Tips & Tactics For Wire-Shy Blues

There are times each season when voracious bluefish become timid feeders, especially when they see a wire leader. Here's how to get 'em to bite! (August 2008)

When bluefish are finicky, it's time to ditch the wire by using heavy monofilament or braid leaders -- or lures like this diamond jig that acts as a bite-proof leader.
Photo courtesy of Pete Barrett.

Bluefish are famous for their wickedly sharp teeth. This is one reason why many fishermen believe it makes good sense to add a wire leader at the end of the fishing line to protect from cutoffs and lost fish. Although a wire leader is sometimes a good idea, what do you do on those days when a wire trace makes ol' yellow eyes finicky as Morris the cat? With a pea-sized brain, bluefish aren't known for their high IQ, but their natural instincts are finely tuned and their eyesight is perfect. When a wire leader makes a bait or lure look phony, even the most aggressive bluefish may become leader-shy. That's the time to have a few tricks up your sleeve.

The first trick is to ditch the wire leader and replace it with a length of heavy nylon monofilament. If you're already using heavy mono leaders, you're probably annoyed that I just gave away one of your pool-winning secrets. If you haven't tried mono leaders, you probably think I'm off my rocker because everyone knows bluefish will slice through mono in an instant. Well, yes and no.

The truth is heavy mono leaders are much less visible than wire, and are so supple that a mono leader actually helps a live or chunked bait suspend or sink in the water much more naturally. And a 60- to 100-pound-test mono leader will usually stand up to a bluefish or three before it's chafed and needs replacing. Yes, the mono will eventually be cut or break, but on those days when blues just won't hit anything with wire attached to it, the choice is simple: Use mono and get some bites, or use wire and go fishless. Watch the party boat pool winners, and you'll see that they often use heavy mono leaders to score good catches.

The very best mono leaders are made of fluorocarbon, a special material that is less visible than nylon monofilament and has much more abrasion resistance. It's also more expensive, but remember, you're only using 2 to 4 feet of fluorocarbon for the leader, so each piece isn't going to break your fishing budget. A typical leader spool will provide 30 to 50 leaders at about $1 for each leader or a lot less than a cup of coffee these days.

Monofilament is the most popular line choice with most bluefish anglers. After all, it's inexpensive, nearly invisible, ties strong knots, casts well and is easy to handle on spinning and conventional gear. Mono stretches up to 20 percent of its length before breaking, a property that cushions the fight of the fish and prevents break-offs from sudden lunges by a bluefish. Its elasticity also makes the line less sensitive, so strikes are not as easy to detect. Monofilament is a good choice when casting metal lures and popping plugs and for bait-fishing.

If you spool your reel with mono as your main fishing line, you can easily and quickly add a heavy leader with a double surgeon's knot. Because the surgeon's knot is about 80 percent of the unknotted line strength, it's good practice to double the main fishing line by tying a Bimini twist or a spider hitch at the tag end. The doubled line is then twice as strong as the main line, so when you bend the mono or fluorocarbon leader to it with the surgeon's knot, the connection is still very strong.

Super lines are the hot ticket for many bluefish anglers. These braided lines have minimal stretch, so they are extremely sensitive; you'll swear you can feel a bluefish just looking at the bait or lure. Braided lines are also soft and supple and enhance the appeal of the bait as it floats or sinks in a chum slick or as the live bait drifts, dances and darts seductively.

The extremely fine diameter of braid also slices through the water much better than mono, which is larger in diameter for the same pound-test. The fine diameter also means you can get much more line on your reel, or you can downsize your tackle so it's lighter in weight and more comfortable to fish with.

Super-braid lines are a great choice when fishing baits deep into the water column, when deep jigging and when casting to surface-crashing blues. Because the line has minimal stretch, setting the hook is instantaneous with a firm sweep or lift of the rod tip. Because of the braid's superior sensitivity, you'll feel even the slightest hit. Despite their reputation as big, bad bullies, bluefish will sometimes take a bait so gently all you'll feel is a slight tap. You may miss that tap with monofilament line but not with braided line.

Most braids have a slippery finish, so when adding a heavy mono or fluorocarbon leader, you must use a five-turn surgeon's knot to make a strong non-slip connection. You can forgo the spider hitch, but it's still a good idea to double about 2 feet of the end of the braided fishing line. Lay the heavy leader alongside the doubled braid, form a loop, and then pass the leader and the doubled braid through the loop five times. Cotton fishing gloves will help you get a good grip on the braid so you can draw it down tight to form a perfect knot. A little saliva always helps.

SMART HOOKS
A bluefish's razor-sharp teeth are no match for a metal hook. When fishing chunk baits or bunker backs, savvy anglers will use another trick -- a long-shanked hook, and rely on the added length of the hook shank to avoid cutoffs. At times you can get away without the need of a heavy leader, relying only on the hook shank to fend off sharp teeth.

Circle hooks are another excellent choice for bait-fishing, especially when using a heavy mono leader. As the bluefish eats the bait, it usually turns away at the same moment its jaws clamp down on the juicy meal. As the bluefish turns, the circle hook will slide to the corner of the jaw and the fish is securely hooked with no chance of its choppers touching the mono leader.

If the fish are aggressively feeding and not turning away, you'll still see the line move as the fish takes the bait. If you see this occurring, reel up the slack line until the bluefish feels the tension. When it does, it will again turn away and automatically hook itself virtually every time.

LURES AS LEADERS
Few things will spook bluefish more than a lure with a bulky wire leader hanging on its nose, yet many anglers are so worried about losing a lure that they'll always add a trace of wire to it. By doing so, they are minimizing their chances at catching fish.

I saw this happen many times while charter fishing for blues each summer. Customers who fished diamond jigs tied direct

ly to a mono leader without wire caught far more fish than did those who insisted on adding a wire leader. Flashy diamond jigs measure about 6 to 8 inches in length, including the hook, and no bluefish alive can chew through the chrome and lead body of a diamond jig. The trick with diamond jigs is to let the lure act as its own built-in leader.

By unhappy comparison, those customers who fished with a leader often experienced cutoffs by bluefish that attacked the shiny swivel at the top end of the leader, thereby losing the fish and the lure! Another drawback is the wire leader often becomes tangled with the diamond jig, as it's free-spooled to the bottom. Lures tangled in a wire leader never catch fish; mono leaders never tangle and so they catch all the fish.

Few sights along the coast are as exciting as watching a bluefish smack a surface-popping plug. You'll get more strikes and lose fewer fish by once again avoiding a wire leader. Another trick used by bluefish sharpies is to rig a few surface plugs strictly for blues; remove the front and rear treble hooks, and replace the tail hook with a single Siwash-style hook. By doing so the tail hook will hook every bluefish and the lure's plastic body will serve as a built-in leader that prevents cutoffs.

Bucktails are another good lure choice for bluefish, especially those with a long-shanked hook. Just as with the diamond jig and popping plug, the blue's sharp teeth are kept far away from the mono leader by the length of the lure itself. Natural bucktail hair can be quickly chewed away by the first blue you hook, so look for bucktails tied with fake nylon hair, as they'll last much longer.

The next time bluefish give you fits and become wire leader shy, try a few of these fish-tested, no-wire tricks to help you get hooked up. You'll be yelling fish on! while your buddies are wondering what's going on!

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