How To Tie The Perfect Fishing Leader for Snook, Redfish, and Seatrout

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FACT: A fishing leader can make or break you when it comes to landing the biggest fish of the day.

Having a good leader line with strong knots is absolutely essential for inshore anglers who want to land big snook, redfish, trout, tarpon, etc.

However, many inshore anglers simply have never been taught how to make their own leaders, or in many cases, they were taught an inferior way to tie leaders.

I know this because I used inferior knots for my personal leaders for 20+ years… even multiple years of tournament fishing when hard-earned money was on the line.

Many questions have come in relating to tying leaders for snook, redfish, and seatrout in the last couple of months, so I wantet to put focus back onto this article that shows how to tie the best fishing leader for inshore fish that I have found so far after many knot tests.

You’ll, of course, see the overview of why it’s important to use fishing leaders.

And you’ll see the best knots that have proven to outperform the others for the specific connections needed in a proper leader system.

Watch the video below to see what a fishing leader is, and when to use one, and then keep on reading below for everything you need to know about tying the best leaders.

What is a “Fishing Leader”?

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The fishing leader is a short strand of tough fishing line (often stronger and/or less visible than the main line) that is placed in between the main line in the reel and the hook or lure that an angler is using.

There is no maximum or minimum length for leaders, but they are most often in the 1 to 3 ft range… inshore recommendations discussed below.

Why Use A Leader For Saltwater Fishing?

A leader is needed for saltwater fishing because it provides an angler with the ability to keep a big, strong, and often toothy fish from biting through the line near the hook/lure (the “business end”) while allowing the angler to have a much thinner line in the reel for maximizing casting distance and performance.

In this article, we’ll focus the examples to leader assemblies designed to catch big snook, redfish, and seatrout.

What Is Needed To Tie A Fishing Leader?

Fortunately, there is not much equipment that is needed… it mostly involves just knowing how to best put it all together.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Main line in spool (10 lb to 20 lb braid is what we recommend for anglers using spinning tackle)
    • Note: we highly recommend braid because of its better casting performance and stronger breaking strength related to listed strength as compared to mono
  • Leader line (20 lb to 40 lb monofilament)
  • Lure/Hook (whichever lure/hook you plan to use)
  • Pliers/Scissors/Knife to cut line
  • [optional] Swivel… if you plan to use a bait that is prone to twisting up your line, then tying a swivel in between your main line and the leader is smart

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How To Tie A Fishing Leader

Many anglers over-complicate their leader lines and some are very intimidated by them… especially when tying line-to-line.

However, the process only consists of 3 steps, and it is quite simple once the knots are learned.

And after a bit of practice, anyone can complete the full assembly quickly even while out on the water in rough seas.

Here are the 3 core steps:

Step 1: Tie Line to Line Knot

The first step in tying a fishing leader is to connect your main line to your leader line…

This is by far the most important aspect of tying a leader line because it will most often be the weakest link in your assembly since the main line is kept light to increase casting performance, while the leader is the heavier of the two lines to withstand the sharp teeth/mouths of many saltwater fish.

For example, even a 50% knot on the hook/lure end of a 30 lb leader is stronger than a 100% knot on a 10 lb main line… (15 lbs vs. 10 lbs).

Here’s some “must-know” line to line knots for those who use braid and/or mono:

Braid to Mono

This FG Knot won our braid to leader knot contest by a considerable margin while also being the thinnest option of them all:

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Note: Do not use this knot for a mono to mono connection… it requires braided line making the coils.

Mono to Mono

The Surgeon’s Knot is one of the strongest and quickest knots out there for mono to mono:

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Note: The surgeon’s knot can be used to connect braid to mono/fluoro too, but it’s best to use 6 wraps if using braid vs. the 3 for mono to mono.

Leader Length [VIDEO]

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Step 2: Determine Your Leader Length

There is no right or wrong length for a fishing leader.

I typically use leaders in the 2 to 4 ft range depending on what type of fishing I’m doing.

For instance, I use a shorter leader when fishing with artificial lures because I do not allow my knots to go through my rod guides because the friction from frequent casts will weaken any knot.

For live bait fishing when the cast count is a fraction of artificial, I’ll increase the length of my leader by 6 to 12 inches.

So I go with a ~24-inch leader for artificials and a 30+ inch leader when live baiting.

Note: Although I start with a minimum 24-inch leader, I’ll, of course, let it get shorter while in use after re-tying due to fish fraying the line or needing to switch lures/baits… I’ll often let it get down to 16 to 20 inches depending on water clarity (clear water = longer leader). 

Step 3: Tie Lure or Hook to Leader

The final step is to connect your lure or hook to your leader.

Although maximizing the breaking strength here is not nearly as important compared to the line-to-line knot in step 1, its strength still needs to be considered.

However, some other factors come into play here that shouldn’t be overlooked either… especially when fishing with artificials:

  • Does the knot maximize lure action?
  • Will it snag weeds?

The most important aspect of a leader to lure/hook knot is its ability to allow the bait to have as much action as possible… and to address this factor, I highly recommend using a loop knot because the loop does not constrain the lure/hook nearly as much as a typical knot that hugs the eye.

Much lower on the importance list, but still very important is the knot’s ability to avoid snagging floating weeds/debris… because the debris stuck on the knot will significantly decrease the odds of you getting a strike.

If you’re using a leader that is close to the same breaking strength as your main line and your bait doesn’t require much action, then it is smart to use a snug knot because those knots have higher breaking strengths since they generate more friction along the surface area of the hook eye.

See below for the knots that won the respective knot contests:

The Top Weedless Loop Knot

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Note: This Non-Slip Loop knot (also called Kreh Loop knot) won our leader to lure loop knot contest.

The Top Weedless Snug Knot

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Note: This Orvis knot won our leader to lure snug knot contest.

How To Tie A Swivel Onto A Leader

When fishing with lures like spoons that are prone to cause twists in my line, it is good to tie a swivel in between the main line and the fishing leader line.

This will help decrease the line twists in your line, which will help decrease the odds of getting frustrating wind knots.

Just like before, the most important knot in this setup is the one that connects your main line to the swivel…

Since the FG knot is only for connecting a braided line to a mono leader, a different braid knot is needed.

Braid To Swivel Knot

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Note: This modified uni knot for braid won our braid to swivel knot contest we held to evaluate this important connection.

Once this modified uni knot is tied, then use the Orvis knot shown above to connect the swivel to the leader.

If using a mono main line, I like tying the Orvis knot to connect to both sides of the swivel… it’s very simple to tie and has a very impressive hold strength. However, the very popular Palomar knot and the Uni knot are both excellent choices as well… they all 3 scored extremely close in our knot strength analysis.

What Size Leader Line Should I Use?

There is no one-size-fits-all fishing leader line size for any species… it all depends on water clarity, size of expected fish, amount of structure nearby, etc.

But here are the strength range that I most often recommend:

  • Redfish, trout, and flounder on the flats: 20 lb to 25 lb mono leader and 10 lb braid main line is my favorite
  • Snook on the flats: 25lb to 30 lb mono leader and 10 lb braid main line
  • Snook and redfish in inlets and/or near structure: 40 lb to 60 lb mono leader and 20 lb to 30 lb braid main line depending on size of expected fish
  • Tarpon/Cobia on the flats or near inlets: 50 lb to 80 lb mono leader and 20 lb to 40 lb braid/mono main line depending on size of expected fish

Although the 10 lb braid main line seems a bit light for battling big snook and reds on the flats, just keep in mind that the true breaking strength of braid is often much higher than its listed value.

For example, I consistently get a 20 lb to 22 lb line system when using an FG knot to connect my “10 lb” PowerPro braid to a 30 lb fluorocarbon leader… and this 20 lb level is higher than the max drag setting on most inshore spinning reels.

In case you’d like to see the light gear in heavy action… here’s a short video of a decent sized tarpon getting landed on my inshore setup:

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The 2 core upsides to using lighter main lines are that they:

  1. Significantly increase casting performance (over 20% longer casts as shown in this casting experiment)
  2. Decrease wind/water drag which makes for an improved feel of strikes and a better retrieve while working lures

And these upsides completely overshadow the downside of the line not being quite as strong as it otherwise could have been in my opinion.

What Type of Leader Line Should I Use?

There are a few types of lines that are popular for leaders that all anglers should knot about… here’s a list:

  1. Traditional Monofilament – The economic option that’s better than what most anglers think
  2. Fluorocarbon – Fairly new type of Monofilament that is known for being less visible than regular mono based a lower refraction of light going through it
  3. Wire – Used when targeting toothy critters like sharks, mackerel, barracuda, etc.

There has been a lot of heavy marketing on behalf of fluorocarbon over the past 10 years that has make it very popular even though it costs significantly more than traditional monofilament.

I used to use it exclusively until the past 12-months when I began doing line tests between the two and found that the results for fluorocarbon have not justified the price difference… it actually has underperformed regular mono in abrasion experiments on a consistent basis. I’ll be doing some tests on the visibility factor soon.

What Type of Main Line Should I Use?

There is an endless amount of options for lines these days, so it’s tough to sort through the good vs. the bad.

For those of us who use spinning tackle, it is very helpful to use braid line vs. monofilament because the much thinner braid will significantly increase your casting distance (see braid vs. mono casting distance test here).

And the zero-stretch nature of braid will enable you to feel strikes and set hooks so much better which will undoubtedly result in more fish caught just by making this one simple adjustment.

Here are the strengths that I most often recommend based on fishing type:

  • Redfish, seatrout, snook, and flounder on the flats: 10 lb to 15 lb braid main line is my favorite
  • Big Snook and redfish in inlets and/or near structure: 20 lb to 30 lb braid depending on size of expected fish and the amount of current and structure that is typically present
  • Tarpon/Cobia on the flats or near inlets: 20 lb to 40 lb braid/mono main line depending on size of expected fish

Conclusion

When fishing for most saltwater species, it’s important to use a fishing leader to increase the odds of landing the biggest fish of the day while also having the ability to effectively cast and present your bait for increased strikes.

And fortunately for you, tying a strong leader doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment.

It simply involves having two different types of line and knowing 2 to 3 different knots.

Play around with the knots to find out which ones give you the best hookup ratios for the type of lines you use.

Any questions on how to tie a leader?

Just let me know in the Comments section below.

Related Posts:

1. The Best Fishing Knots Of All Time [Ranked Strongest To Weakest]

2. What Is The Proper Drag Tension To Use For A Fishing Reel?

3. The BEST DAY For You To Go Fishing…

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P.S. – If you think your angler friends would like this, please Tag them or Share this with them… Fish On!

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, or if you think I skipped over anything.

 

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Bob Shepard
1 year ago

Perhaps better as a sidebar discussion, did I miss this discussion Luke…”A leader is needed for saltwater fishing because it provides an angler with the ability to keep a big, strong, and often toothy fish from biting through the line near the hook/lure (the “business end”) while allowing the angler to have a much thinner line in the reel for maximizing casting distance and performance.”

I was expecting a comment at least on the abrasion resistance of leader being better than braid main line. At least that is the marketing claim.

I normally do not use leaders on my braid lines when inshore fishing. But decided to try it fishing live shrimp on a popping cork. I used 20lb fluorocarbon leader tied to 10 lb braid using an FG knot.

My testing left me with a sense that the leader hinders the swimming action of the shrimp. The shrimp are willingly to drag 10lb braid but are very sluggish appearing when dragging the 20lb fluoro. With braid, shrimp jump out of water when predators come around, not so with the fluoro. I presume the reason is line stiffness and diameter differences.

I was also left with the impression that the leader decreased sensitivity. With braid, I could feel the slightest ticks, but with leader I could not detect a bite until the popping cork disappeared under the surface. I retrieved an empty hook on countless casts when using a leader.

I also surf fish with long rods using a shock leader. I have numerous experiences retrieving my rigs only to discover the hook is missing. Whatever the fish, it had no problem chopping or sawing through 60 lb monofilament. Single strand wire was the only solution, but it seems to decrease the bite rate, but it does reduce the hook loss rate.

The article you present is an excellent review of using leaders when artificial bait fishing, but for me, the leader debate continues.

Dave Frymier
1 year ago

I find if I fish any lure (Spooks, paddletails, Gulp shrimp) for a couple or three trips and don’t use a swivel, my braid gets twisted and the twist invariably leads to what looks like a wind knot – but isn’t, since it’s due to twist. I’ve read advice to trail your line behind the boat for a while to eliminate the twist, but I tend to forget to do that, or at least don’t do it often enough. I also hear Luke when he says he doesn’t want the weight of the swivel dragging the line to the possibly nasty bottom. I can’t recall ever hearing the Salt Strong guys talk about line twist other than in relation to Silver minnows or spoons.

For about 6 months now, I’ve been using a very light-weight, 30 lb test swivel I found on Amazon and haven’t had any trouble with twisted line (or upper slot reds). Search for “Dr Fish Rolling Barrel Fishing Swivel.” As Luke suggests, I attach it to the 10 lb braid with a Uni knot and to the 20 lb (I use Vanish bought on a 250 yard spool) leader with an Orvis knot, and leave the leader short enough so I’m not casting the swivel through the guides.

Dave Frymier
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

PowerPro braid, 10 lb. I like the yellow, too. I think it may well be coming from the casts; the Spooks tend to tumble quite a lot in the air. I also know enough not to reel into the drag …

Dave Frymier
1 year ago
Reply to  Luke Simonds

Well, fishing up here in St Augustine and back in the creeks, there is both considerably deeper water – a lot of banks going from 1 foot to 6 in a matter of a few feet – and darker water, so I don’t think that little swivel is going to cause either spooking problems or hanging up on the bottom issues. I’m looking forward to getting south at some point and fishing clear water where the tide only changes 3 feet sometime. Other than the swivel part, I agree with everything else you say here. I discovered the Orvis knot years ago trout fishing back in Pennsylvania – it also works well on the Surflon nylon coated stainless steel 7 strand wire I use for toothy critters.

Dennis Patton
1 year ago

Hey Guys, First off, a very Merry Christmas to you and yours; and a prosperous New Year.
Arthritis has set in on my hands and fingertips are really hard from working outside all the time.
I have a heck of a time trying to tie loop knots. Question is, would lure clips increase the action of the lure over just tying direct with a uni knot?
I can manipulate the clips and tie the single and double uni knots OK.
Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of Salt Strong.
Dennis
West Texas

Anonymous
1 year ago

Could someone please put that comment button in another place as in my case, it continuously covers up text I am trying to read. Thanks, very much enjoy your news letters. I know that decreasing the text size would probably fix this, but I need it larger.

Jim
1 year ago

what are your thoughts on uni to uni knot to join mainline (Braid) to leader?

Mario
1 year ago

I have enjoyed your videos very much. Thank you.
I’m a beginner and I’m not sure what weight my lead line should be. Also, I can’t find the pdf that you mention in one of your knot tying videos.

Jeremy Jaeger
1 year ago

I’ve been using braid with swivel to mono for years. The videos got me off the swivels!! Happy Fisherman!!

JOHN SPECHT
10 months ago

hello all, glad to be on board! moving to north fort myers next week, finally able to partially retire, and cannot wait to fish. arthritis has taken its toll so watching the amazing videos on knots and leaders has been most informative but am quite anxious about just how well I will be able to tie my knots. are leaders that critical to tying lures and jigs? is there any pre-made alternatives? I even viewed videos on so called knot tying tools…please feel free to comment with ideas, suggestions and tips…much appreciated!

Allan Vrboncic
7 months ago

What about tying the 10 pound braid directly to the lure and removing one knot from the equation? Isn’t 10 lb braid least likely to break than 20 lb mono?

JEFFREY JOHN BABINO
4 months ago

Hi yes I agree with you I use 30 lb mono for leaders and bottom rigs I watch your youtube channel thanks

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