During the past half year or so, several Midwest finesse anglers commented on the Finesse News Network that they have stopped using a leader on their braided lines.
On May 29, the Finesse News Network began gathering the insights and observations of its members about the virtues of fishing with braided line that isn't endowed with a leader. To jump-start this endeavor, we posted opinions from one professional angler, one retired professional angler and three recreational anglers about braided line and leaders.
Here are those five opinions:
(1) Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, said he won the Wal-Mart FLW Series BP Eastern Division Event at Lake Champlain, New York, in September of 2007, using a bright yellow, 15-pound-test braided line without a leader. He tied the braided line to a 3/16-ounce skirted jig that was adorned with a brown Guido Bug. Instead of a leader, he used a green permanent-ink marker to tone down or camouflage the braided line for a few feet above his jig and Guido Bug. Since then, however, his son Dion has convinced him to use a leader with braid most of the time, and recently Stacey King of Reeds Springs, Missouri, convinced him and Dion to use an Albright knot to attach the leader to the braided line.(For information about how to tie the Albright knot see:http://www.powerpro.com/publish/content/global_fish/en/us/power_pro_v2/info/using_powerpro/knots/albright_knot_.html) Even though Hibdon uses a leader most of the time nowadays, he says if the water clarity is less than 18 inches, he sees no reason to use one.
(2) Ted Mallires of Milford, Michigan, said "I have also almost exclusively moved to 10-pound-test Power Pro braided fishing line when I fish with soft-plastics baits. And it is a huge improvement over monofilament and fluorocarbon lines in most cases. It has a better sinking rate, feel, casting distance, and lifespan or durability, as well as an ability to cut and rip through aquatic vegetation. I have used a fluorocarbon leader, and I have tied by baits directly to the braid, and as far as I can tell, it seems to make more difference to the fisherman than it does to the fish, and around aquatic vegetation, I see no difference in the number of bites between the two approaches. One advantage to a fluorocarbon leader is that it is easier to tie a knot with it than it is with braided line, but no leader eliminates a potential weak spot in the overall connection with the lure and the fish."
(3) Chris Rohr of Overland Park, Kansas, said: "Finally, I have switched all my casting and spinning reels except one exclusively to 30-pound-test P-Line's Spectrex Braid, which has an eight-pound-test diameter. I have two identical 6 ½-foot medium-light-power finesse spinning outfits; one is spooled with eight-pound-test fluorocarbon line; the second one is spooled with P-Line's Spectrex Braid. Initially I was concerned that the braid would negatively affect the number of largemouth and smallmouth bass that I would catch. But even in the strip pits, where the water clarity exceeds six feet, there has been no noticeable decrease in catch rates between rigs with the braid versus the rig with eight-pound-test fluorocarbon line. I will continue to note catch rates in future reports. The braid has helped with feeling bites especially on windier excursions when 1/16-ounce jigs are used.
(4) Brian Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, said: "I have fished extensively with light jigs tied directly to all kinds of braided line colors, including white, smoke, green, red, yellow, and flame green. In all cases, I have never found a difference in the amount or size of bass I have caught relative to what color braided lines I used or whether I tied it directly to the braided line or used a leader."
(5) Bill Ward of Warsaw, Missouri, who used to compete on the Bassmaster and other tournament circuits, said that he uses a leader slightly more than 60 percent of the time. He especially likes to use a leader in tailrace areas because the leader knot breaks easily when his lure becomes snagged. But no matter where he is fishing, if Ward breaks his leader off of the braid line, he rarely takes the time to tie on a new leader; instead he ties his bait directly to the braid line, and he catches fish at the same pace as he did with a leader. Ward says he agrees with Guido Hibdon comments about leaders and braided line: "if the water is stained, a leader not necessary." And according to Ward, sometimes a leader is not necessary even when he is fishing crystal-clear waterways for trout.
Here are the responses from some of the Finesse News Network anglers:
Rich Zaleski of Stevenson Connecticut, said, "In non-finesse applications, such as slop fishing, flipping in vegetation and working with a spinnerbait, I use braid with no leader. I use a lighter braid than most anglers. It is usually 20-pound-test, and I use it to cut the vegetation.
"For drop shotting, I use six-pound-test fluorocarbon. I've tried braid with a fluorocarbon leader with and without a swivel. I can't explain why, but I never catch nearly as many fish with the braid on the drop-shot rod as I do with straight fluorocarbon line. I am not sure if it's the buoyancy of the braid or that I feel 'too connected' to the bait with it. I like my drop-shot bait to flow naturally with the water motion on a semi-slack line. Maybe the braid gives it too much of a twitchy motion instead of a flow.
"For small jigs, grubs on jigs and similar jig combos, I use braid with a fluorocarbon leader, because the geology of the area where I live dictates that virtually every retrieve with a jig that reaches bottom will contact some form of granite, and I have never found a braid that didn't suffer from abrasion resistance issues in rocks or broken concrete. I need the business end of my line to have more abrasion resistance than braids offer.
"You know I fish stripers a lot. All winter long, we fish plastics on jigs for them. I don't have any issue with tying the jig directly to braided line. We swim the baits and rarely contact bottom. But in the spring, when we switch to big plastics on top, I won't fish without a monofilament leader, and it doesn't matter how heavy the leader is. For the topwater action, the difference in catch rate between 50-pound-test braid tied direct to the hook and 50-pound-test braid with a 25-pound-test monofilament leader is staggering. Why? I dunno. I ask the fish, but they never answer."
George Kramer of Lake Elsinore, California, said, "Of course, confidence affects everything we do. In some cases, fishing with or without a leader may directly affect the way the lure is presented or how we feel it is presented. But never forget that black bass are by nature sight feeders. So when they get fixated on a target, they don't care how or to what it might be attached; they only see the potential meal or intruder. But, something we all have experienced, such as surfacing bass targeting a specific size, color, motion of a baitfish them so fixated that they don't want a substitute. They don't care if you're using a Gopher jig or a real gopher--they only want what they want."
Daniel Nussbaum of Ladson, South Carolina, said, "I am not much of a finesse angler, but I typically use 10-pound-test braid and a fluorocarbon leader for inshore saltwater fishing with soft plastics here in South Carolina. In my mind, abrasion resistance is the biggest advantage of using fluorocarbon leader. We frequently fish around oysters, rocks, marsh grass, docks, stumps, and laydowns, and the super thin braid can fray when it comes in contact with all this structure, not to mention the rough mouths, sharp gill plates, and teeth of the fish we encounter here. Not only is fluorocarbon leader material much tougher than braid, nicks and chafed areas are more apparent than with braid, so it's obvious when you need to re-tie. Last fall, I got lazy during a hot redfish bite and tied straight to the braid a couple of times and proceeded to break off two of the next four fish I hooked. I don't know how much of a consideration this is for finesse anglers, but you guys seem to fish around structure and tangle with plenty of larger fish.
"I would note that it's crucial to use fluorocarbon leader material versus fluorocarbon line, as the line is much softer and not nearly as abrasion resistant. I made the mistake of using fluorocarbon line instead of leader just once and watched the largest seatrout I've ever seen chew through 15-pound-test line. Never again. I would also note that not all fluorocarbon leaders are created equally. I've found some to be harder and more durable than others, though some of the hardest leaders seem to be too stiff for a good presentation. I've found the Gamma leader material to be the best for my needs.
"As far as visibility goes, there's really no way to know for sure, but the way I look at it, using fluorocarbon certainly isn't hurting anything. The fact that it sinks seems to give a more natural presentation with lighter baits.
"I would be curious to know what knots finesse anglers use for connecting braid to fluorocarbon. I typically use a uni-to-uni knot, and this works fine with braids down to 10-pound-test. I use eight-pound-test braid on a couple of rods, and I've had trouble with the thinner line cutting through the leader with the uni-to-uni knot."
Bill Reichert of Lincolnshire, Illinois, said "I have never used a leader when fishing finesse jigs. I have used braid, monofilament and fluorocarbon. An article published in In-Fisherman years ago cited laboratory research conducted on bass vision which indicated that bass would not be able to discern between different types of line. If I remember correctly, they claimed that when a piece of line was thinner than a nickel, bass could no longer perceive it accurately. I have used this research as the basis for my decision to fish whatever line I want to without visibility being a deciding factor. Line can make a big difference in presentation and cause an increase in bites, but I do not feel this is related to visibility. In addition, are bass really smart enough to figure out what the line means to them? Braid coming from a lure looks much like an antenna on a crayfish and bass eat plenty of crayfish."
Brian Waldman made some additional comments, and he said: "Like Bill Ward, I probably do use a leader about 60 to 70 percent of the time when I am using braid. The first notion I'd like to dispel is that most people would assume that I'm using the leader due to visibility issues with superlines, but as you mentioned, I can't claim to have ever seen a notable difference in my waters using numerous brands and colors of superlines. Initially, I preferred to tie direct to the superline because it made rigging and fishing a more efficient process. Often I could go all day, catching 50 to 60 bass, and never retie.
"However, there are several advantages I've come to like with using a leader much of the time. These include:
"1.Fluorocarbon, due to its density, provides a little extra weight at the end of the line to help the small jig stay down against the inherent tendency of the superlines, which are lighter density and actually float.
"2. The leader material also provides an inherent amount of stretch, which provides two benefits. The first is that it cushions the direct pressure of the almost no-stretch properties of the superline, which allows for better playing ability with big bass and small hooks, as well as overzealous hook sets. More important though, it allows you to use a traditional bow-and-arrow snap to free lures that get hung in rocks or on large limbs. This is a largely overlooked concept.
"3. Fluorocarbon is a very tough material, and so a leader of fluorocarbon holds up well to constant fishing around things like rocks and dock poles.
"4. A leader also saves main line. I can start with a four to seven foot fluorocarbon leader and fish all day, retying as necessary and never get into my superline or mainline until it's time to replace the entire leader. This helps save and maintain the original length of superline spooled on your reel. You can easily fish an entire year or two on a single spool of superline as long as you don't lose enough of it from constantly tying on new leaders.
"5. For anglers who are concerned about line visibility, a leader does help mentally in clear water situations."
Walt Tegtmeier of Kansas City wrote: "With the exception of one week in Canada using 50-pound-test PowerPro Braid Line tied to a titanium leader for quick-strike rigging big pike on dead suckers, I literally have never fished braid. I'll try any lure or tactic under the sun, but for some reason have never been much of an experimenter with line. I was an early devotee of fluorocarbon, however, and use it 50 percent of the time and monofilament the other 50 percent, depending on presentation needs. So I don't have anything to offer in this debate, yet the input from some of these Finesse News Network members, particularly some its esteemed elder statesmen, may just get me to try braid again."
Bob Gum of Kansas City said. "The virtues of braid are abundant. Buy on any outing when I have difficultly catching largemouth and smallmouth bass on braid, it would be the variable I would eliminate.
"The times I have used braid I simply tied it directly to the bait. Tying on a leader seemed like another link in the chain that could break, and it was time consuming. I usually keep it simple.
"Is there a particular knot that works best with braid? I've had some issues with a polamar knot coming unraveled.
Dwight Keefer of Phoenix, Arizona, said, "Last year I had the privilege of fishing about a dozen times with some of the best fisherman in Arizona, as well as one of Bassmasters' top Elite anglers. When I fished with the Elite angler and an outdoor writer, I told them to seine the water in front of me as I was in the back of his boat. When I fished with the other top Arizona fisherman I didn't have to tell them to seine the water in front of me because they were going to do that anyway.
"I carefully inspected all of their rods, reels, line and lures they used. I asked a lot of probing questions as to why they fished their outfits as they were set up. I also attended some seminars that some of the current Bassmaster and FLW anglers staged at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, and I asked the same probing questions.
"Most of Bassmaster and FLW's top anglers from Arizona use fluorocarbon line, switching to braid with they are pitching, punching, flipping/ and frog casting around heavy vegetation. And occasionally they braid when they probing 30 to 50 feet of water with a drop shot.
"During the dozen times I went last year, I used only Sunline fluorocarbon, and I was only out fished on one occasion and on that occasion I finally had to go to five-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon on a drop-shot rig in 20 to 30 feet of water to catch fish behind them. The water clarity here is usually five to 11 feet -- except when we get an occasional large influx of rain water and those gully washers are rare in Arizona
"I basically agree with Guido Hibdon. If you only have 12 to 18 inches of clarity, it doesn't seem to make much difference what line you use -- especially if you are using reaction bait like a crankbait I have used every major line manufacture's braided line, including Nanofil, from eight to 80-pound-test. After three years of experimenting and asking all those probing questions, I now use Sunline fluorocarbon for all my fishing needs, which ranges from finesse to A-rigs -- except when I am fishing in and over heavy vegetation."
Jim Schroer of Kansas City said, "I had to join in on the discussion about braided line. I have been fishing braid since it first came out. Fenwick had one that was almost round and pretty easy to use on a spinning reel. Over the years there have been a lot of improvements and different manufactures. Some are still a little too flat and course.
"I fish as light a line as I can find. I fish one or two-pound diameter braided line for most everything. Once in awhile I lose a fish, but we all lose one occasionally. PowerPro is what I use, and it is a strong durable line. They have green-, red-, and yellow-colored lines, and I've tried them all. The red is the hardest to see, and I have gotten away from using it. I have started using the yellow because I can see it better and can pick up the strikes a little better. I fished at Flaming Gorge last fall for trout and smallmouth bass. The water was very clear and you can see down more than 10 feet. I caught fish using a 1/16-ounce jig and PB&J grub. I stuck with the yellow line and I don't think the color made any difference. As I noted, I fish as light a braided line as I can, and maybe a larger diameter line would be a problem. "Braided line lets me use a softer action rod. I prefer a medium-light action rod, and I found it is easier to get a good hookset with braid."
Burton Bosley of Sutton, West Virginia, said, "Since returning to the hills of West Virginia and its deep clear lakes, I have been challenged once again by suspended bass. The Heddon Spook has always been a good one for this situation, as has drifting a light and small bait. We used to drift with a marabou jig or Chuck Woods' Beetle, and now it is the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ on a Gopher jig. Those snug-fitting little Gopher Tackle Mushroom Heads Jigs allow the ZinkerZ to glide very alluringly.
" During my days as a fishing guide, I also had clients who had good success freelining unweighted Senko-style baits, which are usually wacky rigged, and the key for me in this endeavor was patience; patience whilst that little bait wafts down through the water column.
"My latest approach has been to hurl six to eight-inch swimbaits, and some of them weigh a quarter of a pound. I count the swimbait down to the appropriate depth and then slowly retrieve them. This tactic doesn't catch a lot of bass, but it does reveal their whereabouts, and once I know where they are, I used finesse tactics to catch them. Optimum Bait Company's Fubit Frog is another bait that locates bass that can be caught on finesse tactics.
"Since retiring from my guiding days in the Florida Everglades, where every rod and reel was spooled with braided line, my rod and reels nowadays are spooled with either fluorocarbon or braided line with a fluorocarbon leader that is attached with an Albright knot. And I still have a vintage Cardinal Four spinning reel spooled with old-fashioned six-pound-test Stern monofilament. It is important to note that there is no difference in the catch rates of the fluorocarbon outfit, braid with fluorocarbon-leader outfit and the monofilament outfit. But the fluorocarbon outfit is more sensitive.
"It is entertaining and educational to read the Finesse News Network reports It confirms my posit that all fish are fun, but none more so than the black bass, which can be pursued in so many different ways. My education in bass fishing has never slowed down and continues on past my 70th year."
Casey Kidder of Topeka, Kansas, said, "It's been interesting reading Finesse News Networks members' responses about leaders and braid.
"Personally, I use braid a lot on both spinning and baitcasting gear. On my baitcasting gear, I use a green braid, and for most moving baits, I don't use a leader. I fish deep and shallow cranks, spinnerbaits, chatterbaits all on braid, which definitely goes against the grain for crankbaits. I do prefer monofilament for topwater popper baits, and fluorocarbon for jerkbaits. I also use monofilament for swimbaits. For slow-moving baits like jigs and plastics, I seem to get more bites on fluorocarbon compared to braid, and so unless I'm fishing extremely heavy cover, I don't use braid.
"For spinning tackle, all of my rods have braid, and I prefer 10-pound hi-vis-yellow Sufix 832 Superline I experimented one day with not using a leader. That occurred when I was catching bass regularly along one bank when I broke the leader off, and I retied directly to the braid. I couldn't get a bite until I tied a leader back on. That was enough to convince me that day, and I haven't experimented with it since."
(1) Two of the most masterful finesse anglers with a jig who I have fished with across the years are Terry Bivins of Lebo, Kansas, and Steven Desch of Topeka, Kansas.
Neither one uses braided line, and it is unlikely that they will ever use braid.
When Bivins works with 1/16-ounce jigs, his spinning outfits are spooled with six-pound-test Stren Originial in its clear/blue fluorescent hue. He switches to eight-pound-test Stren when he wields an 1/8-ounce jig. If he is working with a 1/4-ounce jig dressed with Bass Assassin Lures' Walleye Turbo Shad, his spinning reel is spooled with 10-pound-test Trilene Big Game.
Desch spools his spinning reels with six- and eight-pound-test Bass Pro Shops' Excel monofilament. The size of the line that he employs revolves around the wind velocity, size of the jig, clarity of the water, and depth of the fish.
(2) Dave Schmidtlein of Topeka, Kansas, said, "The only knot I use, for all lines, is the Trilene knot," but he doesn't use a leader.
Schmidtelin is a different kind of finesse angler. He focuses primarily on blue catfish, crappie, channel catfish, walleye and white bass. He occasionally catches some largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and wipers around his crappie, walleye and white bass lairs. What's more, he always employs a variety of vertical presentation, and he is a master at that presentation style and the boat control methods that are essential for executing alluring vertical presentations.
Schmidtlein says, "A few years ago I was having issues with the "sandpapery" mouths of catfish causing premature break-offs. So, I tried a steel leader one day. That experiment ended quickly that day. Other than that I have not used any leaders at all.
"When I use monofilament line, I prefer solar green or chartreuse green. When I use braid, I use yellow or aqua green.
"For crappie, I favor four to eight-pound-test monofilament line most of the time, but I do use eight to 10-pound test braid for crappie too. My first work with braid occurred a number of year ago when my catfish rod and reel was spooled 30-pound-test black-and-white Tuff Line, and Tuff braid caught crappie as well as six-pound-test monofilament. What's more, I didn't lose any jigs in brush piles.
"For walleye, it's a little more even usage of eight and 10-pound-test monofilament and eight to 12-pound-test braided line.
"Fishing in waters containing zebra mussels we've noticed that we have more cut offs on braid line than monofilament while working our bait along the bottom.
"About 99% of the time I use 10- to 50-pound-test braided line for catfish, depending on the size of fish we are chasing, depth we are fishing and if we are fishing in brush. On a few very rare occasions, when the cats are in an extremely finicky mood and we are in open water away from obstacles, I use four-pound-test monofilament.
"Overall, I rig a couple poles with monofilament and a couple with braid for most species we chase. In addition, I have extra reel spools that are filled with heavier or lighter weights of monofilament and braids, and I also have spools with different colors of line."
(3) Stacey King says one of the great advantages of brightly colored braided line with a fluorocarbon leader is that it is a fantastic strike indicator -- especially when he is employing a deadstick retrieve.