The Leaders Among Leaders

Avid pike angler and expert Joe Bednar covers all the aspects of choosing leaders for toothy critters.

A question often heard among northern pike enthusiasts is what wire leader is best?  If you ask me, wire leaders are like your fishing line in that no single one is best for all situations.  Let me review some types and make a few recommendations.

Titanium leaders like Bass Pro’s XPS versions or Terminator’s have become very popular, and for good reason.  They are initially more expensive than most other options but their great durability and overall performance makes them a good value since they last many times longer than most others without being kinked, or getting the phone cord look that happens to some kinds of conventional wire.  They have become a favorite of mine as long as I’m not in snag infested waters, where losing a $10 pike lure and a $7 leader along with it is not my idea of a good time.

One other point to keep in mind with titanium is that although it is probably the most resilient wire going, it is not invincible.  It does wear out after enough use, almost always at the loop of wire that the snap connects to, right where the wire rubs against the snap.  Fortunately this is usually after lots of use if you don’t lose it, so again if you ask me they are well worth the price.  Plus you can reattach a new snap on a new loop if you notice the original is getting worn out.

Another top wire leader option going these days is softer wire that you can actually tie knots with, such as Tyger Leader or Surflon Micro Supreme from American Fishing Wire.  The stuff is impressive, it is thicker than titanium of the same strength, but it is very flexible and kink resistant, and easy to tie your own leaders with.  It’s has a thin coating of nylon so to really secure that knot, I recommend passing a lighter or match under it to melt it just a bit.

A nice benefit of these softer wires is they can help with live or dead bait fishing where pike mouth the bait and can more easily feel the wire.  In my opinion, harder, stiffer wires don’t feel as natural, pike will hold onto the softer wire longer when they are in a finicky mood such as on hard fished waters.  With lures it doesn’t matter much because the hit is usually quick and hard, you either hook ‘em or you don’t.  They don’t mouth the bait and have a chance to feel that wire like they do with livebait, for example.

A very underrated wire is the good old fashioned single strand.  Indeed it is stiff, but with most pike lures that doesn’t matter.  Actually its stiffness can be a plus with lures like long minnowbaits and jerkbaits, it doesn’t get caught up in the hooks while casting as can happen with other wires.  Also, single strand is the strongest of all wires for its diameter, for example Malin’s 31 lb. test has just .011” diameter, less than most 12 lb. test monofilament fishing lines.


In addition to the above, I still use plenty of leaders I make myself from Sevenstrand, both nylon coated and uncoated.  It’s very good all-around wire, strong, low diameter, and economical.  Most pike fishing only calls for 18 lb. or 27 lb. test wire and Sevenstrand in these tests, as well as the other wires mentioned above, is thin enough to not impede lure action on all but the most delicate of baits.  And how many of us pike fans use delicate baits anyway?

As far as other recommendations, when buying leaders or making your own its best to use leaders at least 9” long with lures, usually much longer, up to 20” or more, with live and dead baits.  Even a small or moderate sized pike can make toothy contact well above that lure depending on lure size and strike angle, and anything less than 9” or so is pushing your luck.  While bait fishing the fish can really engulf your offering, even with quick strike rigs, so a long leader helps prevent problems as well as gives extra insurance when a fish rolls on that leader after engulfing the bait.  Pike have very sharp gill covers that can cut line well above whatever you’re using on the end when they use their famous roll tactic.

When purchasing or making leaders also pay close attention to hardware.  Even the very best wire is useless if it’s coupled with cheap snaps or swivels, as you can tell this eliminates most cheap tackle store shelf leaders if you ask me, plus they usually are about as thick as the cable for my television.  Snaps should be high quality like Berkley Cross-Loks, though note even the best snaps will weaken over time and will have to be replaced.  Swivels should never have split rings, only solid rings.  I learned this lesson the hard way more than once before I got the hint. The light split rings on many swivels will pull apart under pressure plus split rings that open even slightly can work themselves off what their attached to over time if you’re not paying attention.

Well I hope this discussion of wire leaders helps you in your pike fishing.  As with any other tackle item, get the best your budget allows and use it in the right situation to be sure you’re ready when that trophy pike comes to visit.  Good piking!