To Steel or Not to Steel
Guest Blog by: Devin Gelsinger 6/26/2016
As an unsponsored, avid pike
angler, funding my addiction to pike fishing can become difficult at times. Iím an average family man who canít afford to constantly lose lures, much less expensive swimbaits. Being active with a few of the local fishing websites, my email is readily available to pretty much anyone and the most common question I get is, ďDo I use a steel leader for pike? ď The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no.
The biggest reason behind using a steel leader is I canít afford to lose expensive lures. Coming in at a close second, would be if and when you get bit off, that large bait can hurt the odds of that fish surviving. Think about it, swimbait hooks arenít exactly thin. Those two factors, along with confidence can go a long way in helping someone tie one on.
Flipping the coin to the other side of the spectrum, if you talk to Coloradoís, ďTop DogsĒ in the pike world, they will argue the case of not using steel. These guys who know their pike fishing will talk about action of the lure being altered because of the stiff steal which is a very valid argument. Not to mention that the weight will also alter the direction of the lure while suspended or hurt the suspension all together. Another con would be that the leader material becomes visible to the fish and makes the presentation more un-natural thus resulting in less hook ups. The advice from these guys is not to be taken lightly. They have caught more pike in a season then most of us will see in a lifetime.
Before fully committing to whether or not you should use steel leaders, you may actually have to look at your skill level. I donít care how expensive your gear is or how far you can cast a Kastmaster. Thatís not what makes an angler. Iím talking about keeping a fish under control during a fight and handling that fish properly and safely for a safe return to the water. Catching a fish on a rocky shoreline, landing the fish only to be bit off and dropped head first into the rocks is not doing the fish any favors. So take some time to consider all the factors that come into play. Anglers that are new to the sport may not have the quickest hook set or be prepared to handle a larger fish might run into some issues with being bit off. If you fall into this category, then I would suggest tying on a steel leader. Then after a few outings, hopefully some fish to show for it, you can decide on whether or not you want to continue using them.
Years back, a good friend and I got in a heated conversation about this exact topic. We came to the conclusion that the only way to settle the disagreement was to go out and do a test. The 2 day testing period went like this. Both of us show up with the same lures. One guy fishes with steel and the other fishes without. ( In this case he went with straight braid with a fluoro leader ) We fished 2 days with high/bright/steady conditions. We each threw the same lures in similar locations. I dominated with a steel leader attached with a 9-5 pike victory. Then on the next day of testing, he crushed me with an 8-3 victory without a steel leader. (I will tell you he got bit off twice in the experiment.) Finally, an actual experiment that will determine what works better right? Nope, results were a stalemate. We had no hard evidence stating who was right.
So whatís the answer to the question, to steel or not to steel? After many years of experimenting with both, I would say get out and try each for yourself. It eventually will boil down to your style of fishing and your level of confidence.
esoxrocks, CO 6/26/2016 7:47:48 AM
People who "know their stuff" come in on both sides of this question. I'm no expert but I fish with some experts from time to time and they universally use Flouro these days. I would think CO's clear water (vs the stained water we fish in the upper Midwest) would argue even stronger for a stealthy presentation and a truer running bait that a Flouro leader provides.
Devin Gelsinger (pikeNcolorado), CO 6/26/2016 12:12:08 PM
Very true Esox. I was watching "The Next Bite" the other day, both Guys had long steel leaders attached. But out here, the guys always go with Flouro leaders, straight mono or straight braid. I honestly can say I'm on both sides of the fence. When I'm floating rivers, I don't have time to retie due to paddling or constant changing depths, I love having the clip of a leader to change lures quickly. Most lake fishing I have most lures like jerks and swimbaits without the steel. Fast baits like topwater and spinners I don't feel like it changes anything. Those are mostly reaction strikes so the steel doesn't affect the action and is running at a pretty good clip.
JKaboom, CO 6/26/2016 9:34:33 PM
Interesting read I look forward to see what others chime in with as well. I am no pike expert at all most of the pike I catch are 'bonus' fish.
LastKast2010, CO 6/27/2016 10:26:47 AM
I don't know if I rate as a "TOP DOG", but I do fish with only Flouro leaders. Just my preference! I do think that Devin is on the right track.... I say.. I takes time to figure out what your area, location and lake will give up on steel versus flouro. After many years on my local lake, Vallecito, I found that the steel really killed the action of my lures, and that this high altitude lake, with clear water, the fish just didn't take the lures as well. I also found that the "suspend" action was hampered a great deal with the extra weight of the steel leader. Every scenario will have to dictate the old argument... to use... or not to use. I believe there is no right answer.. you as a fisherman must decide what is the best approach. Great article!!!! Hope my opinion helps..
Reef Kichards, CO 6/27/2016 10:31:01 AM
I don't think Rio's knottable wire bite tippet is bad stuff compared to other metal leader materials. The 20# is fairly limp for wire leader.
That said, I use Rio Fluoroflex saltwater tippet in 40# to 80#, sometimes 100# (depending on what feels safe for the fish in play) pretty close to exclusively. I was in Canada recently and boated several hundred Northerns, including seven that were over 40". I cut off some pretty chewed up bite tippet but only got bit off once, when I got lazy and let my tippet get too short.
imo, fluoro is the only way to go on CO's clear water pike locales. All that "pike aren't leader shy" CW does not apply.
Ajax5240, CO 6/27/2016 11:26:55 AM
I am no pike expert, but have spent some time chasing them. Sometimes it seems like your two options are: Use a steel leader and catch no fish, but you don't get broken off.. Obviously... Or use a heavy fluro leader and catch fish, but run the chance of breaking one off.. For me, I would rather hook up with the risk of a break off, than not hook up at all.
Reef Kichards, CO 6/27/2016 11:37:35 AM
There are times, even in Colorado, when you could be using 18" of yellow poly rope and would not be able to keep pike from eating.
Devin Gelsinger (pikeNcolorado), CO 6/27/2016 12:36:12 PM
Lastkast2010, you were one of the guys I was referring to as one of Co Top Dogs. You have taught me a ton and I appreciate it.
Reef, I used to use Toothy Critter wire but had a hard time finding the right knot to use with it. Maybe getting back to that leader material would be a good idea now that we have youtube at our fingertips. Thanks and that's why I write these, something good always comes up that I didn't cover.
Ajax, I would say that 70 to 80% of my pike caught in Colorado have been caught using a steel leader. I have no issues with fish being leader shy. Not to sound cocky but my pike numbers were pretty high back in the day. These days, family has me tied up and getting to my favorite pike waters is more difficult.
Ajax5240, CO 6/27/2016 4:30:28 PM
The main reason I made that comment came from the last time I was really out targeting pike, which was a College Lake derby last year. I started out feeling cocky and just tying the bait directly to power pro. Lost two baits to cut line by their teeth. Then tied on a steel leader and couldn't buy a bite!! Finally went back to shore and tied on some heavy fluro for a leader. The bite was back on. Interesting part is these fish only see a fisherman twice a year... So how the heck would they become leader shy??
esoxrocks, CO 6/28/2016 7:52:02 AM
Love Reef's point. Pike are generally one of the easiest fish to catch all things considered. When nothing else is biting during the dog-days of summer we can usually go out and catch a pile of 20-30" fish. That said, like any fish, when they are not in the mood you end up wondering "was it something I said? "...