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November 12, 2013

Proper Leader Techniques

Preparation pays when leadering fish offshore.

Wrap Artist

It’s important to understand, as leader man, how to properly wrap line around your gloved hands.

Wind-on leaders are used ­specifically so more line is cranked onto the reel and less is left in the bottom of the boat. Even still, often about 10 to 15 feet of leader remain to be handled. After the swivel, Andrews leaves about 12 feet of 200- or 300-pound mono leader for marlin or tunas.

Two common initial wraps are the overhand and backhand. Both Andrews and Beach prefer to use the overhand wrap.

“When leadering, try to keep your arms flexed and close to your body like shock absorbers,” says Beach. 

The first motion is to pinch the leader with one hand and try to move toward the corner of the boat, away from the prop wash. “On our center-consoles, we always use the back quarter of the boat,” says Andrews. “We never leader from the bow, because we keep at least one engine running.”

Beach also keeps his boat in motion when his mate Jordan Ellis leaders fish.

“We’ll slowly circle our cat [hull]in reverse to keep the propellers away from the line and fish,” says Beach. 

To start your first wrap, bring your other hand under the leader with your palm facing your chest. Grab the line by turning your hand toward the deck so the line catches on your thumb, and you can grasp the line with your fingers. Your palm should face down at this point. Make sure the line lies across your palm as you rotate your hand completely. That’s one wrap.

“We use overhand wraps only — no more than two wraps on one hand,” says Andrews. “Sometimes we use only one wrap, like with big sharks.”

For that second wrap, open your hand again. With the thumb pointed up and palm facing your chest, repeat the process. Make sure your second wrap lies cleanly next to the first. Now you can pull on the fish and begin the same process with the other hand. Practice makes perfect, so start leadering any offshore fish you catch.

“Most important, don’t do anything stupid,” says Beach. “Always be able to release the leader if necessary. Expect to have to ‘dump’ the leader, especially when you try that first wrap.”

Cut Loose

So what’s the best way to release a fish once it’s leadered?

First off, the leader man should always have on a pair of wiring gloves. Second, he ought to wear a pair of nonskid shoes and have a line-cutting device on his belt. Those line cutters are a perfect tool to snip the leader near the hook for species such as sailfish, marlin and sharks.


“If you use a tag stick, you can add a line cutter to the end of that too,” says Andrews. “That extra reach is important.” Companies like Melton Tackle offer tag sticks that feature a release knife.

There’s much less to consider if you want to keep the fish. For tuna, wahoo, mackerel and dolphin, gaff the fish in a spot that misses the meat. “For our wahoo caught on a short leader,” says Beach, “we do one wrap, and then stick ’em with the gaff.”

Another option is to pop off the fish without using a line cutter or gaff. “You can hold onto the leader,” says Andrews, “so that when the fish surges, it pops on its own.”

A snelled hook is easier to pop, especially after a long battle roughs up the leader. A crimped hook is harder to break off, admits Andrews.

“I have no problem breaking off a marlin 15 feet from the boat,” says Andrews. “Anglers have a responsibility to fish that aren’t going to be kept. Don’t play hero. Don’t beat up the fish at the side of the boat. The fish is more ­important than a photo."