Capt. Vic Gaspeny remembers when fluorocarbon leader material first became available in the early 1970s, and he’s still lamenting it.
“For years I used fluorocarbon,” says Gaspeny, a longtime Islamorada, Florida, flats guide who now fishes just for fun. “I was afraid not to use it.
“When it first came on the scene, I did use fluorocarbon for tarpon fishing, then I went back to trying the monofilament, and it seemed like I got the same amount of bites.”
Gaspeny recalls that, back then, a friend decided to conduct a comparison test. He fished for tarpon with one rod rigged with a fluorocarbon leader, and another with a mono leader. Of the 300 bites recorded, 154 came on the fluorocarbon and 146 on mono—an insignificant difference.
Gaspeny discovered that fluorocarbon, invisible in the water, works great, especially when fish seem skittish or picky. But monofilament leader material often can be just as effective and significantly cheaper.
For instance, a 30-yard spool of 50-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon leader costs $19.49, while a 55-yard spool of 50-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game mono leader is $5.19. Thirty yards of 100-pound Vanish costs $29.99, and 110 yards of 100-pound Trilene Big Game mono is $9.99.
“I wish I had the money back for all the fluorocarbon I used tarpon fishing,” Gaspeny says.
Consider the Conditions
For Capt. Tommy Pellegrin (customchartersllc.com) of Houma, Louisiana, water clarity helps determine what type of leader to use. “Fluorocarbon is really needed in super-gin-clear water, which Louisiana doesn’t have a lot of in the saltwater marshes and offshore,” says Pellegrin, who fishes for everything from redfish and speckled trout to red snapper and yellowfin tuna. “We have some ponds that are gin-clear, but even then, fluorocarbon is not a necessity.”
Gaspeny notes that even guides who can readily afford fluorocarbon, and believe that it catches more fish, will tie on monofilament leaders when fishing muddy water or in low-light conditions. “I think in a high-visibility situation, or if you’re seeing fish and they’re not biting, you go to fluorocarbon,” he says. “I’m sure there are a lot of times when you really don’t need it.”
Pellegrin says that fishing pressure can also dictate fluorocarbon use. In popular areas, where fish see a lot of baits, anglers must make their presentations look as natural as possible. “Along the Gulf Coast—Biloxi (Mississippi), Pensacola (Florida), Venice (Louisiana), Grand Isle (Louisiana)—they have a lot of boats fishing. The farther west you go, the fewer boats you see, until you get to Galveston (Texas). If you’re fishing an area that gets hit hard every day, you’re going to need fluorocarbon. You’ve got to convince smart fish to eat what you have, especially around the close oil rigs that all the boats can get to.”
A Winning Combination
For Capt. J.R. Waits (fishcall.com) of Charleston, South Carolina, the go-to rig for bull redfish, 100-pound-class sharks, and tarpon consists of 40- or 50-pound SpiderWire braided main line, a 15-foot top shot of Berkley Big Game 60- or 80-pound monofilament (he goes heavier when fishing around rocks) and 6 inches of Berkley ProSpec 60- to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader.
“So I kind of use both [mono and fluoro] at the same time,” Waits says. “I use the mono for stretch and also because it’s more abrasion-resistant than the braid. For my tarpon fishing, I used to go straight from braid to a swivel to fluorocarbon. I broke off a lot of tarpon, I think, because the braid doesn’t stretch at all. It also frayed and jerked the bait out of the fish’s mouth. That’s when I started going to the mono top shot.”
He connects the braid to the mono with an FG knot and ties the mono to a three-way swivel. He attaches the fluoro leader to one of the swivel eyes and a 40-pound fluorocarbon loop to the third. The loop allows Waits to swap out 2- to 5-ounce flat bank sinkers, depending on the current strength. “I find those get caught in our rocks the least,” he adds.
For bull red bait, Waits uses live or dead menhaden, mullet, and crabs on 5/0 circle hooks. The fluorocarbon leader might not be necessary, he says, but at least using such a short length keeps things cost-effective, especially considering how many rigs his anglers lose when fishing around rocky jetties.
“I feel like the fluorocarbon has more abrasion resistance than the mono does, and I want the less-visible line close to the hook, where the fish is going to be eating,” he explains. “I use the mono mainly because it’s cheaper. I think I could catch the same number of fish if the 6-inch piece were mono, probably 90 percent of the time. But when the water is clear and the fish are spooky, the fluorocarbon pays off.”
Gaspeny says that he finds fluorocarbon worthwhile for targeting bonefish on Florida Keys flats. “Fluorocarbon up to 25-pound-test, you can buy that cheap,” he says. “You get a lot of pickers, like blowfish, and the fluorocarbon can take it better than mono. If my life depended on catching a bonefish on fly, I’d probably go with fluorocarbon.”
Pellegrin says fish that feed primarily by smell, such as redfish, don’t typically require fluorocarbon leaders. “They’re not leader-shy,” he says. “At least I haven’t found them to be -leader-shy in the 28 years I’ve been guiding for them.”
He uses 1 to 2 feet of 20- to 30-pound Berkley ProSpec monofilament for his primary redfish leaders, which he attaches to 20-pound SpiderWire main line with a double uni-knot. When he targets bigger reds around oyster beds, he bumps up the leader to 50-pound mono for its abrasion resistance.
For speckled trout, he uses 2 feet of 20- to 30-pound ProSpec mono. “Even in 10 inches of visibility, I still wouldn’t use straight braid for trout,” he says.
Mangrove snapper require a different approach, especially in clean water around oil rigs. “I like fishing them in the blue water; I can see them and see what they’re reacting to,” says Pellegrin, who fishes live croakers or fresh-cut pogies on a 4/0 or 5/0 circle hook tied to 3 feet of 40-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon. “I don’t hide the hook, and the mangroves are not scared off by the leader. They would shy away from an opaque leader, but that Vanish doesn’t bother them.”
Some days, though, only heavy mono leaders allow anglers to pull hard-fighting mangrove snapper up to 14 pounds out of an oil rig. “One day, we were breaking off fish, so I went to 80-pound mono leaders on 80-pound braid,” he recalls. “That’s the only way we could stop those fish.”
The bottom line on leaders: If price is no object, you’ll probably land a few more fish with -fluorocarbon, but in most situations, monofilament will cost you less money without costing you any fish.