Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Do you use a leader that is longer than the longest bass you could ever hope to catch?

Have you ever been playing a decent bass and your leader parts for no good reason you can think of? There’s no reason for the actual leader knot to break if you use a proper modern knot to join braid to leader, and dodgy knots from leader to clip or lure are something that no self-respecting angler should be tying anyway - but how about your leader suddenly parting? Do you put it down to some unseen damage to the line that must have happened beforehand, yet we didn’t pick it up and then tie a new leader on?

Well what if it isn’t that always that? Bear with me here, because this thinking comes primarily from a discussion that John Quinlan and I were having about striped bass fishing and a good US angler they met out in Cape Cod earlier this year. OK, so striped bass can grow far larger than the largest bass we could ever hope to see in a million years of trying, but this lad was telling John’s lot over there that he is sometimes landing bigger, more powerful stripers that have very fresh cuts in their tails - which he puts down to those fish running away from the angler and then their tails sometimes slap against the leader which can cause those cuts and then potentially break either a weaker leader, or if your leader is too short, break the braid against which the tail would be connecting with as the fish ran hard. Think about the tail structure on a fish and how much bone is actually in there, and now think about a decent fish really working their tail to run away - surely it makes perfect sense that the tail is going to hit the line, and in some cases break it?

So the other day out here in Kerry, Dave hooks a good bass. He’s fishing a 6’’ OSP DoLive Stick on the end of a 20lb fluoro leader, with that powerful (and utterly divine) HTO Shore Game 9’6’’ 7-35g lure rod (review here), and I could see the rod slam down as the scrappy bass splashed on the surface took a decent bit of line in some shallow water. There wasn’t a hint of panic from Dave and he did every single thing right, and in no great time John had the fish secured on a small Fish Grip to then take the hook out and get a few photos, as per above.

Now I must admit that I didn’t notice this, but John did - there’s a spit in the tail (I’ve zoomed into the tail area for the photo above), and John said it was very fresh because he saw some blood. Now that’s a 73cm fish in absolutely prime condition which ran pretty well in shallow water - and to me it makes perfect sense that the fresh split in the fish’s tail most likely occurred somewhere in that scrap, either when the bass thrashed on the surface, or else when it ran hard, and of course it needs to move its tail to do so.

If you don’t use a leader then that is entirely up to you, but personally I can see no reason not to use one - for a number of different reasons as well - and I wonder if anglers not using leaders is primarily because they have had bad experiences of leader knots breaking. My reply to that? Have a guess! Learn to tie the FG knot, tie it properly, and get a 100% strength join. Simple.

But let’s say here that you do use a leader when you go bass fishing, and let’s say that a bigger, scrappy fish does indeed slap its tail hard against your line during the scrap - how long a leader do you use? For no deep and meaningful reason other than it seems to work for me and my own casting and fishing I use a leader around 3’ long these days, and as much as I would love to think I’m going to connect to a 90cm+ bass from the shore one day, in reality me thinks not.

Can a bass actually break the leader as I have described above? I’m not sure, and of course big, powerful stripers are a completely different proposition to our own bass, but let’s say you do go and hook that bass of a lifetime in shallow water where the fish is most likely going to run and thrash about a bit - does it make sense when you are putting a leader on to make sure it’s longer than the longest bass you might connect with? Notwithstanding an absolute once in a lifetime monster that’s swimming around and chows your lure………..

And as much as big bass can of course be landed on very light line if it all goes right, what happens if a decent bass repeatedly slaps its tail on a really light leader which creates that split in their tail, and which then exposes your line to a potentially sharp edge etc.? A mate of mine lost a decent fish the other day for example when his long, lightish leader parted for no other reason that he could think of, save for believing the line had been previously damaged and he hadn’t noticed - which it could have been, no arguing with that - but what if it was the fish’s tail that broke the line? If this can happen, is a fish’s tail more likely to break fluoro, mono or braid? I don’t know, but personally I’d be far happier if a fish’s tail slaps against some kind of leader material with is somewhat thicker than these ultra-thin braids so many of us love lure fishing with. Food for thought?

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