What Pound Test Leader For Trout

An angler that knows what pound test leader for trout is best.

I guide many clients to big brown trout like the one in the picture and I know that it’s important to know what pound test leader for trout is best not only to get more bites but to also prevent break-offs. What pound test leader for trout is a common question that anglers want to know.

The best pound test leader for trout for slow presentations and with bait is true 4 pound leader which is around 0.14mm thickness, and for lure fishing you want to use true 8 pound leader which is 0.20mm in diameter. It’s best to buy your leader based on the diameter, not the pound test.

Not all leader brands rate their labels accurately and this could mean fewer fish so you need to make sure you get the right size of leader. I will explain more below.

A leader that is too thick won’t get any bites because the fish see it, and a leader that is too thing will break to easily and you will loose fish.

I often say the the pound test leader that is best for trout is 4 pounds because it’s not too heavy and it’s not too light. But under certain conditions, you might hook more trout or land more trout using a different pound test leader.

Under different conditions and using different methods, you will need to change your leader size. I would use a very different size leader when float fishing than I would when casting lures or when streamer fishing. I will discuss what the best leader is for each.

Leader Sizing Important – My Warning

Leaders for trout

This is very important to know and is something most anglers don’t know.

Using the right size of leader has many advantages, but not all leaders are labeled properly, or should I say labeled accurately, and this could mean fewer fish if you are unknowingly using the wrong sized leader.

I have seen anglers struggle to catch fish for years simply because they didn’t realise that the leader they were using was mislabelled.

I have seen leaders labelled as 4-pound test, but they were closer to a true 6 pound or even an 8-pound breaking strength which is too heavy for trout.

One brands 4 pound leader might be exactly 4 pound and will be perfect for trout but another brands 4 pound leader might be as thick as 8 pound line and that is bad for trout, which is why I always tell my clients that it’s always better to buy your trout leaders by the diameter size and not by the pound test on the label. It’s very important to remember this.

Most of the time the diameter size is a more accurate reflection of the true breaking strength of a brands leader. And even if it’s not, when it comes to leader size, what really matters when fishing is the thickness of the line and not the pound test of the line.

You should know that a thick line will be seen and ignored by the trout.

You want a line that is strong enough that you won’t be breaking off any fish but thin enough that they will bite your bait in the first place.

That is where true 4 pound test (0.14mm thickness) is what you want for bait fishing and slow presentations and for lure fishing a true 6 pound ( 0.16mm) or a true 8 pound test (around 0.20mm diameter) leader is best.

Leader mislabelling is very common.

If you compare 4 pound Drennan leader, 6 pound Seaguar leader, and 8 pound Rio leader, you will see that they are all the same 0.20mm/ 0.007″ diameter.

All three leaders are the same diameter and therefore they would all likely break at approximately 7 to 8 pounds if you actually tested them. But they all have different pound ratings on their label which means 2 of the 3 are mislabelled.

I have had guys walk into my tackle store to return line for this very reason. They buy one 4 pound leader that is super strong and then they try another brands 4 pound leader and it breaks. They think the leader that break is just crappy line but what they don’t realise is that the super strong 4 pound is actually 8 pound test.

So when someone tells you that for trout you should use 6 pound leader, 6 pound Rio brand might be what they are talking about and not 6 pound Drennan which is as thick as most brands 12 pound line. Ask them what diameter it is instead.

This chart is based off actual tests and is a more accurate way to buy your leaders.

Pound Test

Diameter

1.5

.003in (.08mm)

2

.004in (.10mm)

3

.005in (.12mm)

4

.0055in (.13mm)

6

.007in (.18mm)

8

.008in (.20mm)

10

.009in (.22mm)

12

.010in (.25mm)

For heavier leaders of 6 pound to 12 pound when fishing lures, I like to use Seaguar or Drennan leaders but remember to only go by the diameter and not by the label pound rating because Drennan 3 pound is actually closer 6 pounds, and 4 pound Drennan is actually about 8 pound, 5 pound is about 10 pound and 6 pound is about 12 pound. Drennan  ( buy them by the diameter only)– Check Best Price at FishUSA.com

For lighter leader lines I like to use Rio FluoroFlex + Tippet. Check the prices at Bass Pro Shop, or FishUSA.com, or at Amazon at these links.

The Downside To A Heavy Leader For Trout

The main disadvantage to a trout leader that is too heavy is that the leader might be seen by line-shy trout. This might mean fewer fish will bite your bait. This matters more when fishing certain baits and in certain water conditions like when the water is super clear or slow moving.

The advantage to using a bigger leader for trout is that you won’t break off as many fish and I might upsize in faster water or in river with a lot of wood and snags. I always prefer to use a lighter leader because I think having more bites and losing a few fish is better than getting no bites at all.

The Rod Makes A Difference

Before you read any further and before you hear my advice and recommendation on leaders sizes for different situations, you should know that I tend to use longer and lighter rods whenever possible.

Longer lighter rods allow me to use lighter leaders because the longer rod acts like a big shock absorber which protects leader from breaking.

Using shorter stiffer rods might require you to be more careful and lighten up on your drag a little so you do not break off. Lighter leader tend to break more often on short stiff rods.

I discuss rods on my page Best River Fishing Rods: Trout And Steelhead Rods

The Advantages To Using A Lighter Leader For Trout

Big trout like this are caught on light leaders
Big trout are wiser and more line shy. The lighter your leader the more big and small trout you will catch.

There are some real advantages to a lighter trout leader and some advantages you probably do not know about.

  • A lighter trout leader won’t be seen by cautions line-shy fish.
  • A lighter trout leader will sink faster
  • A lighter trout leader won’t get pushed around by the current and your bait wont move abnormally fast
  • A lighter trout leader might allow your bait to move and drift more naturally in the current.

The thicker the line the more surface area there is and that can mean that a thicker line will get pushed by the current more and that will increase the speed of your bait which can result in fewer bites.

I always go with as light a leader as I can get away with.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best In Clear Water?

An angler fishing in clear water
This angler is fishing a clear fast water trout river with a 3 pound leader line. The light leader will get his fly down fast and help it move slower.

In ultra-clear rivers like you might find on some spring creeks, 3 pound (0.12mm) or 4-pound (0.14mm) leader is a good choice for trout when you are float fishing or using the bottom bouncing method.

Why 3 pound? If the trout are being line shy I will use 3 pound test leaders. 3 pound is .005″ or 0.12mm diameter. This lighter leader also allows my bait to sink faster and more more naturally in the current.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best In Dirty Water Water?

An angler fishing in dirty water for trout

In dirty water you can go up a size because the trout can’t see the line and using a slightly heavier line will allow you to get the trout in the net faster.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best In Slow Water?

I treat slow water the same way I treat very clear water becuase in slower water the trout have more time to inspect the bait and they are more likely to see the line and refuse your bait.

In slow water I will use 3 pound leader for trout. 3 pound is .005″ or .12mm diameter

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best In Fast Water?

4 pound leader are good for trout in faster water

When the water is faster the trout have less time to react to a bait moving at them and therefore they have less time to see the line. Therefore in faster water, a 4-pound leader should be fine for trout. 4-pound line is .0055in or 0.13mm to 0.14mm in diameter.

With that being said I still use a 3-pound line more often even in faster water simply because the 3-pound line won’t get pushed as fast by the current which allows my bait to travel slower and this often results in more bites.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best In When Euro Nymphing?

Many pro tournament anglers that use the Euro nymphing methods will use very light leaders for trout.

They do this because it allows their flies to sink faster which gets the flies in the strike zone faster and the thinner leader slows the flies down. It’s not uncommon for tournament pro anglers to use 1.5 to 2-pound leaders for trout. 2 pound line is about 0.10mm

I only recommend going this light for anglers that are really good and that use longer rods.

For most of my Euro nymphing fishing and guiding, I use 3-pound leaders but I will upsize to a 4 or 5-pound leader in heavily wooded water, or if there are a lot of big fish over 5 pounds.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best When Indicator Fishing?

Indicator nymphing

For indicator fishing for trout, a 4-pound 0.13mm to 0.14mm leader will work in most river situations.

I use 4 pounds if I want to put split shots on the line because the split shots are less likely the damage a thicker line.

If I want to get my fly deeper faster I will drop down to 3-pound leaders for trout.

For information on how to indicator fish better check out my page Indicator Nymphing: 13 Tips From An Expert River Guide

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best For Dry Fly Fishing?

Best pound test leader for dry fly fishing

Leaders on the surface can create an indent in the surface which trout can see. That is why most dry fly fishing usually requires a thinner line so the line-shy trout do not see the line.

I also use mostly monofilament leaders when dry fly fishing because they are light and they float. Fluorocarbon line is not great for dry fly fishing since it sinks and that could pull your floating fly under.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best For Streamer Fishing?

dry fly fishing leader

When using streamer flies for trout I will use a 10 to 12 pound leaders (0.22mm to 0.24mm).

Because the fly is moving faster the trout will be focused on the fly and are less likely going to see the leader.

The other reason I use a 10-pound test leader for streamer fishing is that streamer fishing often gets the bigger fish to bite and when they hit the fly they hit it hard and fast.

A hard-hitting trout can break a 6 or 8-pound leader on contact sometimes so I rarely use less than 10 pounds when streamer fishing.

What Pound Test Leader For Trout Is Best For Swinging Wet Flies?

When swinging wet flies for trout the line is mostly tight and the fly is moving and there is less of a chance that the trout will see the leader.

Because the fly is moving and the leader will be tight, a bigger stronger leader is required so the fish don’t break you off on the bite.

I use 6 pound 0.18mm leaders when fishing with wet-flies.

What Pound Leader Is best For Lures.

Fish Flies With Spinning Gear

Sometimes when you are lure fishing you might be using a braided line or a colored line and you may need to add a piece of leader so that the trout don’t see it.

Because the lure is moving the trout can hit the lure hard and fast therefore you will need a leader of 6 to 8 pounds. 0.18mm to 0.20mm

Most of the time I will use a true 6-pound 0.18mm leader for trout when casting lures but I will up-size to a 10 pound .009in (.22mm) leader for steelhead and even up to 12 -14 pound for great lakes salmon.

Got a question about what pound test leader for trout is best, let me know in the comments below.

I hope you enjoyed my post about What Pound Test Leader For Trout and that it helps you catch more trout.

Thanks

Gtaham

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Graham,
    Thanks for all of the info you are sharing on the site. Amazing stuff!

    I like to use an ultralight rod and reel for medium and small creeks.

    If I am using spinners or micro jigs, is it ok to just go direct from mainline without a leader? I use p-line floroclear 4lb. (.18mm)

    I recently downsized to 2lb floro and got burnt on a large trout that easily snapped the line, so I plan to go back to 4lb.

    Thanks,
    Matt

    1. Hey Matt, When using lures that move quickly the trout are less likely to see the line so with lures I will often upsize my line to 4 or 6 pound test so I don’t lose fish, and it is OK to tie a your 4lb Floroclear line directly to the lure without a leader.

      With slower moving baits and maybe with your micro jigs, depending on how you use them, I would tie on a 2 foot floro leader using a triple surgeons knot or a swivel or tippet ring. I use a leader because fish have more time to inspect the slow moving bait and then maybe see the line. Also, tying floro to mono just hasn’t worked well for me so I use a micro swivel for that type of connection.

      Remember that your 4 pound mainline is 0.18mm and most 4 pound leader brands like Rio Fluoroflex 4.5lb is much lighter at only 0.14mm, and 2 pound leader is only 0.10mm, (depending on the brand), which is really, really thin line and is even too light for me in a lot of cases so I’m not surprised it broke on a big fish.

      If you want to try a slightly lighter leader for bait fishing I would suggest dropping down to 0.16mm, or 0.14mm. (stop using the pound test rating on the spool and stick with the diameter instead) I have caught hundreds of 18 to 26 inch brown trout on 0.14mm line, however I’m also using 9 and 10 foot rods.

      I’m in the middle of writing an article about catching trout in small streams and I discuss the idea of using longer rods so that you have more leader protection and more control on your presentation when bait fishing. I know this will sound odd to many guys that like their 5 and 6 foot rods for small stream trout, but the trend in fly fishing with the pro tournament anglers is to fish with 10 foot rods, even in small streams. There are many advantages to longer rods including light-leader protection which is why the pro’s use them.

      There is no reason why you wouldn’t have the same benefits with a 8, 9 or 10 foot ultra-light spinning rod. However, if you’re primary means of fishing is casting lures a shorter rod in the 7 foot range may still be a better option. The new page should be published on May 7th 2021

      1. Thanks for the reply Graham.
        Lots of great information!

        I do have an 8 1/2ft St. Croix. I will try switching over to that!

        The idea of a longer rod to support the lighter line makes perfect sense. Much like longer rods for steelhead.

        Cheers,
        Matt

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