Musky Leaders Explained

By Steve Heiting

It will happen thousands of times this year, just as it does every year. Musky anglers will buy new lures this winter and spring at a sport show, a sport shop or online based on a recommendation or what they saw in a video or during a demonstration, and when they finally get to use the lures when the season opens they’ll be disappointed in the action their new lure produces. “It doesn’t move like it’s supposed to,” they’ll say.

Often, it’s not the problem of the lure but of the leader attached to it. 

Leaders add weight to the front of your lure, often produce a visual that can turn off a fish, and create drag in the water ahead of your lure. It’s best to minimize these factors when choosing a leader, but you must also choose leaders made with high quality components.

When buying a lure, it’s important to have the right leader for it. It’s a given that you must use a leader when fishing muskies — we don’t want the fish to cut the line with their sharp teeth or gill rakers.

But the leader adds weight to the front of your lure, often produces a visual that can turn off a fish, and creates drag in the water. In every one of these cases, it’s best to minimize the leader’s weight, visibility, drag and/or stiffness.

Weight is hugely important with smaller lures. Bucktails with No. 8 blades and smaller, 5- to 7-inch minnowbaits and jerkbaits, and most topwaters become nose-heavy with excessive leader weight. This is why I worked with Stealth Tackle a few years ago to develop their Twitchbait Leader, which has all the same top shelf components as their heavier leaders but in a shorter, 124-pound test package. I rely on this leader anytime I need to downsize my presentation, and I find more uses for it every season.

Visibility is another factor that affects a lure’s performance. Let’s face it, people fishing for all other species have more success with fluorocarbon, and a fluorocarbon leader works great for muskies, too. Fluorocarbon nearly disappears under water, and has great flexibility and durability. But there are two downsides to fluoro — you must use at least 130-pound test with muskies to prevent bite-offs, and its greater width (when compared to wire) creates drag in the water. Therefore, I use it only with larger lures that won’t be affected by drag, such as giant bucktails and most soft plastics.

Large topwaters, and erratic, dive-and-rise and glider jerkbaits, work best with minimal leader drag. Slack line is important during the retrieve to allow them to fully move as they’re intended, and a leader that drags in the water or flexes impedes their action. For such lures I use a 174-pound test stiff wire leader. A problem that can arise with erratic baits is the swivel usually found on wire leaders provides another pivot point that can bind and kill a bait’s action. If your lure doesn’t spin you don’t need a swivel, so consider a leader without one.

With some lures, you need to minimize leader stiffness. If working a crankbait or minnowbait through or over weeds, a 90-pound test SevenStrand wire leader is flexible to allow for great action while being thin enough to literally cut the vegetation.

Drag, visibility and flexibility matter with trolling leaders. Fluorocarbon will provide the edge against visibility, and when a musky rolls fluoro won’t kink or get cut, but its drag in the water reduces the depth your baits will reach. If you must get deep to catch muskies, consider a SevenStrand leader which will slice water and not kink when a fish rolls.

I could go on, but I think by now you get the point. If it sounds like I’m suggesting you need a separate tackle box to carry all of your different leaders, consider that many top anglers already do so. There is no such thing as a do-it-all leader Match the leader to your lure and you’ll be happier with your new lure purchases.

All of the leaders discussed here can be purchased at

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