Wire Leaders
by Chris Tan S.G.

Walk into a well stocked tackle shop to purchase wire leaders and you will be confronted with a confusing variety of wire leaders to select from. We have a wide choice of wire leader materials to use when pursuing our toothy tropical gamefish. Therefore we have to be able to determine which sort of wire leader we need to use for our angling needs.

There are 3 main types of wires used for angling: single strand wire, seven strand wire and 49 strand wire. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The single strand wire has the smallest diameter of all the wires (i.e. for a certain breaking strength it has the smallest diameter compared to other types of wire leaders); therefore it is the most difficult to detect visually and causes minimal disturbance/turbulence in the water. The single strand wire being very stiff with very high memory will readily hold a shape/bend and will not recover to the original shape. This means that loops can be made to attach it to swivels, hooks and lures without any additional accessories and tools other than a pair of pliers. This loop is made with a haywire twist, finished with a barrel roll to secure the wire wrap.

The stiffness of the single strand wire is also a disadvantage. The single strand wire easily kinks when a loop is formed and suddenly straightened. When this happens, the wire snaps with very little pressure. Also the little twists and bends found on the wire after a fish is landed on the single strand wire leader will weaken the wire. Therefore the wire leader should be discarded and replaced with a new one.

When going for gamefish that like to jump a lot, twist and turn in mid air like sailfish or marlin, the use of long single strand wire leaders is unsuitable. When the gamefish jumps the leader is often twisted and loops are formed. The single strand wire leader will kink and snap as the gamefish falls back into the water.

Fatigue is another problem the single strand wire leader faces. Being stiff, when used for trolling lures, the vibration made by the lures causes the wire to weaken over time. Thus the single strand wire leaders for lures should be changed regularly. The stiffness of the single strand wire leader also does inhibit the swimming action of the lure.

The 49 strand wire leader has the opposite properties. It is very flexible and supple, practically kink proof. Therefore this makes it the most suitable wire leader for gamefish that jump. Its flexibility and suppleness also gives trolled lures maximum swimming action. The same flexibility gives it the good resistance to fatigue.

The drawback for using the 49 strand wire leader is its large diameter, the largest of all the wire leaders available. This makes it more visible than the other wire leaders. The larger diameter also creates more turbulence in the water, especially when trolling or drifting in strong currents. As the 49 strand wire consists of many fine wires, it has the least resistance to cutting of the three types of wires. The fine wires are easily cut, thus the overall strength is easily weakened. Another drawback is the price of the 49 strand wire; it is the most expensive of wire leaders.

Loops or knots for attaching lures, hooks or swivels are made by a knot called the flemish eye. Then a metal sleeve is used to secure the tag end of the knot by crimping it. The actual pressure on the loop is taken by the flemish eye. The crimped sleeve is only to lock the tag end, preventing the flemish eye knot from loosening.

The seven strand wire leader is the most commonly used wire leader here, as its properties run in between the single strand and the 49 strand wire. Its diameter is thicker than the single strand wire but it is thinner than the 49 strand for the same strength. The flexibility runs along the same line, in between the two. Therefore the seven strand is less subject to kinking than the single strand wire.

Nevertheless there are different types of seven strand wires on the market made of stainless steel of varying hardness. Some are so stiff and hard that their characteristics almost approach the single strand wire. Others are so soft that they have low resistance to being cut, but they are quite supple and flexible.

Seven strand and 49 strand wire leaders are also available coated with plastic/nylon. Plastic coated wire leaders tend to have more resistance to kinking than uncoated wire leaders. The diameter however becomes larger when they are coated with plastic.

The plastic coated wire can corrode under the plastic once exposed to saltwater, even with stainless steel wire. Once discolouration appears under the plastic coating, corrosion is taking place. Thus the wire should be discarded as the corrosion would most certainly have weakened the wire leader.

Once an angler was fishing off Pulau Aur for marlin. He was advised to change his wire leader due to some discolouration of his plastic coated wire. He just brushed away the advice, and guess what happened! His first and only marlin hook up resulted in his coated wire leader breaking. A tough lesson.

One thing I have noticed when using the plastic coated wire for live baiting, I tend to get more takes with it than with the uncoated wire. Possibly this is due to the fact there is less metal exposed. Any school kid knows that when metal is placed in salt water, a chemical reaction will take place, generating an electric field. So it is possible that the gamefish can sense the result of the chemical reaction or electric field, making it cautious.

On the other hand, when comparing the single strand wire with the uncoated seven strand wire, I found I had more takes on the fine diameter single strand wire. Could it be the fish could not visually detect the finer wire?

The seven strand wire can be rigged by using sleeves, the same way the 49 strand wire is rigged. The plastic/nylon coated wire can also be rigged for light tackle fishing by making a loop, then twisting the tag end with the main wire like a hay wire twist at least 4 times. Holding the twist in place run a flame quickly back and forth along the length of the twist to melt the coating. The melted coating will bond the wire twist together, creating a secure loop, sufficient for light tackle fishing. Do not over do the melting, as the flame can burn off the coating, resulting in just the wire remaining.

The plastic/nylon coating is easily shredded off by the bites of the gamefish, requiring the re-rigging of the leader. The shredded coating can easily hide frayed or cut strands of wire.

The wire leaders should be changed after heavy usage, even if there is no indication of wear, like frayed wire, kinking, or rust. This is because the wire can be fatigued by the continued stresses of the vibrating lure. The area the wire leader often fails is normally around the crimp, where the crimp tends to inhibit the flexing of the wire. Obviously the wire leaders should be changed when any visible wear and tear is seen. I normally change the wire leader after a trip if that particular lure has taken a big fish too.

Like all consumer goods, what you pay is what you get. I would suggest the serious angler stick to the well known wire leader brands. These manufacturers maintain the quality of the alloys and metals used. Brand X may be cheap and look the same, but in reality the quality of metal used can be of a considerably lower grade. The same applies for the crimps.

All the different types of wire have their disadvantages and good points. No type is inferior to the other, unless it is made of poorer material. So the angler has to consider what type and style of fishing is intended and the type of gamefish being targeted to decide which type of wire leader is the most suitable for his angling needs. For example, hard wire leaders like the single strand wire or the hard seven strand wire are suitable for the sharp toothed spanish mackerel. The flexible 49 strand wire is suitable for the aerial acrobats of the sea or for better lure action.