Tying Light-Tackle Leaders

Four fishing knots to use when building your leader system

Tying light-tackle leaders
Tying light-tackle leadersillustration by Joe Mahler

There's something special about catching big fish on relatively light tackle. For the purposes of this discussion, we'll define light tackle as any line class from 6-pound- test to 20-pound. If you go lighter than 6-pound, you're really talking about ultralight line (4- and 2-pound), and over 20, you're getting into medium to heavy tackle categories.

As for our definition of big fish, think of any fish larger than the size of your line: i.e., a 15-pound fish caught on 12-pound-test. That's no great feat, of course, but when you get into multiples of your line class - say, five times your chosen line strength - you're now talking about a 60-pound fish on 12, and that is something to write home about.

Everyone rigs differently, depending upon the species of fish they're after, the tactics required to catch those fish and sometimes the region of the country in which they live. There's no absolutely right way to rig, but there is one universal truth about light tackle: You had better rig everything for maximum strength so that your knots and all of your terminal tackle allow you to apply as much pressure to the fish as possible.

Build It Right

The basic light-tackle terminal gear setup generally consists of three parts: a double line section, a knot (or sometimes a swivel) to connect the actual leader to the doubled line, and a knot to connect the hook or lure to the leader. This simple system has been somewhat complicated by the growing use of high-tech braided lines, which have ultra-slick finishes and super-thin diameters that make it harder to tie strong knots.

So we will discuss a simple yet effective terminal tackle system that will work with either braid or monofilament main lines and with nylon or fluorocarbon monofilament leader. You can add a wire trace between the nylon or fluorocarbon and the hook or lure if you're chasing things with sharp teeth.

Tying light-tackle leaders
Tying light-tackle leadersillustration by Joe Mahler

Casting or Trolling?

The first question you need to ask yourself is what type of fishing will you be doing. If you're drifting live baits, you might want to rig a longer leader to make the endgame simpler when the fish is boat-side. Extra length allows you to get the leader on the reel and apply extra pressure when the fish is close at hand, making it much easier to release the fish or take it for dinner with a gaff or net.

The IGFA sanctions leaders up to 20 feet in total length for 20-pound-test and under. Of that combined length, neither the double line nor the leader itself can be longer than 15 feet, including all knots and any swivels you may use. That's a lot of leader, but if you don't have to cast, it may make sense to use the maximum length.

Most people rig much shorter leaders, and if you're casting to fish, that's a given. Long leaders are too cumbersome to cast effectively, so most light-tackle experts opt for a double line section about 2 feet long, with a 2- to 5-foot section of heavier leader material. This setup casts well because, even with the longer 5-foot leader, you can keep the connecting knot between leader and double line out of the rod tip. Casting with that knot inside the tip invariably slows the line speed and impedes the cast.

Tying light-tackle leaders
Tying light-tackle leadersillustration by Joe Mahler

Why a Double Line?

Many fishermen skip the double line section completely, complaining that double-line knots are too difficult and time-consuming to tie. But double lines offer proven advantages, the most important of which is shock absorption. This is especially urgent when using braid, which does not stretch.

When a large fish suddenly strikes a bait or lure on light line, the force on the line can be substantial, enough to break the line from the sudden shock. A section of double line absorbs much of that blow right at the most important point - close to the hook, at the first critical connection from leader to the main line. Look at it this way: If you have only straight 12-pound tied to your leader, that 12-pound must absorb all of the force of the strike. But if you double a section of that same 12-pound, you now have a short piece that's 24-pound-test. Just a couple of feet of double line makes a huge difference, and no light-tackle leader setup is complete without it.

Tying light-tackle leaders
Tying light-tackle leadersillustration by Joe Mahler

What Knots?

When it comes down to actually assembling the leader, you have a confusing number of choices in knots to use. Those choices become even more bewildering when you throw braid into the mix, because some knots that work great with mono don't work so well with braid.

Accordingly, we have assembled illustrations of a simple yet highly effective leader system that will work consistently with either braid or mono. Here's what we at Salt Water Sportsman recommend:

Tying the ultimate light-tackle leader

All light-tackle leaders should begin with a double-line loop, and of the knots available to create these loops, none surpasses the Bimini twist. Here's how to make one.

Connecting the leader to the double line

When tying your section of leader to the double line, you have many knots to choose from, but we feel the two best are the double, or back-to-back, uni-knot and the Bristol knot. These two knots work well with either mono or braid, as opposed to an Albright knot, which is a great choice for mono but does not always work well with braid.

Attaching the hook or lure

When choosing a knot to tie on your hook or lure at the bitter end of your terminal rig, you once again face myriad choices. But we like loops in most circumstances, so in the interest of brevity, here's one of the best loop knots we know ­- the no-slip loop knot.