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Leaders, Knots, and Rigs

By Tim Surgent


There is a lot of question as to how to make different leaders for different applications while striped bass fishing. There really is no one specific "right" way to do it, there are some mistakes that can be avoided. Likewise, there are some things you can do to get more hits...and there are some things you can do to ensure that your leaders will take the abuses of landing a decent fish. Many questions concern the addition of a teaser to a rig...this can be accomplished in many ways, but first, we need to start with the basics...knots!

There seems to be many hundreds of ways for people to attach their weapons to the end of their line, maybe thousands of ways. I am not an expert, I have however, tied very nearly 100,000 knots in my fishing escapades thus far, and early on, many failed before they should have...but, they are constantly getting better!

You can't make a strong leader without tying strong knots. Actually, that's not wholly true, you can tie a sufficiently strong knot by tying poor knots in overly heavy lines. This is far from the best way to fish, as you will undoubtedly get more hits with strong knots in the thinnest, least visible lines. Everyone has their favorites, some knots are easy, some knots are strong, the good ones are the best of both extremes...uncomplicated, yet retaining better than 85% of the lines breaking strength. There are knots for different purposes. Here are some knots uses, some common knots for the application, and the ones I prefer. I won't go into tying them, unless there are specifics that I feel are important to the tying of a certain knot in a certain application.


Knots and their uses

KNOT APPLICATIONS:

All the knots listed in each category are just the ones I use or ones I'd recommend, there are countless others I won't address unless asked to. I won't go into tying them, there are plenty of excellent knot tying sites you can find on Google.


Line to line knots are not super common, they are used when you need to add more line to a spool, add a teaser to a leader, and maybe a handful of other applications, but they are also a little touchy when tied, so I will go over the couple I use. First, I prefer the triple surgeons knot over all others, but the blood knot or uni-knot is acceptable when properly tied and moistened before tightening. The triple surgeons knot is not shown on the knot site, and it's not practical for adding additional line to top off a spool, as you need to be able to pass one line's end through the loop formed and that's not practical with a big spool of line, but I'll give the steps a go here.

Triple Surgeon's Knot: Lay the two ends to be attached next to each other with the cut ends facing opposite directions. Hold the lines together with your thumb and forefinger of one hand. Take the tag end of the main line and the line laying with it, and make a very loose overhand knot to form a loop with both lines...then pass the same lines through the loop two more times for a total of three turns. Tighten slightly, moisten, and tighten fully by pulling on all four lines at the same time. This knot is effective not only for similar line diameters, but also for unlike diameter lines...it's a very strong knot and I use it for making fly leaders as well.


Line to leader knots are much more common and are used when people wish to avoid adding a swivel or wish to add a long, castable leader to their rig. In this case, the lines will most likely be drastically different in diameter. For example, 15# main line to a 40# leader. In this case, there are but 2 knots I would trust, the Albright and the Triple Surgeon's Knot.


Line to hardware knots. There are many good knots for this most common of applications, I prefer only a couple. First, some mono lines will hold certain knots better than other lines, it seems each line has it's own preferred knot that maintains the highest percentage of breaking strength. For most connections with my standard leader of 30# fluorocarbon, I will use a 5 or 6 turn clinch knot. It's a very common knot, easily tied and a good knot. Many use the improved clinch or polamar knot, both of which are arguable stronger than the clinch knot, both are easily tied and both I would recommend.

Whichever knot you use, after you tie it, give it an honest pull....a real good pull...you'd much rather it fail in your hands than on the fish you've been looking for all season. Also, this knot will get beat up the quickest and must be retied any time you suspect it may be getting old. After each fish, don't be shy, give it an honest pull. If the area above the knot or anywhere on the leader shows even the slightest abrasion, cut out the bad spot and retie it...don't gamble for that is when you stick the fish you are looking for and you are setting yourself up for a heartbreak if you skimp when it comes to retying. In lighter lines I use the clinch but will take 7 or 8 wraps. Conversely, on heavier lines, 3 or 4 turns is plenty.


Braid to mono knots are really unique to conventional tackle where the angler wishes to put their offering a good distance from the more visible braid by using a mono leader that is longer than they can cast if it were attached with a swivel. For example, on my rigged eeling rod, I will use 10-12 feet of 30# fluorocarbon while the longest leader I could comfortably cast attached with a swivel would be about 6 feet. To do this, I use an Albright knot. The changes I make to the knot that are different that the standard way of tying it are to use 20 turns of braid over the doubled mono and to put the tag end through the end of the loop twice instead of the single time that is used for mono. This knot is not difficult, but it's not easy either. The key here is to get the knot tightened completely without having the loops of braid pop over the doubled mono end. With some practice it will be second nature, it's a knot worth learning when using braids and conventional outfits. Also, most knots tied with braids should be glued. I use Zap-A-Gap, I recommend it, it's thin, penetrating, and dries quickly. Be careful once you put glue on the knot that you don't reel the wet glue into your guides and let it sit there, it will stick to the guides. I will let the glue set up for about 15 seconds, then I will roll the knot between my fingers. This not only dries the glue but also shapes the knot a bit for ease of passing through the guides.


Braid to hardware knots are used when you don't feel you need a very long mono leader or when you are using spinning gear and don't want your braid to braid knots to get beat up by the guides on each cast. For braid to swivels or snaps I will use an 8 turn clinch knot. In lighter braids, I will double a couple feet of the braid using a spider hitch, then tie an 8 turn clinch knot with the doubled line. In any case, both knots should be glued when finished. In the case of using a shorter castable leader, I will take a black magic marker and darken about 10-12 feet of the braid from the swivel rearward. This is to help make the line less visible. They are coming out with darker and darker braids, if they ever get to near black this step will become unnecessary....but for now, I carry a black marker at all times.


Braid to braid knots are used to add or replace line, or two join two sections for any other reason. These knots can be tricky, not for their difficulty, but for the braids to have a tendency to want to slip when joined to other braids. I will always use the blood or barrel knot, taking 8 to 10 turns on each side, tighten carefully, then really lay into it, wrapping the braids not around your bare hands, but around your sleeve covered hands or gloved hands if you have gloves with you...and really pull. If the braids are going to slip, this is where you want it to happen! If they slip, retie the knot and try again. Once you are comfortable with the knot, trim it, and glue it...roll the knot around between your fingers to shape the knot and dry it.


Leaders and teaser rigs

Ok, now that we got all the knots out of the way, let's move on to the leader building. I try to keep most leaders uncomplicated...sometimes it works out that way, sometimes it doesn't. Let start with the most basic, the leader I use on my conventional rod, the one I use for jigging, big plugs, rigged eels, and any live bait fishing I may do. I use either 50# or 65# Whiplash on this rig, a 9 foot Loomis SUR108-20C and a Abu Mag Elite. For the most part, I like the leader to be between 7-15 feet long, usually 10-12. I'll only use 30# fluorocarbon anymore for my leader on this rod, anything lighter or heavier I have found to be unnecessary. I'll attach the length of fluoro with an Albright knot, customized as described above. To the end of this simple leader I will tie a 75 or 90# snap using a 5 turn clinch knot. That's it, there's my leader. If I want to throw a teaser for some odd reason on this rod I will use a premade 5 foot leader with a swivel on one end and a snap on the other. I will connect the swivel to the snap on the end of my permanent leader. The premade leader is the same one I will use on my spinning rod when I want to use teasers. It's a unique set up that I have been perfecting for some time now and I am very comfortable with it.

My standard teaser leader setup is to take a 6ft piece of 30# fluoro carbon and attach a #5 crane swivel to one end. About 1 foot from this swivel, I will tie a dropper loop using 4 turns on each side and make the dropper stand out about 1 or 2 inches. At the other end, I will attach a snap...a small 40# one for spinning and a bigger 75-90# one for conventional. I close all my snaps with pliers, bending the hook portion to an exaggerated degree making it require inward and upward pressure to open it rather than just inward pressure. This keeps some bigger fish from opening the snap and breaking your heart. Now for the teasers. I'll rig up a bunch of teasers ahead of time, keeping them either in a zipped vest pocket or in little Zip-Loc bags. I use a 12" piece of 30# fluoro and tie a double surgeons loop in the one end, making the loop about 2" long. On the other end I will tie on the teaser using a loop knot, I like the Rhode's Loop knot but any good loop knot will work. The reasoning for the loop on the teaser end is to allow the teaser maximum mobility...this is very important in order for your teaser to remain upright and active while fishing, and a teaser allowed movement is a teaser that will attract more attention. Now, I'll fish the rig with or without a teaser...when I want to put on a teaser, there are no knots to tie, I just connect the loop of the dropper to the loop of one of my pre-tied teasers and I am in. Also, to change or remove the teaser, I just use the loops. No more problems with the leaders and droppers getting too short from changing teasers, I can use the same set up until the leader is worn, then change whichever portion is worn or replace the whole thing. It makes adding/changing/removing teasers easy enough to encourage you to change your rig often when the fish are being fussy.

Another issue with leaders is the length, too many guys will use leaders that are far too short, and they will fish their teasers far too close to their plugs. I prefer a leader for my 8 1/2' surf spinning outfit to be in the area of 5-6 feet...it's somewhat tough to cast until you get the hang, but it's necessary. I will set up the leader and teaser so that my teaser is in the neighborhood of 4 feet above my plug while fishing. Sometimes it's less, but rarely will I let it get closer than 40". There are many reasons for this. First, you want to allow a fish room to come up below and take the teaser without having the fish bump the plug and get spooked. Second, it allows the plug and teaser to be close enough to associated with each other but far enough from enough so at to not tangle much. I see guys with their teasers a foot above their plug with a leader only 2ft long...this is fraught with problems. The main problem is that unless the trophy you are after is on 24" long, your leader is not long enough to protect your main line from abrasion...the leader should be at least as long as the trophy you are after!

There are times that I will use a plain 5 foot leader with just a swivel on one end and a snap on the other. To add a teaser to this setup on the conventional rod, I will just put one of my pretied teasers on the snap that is holding the swivel from the leader...like two separate leaders on the same snap. This affords me the ease of changing my teaser without the weak link in the leader of having the dropper loop. Also, if you are using a plain leader with just a swivel and a snap, you can add a teaser to this rig by pushing the loop of one of the pretied teaser rigs through the swivel and using it as a loop to loop connection. This is best with mono rigs as when using braids, I feel this puts the teaser far too close to the visible braids, but I have seen it work with braids as well.

Teaser rigs for mono can be a little different, you no longer have to worry about the proximity of the teaser to the visible braid. This gives you some leeway. Way back when I fished mono, I went through the teaser rig learning curve. There are many ways to attach a teaser to your rig with mono, I'll only go over the ones I've used and found to be successful. Remember, I change my teasers a lot, so I like to be able to do so without having to cut/tie too many knots each time. The first one is the simplest and possibly one of the best. When making your standard leader, 5 foot is a good length, leave an extra 16 inches on one end. Tie a dropper loop using 7 or 8 turns, leaving the one tag end 5 feet long, the other about 14 inches. Loop the dropper through a swivel and pull the entire leader through the dropper loop, thus securing the loop to the swivel. Tie the swivel to your main line using any secure knot you like, I prefer a 6 turn clinch or polamar knot, line depending. Attach a snap to the 5 foot end. Attach a teaser to the 14" tag using any knot you'd like, I always prefer a loop knot here to allow the teaser freedom of movement even in calm waters. When you want to change teasers, you'll have to cut the loop knot at the teaser...eventually, you'll need to replace the whole leader when the tag gets too short...I don't like that! The solution is to use the pre-tied teasers that I explained above, carrying a dozen or so teasers already tied to 1 foot lengths of 30# fluoro with a double surgeons loop on one end. With these, you just poke the surgeon's loop through the swivel, then guide the teaser through the surgeon's loop and tighten. Now, when you want to change, just unloop the teaser and loop on another, no cutting, no tying...you won't need to replace the entire leader because of a short tag! Another way would be to terminate your main line in a snap that you clip the leader swivel onto. To add/remove/change teasers, you just open the snap and clip on an already tied teaser dropper! That's simple. You could also tie a blood knot in the leader itself, keeping it as far from the plug as possible, leaving one tag a foot long. You can attach the teaser to this tag end. Again, you'll be cutting and tying when you add/remove/change teasers, and I've had the blood knot fail unexplainably in this setup. Most times, it holds forever, yet sometimes it will mysteriously part...I don't like that either!

There you have it, some leader, teaser, and knot basics, I hope this answers some of your questions and may all your fish be LARGE!

Tim Surgent

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