What Is A Steelhead Leader?
A steelhead leader is the section of your line below your float nearest to the bait which separates the bait from the mainline. Using the right size and type of steelhead leader along with setting the leader up properly is essential for catching more steelhead.
In this article, I will discuss the best steelhead leader brands for float fishing, how I set them up for more maximum success, and what sizes and lengths I use to get my clients hooking more steelhead. I will even show you my favorite 2 bait steelhead leader setup.
Why Is A Steelhead Leader Important?
Leaders must be used for Centerpin fishing and float fishing with spinning reels if you want to catch more steelhead. The leader separates the bait from the thicker mainline and is a good place to put your weights.
If the steelhead leader is set up properly it will be thin enough so the fish do not see it but strong enough that you won’t be breaking the steelhead off.
5 Best Steelhead Leader Lines
It makes sense to use the best leader brand possible since the leader is often the weakest link in your setup.
The best steelhead leader lines should be thin and strong and very abrasion-resistant.
Be careful of the pound ratings since many brands are not accurate. See the sizing below.
My 3 favorite steelhead leader brands are:
- Drennan in the 3lb, 4lb, and 5-pound sizes. – Check Price
- Redwing Phantom in the 5.6lb, 6.6lb, and the 7.6-pound sizes – Check Price
- Seaguar AbrazX Fluorocarbon Line in the 6lb and 8lb sizes – Check Price Or Amazon Price Here
Guide Tip – I’m a guide so I go through a lot of steelhead leader material and because of that I find the best deal for me is usually the Seaguar AbrazX in 6lb. It’s meant as a mainline on spinning reels but it works great as a leader and it works out to be around 6 dollars per every 50 yards which is a great price compared to many other leader brands.
What Leader Strength For Steelhead?
Be very careful about how you buy your leaders.
Steelhead can be line shy and buying a leader that is too thick may mean no fish, and a leader that is too thin will mean lots of steelhead being broken off.
This is the best steelhead leader size and what I use –
- Super Clear Water – 0.18mm or .007in.
- Clear to green water – 0.20mm or .008in.
- Dirty water, fast and big water, or heavily wooded water – 0.22mm or .009in.
Best all-around size for a steelhead leader on most rivers is 0.20mm or .008in
I always recommend that you buy your leader line based on the diameter, not the pound test rating on the package because many companies do not rate the lines properly and people end up using the wrong strength.
Here is what I mean. Let’s compare 3 lines that all have a 0.20mm / .008 inch diameter size.
- Drennan claims their .008in line is 4lbs
- Seaguars claims their 6lb is .008in
- Frogg hair claims their 8lb is .008in
As you can see, three lines with all different pound test ratings, (4lb, 6lb, and 8lb) but all have the same diameter. I have used all 3 of these lines extensively and believe they are all equal in line strength.
So an angler that gets good results with 8 pound Frogg that switches to 8 pound Drennan won’t catch any fish because it would be much too thick.
I have guided many clients that have fished for years with a steelhead leader that was too thick and they struggled to catch many fish. Once I fixed their leader problems catching steelhead from that point forward was much easier.
I watched a friend make 10 drifts with 6 lb Drennan and catch zero steelhead in a pool full of fish. This was green water and not super clear. I switched his leader to 4lb Drennan and then he made 9 drifts in the exact same spot and landed 9 in a row. It was clear that they were seeing the 6lb line and not the 4lb line.
Since then I am very careful to make sure I use the right steelhead leader diameter for maximum success.
How To Setup A Steelhead Leader For Float Fishing?
The steelhead leader set up that I use includes what I call a shot-line.
A shot-line is a separate line from the mainline and the bottom of the leader.
A shot-line is where I place my weights and it is always heavier than the leader line where the bait attaches but is lighter than the mainline so that if I break off due to a snag or a fish I won’t lose the shot line and I will only lose the hook or the leader at the bottom.
This means less time re-tying and more time fishing.
The other reason I use a shot-line is that adding shots to the mainline is a mistake for a couple of reasons.
Since the mainline is often too thick or colored the fish may see it and it may spook them.
It’s also because most mainlines are made of monofilament which is not very abrasion resistant and the shots may drag the line down onto high rocks which can nick the line and cause it to break. My shot-line is always made out of a good fluorocarbon line and I rarely ever break it or lose it.
My shot-line is usually between 16 and 20 inches and when I add the leader to the bottom the entire leader is about 4 to 6 feet. I use this length for rivers that average 3 to 6 feet deep. If I need more depth I just slide the float up to a desired length. I have run a shot-line+leader in pools up to 9 feet deep.
For my shot lines I use:
- XXL Micro Swivels From Raven or Blackbird
- Drennan 6lb or Seaguar Abrazex .010
- Sure Shots – AB or BB sizes
- Leader 0.20mm
- Hooks – #8 Raven Sedge hook or #8 Raven Specialist hook.
If you are not sure about which hooks to use when or for different baits check out the page on the Best Steelhead Hooks – Coming Soon
2 Bait Leader Setup
Running 2 baits is a great way to increase your chances, just make sure that 2 baits is legal in your area or on the river you want to fish.
For a 2-bait leader set up all I do is add a second 12 to 20-inch leader to the bait and add another bait to that.
I tie the second leader of the bend of the hook or I use a dropper tag. You can also tie the second leader from the eye of the hook of the upper bait. All methods work but I use the dropper tag set up more than any other way. I will be doing a YouTube Video on this set up soon.
The combinations for a 2 bait rig are many but I like to use these combinations the most:
- 2 bead leader.
- bead and roe bag leader.
- bead and plastic worm leader.
- fly and worm, bead, or roe leader.
- Worm and Roe leader.
- 2 fly leader.
I often get asked which bait goes where?
My answer is usually that my confident bait, the one I think is going to work the best under the conditions of the day, goes on the bottom. Check out the page on the Best Steelhead Baits to see which baits I like the best.
If you are not sure how to use beads properly check out the page on the Steelhead Beads
What Leader Length For Steelhead?
The steelhead leader length will depend on the type of water you are going to be fishing. You want a leader that can get down to the steelhead.
On big river like the Niagara river I may use a leader of 12 feet and a slip float.
On most small the medium-depth rivers with average pool depths of 3 to 6 feet I will run a leader that is around 4 to 5 feet long.
I can get added length by sliding my float up and making the line plus leader the desired length.
Make sure you check out the page on the Best Steelhead Floats to be sure that you use the right float for your leader and for the situation.