Follow the Leader : A Look Into JDM Options
Introduction: Last year, as sort of a personal kick off to our BFS focused season, I dipped my toes into the shallow spool waters of finesse braids. In that article, I mentioned my round about journey to discovering the benefits of using the line strategy of braid plus a leader. Testing responsibilities not withstanding, this is now my preferred line setup for all my reels and I have more or less settled upon what to use for the braid portion of that strategy.
An 8-strand braid in roughly forty to fifty five pound (40-55lb) test or the smallest hollow braid (in light blue) I can get, is what I fill the majority of my reels with today. The leader section has proven more difficult to settle and has been somewhat fluid because it depends upon the application I have in mind. High quality fluorocarbon hasn't been an issue. The real struggle has been finding a suitable nylon monofilament.
Among the finesse braids that have helped shape my light line
Ratings Matter: Given the accessibility and affordability of so many nylon monofilament brands, you’d think finding one to rely upon for my leader game would be easy but for one specific application... big baits. When I’m installing a nylon monofilament leader, it’s for the purpose of throwing a big topwater bait. This includes wakes, crankdowns, walking baits, anything that weighs three ounces or more and is fished within two feet of the surface. Sometimes, I’ll use nylon monofilament with my glide baits too, but usually it’s for the surface baits because I want that neutral buoyancy of nylon monofilament to keep my bait on top. Fluorocarbon has a negative buoyancy causing the line to sink which creates a downward pulling angle on your bait sometimes pulling it subsurface.
Among the standard braids I fish with my conventional combos
Anything I actually want to fish subsurface, and with all of my conventional setups, that leader is usually fluorocarbon. Products like Seaguar Gold Label, Tatsu, and Abrazx or Sunline’s Shooter are some of the products upon which I rely. The choices in nylon monofilament as a mainline or leader are actually plentiful if you’re looking for line that is roughly 0.370mm or thinner. This is roughly 20lb test in a properly rated line. Once you cross that threshold, the choices in a properly rated nylon monofilament begin to thin.
When it comes to big baits, fluoro is fine for subsurface baits, but not ideal
What do I consider properly rated? My baseline for comparison is Sunline’s Super Natural nylon monofilament. I’ve tested and reviewed this product, and fished it long enough to be comfortable using it as a basis for comparison with regards to strength and diameter. So, for example, if I take a different 20lb test nylon monofilament, measure the diameter at five different spots along six feet of line, average that value, and the result is closer to Super Natural at 30lb test (0.441mm) instead of 20lb (0.363mm), I’m not relying on that line for personal use. The line itself may be fine, but I personally, do not have the time or patience for product that is not rated properly. Worse yet, if that line in question is actually rated correctly and really does break at 20lbs, and is that much thicker than my baseline product, why would I want to use it? In that scenario, the choice is actually a weaker product than my baseline. These are just too many questions to have when I’m attaching a $200 bait to the end of my line.
90% of my big bait setups begin with hollow braid
Connection Knots and Tools: Speaking of attachments, the biggest challenge I’ve had in settling into this line strategy is that connection knot. I’m a firm believer in the position that the best knot to use for whatever purpose you are using it, is the one you are most comfortable and competent in tying. For the first year or two in trying this strategy, I was neither comfortable nor competent at tying any manner of connection knot for my leader and lost a handful of nice baits on the hookset because of it. That’s what led me to explore hollow braid and given the choice, all my setups would be this. However, even though I’ve had success with leaders as small as 0.268mm (10lb Seaguar AbrazX), hollow braid is a bit impractical for use with smaller diameter lines and more in conventional techniques, mostly because 100 and smaller sized reels have less line capacity and the smallest hollow braids are still relatively large in diameter.
Uni to Uni knot is simple to tie and effective, but the knot profile is large
My fall back connection knot has been the Uni to Uni. It is simple to tie and has proven very reliable for me. The trouble with this knot is it is not very slim and when using thicker line, doesn’t flow through your guides very well on a cast. So I explored the Albright knot which I could get to hold if I was using ~50lb braid with a 12lb or so leader, but had trouble with consistency on smaller diameter lines, it’d pull out on the test after tying.
The FC Knot is slim, but it's cumbersome to tie even with the
assistance of specialized tools
Then I discovered Daiichi’s Seiko Knot Assist 2.0 tool designed to help in tying the FG knot. This worked, and for the longest time was my go to connection knot. The issue I eventually had with the FG knot was finishing it off. You need to tie a series of alternating half hitches to end this knot. While the knot itself is low profile and flows through the guides easily, all those half hitches makes the knot longer than what it seems it needs to be. This just annoyed me. However, don’t tie enough of those half hitches and the knot would begin to unravel. Nevertheless, thanks to that tool, using the FG knot proved to be a very good answer for the big baits. I find the FG knot cumbersome with thin line in finesse applications, so I went back to the Uni to Uni for my finesse combos.
The Alberto Knot is a double down on the Albright. It is also
slim in profile and relatively easy to tie
Further research to improve my finesse connection knot game eventually brought me to a knot with a few variations and names, but is most commonly referred to as the Alberto. For a while, I mixed this knot up with the Albright because they are similar in name, but also in application. The difference is, the Alberto doubles down on the Albright requiring you to wind around your tying loop in both directions before cinching down. The only issue here is, it takes a bit of finger dexterity to tie, something that for me, grows more difficult with each passing year.
This handy tool is not
necessary, but certainly helps for those of us that could use some help with
dexterity in our fingers
Enter yet another tool the Alberto Knot, Uncle Jim Tool. This little $20 device holds the loop making it easier for you to wind your braid around the leader material. For the record, you can accomplish the same thing with the Daiichi Seiko Knot Assist 2.0 tool, just not as easily. The Alberto knot is very low profile and very secure and has just about taken over as my connection knot of choice.
When lacking choices in domestic gear, my default response is to
Time to go JDM: Okay, so with the actual method of connection out of the way, it’s time to turn our attention back to identifying some quality, properly rated nylon monofilament leader options for big baits. What I was looking for were lines with a true diameter in the range of 0.450mm to 0.540mm and a strength rating of 30lbs - 40lbs (specifications similar to Seaguar Gold Label FC Leader). With that in mind, I was able to assemble the following candidates.
Sunline's Saltimate System Shockleader Nylon Monofilament
Sunline Saltimate System Shockleader Nylon Monofilament: This is a nylon leader material developed for saltwater fishing and available in strengths from 30lb to 60lb test. The 30lb is specified at 0.435mm and measured at an average of 0.430mm in our lab. I also acquired a spool of 40lb which measured at 0.532mm on average (specified at 0.520mm). It is offered in lengths of 50m, parallel wound onto the spool. Designed as leader material, and not a mainline, I’ve actually been using this product for the past year or two with very good success and was pretty happy when it finally showed up at TackleWarehouse towards the end of 2022. Cost per meter is about $0.28.
Varivas's Absolute CB nylon monofilament mainline
Varivas Absolute CB: Developed as an abrasion resistant nylon line, Absolute CB is among Varivas’s most popular nylon monofilaments for bass fishing. The 25lb test is specified as 0.435mm and measured 0.441mm, on average, in our lab. It is also available one strength higher at 30lb which is specified at 0.470mm. The line is parallel wound onto filler spools of 100m. Designed as a mainline, this is a more affordable option than going with a leader specific material. Cost per meter is $0.12.
Varivas's nylon monofilament Seabass Shock Leader
Varivas Seabass Shock Leader: Similar to Sunline’s Saltimate, this Seabass Shock Leader by Varivas is designed specifically as a nylon leader material for saltwater fishing. It is touted as twenty times more durable than standard nylon and is parallel wound onto 30m spools. The 25lb test is specified at 0.435mm and measured at an average of 0.441 in our lab. The highest strength offered in this line is 30lb. Cost per meter for this line is about $0.47 for the 25lb and 30lb strengths.
Varivas's latest monofilament designed for big bait fishermen,
Varivas Absolute BBM: This is a brand new product for Varivas designed specifically for use with big baits. It has a “stealth brown” finish and is designed to have less stretch than traditional nylon lines thus improving hook set performance. It is available in strengths from 16lb to 40lb and comes in parallel wound, 150m filler spools for strengths 30lb and below and 80m for 35lb and 40lb. Retail is $20 or $0.13 per meter for the 30lb ($16, or $0.20 per meter for the 80m spools).
Plant a seed of doubt in my mind about your product, and I will
not be using it with any difficult to come by and expensive and difficult to
source baits like these (UFO Mothership, Illude Rad Rat, Bent Baitz Shad)
This is a somewhat narrow list with only JDM offerings, but the USDM product I researched in the diameters I was seeking are all rated at 20lb test or lower instead of 30lb. In practice, the lines may all be comparable in strength, but as noted earlier, plant a seed of doubt in my mind and given the choice, I’m not attaching my expensive baits to the end of your product.
It takes a lot of trust in your gear to lean into and launch
these big baits
The Drop... Test: Speaking of doubt, just because the specifications are right, doesn’t mean I’m ready to use the product. I still need some assurance these lines would hold up to my inevitable fouled cast and not send my +$200 baits sailing through the air on a break off. Our standard process of testing nylon monofilament would be nice, but isn’t actually applicable here because not all these leader line candidates are available in diameters matching that of what we usually test (~0.300mm). Therefore, there’s no data with which to compare, and frankly, due to the stakes, I need something more intentional at the strengths I actually plan to use.
Tools of my crude drop test to gauge strength in leader options
against unexpected impacts like a fouled cast
During my evaluation of Seaguar’s Gold Label FC, I devised a crude method of drop testing, with weight, some thicker gauged lines to get a sense of their resistance to the type of impact a fouled cast might present. I revived this exercise for these candidates to gather data more relevant to my needs. The basic methodology is as follows: 1) tie a heavy duty snap to either end of a section of line with approximately one foot between; 2) attach one snap to a screw eye attached to a beam with clear space below; 3) use a series of weights beginning at 16 ounces attached at the other snap, raise that weight to the height of the screw eye and drop it; 4) if the line does not break, repeat two more times, then increase load by 2 ounces, repeat test 3 times, and continue until the line breaks; 5) when the line breaks, record the weight and either retest to verify or move on to the next candidate.
Using each line's cross sectional area to calculate an apples to
apples strength comparison is among the .... I do to build confidence in a
product prior to use
I then take the results for each line, convert ounces to kilograms, and divide by each lines’ cross sectional area to come up with a number I could use for a more apples to apples comparison of strength. Again, very crude, but it at least gives me some idea how a product might hold up before tying that hype bait to the end of the line. Score higher than Sunline Super Natural and reasonably close or better than Gold Label FC, and you get a shot as my leader material. The following table lists the results of this drop test including data from previously tested lines of comparable diameter.
~0.440mm Diameter Leader Material Drop Test
||Rated Diameter (mm)
||Avg Measured Diameter (mm)
||Impact Load (oz)
||Load / Dia (kg/m)
|Seaguar Gold Label FC Leader
|Varivas Absolute BBM
|Varivas Absolute CB
|Varivas Seabass Shock Leader
|Sunline Saltimate Nylon Leader
|Average of 15 Different Products
|Previously Tested Nylon & Copoly Lines
|Trilene Big Game
|P-Line CXX Copoly
|Izorline XXX Super Copoly