minimal amount of hardware is the best approach.
Swivels- Years ago I quit using snap swivels unless I'm attaching an inline sliding weight other than egg-style. Snap swivels tend to snag bottom debris, cause tangles at the line-to-leader connection and they occasionally come un-snapped!
I typically use a less-expensive brass swivel to attach leaders to main line, with the added benefit that they help manage line twist and I prefer the crane swivel over the barrel swivel. The crane swivel has a better strength to size ratio with less tendency of the main line/leader connection becoming tangled on the swivel. There are also more expensive stainless steel mini swivels, which are generally 2-3 times stronger than brass of comparable sizes.
I prefer black swivels over chrome as the color camouflages well in the water and reduces the chance of a fish eating the swivel.
Regardless of the make or style of swivel, I typically use swivels rated stronger than the leader material:
-20lb/test leader = #10 swivel
-30 and 40lb/test leader = #7 swivel
-60 and 80lb/test leader = #5 or #3 swivel
-100 and 130lb/test leader = #1 swivel
Leader Material- Nylon monofilament by far is the best choice for twisting up your own leaders. There are many manufacturers of leader-specific line but for my use Ande Premium or Berkley Big Game clear mono both work great. I purchase the 1/4-pound spools and store them in neoprene drink koozies to minimize tangles and to protect the line from sunlight.
Knots- It is a good idea to become proficient at tying several knots for building leaders. The knots I use most often are Improved Clinch, Uni-Knot, Double-Uni, Albright Special, Dropper Loop, Offshore Swivel Knot, No-Slip Loop and Surgeon's End Loop.
I attach all swivels and circle hooks with either Improved Clinch or Uni-Knot. One of my modifications is to run the leader through the swivel/hook eye twice before starting the knots and adjusting the number of wraps around the line during knot construction based on lb/test rating: 20lb = 6 wraps, 30lb = 5 wraps, 60lb = 4 wraps, 80 and 100lb = 3 wraps and 130lb = 2 wraps.
I use a 3-wrap No-Slip Loop on most other hook styles to maximize bait action and simplify the tying process.
Search the internet for knot tying instructions, www.netknots.com has great animated presentations that are very simple to follow.
Fish Finder Rig- Very popular for many fishing situations, it is one of the easiest to rig and use. This rig can be used to keep a bait on or near bottom as well as suspending your bait in the water column when light sinkers are added.
Fashioned by tying a swivel to a length of leader material with hook attached. A free-running weight of choice is added between the rod tip and leader swivel, similar to Carolina Rig. When fished with a slack line, this rig allows the fish to take the bait while feeling the least resistance.
The sliding weight holds the bait at or near bottom depending on the length of leader from swivel to hook. A small plastic bead threaded onto the line between the sinker and the swivel helps deter knot abrasion. A short 6 to 12-inch leader trace keeps the bait tight to the bottom with precise placement. Whereas an 18-inch or greater length allows the bait more mobility.
I use a short length often while fishing around hard snags like jetty rocks, wrecks or gulf platforms. Longer leader lengths are more likely to grab the snags, especially with a strong current flow. This short rig also keeps the bait nearest bottom when targeting black drum, redfish or flounder.
I prefer a longer trace of leader when fishing live bait away from hard structure. Especially effective in sand pockets and grassy areas, longer leaders present live baits above bottom. This increases the bait's distress signal output and within in view of passing gamefish.
Bait Stopper Rig- This rig is similar to the Fish Finder but keeps the attached siding weight closer to the bait. The Bait Stopper is typically tied to be about three feet in overall length and aids in assisting the hookset as the fish pulls away. This is very beneficial when using circle hooks on large redfish and black drum. Deep hooking is less likely as the sinker stops and slides the hook toward the fish's mouth.
This rig incorporates a 12-inch straight leader with swivel opposite the hook, another 24 inches of leader material is tied between the first swivel and another up the line. The sliding weight is added to this stretch of leader, egg weights are popular as well as pyramid or bank sinkers on a slide.
An egg-shaped sinker is threaded onto the line, while other styles can be attached via snap swivel slide. A slide can be made onto the leader with plastic beads on either side. The beads offer some protection to the knots on either end and keeps the slide from traveling past these stops.
Personally, I like to limit the terminal gear expense and bulk by using a Double Uni-Knot when connecting the 12 and 24-inch leader lengths together.
Single Drop Rig- This rig is designed to be fished vertically with minimal tangles and very effective when dropping around hard structure such as jetty rocks, wrecks or gulf platforms. By dropping this leader straight down without casting there is less chance of becoming snagged. Casted rigs often have slack line trailing due to the increased angle that aids in snagging hard structure.
Inshore I typically use 30 and 40-lb mono and for offshore 60 and 80-lb work well. I start the leader by tying an 8-inch dropper loop in the leader with tags, the tag ends approximately 24-inches on each side of the loop. On one of the tag ends I attach an appropriate crane swivel and the other a bank sinker. The sinker is heavy enough to hold bottom according to depth and current speed. Once the leader knots are snugged tightly, the hook is attached to the dropper loop via an Offshore Swivel Knot. This loop stands away from the main leader which is great for bait presentation and reduces tangles. The knot on the hook pulls down tight and assists in forming a double-lined stand-off for increased abrasion resistance in structure and from toothy fishes.
Suspending Rig- I came up with this rig this summer out of necessity. Many times, while fishing offshore platforms and jetties, cobia would be seen cruising the structure, making one pass under the boat and never returning. Usually, there was not a bait in the water at 6 to 8-foot below the surface to get their attention, so they were never hooked.
At first I tried a couple of different heavy leadhead jig hooks, broke one and straightened the other on hookup. I made this rig with a #3 crane swivel on one end of 60-lb mono and a loop knot 48 inches away on the other. On the loop knot I placed a Mustad O'Shaughnessy 9174 6/O hook with 3/4-ounce egg sinker below.
I could keep a live croaker dangled below my hull on a slow-action fiberglass rod with 30-lb mono main line from a rod holder. While dropping for red snapper, cobia hit this rig on their first pass under the boat and we caught several that we did not see cruising.
I hope these leader rigs and explanation of how I fish them helps put fish in your boat. Being on the water many days allows me the chance to fine tune presentations and experiment until satisfaction is achieved. I learn something new, good or bad, each time I leave the dock.
Merry Christmas to you and yours! -Curtiss.