Last week, sorting through my inbox, I ran across an interesting question. The writer asked about selecting the appropriate weight for your fly leader. How do you decide which weight to use?
Initially, my thought was that I use them all. When I fish I come prepared with everything from 12- to 60-pound fluorocarbon, but this answer probably isn’t specific enough to be as helpful as you’d like. So, I’m going to share my thoughts on the “best practices” for saltwater leader strength selection which should offer some useful guidelines.
Typically, I use two-piece, big game leaders. My #6 and #7 weight rods are accompanied with a 30-pound nylon butt section, and I keep that constant. What I do change are the tippets
Seasonal changes in weather help determine your choices. Remember that tippet choice is always a balancing act of getting bites with the thinnest tippet possible but not thinning to the point where they easily break apart. Depending on your own style and technique, finding that optimal sizing can vary, so there is some trial and error in finding what works best for you. Also remember that windknots can reduce your line strength by up to 50%, and not all fluorocarbon is created equal. I have had good results using Seaguar blue.
Winter water in the local lagoons tends to be shallow and transparent. When I’m after the larger guys, (fish 20 lbs. or more) I employ a stretch of 12-pound fluorocarbon. Patience is required since the fish can see through the clear water and avoid your lines. That said, I rarely lighten the tippet, because man those breakoffs annoy me!
When I’m after really large fish, like black drum or redfish, I sometimes increase the tippet to 15-pound. Upon encountering barnacles or oysters, I usually move up to 20-pound fluorocarbon. This applies to snook fishing as well. While intuitively you’ll want to use more than 20, the reality is that snook are too observant to bite into anything heavier.
With warm, spring water, aquatic organisms come to life and hungry fish come in to feed, including snook and tarpon. Leader diameter increases to 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon, depending on the fish size anticipated. To stay out of harm’s way, twenty-pound fluoro is the heaviest tippet I recommend, since getting snarled in 50-pound leader with a monster sized tarpon is not at all appealing! If you really want anything heavier, I suggest adding a bite tippet with a Hufnagle or slim beauty knot.
Like with everything else in life, a few exceptions apply. For instance, to catch a baby tarpon, a twenty-pound tippet or a 30-pound bite tippet may be necessary. I also think that using a 30-pound bite tippet for tripletail is advisable. Cobia may require employing 40- to 50-pound line, and really large tarpon may call for 60-pound. Even though they can probably bite through it, they are unlikely to be lured by anything heavier. Extreme fish may call for wire but I’ll save that for another blog.
So my overall recommendation is to come prepared for every possible encounter. Leader strength choices are always made based on a number of variables including the type of fish, clarity of water, water temperature, etc. You can never go wrong by having what you need on hand as circumstances change, and on the water, they tend to change often.