Follow The Leader – Dave Magner 2017

Apart from your hook, the line it is tied to is the next most important part of the whole fishing equation. Leaders, traces, tippets, call ‘em what you will’, that all important bit of line which is tied to your hook is a vital but often overlooked piece of angling equipment.

It’s the last link in the chain and it’s got to be light enough to fool the fish while still being strong enough to stand up to rocks, oysters, sharp teeth and gill plates. All in all, that’s a big ask for a skinny bit of line, so what leader material should you be using?

Of course, there is no absolutely right answer to that question but basically there are three choices you can go with; wire, monofilament and fluorocarbon.

Each type of leader material has its plusses and minuses and each one suits a range of specific fishing situations. In the following paragraphs, I’ve set out some of my thoughts about each different type of material to try and narrow down the selection process a little for you.

Hard Wired

When I first started fishing over four decades ago wire traces were considered as almost essential in a lot of saltwater situations. Fish were food and there was precious little catch and release going on. Losing a fish meant missing out on a feed, so the emphasis was on landing every fish as quickly as possible before it got away.

In those times, there was a bit of lure fishing going on but the whole idea of sports fishing was still very much in its infancy.

Most anglers relied on bait and even the more sporting anglers of the day who were into spinning used whole fish, such as gar or pilchards rather than lures. Fish ate your baits and you expected to hook them deep in the back of the throat.

Back then, if you fished for tailor, mackerel, flathead or anything with teeth then wire traces were regularly used. Wire was even recommended for species like barra. Some of the real old timers even used wire lines to fish for bream and jacks on their long bamboo Kelly rods.

Of course, alot has changed since those heady days. Fish have become a lot less plentiful for one, and a lot more educated for another.

While you can still catch fish on wire traces when bait fishing, I would hardly recommend it. I’d even go so far as to say there’s little doubt that you will catch a heap more if you don’t use it.

As for using lures, apart from a couple of highly specialized areas like fishing for large sharks or targeting wahoo using skirted game lures, I don’t think there is any real need to use wire traces at all.

I know a number of die hard mackerel fishos still use wire but even then, I’d argue it’s not really necessary. Personally, I’ve caught a stack of mackerel in South East Queensland waters and have never used any sort of metal trace while fishing for them.

Mostly I spin for mackerel and use metal lures and while I’ll occasionally get bitten off, it happens far less regularly that you would think.

The main problem occurs as you let the lure sink on a slack line.

Often as the lure is fluttering towards the bottom, a mackerel will swim over and inhale it. Once that line comes into contact with those razor-sharp teeth it’s all over.

All you generally feel on the rod end is a slight ‘clunk’ and before you know it you are reeling in slack line. If you get a hit while retrieving however, nine times out of ten the fish connects with the back half of the lure and gets a mouth full of hooks. If your lure is long enough it will provide all the protection your line needs.

It’s certainly been my experience that the extra number of hits you will get more than makes up for any losses when not using wire.

When it’s all said and done, metals are one of the cheapest lures you can buy, so even if you do lose a couple for a day’s fishing then it’s still a cheap price to pay.


The introduction of braided lines had one of the all-time great impacts on fishing trends. Suddenly we went from stretchy, springy monofilament to this new, super thin, super strong braid with little or no give in it.

Having grown up fishing mono, I can remember the amazing difference changing over to braid made to our fishing.

You just got so much more feedback than we were used to and it certainly revolutionized a few techniques for us.

Of course, there were a few hiccups as the angling population at large made the transition from mono to braid.

I remember a couple of well-known angling scribes of the day who got a bit caught up in it all and started rabbiting on about how unbreakable these new ‘super lines’ were.

They encouraged people to simply tie their hook or lure to the end of the line and go fishing.

Meanwhile, those anglers who were doing a lot of trolling quickly found out that while braid has great tensile strength, one of its biggest downfalls is a lack of abrasion resistance.

Deep diving lures trolled around rocky banks started breaking off for no apparent reason. It turned out that simply rubbing over rocks while it was under tension from being trolled was enough to wear clean through braided lines.

To rectify the situation, we resorted to tying on a couple of meters of mono on the end of our braid as a trace. This simple change gave us the best of both worlds.

The braid provided lots of feel for what the lure was doing and the mono provided the abrasion resistance at the business end.

This setup is a simple system which I still use in the vast majority of cases today.

Whether I’m spinning for mackerel or casting lures in a freshwater impoundment for bass, nine times out of ten that’s how my line will be set up.

The actual leader length simply varies to match the length of the rod and the mood of the fish.

The main knot I use to make the connection is a simple double uni knot and it’s incredibly safe and reliable.

The only time it doesn’t get used is when I’m casting or jigging and heavy trace material of 20 kilos or more is being used.

In that situation, the Uni knot is replaced by the FG knot, simply because it provides a much smoother trip through the rod guides.

As for brands, well I’ve tried quite a number of different breeds of mono and there are a couple I’m happy to recommend specifically as leader material. For rough and tumble jigging and heavy saltwater work, I’m a big fan of Black Magic Tough Trace. This Japanese made copolymer line is strong and copes with an amazing amount of rubbing before it breaks, which is exactly what you want for that type of fishing.

I also like the fact that the Black Magic leader holds an FG knot extremely well.

I used this leader material lot while living up on Thursday Island where I fished Hammond Rock whenever conditions would allow.

Hammond Rock is a productive but taxing place to jig due to the surging currents, rough terrain and the number of big sharks hanging around.

Basically, you had to get your fish in the boat as quickly as possible or it would get torn to bits and there was very little room for any sort of finesse.

For slightly lighter work, say when spinning for queenies or mackerel I often use Rovex 10X Formula NXT. This stuff is dirt cheap and a pale, dull green in colour which seems to blend in pretty well out in the ocean.

I love the feel of it and use 30 pound as leader tied to 20 pound braided main line. When run from a decent spin setup this combination has accounted for stacks of macs, tuna and manageable sized trevally with little trouble.

For estuary and light freshwater work, I’ve got a few different types of mono that I’ve found suitable. Of the imports I’ve tried, Triumph Super Shock Leader and Silver Thread have stood out.

Both are thin for breaking strain and knot beautifully. Being imported they are a bit on the expensive side but you generally get what you pay for.

My favourite locally made mono material is undoubtedly Platypus Super 100. Unlike mono sold specifically as trace material, this stuff is sold as a main line and comes in much larger spool sizes, which makes it incredibly good value for money. It comes in two colours and I much prefer the light tan coloured line as it’s perfect for freshwater impoundments.

It’s also incredibly thin, and you can get away with going slightly heavier than you would with other brands of line. I use this stuff for bass fishing leader all the time now and have found it very reliable.

Fancy Fluoro

Now you will probably get the feeling from this section that I’m not a diehard fan of fluorocarbon but please don’t get the wrong idea.

I can see the uses and the benefits of the stuff and I do think it’s well worth using in some specific cases.

Overall however, I can’t help but think that a lot of anglers are being lured into spending lots of their hard-earned cash on something that offers negligible practical benefits over other more affordable materials.

Fluorocarbon’s biggest claim to fame is that it is meant to have the same refractive index as water, making it very hard for the fish to see.

Well, yes fluorocarbon is clear but is it really invisible under water? Have a look for yourself next time and you be the judge.

If you can see it, do you really think the fish can’t? Also, have a feel of the material. Yes, it is abrasion resistant but I find most fluorocarbon trace material to be relatively stiff and springy in comparison to an equivalent sized length of mono.

You need to remember that the look of the material is only half the equation.

There’s also the feel to it and the way it makes your lure behave to be taken into consideration. That means I’d only recommend it for places where you need maximum abrasion resistance, such as fishing around oyster racks, ocean rocks and the like.

Where fluorocarbon can shine, is when you are chasing fish which tend to thrash their heads from side to side and effectively ‘sandpaper’ their way through your leader. Flathead and to a certain extent threadfin salmon provide an example of this.

The effect from both species is amplified when using lures which are likely to get sucked right down the back of the throat, such as soft plastics. The trick is to use the lightest fluorocarbon you think you can get away with so that the leader doesn’t sandbag the lure.

Abrasion resistance is also the prime reason why I’m happy to give fluorocarbon the nod when barra fishing. Barra often hang in heavy cover and fluorocarbon will generally cope much better with getting dragged through timber than regular mono.

As barra lures are generally larger and have a stronger action, the springiness of fluorocarbon is not so much of an issue.

About the only other reason I carry fluorocarbon is for when I’m chasing schooled bass on ultralight tackle. In the lightest weights, it’s not thick enough to be too stiff or springy.

When using such light weight leaders in a competition environment you really do need all the abrasion resistance you can muster.

Thinking Leaders

While I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, I hope you can see there is a real need to think critically about your leaders.

Before you add one to your line, you need to think about the type of terrain you are fishing, the type of structure it’s likely to come into contact with and how well equipped the fish are with sharp bits which might cut you off.

You also need to think about how discrete you might need to be to get a bite in the first place.

My general rule of thumb is to start off with a reasonable breaking strain for the fish and location being fished and then only go lighter if the fish are there but playing hard to get.

In hard fished waters where the fish see a lot of lures, you’ll often be amazed at how changing down in leader size can improve your results.

To finish off, I hope you can see the need for at least a couple of different types of leader material, as mono and fluorocarbon can cover the vast majority of fishing scenarios you are likely to encounter.

If you have a couple of spools of each in different line weights, you should be well equipped to deal with most situations that come along.

Cheers, Dave Magner