All About Fishing Leaders: 5 Ways to Combat Nasty Pike and Muskie Break-Offs

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Scenario 1: It’s the epitome of elation; you’re fishing for that Muskie or Pike of a lifetime, a 46” Northern slashes onto your bait or a 52” Muskie engulfs your presentation. The bait is gone into that cavernous mouth… BUT, you have the appropriate connection to your lure. Success!

Scenario 2: It’s the epitome of frustration; you’re fishing Walleye, Smallmouth, or Largemouth. You’re running a bait behind straight 12lb fluorocarbon line, you feel a bite, you set the hook and… SWISH… your line rises to the surface and ever-so-slowly, floats in the air until you reel it in. You just lost that expensive “favourite” lure. Failure!

These two examples represent a couple of typical experiences with the ultimate in freshwater, razor-sharp teeth, and the ultimate in bait stealing scoundrels!

Throughout time, especially in our travels to northern Canada, we have come to learn a thing or two about dealing with the above situations. Yes, it is certainly not rocket science and yes, the solution is the addition of some kind of leader material. That said, not all leaders are created equal.

Here are some suggestions to keep in mind.

1 – Wire Leader:

The wire leader is by far the most commonly used way to combat predator fish cut-offs. Whether you are fishing for Muskie or Pike, or whether you are fishing for something else with the two Esox cousins present.

The wire leader has been around forever and they have come a long way.

The earliest wire leaders that we remember were the bright silver units from swivel, to leader, to a snap. Everything was (and they are still out there) a bright, metallic monstrosity. Yes, they will work in a pinch but we don’t like these and try to avoid them at all costs.

In the world of wire leaders, we much prefer a stranded, dark-coloured, wire leader. They are strong and their appearance is more pleasing to the eye (we think to the fish’s eye as well).

They come either pre-manufactured or you can make your own.

The normal number of strands (small wire wrapped together to make a single, larger diameter wire) is 7, however, the Muskie fraternity often uses up to 19 and 21 strands. The typical stranded wire leaders usually come in lengths of 6 – 18 inches for casting purposes and longer for trolling.

Make sure that there are quality, dark-coloured swivels and snaps on your stranded wire leaders.

The downfall to this option is kinking in the leader. Through the grinding and friction on a fighting Esox, it’s guaranteed you’ll go through a number of these!

Here’s an example of a well-constructed leader, the Z Leaders 7 strand, double crimped wire leader. Look for quality when purchasing, or use high standards when tying your own.

2 – Nylon Coated Leader:

These slick-looking leaders are usually the stranded wire leaders mentioned above, simply coated with nylon. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is that they are slightly less susceptible to kinking (don’t be fooled though, they will kink as well) than straight uncoated wire.

Two is that some nylon-coated leaders, especially the lighter ones in and around the 15lb test range, can have all their connections done by melting the nylon, creating a glue-like bond. Be careful as to melt but not burn the nylon. Very handy, very stealthy.

A downfall to this type of leader is that they are a larger diameter than an equivalent, uncoated leader. Many anglers simply don’t care and go with the larger nylon.

AFW makes an array of leader making materials as well as fully manufactured leaders

3 – Titanium Leader:

Titanium and Tungsten have truly made a mark in the fishing industry. Tungsten for added weight without bulk, and titanium for strength and durability.

Titanium leaders have been around for quite some time, however, the price tag is much higher than the other types (although fluorocarbon is pricey too). The beauty of titanium leaders or leader material is that they simply keep their shape better than all others. Go ahead and try to kink a titanium leader. When you twist and turn one of these babies similarly to what a fish would do, they normally come out unscathed. It’s like magic.

As well, all the companies that manufacture and sell titanium leaders and titanium leader material claim that there is a certain amount of stretch (hard to believe since this stuff seems solid but very cool) and they’re corrosion-proof/resistant. It also has a stealthy finish to help invisibility underwater.

Taking things a step further, much like some nylon leaders, titanium leader material is tieable. No need for snaps, you simply tie it directly to the lure. And get this, no need for a swivel as you can tie this miraculous stuff directly to your line! Remember though, before you get all rambunctious and start tying away, any spinning lures like inline spinners for instance, need a swivel in order to prevent line twist.

We often make our own leaders out of this material with the snap and a swivel included. That way we get the “perfect” custom leader for our situation.

There are a few companies out there that sell tieable titanium leader material. From what we have experienced, they are all very good.

4 – Fluorocarbon Leader:

This one is the latest in leader material; heavy fluorocarbon line. Muskie anglers have really taken to this type of leader. At 100+ pound test, this looks gigantic when compared to let’s say a 30lb titanium leader. But remember, fluorocarbon’s claim to fame is its invisibility underwater. 

As well, you must remember that Muskie fishing is normally far from finesse. If you are throwing a pound of undulating bright orange plastic, a visible vs invisible leader is probably not your biggest concern.

If you want to get serious as a Muskie angler (we often use fluoro on Pike and Stripers as well), then you better get a spool of this and start tying away!

5 – Heavy Braid:

If you really, really, really hate using heavy leaders, then you may want to opt for a heavy braided line tied directly to the lure. Although this is the weakest (easiest to cut) of this group, it certainly is tough in its own right.

It’s pretty obvious that you won’t see many trout anglers firing out spoons and spinners with 65-pound test braid, however, if you’re a bass or walleye nut, a heavyish braid could be your saving grace.

The key to straight heavy braid compared to all of the above, is a combination of relatively low visibility, having less hardware and a direct connection to the lure. With heavy braid, you certainly aren’t going to retrieve a bait with 100% invisibility, but you can bet your favourite 40-dollar Muskie lure that the braid tied directly to your lure will be less visible than a heavy wire leader with a snap and a swivel involved.

Be forewarned though, Pike and Muskie teeth are incredibly sharp… we mean almost razor-sharp. Be prepared for a couple of disappointing occurrences if you decide to run straight braid.

To us, this is the last resort.

Here’s Yo-Zuri’s Super Braid. This 80lb spool will handle most normal, heavy-duty fishing situations… but then, Esox teeth aren’t considered “normal”… be careful.


This is what we mean by a “bright” finish on a leader. They are every bit as effective at their intended job of protection from line to lure however we simply don’t like that shiny, silvery finish.

If you take on the task of tying your own leaders remember, do not use a snap/swivel combination (above left, linked together). What you need is a swivel attached to one end of the leader material and a snap to the other end. It’s the same concept as a snap/swivel, just in a longer package.

Here’s a scenario that anglers often miss. The Pike here was caught on a spinnerbait. If you’ll notice though (circle upper left), the leader has moved from its intended line tie position and slid up the wire to the blades. Now although this doesn’t matter after the fish is landed, it does matter both during the retrieve as well as when fighting a fish. 

During a retrieve, it’s obvious that the leader will impair the proper function of the spinnerbait running correctly. Quite simply, it won’t work.

During a fight, imagine a fish like the Pike Ang is holding, was pulling against that misplaced leader. Not only would the spinnerbait arm bend and contort to completely wrong positions, it could either eventually break the arm or simply allow the fish to get off.

Make sure that if you are using a leader with a spinnerbait that you use a closed line-tie… it’s essential!


Well, there you have our top 5 leader types and tips, as well as suggestions to help you either land that fangy beast of a lifetime, or to save that super-expensive, oh so gorgeous, perfectly dialled in, tuned to a “T” crankbait that’s been catchin em’ right, left, and center!

Best of luck with your leaders.

Fish'n Canada

The Fish’n Canada Show first aired in 1986 with phenomenal success. In 1988 the program went coast to coast on CBC, the first North American weekly fishing show to broadcast on a national network. In 1992 the show went into syndication adding Global Television Network, prominent CTV and affiliates, and several cable networks. The move resulted in unprecedented fishing audiences. With the addition of WFN U.S. and The Sportsman Chanel Canada today the Fish’n Canada show dominates the airwaves with a national weekly reach of 3.5 million and ama of over 450,000 easily making it one of the most-watched “outdoors” programs in North America.

6 Responses

  1. Always good info. One thing I do to fix those other spinnerbaits is to close in the open bend with a little piece of shrink wrap for wiring. Wont take much weight to move it but if the snap stays in the right position it should stay there when it has a heavy pull. Could even use an o-ring or split ring if needed.

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