Fellas who only fish in waters without pike, muskies or pickerel don’t have to worry much about getting bit off by fish. But in many other North American rivers and lakes, the tooth laden members of the Esox family are major considerations. And in recent years, even previously Esox free waters in the mid-South and lower Midwest are receiving muskie stockings. So now, even some rivers in states such as Tennessee, Virginia and Ohio have these fish. All three members of the Esox family have two plates of razor sharp teeth covering the roof of their mouths. These incredibly sharp teeth can instantly sever even 12 or 14 pound test mono or fluorocarbon lines and leaders.
In fact, many times while guiding I’ve seen just a splash where a topwater has been or just a slight twitch of the line and then instant slack and no lure or fly on the end of the line. Often clients who were new to pike or muskie teeth couldn’t believe any fish could cut them off that easily and quickly and thought it must have been some instant knot failure. Not until I showed them the telltale nicks at the end of their line did they realize how sharp these teeth are.
And since I grew up in pike country, guide on waters where pike and muskies are common and also travel and fish in pickerel laden waters, I’ve long understood the value of good bite proof leaders. Both to save your baits and to land the fish. So years ago I came up with a lightweight, unobtrusive, bite-proof wire leader I like and sell. However, there other leader options and I’ll run through some of them.
Different Types of Leaders
Some guys like to use super heavy fluorocarbon as a leader, but it needs to be at least 40 pound test to stand up to a prolonged fight of bigger pike or muskie. The biggest downside of this ultra-heavy fluoro is the difficulty of tying knots in it. You need to both attach it your regular line or leader, plus attach the bait to it. To not impair the lures action you should use a loop knot, but with that stiff material knot tying is a tedious and frustrating affair for most anglers. Another material that is bite proof is flexible wire, such as Tyger Wire. It will stand up to the teeth and it doesn’t kink much from the fish. However, it has the same problem as heavy fluoro, it is very hard to tie knots into. And every time you change baits you need to cut it off and tediously tie on another. Which also means your wire leader quickly becomes too short.
The Fas-Snap Solution
One way to get around this continuously cutting the leader and retying is to build a tiny snap into the leader. There are very small spring snaps (the most popular is the “Fas-Snap” brand) and are the ones we use on the stranded steel wire leaders we sell. They are tiny, but strong (close to 20 pound test breaking strength) and using a forceps, a fly or lure can be pushed onto the snap. However, after buying the materials and the effort involved in making them, it is actually cheaper and easier to just buy some Smallmouth Angler leaders. But I know some guys really love to make their own stuff, so that is certainly an option.
And no matter if you buy them or make your own, keep in mind when using the Fas-Snaps (either large or extra large size) after changing baits 3 or 4 times the spring snap can open up a little and allow the bait to come off. This can be stopped by simply squeezing the spring snap together with the forceps a little. You can tell when the snap is tighter again when you can’t easily pull the lure out of the snap with your fingers.
Another thing to realize about the dark colored wire leaders we offer. Since they are such small diameter and so lightweight, they will not pull even our medium-sized popper down, so they can be effectively used when topwater fly fishing. Plus being dark and unobtrusive, bass of both species will strike your offering. This is in contrast to the ultra-thick and heavy wire leaders you often find in tackle shops with their huge snaps and swivels. They ruin the action of most baits, and scare off many bass. With Smallmouth Angler leaders, we can use them all day and catch many smallies, plus land the pike and muskies and not lose our baits. So I’d encourage everyone when fishing in Esox waters to “wire up” and save your baits.