Friday, January 28, 2011

Leaders for Surf Fishing

In my last post I discussed a few tips about fishing line used in the surf. Today , I'd like to cover some of the basics about the use of leaders in surf fishing.There are three general types of leaders that I use and they cover just about everything you'll need for most surf fishing applications.

The first and most important is the shock leader. The purpose of this leader is to prevent your main line from breaking during the cast. The heavier sinkers used to keep your bait in place , the long surf rods used and the powerful casts needed to get your bait out add up to broken lines and lost rigs without a shock leader. I use 50 pound monofilament for my shock leaders and never have any trouble. You can use 30 or 40 pound test for lighter weights , but I always go with 50 in case the surf picks up and I need to add more weight. A simple rule of thumb is to use 10 pounds of leader for every ounce of weight , but in my experience 50 pound line does well with up to 8 ounce sinkers.

To rig a  shock leader on your surf rod , you'll need a length of 50 pound test approximately twice the length of your rod. Length is a matter of personal preference because some surf fishermen like a longer or shorter leader , depending on how they cast. Most importantly , you want the leader to be wrapped around the spool at least 3 times at the start of your cast.This prevents the main line from breaking during the cast because the leader will absorb most of the stress. There are several knots you can use to attach the shock leader to the main line , but I recommend the Albright Knot because it passes through the guides during the cast better than others I have tried. After you have the leader set up , you can tie on the terminal tackle you need for your target species and you're ready to fish.

The second type of leader I use in the surf is what I call a bite leader. The purpose of this one is to prevent Bluefish and Spanish Mackerels from biting off your lures. You could use wire leaders , but they decrease the number of strikes you'll get and also affect the action of some lures. Spanish Mackerels are especially line shy if you're using wire leaders and to improve your chances , I recommend using 30 to 50 pound fluorocarbon for a bite leader.

These leaders are very simple to make. Just attach an 18-24 inch piece of heavy mono to the main line using an Albright knot and then tie whatever lure you want to the end of the leader. This is a great improvement over wire when it comes to spooking the fish , but you do have to monitor your leader closely because often Bluefish and other toothy fish will actually bite at the line. Keep an eye out for nicks and scrapes that could lead to break offs and retie as needed.

The third and last type of leader I use is single strand wire. I like size #5 , #6 or #7 for use in making King Mackerel/Cobia rigs or when rigging for sharks. These are pretty much a single use leader , because a big king or a shark will kink the wire. I normally just retie the leader after each fish , but the use of multi strand wire is gaining popularity with some anglers.

While you may not have a need for it , it's fairly easy to make wire leaders. Most people will attach a swivel to their shock leader and then use a Haywire Twist to connect the wire to the swivel and to the terminal tackle.

There are a lot of other options out there for leaders , but these have always worked for me. Most fishermen eventually find their own favorites , so don't be afraid to try something new!

Tight Lines!


  1. Good stuff here JM.

    I know the shock leader is used alot down on the Banks but I have never seen it get alot of play in the surf up here. Especially with the advent of braid. For bait fishing the reels are loaded up with 80lb braid with a mono shot of approximately 3 feet off a barrel swivel completing the business end.

    Back in the Pre-Braid days we would load up with 40 or 50lb mono but that hurt in two ways. One, the reel capacity went down ALOT with the 50lb and two, the heavier mono would not cast worth a dam. The braid has really changed it all though

  2. Thanks Captain!

    Most people have stuck with mono down this way because it's cheap and you can get it in high visibility. Using braid in the conga line at the point or at the end of a pier is a good way to get your line cut. If a big fish gets hold of a bait that's hanging from braided line it can cut off all of the mono rigs out there. Braid is hard on your hands too , if you ever have to hand line a fish up to the planks.

    As far as fishing with 40 or 50 pound mono - I wouldn't dream of doing that. I mainly use 17 and I know of some top tier fishermen who use 14. I've seen a lot of citation reds caught on 17 and 20 , and I saw a 46 pound king caught on 14 two years ago.

    I guess maybe you guys just don't fish in close quarters like we do down here? :)

  3. JM, good point. There is nothing around here that could compare to the Point. That place place is the BEST. I wish they could get this NPS to lighten up on the 4x4s so I can visit again!!! :-)

  4. Yeah , I think every fisherman that goes to the OBX would like to see them lighten up a little bit. You could always make a trip in October , that's when the big reds show up most years. The point is almost always open in October

  5. where is the point

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      The "Point" Captain Paul and I were discussing is on the southernmost end of Hatteras Island off the coast of North Carolina. Between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands is Hatteras inlet leading to the Pamlico Sound, and just offshore is Diamond Shoals, so as a surf fishing spot, the point has a lot of structure (by way of sand bars and troughs) that changes constantly, but still makes it an excellent fishing spot. Two currents meet up in the vicinity of Diamond Shoals, the Labrador current from the north and the warm Gulf Stream from the south, so it is an excellent area that is close to many species of fishes' migratory paths. Eddies from the Gulf Stream will swirl off and end up close to the point, so it's possible to catch just about anything there, even the occasional Mahi Mahi or Blackfin Tuna (among many, many others)!

      I can't say enough good things about it as a fishing spot, but for the last 10-15 years regulations have made access an issue due to NPS squabbles with environmental groups and proponents for beach access. Certainly, it's a mess, and a chore to wade through the rules and regulations (and sometimes even the water, to the low tide line!) just to get out to the point, but worth every minute of it when the fish are biting, and even just to spend some time in such a beautiful, albeit volatile, stretch of sand...

      I highly recommend it!!!

  6. This was a great read about shock leaders. I have been doing a lot of reading, this is very informative.

    I have been surf fishing for the past three years, and ready to try for some bigger fish. I'm heading back to obx next month. I picked up a quality rod combo, plan on putting 250 or so yards of 30lb braided and a 50lb mono shock leader. Hoping u can fill me in here. Do you just rig the end of the shock leader, or is there another leader with ur rig? Are there any good at pre-made rigs for putting bait fish on? Could I connect it to the shock leader with a swivel?

    Thanks for any help!

    1. Kozmo ,

      First , thanks for reading and taking time to comment!

      A few thoughts , just from my personal experience : braid is great stuff for some applications BUT it's not allowed on most of the OBX piers because it will cut other peoples' line and rigs off if you hook a big fish and get over/under/tangled and there have been lots of arguments amongst anglers. With that in mind , if you're planing to fish near anyone else it's a question of etiquette , and definitely frowned upon at The Point and anywhere where there are a bunch of anglers close together. It can also get expensive filling a big surf reel with braid. Personally , I use either 14 , 17 or 20 pound test high vis mono for my main line , and rarely lose fish.

      As for rigging , you can use a 2 ounce egg sinker and a 12-18" leader for small live bait , a classic "Carolina Rig" like bass fishermen use - with the sinker on the shock leader and a swivel , leader and hook. I use a glass bead above the knot to keep rough edges from sinkers from nicking knots. Lots of people use this type of rig to target big flounder with a lot of success , but other fish will take it too.

      Another option , and one that casts better with bigger cut bait , is a "Fish Finder". It's similar , but has a sinker slide or snap swivel (with a 4-8 ounce pyramid sinker attached) on the shock leader above a bead with a short leader (shorter is better for long casts) and a 4/0-5/0 hook. Some guys use Uni Knots , some use crimps for 50-60 pound mono to get the leader short. This keeps your rig and bait from helicoptering during the cast , and when a fish takes the bait the line runs free through the swivel so they don't feel the weight.Circle hooks or Octopus hooks work great on this rig , and it is the go to rig if you want to catch a bigger drum. Skates and rays will take it too , and they are always good for a fight , if nothing else!

      I hope this helps you out! You can always email me through the contact form if you need anymore advice or just to let me know how many big fish you catch, I love to talk fishing.

      Tight lines!


    2. Hi JM,
      Great learning from you guys who are willing to share their experience. I am from India and name is Michael. I am going for a surf fishing competition 2 weeks fro now. I don't have much practical experience though I've been reading a lot and love surf fishing. I was planning to have a slider rig. But the intricate mechanics I wasn't sure of. Firstly instead of a pyramid I was planning a Grip breakaway 5 lbs sinker fixed to be sea striker slider on a 60 lbs shock leader. I didn't quite understand that you have to tie a hook to another shock leader with a bead? Can you please help me out with this clearly . I plan to use 17 lb main line. Please advice. Mike

  7. Great info just one small sticky point how far from the weight on the shock leader can you put your hook line


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