Taking Leader Strength to the Extreme - The Fisherman

Taking Leader Strength to the Extreme

Nothing matters, until it does.

By Jerry Audet

I have a couple specific surf-fishing spots that I love, which are extremely rewarding, but also fairly complicated and often infuriating. I admit it: there have been some nights in the past where the fish have defeated me so thoroughly that I simply gave up and left. Picture it: me wading back to shore through the dark swirling water in my wetsuit, grumbling to myself and stringing together a line of profanity under my breath like Joe Pesci’s character in Home Alone. The truth is, this has occurred more than a handful of times.

How heavy can you go before it is too heavy?

The primary challenge at one spot arises because the fish are moving parallel to a rip, and as they take the plug, already have a full head of steam and a strong current at their back. This pushes them right into an isolated pile of large rocks. As a result, I must be aggressive during the initial moments of the fight. Yet, they sometimes break me off anyway. Since I had always been a devout believer that stripers are virtually immune to “leader shyness” at night, I decided I would try going extreme for a year: I began using a 125-pound test monofilament leader.

Through the spring and summer, I tested the leader carefully, using the same brand as my 30-, 50-, and 80-pound test, and found that it didn’t seem to make any difference in my catch rate – or so I thought. It’s hard to test something like this when you fish alone, and have no way to directly compare your effectiveness on a minute-by-minute basis. I also admit I didn’t use it on most nights, only those that had potential for the largest fish and windy conditions. I cringe now thinking about the opportunities I may have missed, given what occurred one night in October.


I was fishing a storm, and had peanuts and bass rolling at my feet as I fought to cling to my boulder in the wind-driven swells. These are precisely the conditions in which I had always assumed you could use anchor rope for your leader and still catch fish – tons of waves and white water, total black out, and fish driven by blood-lust. I started with a needlefish and landed a couple of schoolies immediately. Then, for a long span of at least 20 minutes, I was getting only soft nudges and bumps. At first I thought I was imagining it in the rough conditions, but then I caught a fish without ever setting the hook that was about 12 pounds. Then, again for another full hour, I had zero additional landed fish, and a vexing number of these subtle nudges and bumps. I nearly pulled my back out setting the hook over and over with no reward. I couldn’t believe it – I was literally kicking large peanut bunker off my boulder and watching them get attacked by bass, some of which were not schoolies. Eventually something clicked in my mind, and I conceded that it could be the leader that was the issue. I changed it to 50-pound test on the spot, and for the next half hour had 20 fish into the high-teens. I stopped getting soft bumps, and the fish began slamming my plug with thunderous hits. Eventually, I was blasted off the rock by a large swell, and didn’t feel it was safe to fish anymore, so I called it a night.


The lesson here is simple. I still do not think stripers are leader shy, but you can take anything too far. While I personally still believe leaders in the 30- to 60-pound range are virtually identical under most night-time conditions, I do concede now that going over 80 pounds can have an impact even during the darkest nights. Some of you may be thinking “no duh,” but I still think it’s surprising given the huge hooks, metal lips, and various other unnatural factors attached to or hanging off our plugs; not to mention the striper’s very poor vision. As a result, and in subsequent testing, I still think it isn’t the visual disruption that a thick leader has, but instead I believe the 125-pound test influences the natural presentation and action of the lure. It’s so stiff that even with a Tactical Angler Clip (or similar), the lure does not “swim” or move as fluidly; it is stifled by the leader and looks unnatural. I was warned of this by a friend, yet had to learn the lesson first-hand. I still am not ruling out the use of 100-pound-plus leaders in some situations, but for now, I will go back to primarily using 50-pound mono.

How heavy can you go before it is too heavy?





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