Fluorocarbon and traditional steelhead leader options – are they all good?
Saying that you are fishing Fluorocarbon is like – well – it is not very informative. There are many Fluoro brands and formulations on the market, and I have only fished a few, but I have learned that they are very VERY different.
Compared to nylon monofilament, Fluorocarbon is:
Denser/harder: this makes is paramount to keep your leader wet and lubricated when tying knots. If you do, your knots will be strong and secure. I sometimes carry a chapstick to lube my knots.
Sink rate – faster: This means that fluorocarbon is not necessarily superior when fishing dry flies, although this is up to you to decide.
Less stretch? Gosh this is a tough one since I have not tested it on fancy machine myself. Whether Fluorocarbon stretches less stretches less than mono is a factor not all reviewers agreed on. I think after reading all the tech info on the Internet that fluorocarbon may indeed stretch as much or more than mono – but its hardness may fool people into thinking that it does not stretch. Honestly, I’m not sure on this one.
Abrasion resistance is generally greater for the hard Fluorocarbon formulas but may be less abrasion resistant in the fluoro that is manufactured to emphasize suppleness and small diameter – depending on the specific product
Less visible – but this is probably irrelevant except when you are fishing in very clear water.
Equivalent knot strength – as far as I can determine, good Fluorocarbon leader and good knot tying skills yield the same results as if you were using mono.
Superior resistance to UV deterioration – but this is only seems important if you save spools of leader a long time and it is exposed to light for extended periods.
Less water absorption – compared to mono.
Variable stiffness – whether your Fluorocarbon leader is stiffer or more pliable than mono depends varys greatly between products, just as it does with mono leader.
Higher cost – Your Fluoro leader will cost more than mono.
Best knots to use – Improved clinch, non slip loop, loop knot, double surgeons knot, double uni knot( to join two pieces).
Maxima Ultragreen. This is mono. It is great stuff. It is under labeled. By this I mean that the 12 Lb Maxima is really more like 15 Lb in any other mono. It is thick but tough. This may be my all around all species if it was all I could use leader.
OPST Fluorocarbon. New product, the spools are smaller so they fit in less space, they have great stretchy grips holding the leader. The labels are waterproof – a unique feature that is really nice. I have used this enough and lost enough flies up in trees and on rocks to be confident that it is indeed strong and durable. No fish landed yet but I think this is a winner.
Rio Salmon Steelhead Mono. This material is new in 2015 and is dependable. Make no mistake however. this 12 LB is actually thinner than the above pictured 12 Lb Maima and is what I would call a true 12 LB. it is not fair to compare this RIO 12 head-to-head with Maxima. I fish this regularly and it is dependable.
Hatch Premium Fluorocarbon. No, I do not have a micrometer, but I think this material is thinner than the 12 Lb Maxima pictured above and is about the same strength. I fish this material regularly for spring chinook and have complete confidence in it.
Airflo Sightfree Fluorocarbon Salt. New stuff, like the OPST, my experience is limited to break offs in trees and on the river bottom, not on fish. It is tough and as near as I can determine, every measure as dependable as the Hatch Premium Fluorocarbon material. I remain completely baffled at how these manufacturers come up with the decision regarding how they will label the diameter and break strength. They all seem to be drunk as far as I can tell. This AIRFLO Fluorocarbon formula is my choice for steelhead and salmon, not their other fluoro brands, which seem better aligned as trout and small fly leaders (they are softer and more supple).
Rio Fluoroflex Fluorocarbon. This is an old time dependable for my saltwater and salmon/steelhead fishing. I would compare this material very favorably with the Hatch, AIRFLO, and OPST materials. I know this material will not fail me.
Are there some bad brands of Fluoro to avoid when salmon steelhead fishing?
Probably. But each of the mono and fluoro leader options shown in this review have proved themselves to me sufficiently for me to recommend them all without reservation. I am biased. Most anglers are a little weird about their leader choices. Maxima Ultragreen is the tippet I have used more years and have the most experience with. I do remember that I found myself with several spools of 12 LB Ultragreen that was crappy. It was weak. At least I decided it was after loosing several Chinook. I discarded the spools, and had no problems thereafter. I have also had experiences with hooks over the years when some lots of hooks had improper temper and either bent or broke too easily. Overall, anomalies are rare with lines, leader, and hooks, but anomalies in manufacturing are still possible.
Overall, I’d say that any salmon/steelhead angler should be able to purchase any of the leaders I’ve shown here, and go fishing to decide what you think for yourself. You decide about the diameter in hand versus what it says on the label, You decide whether the labeled strength is real or a marketing strategy.
Me? I’ve got all of these leaders and am happy to tie on any of them when I’m fishing steelhead and salmon.
Hope this helps confirm or clarify whatever suspicions you may have about mono and Fluorocarbon leader materials.
My best to you on the water and at the fly bench.
Jay Nicholas, March 2016