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October 26, 2001

Wired and Ready

The strength of steel provides insurance against bite-offs.

From now on, I'm only using cable leaders," said a very disappointed friend the day after losing an estimated grander blue marlin at boatside.
"I fought that fish for three hours, then the chafed mono wore completely through when the mate grabbed the 400-pound leader."
The debate on mono vs. cable leaders for billfish remains wide open, but steel becomes a necessity when targeting scissor-mouthed species like wahoo or king mackerel. Discussions in this arena center on which type of leader material is best: multi-strand cable or single-strand wire?

Wire or Cable?
Wire and cable each offer specific advantages and disadvantages to anglers. Joe Marshall, marketing director for Malin (manufacturer of wire and cable fishing products), says two main advantages of wire are "higher abrasion resistance than cable of similar diameter and convenience." Finishing off a wire leader with a haywire twist is much quicker than keeping track of the crimpers and sleeves normally used to complete a cable leader. On the downside, single-strand wire breaks rather easily once it becomes kinked - a real possibility when hooked fish struggle at the end of the line.
"Cable's greatest asset is flexibility; it won't kink," says Tournament Cable president Chuck Richardson, whose company makes wind-on leaders, bait rigs and other accessories using cable. Bill Goodman, sales manager for Sevenstrand Tackle, a prominent name in fishing wire and cable for over 60 years, points out, "Cable can be crimped or tied, so the connections aren't as bulky as a haywire twist." Rigging with cable requires attention to detail, however, since crimping with incorrect sleeve sizes can result in slippage and failed connections. The more elaborate production process involved in wrapping strands together also saddles cable with a higher price tag than wire.
"The more strands a cable has, the more flexible it becomes," explains Goodman. Richardson agrees, adding that a higher number of strands increases a cable's fatigue resistance: the ability to withstand repeated bending back and forth without breaking. A number of individual wires are twisted together to form strands; several strands are wrapped to form a cable. Most cables on the market follow a 7-by-7 formula in which each strand contains seven wires and each cable contains seven strands, for a total of 49 wires.
Although some anglers use nylon-coated cable as leader material, its larger diameter overshadows its main advantage: superior kink resistance. Nylon-coated cable's ease of handling makes it a good choice for downrigger cable.

Regional Preferences
Can fish bite through steel? "I've heard of cases where big sharks eventually bit off cable leaders by cutting one strand at a time, but that's very rare," says Richardson, who notes that many shark anglers in the Northeast have switched from wire leaders to cable, especially when targeting makos. These acrobatic sharks are more likely to kink and snap single-strand wire than chew through cable.
Goodman's sales records back up the conclusions of his on-the-water observations while fishing throughout the country. "Sharkers and bluefish anglers in the Northeast favor cable. So do fishermen on the West Coast, whether they're after sharks or using short bite leaders for wahoo on long-range trips. Single-strand wire still has a big following among the guys who troll ballyhoo in the mid-Atlantic and Florida," he says.
Sid Steverson of Jessup, Georgia, has been a competitive angler in kingfish tournaments since 1991, and he's keeping pace with a trend among SKA anglers who now prefer cable leaders over wire when slow-trolling live baits. "Active baits such as big blue runners can easily kink single-strand wire," Steverson says.
Steverson normally uses 27- to 30-pound-test cable but sometimes rigs with 60-pound when targeting large Gulf kingfish. He prepares at least 200 leaders prior to each competition and has gone through as many as 70 in a weekend tournament. Steverson ties cable to a swivel with a figure-8 knot and secures the tag end with a crimp; about 2 feet behind the swivel he attaches a single hook, followed by several treble-hook trailers. Common snell knots hold all hooks on the cable leader, eliminating the need for extra hardware such as crimps. "The same tandem rig made with single-strand wire gets bulky because of all the haywire twists," Steverson says. "Cable's flexibility lets baits swim more naturally."
Concerned about reducing the visibility of his leaders, Steverson prefers coffee-colored material "to keep fish from striking bright cable." Marshall presents a completely different theory: "Most fish have white bellies, making it harder for predators to see them from below. I think bright steel leaders are also harder for fish to see." But don't confuse brightness with shine; Marshall rubs his leaders lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to remove the flash.
Manufacturers have their own secret recipes: varying proportions of carbon, nickel and other ingredients affect qualities such as the wire's softness, flexibility and brittleness. Since no objective standard exists for measuring flexibility, anglers can't simply read a label and know exactly how a specific leader material will perform. Bending wire back and forth in your hands provides an idea of its qualities, but the true test must come on the water, with game fish slashing at the baits and chomping on the leader.
Experimenting with cable and single-strand wire of different diameters will help determine the best type of leader material for your particular fishing style. Steel will keep you connected to fish with deadly dentures that take your bait.