Fishing Wire 101 – Choosing The Right Wire
Some fish have teeth, really sharp teeth, and they can make short work of mono or fluoro leaders. You might land some occasionally, but, for the most part, catching these fish consistently requires wire leaders. There are a couple of exceptions, most notably trolling spoons for king and Spanish mackerel, but landing success for toothy critters rises significantly when a wire leader is used.
There are basically two types of wire – multiple strand and single strand. This refers to whether the wire is a single piece or if it is made up of multiple pieces of lighter wire that are braided or twisted, similar to rope.
Wire leaders are made of two materials. Most are made from stainless steel and some are made of titanium. Some fishermen are very pleased with titanium wire, but I never got comfortable with it. Stranded titanium wire was soft, extremely flexible and very easy to work with. However, it didn’t feel right and I couldn’t get past that.
Single strand titanium wire was much more difficult to work with. It resisted bending, which was probably good for fishing, but made it difficult to attach hooks and swivels. It was slightly smaller in diameter than stainless wire of the same strength and appeared to be pretty tooth resistant, but the twists were open and rather loose and I couldn’t get confident that connections wouldn’t slip and loosen.
Stainless steel wire has been used successfully in single strand and stranded constructions for the 50 plus years I have been fishing and I’m comfortable using both types in various situations. Single strand stainless steel wire is available in a bright (silver) finish or a coffee/camo (dark brown) finish. Stranded stainless steel wire has a couple more options. It is available in bright or coffee/camo finishes and with or without a clear or dark vinyl coating. No one has ever shown me a significant difference between plain or coated multi strand wire.
There are several notable differences between single strand and stranded wire. The most quickly obvious is diameter, which relates to visibility. Larger diameter wire is obviously more visible under similar sea conditions and water clarity.
I used the online specifications chart at American Fishing Wire (AFW) for this comparison. There may be small differences between wire manufacturers, but they shouldn’t be significant.
Size 5 (44 pound test) wire is a popular size for live bait king mackerel rigs. This wire is .36MM in diameter in AFW Tooth Proof single strand wire. The closest multi strand wire is 45 pound test. AFW Surfstrand (not coated) is .46MM in diameter and AFW Surflon (coated) is .71MM in diameter.
Size 8 (86 pound test) is a popular wire size for offshore trolling rigs. This wire is .51MM in diameter in AFW Tooth Proof single strand wire. The closest multi strand wire is 90 pound test. AFW Surfstrand (not coated) is .61MM in diameter and AFW Surflon (coated) is .91MM in diameter.
In spite of being larger in diameter, multiple strand wire is softer, much more flexible and easier to use. It can be tied in knots (the figure 8 knot is popular) and snelled to hooks. This softness and flexibility come with a cost. Multi strand wire is not as tooth proof as single strand wire in the same strength. It can be cut with good scissors and many fish have teeth that sharp and sharper. It can also be worn down and broken one strand at a time during a prolonged fight.
Single strand wire is much stronger and tooth proof for its diameter. Wire pliers are required to cut it. The smaller diameter also gives it much less visibility in the water. A little chop or cloudiness hide it well.
The strength at its smaller diameter makes single strand wire more difficult to work with. Each connection must be made using a haywire twist followed by a barrel twist or the loop may slip. If the loop slips and pinches too tight on the hook or swivel eye, single strand wire may kink. It may also kink if the fish rolls during the fight and wraps the wire around it. The weak link of single strand wire is that when it kinks it loses much of its strength and is extremely prone to breaking.
Both of these wires have their following. Some fishermen prefer to only use one or the other, but I use both. I also use some hybrid leaders that combine wire at strategic places, with mono. I make most of my hybrid rigs with single strand wire to keep the visibility low, but also use a few, particularly on swimming plugs, made with multiple strand wire.
I use a hybrid live bait rig when fishing for king mackerel in clear water. We call it the stealth rig and it definitely gets strikes when a full length wire rig doesn’t. The stealth rig is essentially a shortened wire live bait rig that uses wire between the hooks and for 9 inches to a foot in front of the nose hook. A 5 foot piece of 50 pound mono or fluorocarbon leader is tied to the end of the wire using an Albright Special knot. There is not a swivel here, but the wire and line are tied. There is a swivel at the other end of the leader, where it is tied to the line from the reel.
The object of the stealth rig is to have wire where the teeth are likely to bite it and then something less visible for the remainder of the leader. Fifty pound test fluoro or mono is strong enough to withstand abrasion from sliding down the fish and being rubbed by its tail. I first used this rig fishing in the clear waters off St. Petersburg, Fl. We could see the bottom at 50 feet and the king mackerel could see our full length wire leaders and were leader shy. Immediately after switching to stealth rigs the kings began to bite. That seems pretty obvious.
NOTE: When the situation calls for stealth king mackerel live bait rigs, I also downsize the wire to #4 (38 pound test) and downsize the hooks to size 6. This helps the rig become less visible, which is the purpose of the stealth rig. It is absolutely amazing how much difference this can make in clear water. It has to be seen to be appreciated.
Some commercial fishermen use a version of this rig when trolling spoons and sea witches for kings. They use very long mono or fluoro leaders with just a foot or so of wire leader right in front of the lure. This reduces bite-offs and doesn’t usually slow the action very much. I have seen some of these made using a swivel to join the wire and mono, but don’t recommend that. If the action gets really hot and heavy, a fish may bite the swivel and cut the line. The Albright Special is the only knot I am aware of that allows tying fishing line directly to wire.
I use both single strand and multiple strand wire for fishing leaders, but I use multiple strand wire for just about everything except tournaments. Multiple strand fishing wire is easy to work with and I can tie a basic double hook live bait king rig in about 30 seconds. Yes, I occasionally lose a toothy fish to a bite off or abrasion break, but if I’m only fishing for fun, it doesn’t bother me.
Losing fish to bite-offs and break-offs during tournaments haunts me, so I take the extra time to make my tournament rigs using single strand wire. A basic double hook live bait king rig requires 4 sets of haywire and barrel twists and takes about 3 minutes to make. This also taxes my fingers more and I need a break at about 8-10 rigs. During tournaments, I only ask a rig to catch one fish. The components are stressed, especially if it’s a longer fight, and after removing the hooks from the fish, I cut the rig off the line and tie on a new one.
For fun fishing, in non tournament situations, I primarily use rigs made with 45 pound test stranded wire. Some fishermen like 60 pound wire and some even use 90 pound, but I feel 45 is a good compromise of softness, strength and visibility.
Even if I plan on keeping a fish or two for dinner, I don’t keep large kings. Biologists tell us that the probability of a king heavier than 20 pounds being female exceeds 90 percent and this increases to around 99 percent at 30 pounds. These are the prime breeding stock and in any non tournament situation I release them to continue making little kings.
Younger kings, less than 20 pounds, bring a better price at the fish house and there is a reason. The best reason is they taste better. These are the kings you want to take home and introduce to your grill and they are usually hungry and feeding aggressively, which means they aren’t paying attention to your rigs.
Stranded wire will cut with good scissors and I carry several pairs of craft scissors just for this. If a king is hooked deep, I can quickly and easily release it by sliding the scissors down the wire close to its mouth and cutting it free. This means not having to handle it and hold it out of the water, bruise its internals lifting it or sliding it across the gunwale or rake the slime off of it.
So, which wire is better for you? If you just fish for fun and a few meals of fresh fish, stranded wire winds hands down. I consider the ease of working with stranded wire to be its best . It gives good basic tooth protection and some large kings, plus many other toothy critters are regularly landed using it. With a little practice, you can tie rigs using figure 8 knots in less than a minute. These rigs are also easy to handle and store.
Fishermen should understand there are options when a wire leader is needed while fishing for toothy critters. Each options has pros and cons, depending on the fish and situation. The suggestion is to fish both and decide for yourself. Until you do that, my recommendation is to use stranded wire for fun fishing rigs and shift to single strand wire when everything is on the line – like in a tournament.
Good luck and good fishing!