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06. Leaders

Leaders and/or Terminal Tackle

A leader as we will refer to here is any line that is heavier than your main line and attached to the line on your reel. Leaders come in many forms and can as varied as weights and hooks. They are made of heavy monofilament or steel cable. You have single drop (a main line to attach a weight and one hook,) a double drop (a main line with a weight and two hooks,) to species specific leaders. There are also many surf anglers that prefer to make their own out of weed eater line, heavy monofilament or steel cable. Making your own leaders can be a cure for a cold rainy winter night when you have nothing to do and are not that hard to make. Again, research this site or go online. If you don’t find the answer you are looking for, ask a member of this site and they will get you pointed in the right direction. The basics needed to make your own leaders are various sized crimps, a good crimping tool, colored beads, snaps and/or swivels, weed eater line and/or steel cable and the desire to learn. Experiment and find out what works for you and adapt.

Examples of some surf fishing leaders:


Homemade leader courtesy of Mike Multop


Single Drop Rig


Double Drop Rig


Flounder Rig


Trout rig with float

The following pages are once again from TSF member Jim Foster on a few techniques of making leaders that are simple and easy to make and are tried and trusted. THE TWINE USED IN THESE PHOTO’S ARE FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES ONLY!

Many people like to use the pre-made double drop leaders that you can buy at most any coastal sporting goods store. I have two problems with these. They are usually made with plastic coated wire cable and have crimped connections. I have seen those crimped connections fail many times. If you insist on using these pre-made leaders, at least do yourself a favor and recrimp every connection to make sure they are going to hold. Secondly, they use either snaps or snap swivels for all attachments. While not as dangerous for a light leader as for a surf leader, I don’t like snaps for critical connections. I’ll discuss this more at length in the following paragraph.
Many people like to use either snaps, or snap swivels, for attaching their surf leader to their main line, or for attaching their hook to their surf leader. Both of these are dangerous practices and are the result of sheer laziness. The first thing a fisherman should do is learn a few basic knots that they can tie under any conditions. How long does it take to tie a leader to your main line with a nice secure knot? I’ve seen many snaps open up under the strain of a large fish. Are the few seconds you’ll save by snapping a leader to your main line worth the possibility of losing the fish of a lifetime? The same applies to using a snap to attach the hook to your leader. Instead of taking a chance on losing a fish because of a failed snap, simply make up a variety of leaders with different size hooks. Or better yet, get used to using one or two hook sizes for all your fishing. As I stated in the Bait 101, almost everything we fish for here in Texas has a large mouth, and isn’t hook shy, so why do you need a variety of hook sizes? If I ever feel the need to change hook sizes, I either make a new leader, or cut off the old hook and securely fasten a new one. There is one place for a snap or snap swivel, in a surf leader, and that’s to attach the sinker. We routinely attach and remove sinkers, and even if a snap fails here, all we’ve lost is a sinker.
I like to keep things pretty simple and make my leaders the same way every time, using the same basic materials and hardware. If nothing else, that keeps me from having a tackle box or bag the size of a footlocker. The following materials, hardware and techniques have worked for me for years, and my leaders have caught thousands of fish.
Let me apologize up front for some of the picture. My digital camera does great for fishing pictures, but isn’t so good at close-ups.
I’ve made mockups of the leaders using white cordage and various hardware to represent the real things. I really don’t use brass snaps from the hardware store for my snap swivels, but I’m sure you can all use your imagination to picture the appropriate hardware instead.

My basic bait leader is all hand made from either 20 lb or 30 lb monofilament. Most of the time I use 20 lb. I also use 2/0 circle hooks and most often a 2 ounce spider weight. If the surf and current are both extremely light I sometimes go to a 1 or 2 ounce pyramid or flat weight instead of the spider weight. The reason I like the spider weight is because by using the circle hooks, and a durable bait like Fish Bites or squid, once the weight is set and the rod in a rod holder, the fish will usually hook themselves and will let you know they’re on by your line going slack.

If you’re going to leave your bait rod unattended, like I do, make sure your rod holder is set deep enough to resist some force, and make sure to back off the drag on the reel just enough so that it will slip if a big fish decides to eat that small bait. I’ve caught both bull reds and bull black drum on my bait rod, and both can snatch a rod away pretty quickly if you’re not prepared.
So, let’s build one. First tie a swivel to one end of your mono.


Drop down a few inches from the swivel, double the line and use a double overhand knot to start a loop.


Snug the knot up, adjusting the loop size to whatever you want it to be. I try to end up with a loop about 3 or four inches long.


Do the same thing to make two more loops. You will end up with two in-line loops and a bottom loop. You can cut the leader loose from the spool of mono at the bottom loop.


You attach the hooks by inserting the end of the loop through the eye of the hook, then looping the leader loop over the hook.


Snug up the hooks and attach the sinker similarly.
That’s it for the bait leader. Tie it on to your main line at the swivel and you’re ready to go. The leader can be made any length that works for you. I usually try to make my finished leader be about 18" to 24" overall. One thing you need to make sure of is that the loops are far enough apart that the hooks don’t get tangled with each other, or with the sinker on the cast.
Now let’s move on to the surf leaders for the long rods. For their basic construction, I use either .095 weed eater cord or 400 lb mono for the upper section of all my leaders. For the bottom "bite leader", I use either the same thing, or cable. Except for summer, I use 100% mono or weed eater leaders. During the summer, I use a cable bite leader section because of the possibility of sharks. I can’t honestly tell you the size swivels or snap swivels I use, but just get the ones where the swivel is around 3/4" long and you’ll be fine. I crimp all my leaders, whether mono or cable. If you feel like you can tie a good knot in large mono, go for it, but I prefer the security of crimps in mono over about 100# test. If you’re not sure what crimps to use, or what crimping technique to use, go to the Leader Tec website. They have an excellent discussion of both. Again, I use circle hooks for all my leaders. For the leaders that I’m going to be targeting sharks with, I use 20/0s. With all other leaders I use either 16/0 or 18/0s, depending on what I have at the time.


This is the tried and true surf leader that most people are probably familiar with. It is often called the redfish leader. You begin with a upper section of leader a few feet long. Attach a swivel at the top of the leader followed by one or more beads, a snap swivel for your sinker, and one or more beads inline on the leader. End the upper section with another swivel. The bite leader section is attached to the same swivel at the bottom of the upper leader section. The bite leader is normally about half the length of the upper section and ends with your hook.


I make my yakking leaders longer than my cast leaders simply because I don’t have to cast them. Makes sense, huh? They are usually in the 8′ to 10′ range, with the upper section about 2/3 of the overall length and the bite section 1/3 the length.

These are what is known as trolley leaders. Their construction is very similar to that above, with two exceptions. With the yakking leader, we had a swivel at the top of the leader, and a sliding snap swivel on the upper section of leader. With the trolley leader we reverse those two. You have a snap swivel at the top of the leader for your sinker, and a sliding swivel to attach your main line to.

The reason for this is that when you tie your main line to the sliding swivel, and prepare to cast, the leader automatically bends in half, thus making your effective leader length 1/2 what it actually is.


In other words, if you make your casting leader 6 feet overall, which is the length I usually use, when you prepare to cast, you are only dealing with two 3 foot sections hanging from your main line. Again, the same proportions apply as before – upper section of leader about 2/3 of overall length, bottom section about 1/3.

The only problem this presents, when the cast is actually travelling through the air, is that the two halves often circle around each other. This is known as "wind milling". It doesn’t really hurt anything, but it can cut down on the distance of your cast. One way to eliminate this problem is to slip the eye of the hook over one of the spider weight legs prior to the cast. The hook should fall off the weight when the leader hits the water, although I’ve had a few times when it didn’t.

Those are my basic surf leaders. As always please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Here are some more examples of basic leaders courtesy of TSF member Railroader


A Bait rig courtesy of TSF member Railroader