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  Tackle Talk  Rods & Reels

Leaders & Traces

A common question that is asked is "Why have leaders at all and why have lines of varying thicknesses and strengths anyway ?" The short answer is that things are not as quite as simple. So we need to look at why leaders, or traces, are necessary to fishing. We will also explore the reasons why we need lines of different thicknesses and strengths as well.

You may need a leader that's heavier than the main line so as to absorb the stress and punishment of casting heavy lures on light tackle. Another instance is when a rig needs to withstand abrasions, impacts and minor cuts which it might sustain as a hooked fish drags the line through rough underwater terrain or as the rig is wound in over rocks and other harsh places.

You may also need a leader that is in fact lighter than the main line when fishing for touchy, finicky or sensitive species like trout or bream, both of which are known at times to shy away from lines that are thick or more noticeable in some other way. Another reason for a lighter leader is when fishing over rough bottom-ground where snagging is a likely and frequent occurrence. By using a lighter leader or trace, only the bottom bit of the rig is lost when you have to break off and this saves re-rigging time, equipment and money.

An alternative to using long-shanked hooks or flights of ganged hooks to prevent fish teeth and fins from damaging fishing line is to use a trace or leader of heavy nylon or wire as shown here. This kind of wire trace is cable-laid. That is, it is made of multiple fine strands of wire spiralled together into a sort of wire rope. This kind of trace can be knotted, but is usually crimped with soft metal sleeves and special crimping pliers.

The use of strong leaders, though, can bring its own set of problems. A typical situation where this might happen is when using lure types that don't have strong swimming actions. This includes many small lures of various designs. Heavy lines tend to dampen the action of the lures more than light leaders, especially when attached by a clinch knot. The reason is that before the lure can achieve its designed action, it must wag and flex the heavy line, and the heavier the line, and the heavier, thicker or stiffer the line is, the harder the lure has to work. Some lines are so stiff and some lures have such weak actions that a heavier leader can kill a lure's action stone dead. With a small or weak-actioned lure, it is better to employ a loop knot. This will allow the lure to move more freely.

A wire trace can also come in single-strand form. This can be soft galvanised wire, which is pliable and easily worked into wraps and ties by hand, or it can be hard-drawn stainless steel wire, which will require special wraps to secure it and probably the use of tools such as pliers as well.

The first time I relied heavily on wire traces or leaders was during my Barramundi BigTime fishing trip to the Northern Territory. While fishing frequently over near rocky outcrops and reefs, I found the wire trace to be an invaluable tool, in ensuring those fish I hooked, stayed hooked for landing.

Now, you could just use the lighter main line straight through to the lure (or a baited hook) but then you come up against the abrasions and stress problem mentioned earlier. So, you may ask, "if light or thin line is so subject to damage, why us it at all ?"

One answer is that a light main line may be necessary to achieve the required casting distance to reach the fish. Thick line does not cast as easily as thin line because its stiffness hampers the way it comes off the spool and its greater surface area is more wind resistant as well.

Another reason for light or thin line is that the fish you are after or likely to encounter may be capable of running long distances when hooked. Because light line is thinner, more of it can be spooled onto a reel of a given size. This means that it is unlikely that a hot fish will take all your line and beak free when there is no more line to give. It also means that the diameter of the line load will shrink less with thin line, as compared to thick line.

A third reason is, that just as thick line is more affected by wind resistance during a cast, it is also more subject than thin line to the effect of water movement. That means that in a fast or turbulent water, thick line will be more buoyant and will require more sinker weight to get a bait down to the fish. When trolling, it will not let lures dive as deep as you may need them to.

So to summarise, the disadvantages of thick line are that it doesn't cast well, you spool as much of it onto a reel, and it can hamper the natural movement of baits, making them less appealing to fish.

Its advantages are that it will withstand abuse and abrasion much better than light line and that it is very strong. Thick line will often let you simply drag many fish out of the water without ceremony, which is one reason why hand line fishermen with the simple intent of bringing fish home for tea like to use it. Also, with hand liners, thin line can cut wet hands like a knife, while a line with some size to it can be more easily grasped and held onto in a fish tug-of-war.

Like so may things in fishing, there is no one right or wrong answer to using line sizes. The value and virtue of any piece of equipment or technique is relative to the situation you are fishing at the time. The right choice of line thickness is one where the line is thin and flexible enough not to spook wary fish, yet strong enough to land the fish, once it is hooked.

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