info go to Web Store Trade Go to Trade Only Store

Wind-on Leader Pros and Cons

Bluewater Magazine 2005 Tech Speaking - original word files by Peter Pakula


Part 1: Why You Should Use Wind-ons

In this, the first of a two-part article the reason FOR using A wind-on is discussed. In the next issue, the reasons why you shouldn't use them will be exposed. In hotly debated topics such as this, it's only fair to portray both sides of the story. We are separating the two so there is less confusion. I'll also try and view the pros and cons objectively and try not to put forward any personal views without defining them as just that 'personal view'.

96on8 cleanThe history of the use of wind-on is certainly hard to source. I used one to catch a 96kg Black on 8kg line in February 1987 at Port Stephens which may have been the first time a wind-on was used in game fishing as the judges deliberated as to whether it was GFAA legal or not. Fortunately, they passed it as legal They had certainly been used for many years before that, particularly in casting outfits as a shock tippet using leaders heavier than line class to enable casting heavy objects without snapping the line. In many countries fishing types such as surf casting were quite advanced using tapered leaders that were relatively heavy at the hook end tapering down to line class at the reel end, much like a reversing a tapered fly fishing leader.

96on8 closeup windonEssentially wind-ons are a length of material, normally mono and sometimes wire cable which is usually heavier than the line class used that is joined either by a knot, splice or a loop to loop. Its purpose is to allow the leader to be wound down through the rod guides onto the reel. There are two main types: full length where the leader is in one piece with the join at one end and a rig at the other, and secondly the main leader that runs down to a connection to a shorter rigged leader via a join usually using one of or a combination of a snap, swivel or shackle.

The other more traditional method is using a length of line doubled for a length using systems such as the bimini twist or plait. The double ends with a snap swivel tied on using a knot such as a uni knot. The snap clips onto the single length of rigged leader.

On most charter or pro crewed boats, the section with the rig is generally six to fifteen feet long. On most private boats the rig section is three feet to the length of the rod taken from the tip to the reel.

In Gamefishing the one piece system is rarely used as it doesn't usually involve a swivel and line twist is a problem. The main use is live baiting on light line classes where a need for a full 15-foot long leader is perceived as being needed.

The most common is the two-piece system where a 15-foot wind-on is possible on classes of 10kg and under and 30 feet allowed under IGFA rules online classes of 15kg and heavier.

The most common reason for using anything in general and fishing, in particular, is that it was shown to be the way to do things by someone else. Word of mouth is by far the greatest reason methods are duplicated in fishing methods.

The main reason quoted for using a wind-on is regarded as a safety issue. By storing the excess leader on the game reel as the fish is either fought to the boat the leader is wound onto the reel. This prevents the loose coils on the deck and therefore eliminates the chance of loose coils trapping parts of either trace men or anyone else in the cockpit at the time if the trace man lets the leader go causing injury to the trapped part or even pulling the tangled person over the side and at worst to the depths never to be seen again.

  • In situations where you are fishing either solo, they have the advantage of getting the fish really close to the boat before taking the leader.
  • You can easily tag or gaff a fish right off the rod tip without anyone grabbing the leader.
  • There is a cost savings factor as you only replace the damaged section of leader which is more often than not just the lower section.
  • In situations of multiple hook-ups, the angler can 'do it alone' tracing, gaffing and tagging the fish themselves.
  • When it gets hectic you can easily store a rod with the leader attached saving the hassle of taking the lure off, finding a place for it out of the way and then get the rod out of the way as well.
  • Once in a while, you get a stubborn fish that is difficult to raise from the depths. Using the wind-on system has the advantage that once you get a few turns of the wind on around your reel you can lock up the drag and put a lot more pressure on the fish to raise it. The strength of a wind on is far greater than that of the double line.
  • Putting pressure on a fish is far smoother through a rod than by hand, using a wind-on, leadering the fish through the rod will reduce the amount of pulled hooks or in the case of lighter gauge hooks straightening than by tracing a fish by hand.

In any system, there are ways of doing things in a way that will improve results. If you haven't already adopted the following ideas then give at least them some thought.

In the cairns fishery, they caught or released more grander marlin than anywhere else on the planet. The most common leader used was 040 gal wire which has a maximum breaking strain of 350 to 400lbs. The gal wire had virtually no stretch which means it is far more likely to break than mono of the same breaking strain. Most deckies were unable to break the wire in a straight pull so developed a way of kinking the wire to snap it so if they got into trouble they had a chance of getting out of it. There are still many in the Cairns fleet who think nylon leaders and big fish just don't mix!

The presentation is important for all fishing, the more natural and lifelike the presentation the better your results. In regards to breaking strain you really never need more than a 400lb main section if you are chasing granders using a wind-on system. If you are using lighter tackle say 24kg and are fighting your fish ie not stunt fishing 300lb would be the maximum needed and if using 8kg 100lb is plenty enough to deal with a fought fish.
At the rig end, you could go a little heavier as this is where the nicks and abrasion are most likely to occur. In heavy tackle, you could increase to 600 and down to light tackle using 150.

When you set-up your gear make sure there is enough room on your spool to accommodate your wind on without it bunching up and jamming, at an average, there should be 6 to 10mm of spool showing above your mainline.

There are a lot of failures attributed to wind-ons which like any other failure in fishing is a failure of the angler or crew in preparation, maintaining and checking gear. Wind-on joins should be checked regularly along with hook sharpness, drags, roller guides, line, contents of the esky (which can override the failure of anything else) etc.

You can check wind-ons by checking the joins i.e. where the nylon enters the braid. If you have frayed ends fix them by adding another layer of thread. Use ether wax thread, waxed dental floss is also fine, just do a row of tight half hitches. It needs no protective coating. If you bind normal thread, a thin braided line of 30lb or less is great. Using a fly-tying bobbin makes this job easy and very fast, but you do need to make the bind as tight as possible. You can cover the bind with a Urethane, Polyurethane, or any other flexible air drying glue to cover the bind. Most glues take around 12hours to dry. If you want a fast cure to use a flexible superglue like Loctite 480 (it's black) There are also flexible nail varnishes that will do the job as well.

If you make your own wind-ons then roughen up half the length of nylon with around 200 grit at the leader tip that goes through the braid this will lessen the chance of slippage. Also, taper the leader end for the last two inches to lessen the chance of the leader end wearing through the braid.

Also, check the join by trying to pull the nylon out of the braid. If you can then it's a sign of future failure. A well-bound join won't fail.

If you are buying commercial ready-made wind-ons then put them through the checks or simply add your own bind and protective covering to just make sure all is OK. The top brands won't fail, but all need checking.

The most common join at the end of the main section is using a crimp or swage. Crimps and swages and rod tips whether ringed or rollered don't mix. A crimp will damage any tip if it's wound into it at speed, in a worse case it will also jam in the rod tip. To stop this problem use a small bead made of plastic (soft preferable) or wood to protect the tip and eliminate the chance of jamming. Just place it above the crimp. Glueing it in place, or throw some wax thread half hitches above it to keep it in place to stop the bead riding up the leader.

beadOf course, you also check the whole leader system for any abrasions and nicks replacing when necessary.

The most common join of the main line to a wind on system is tying a short double and using a single loop to loop join. This should be checked regularly. It is certainly the weakest part of the system, Some use a 2 or multi-turn Cats-paw for the join. Whichever you choose to check it regularly and make sure the loops are fully pulled down. Lubricate the components to lessen friction when doing this.

Lastly, use the right sized snap swivel in the middle of the join. If the main section is 400lb then use a swivel that has a 400lb rating.

Hopefully the above should give you enough reasons to use a wind on leader system. Certainly, they are commonly used throughout the world of game fishing.

As mentioned at the start of the article in the next issue I'll go through the reasons why you wouldn't use a Wind-on. As stated personally the views are as objective as possible. As a separate chapter, I'll include how I like my leader double set up and the reasoning behind it.


Part 2: Why you should not use wind-ons

In the previous article, we discussed some of the reasons for using wind-on leaders. In this segment, we'll go through a few of the reasons against using wind-ons and some of the advantages of using traditional clip-on leaders.

A quick refresher to the terminology:

  • A wind-on is a leader joined to the main line in a manner such as a knot, splice or loop-to-loop connection enabling the leader to slip easily through the rod guides and onto the reel spool. The wind-on can be full length ending in the lure or hooked bait, or more commonly, has a join via a snap swivel to a length of leader with the hooked bait or lure i.e. a split wind-on.
  • The conventional set-up uses a length of mainline doubled for a certain length the end of which is attached to a snap swivel via a knot, which in turn connects to a single length of the leader with a hooked bait or lure at the other.


Line Load

This is quite technical and should involve a whole bunch of formulas but I'll try and get the idea across in a much simpler way.

When you use a wind-on you have to leave some space for the wind-on at the top of the spool. 10mm is the area from the lip of the spool that is often quoted.

01 Compare Reels

The amount of space sacrificed for a wind-on can represent a high percentage of the reels capacity. To show this we have an image showing three reels. The diameter of the empty spool is shown on the left. The middle reel looks half full, but it's actually the amount of line that can be put on the reel on the right to fill it. This gives an indication of how much line load is sacrificed to accommodate a wind on leader. In some smaller reels say a size 30 the top 10mm can equal 14% of the spool diameter which accounts for a massive 29% of the reels capacity.

SpoolTo see just how much line load you are sacrificing to accommodate a wind-on simply fill the reel and remove the amount needed to accommodate the wind-on and check either just by looking at it or measure it. If you're a mathematician you can work it out by working out the areas to check final results. The results are quite a surprise and perhaps they'll give you an indication as to why guys using wind-ons are more prone to being spooled. You could compensate by using a larger more ungainly reel, but then you incur other problems such as added weight, spool inertia and drag cams not designed for the line class. Using a clip on the leader you can take advantage of a full spool of line.

Just how full a full spool is in both cases of using wind-ons or clip-on leaders depends on the skill level of anglers. An experienced angler who can lay line evenly on the spool even under the adrenaline rush of fighting a big fish can have much more line on reel than a novice who is likely to bunch up the line in the middle of the spool jamming the line or leader in the reel if there isn't enough space allowed for them build the typical novice peak. Compensating for novices not being able to keep the line load level reduces the line load further.

In reality most fish including marlin actually don't run very far, rarely more than 300 yards and even with a limited line load you are still in with a good chance of catching most fish without getting spooled, although if you want that special one then being a novice and using a wind-on does limit your chances of getting it.

Using wind-on leaders does significantly increase the chances of being spooled in the case of multiple hook-ups. In these cases, the amount of line sacrificed to wind-ons is twice as critical and has certainly been the difference in success or failure.

In some situations, every inch of line and leader are critical, such as in light line game fishing where small reels with light spools are used. In this scenario, every advantage is taken of having maximum line load and using leaders as long as possible, and are often very heavy to allow the wireman to apply maximum effort in subduing the fish. Scale this up and the same can be said to be just as applicable in hunting monsters on medium and heavy tackle.


Drag Settings

When you set your drag are you setting it correctly? Try this, set it by pulling the line off at the start of the wind-on, then again at the start of the main line by putting the scales in the loop that joins the wind-on to the main line. You'll notice a difference.

On a full spool of line the top 10mil holds so much line it's unlikely that a fish will take much more than the top layers so the drag won't very much. If you use a wind-on the spool will empty out faster so you have a greater variance on the diameter of the spool so the drag will change more significantly on the fish's first run. Modern reels don't suffer a significant increase as older ones, but it's something you should be aware of. I have no idea why this is the case but the experiments I have done there wasn't as much difference as I had expected.

Next time you are changing line on a reel do the following to not only prove the results to yourself. Check and the drag with a full load of line and then as you take off the line check the drag every reduction of spool diameter of around 10 or 15mm. You'll then know what your equipment is doing and be able to make known drag adjustments during a fight.

Certainly, you can use bigger reels for greater line capacity, but even then you are better off with a full spool of fighting line. It's incredible just how much line is held in those top few millimetres of the spool. Note that if you do use larger reels to increase line load then checking drag settings throughout the spool range is pretty important.



From an anglers point of view using a reel with as full a spool as practical has several advantages. The speed of retrieve significantly increases. Each turn of the handle retrieves much more line on a full spool than a half-empty one. Essentially it is less work and less effort for the angler to work with a full spool.

Using heavy tackle is hard enough for most anglers without increasing the difficulty by not having a full spool of line to work with.



snapsIf you walked on a boat that had its gear set up waiting for a days fishing and on checking if you saw they didn't use wind-ons and that the snap swivel was attached to the double by a single loop would you be confident playing a fish that may require some heavy-handed tactics? I'm sure you'd prefer a good solid knot like a Uni Knot. Yet the single or double loop is the most common join used and trusted in a wind-on connection. In both cases, a swivel or Dacron loop are both non-stretch material connecting to nylon which is a stretch material.

In any situation gear failure only happens when tolerances are exceeded due to faulty workmanship, faulty materials, or simply exceeding the tolerances.

The simple fact is the tolerances are higher in a conventional setup. The double knot if done properly is very close to 100% as it generally tied in the double it is actually 200% of the line class on the reel.

With the conventional set-up, you can confidently go up to fighting drags of 50%. I often go to 80%, there are no weak links in the system. With rollered rods a novice with no experience can stay on 50% for as long as it takes to get the fish. With a wind-ons the Dacron loop is continually chewing into a single strand of nylon. Your fight is limited, the more drag you put on the fish the faster the loop will wear and the longer you fight the more the loop will wear. Certainly, you can increase the durability of the loop to loop connection by using a two or 3 pass loop or even sleeving the nylon loop with Dacron, but you still won't get the security of a connection that is double the breaking strain that you do have using the conventional set-up.

In using a wind on you use a snap swivel that is sized to the leader breaking strain, that's pretty big and the system is even larger when you add crimps and thimbles. It's unlikely that a swivel that big will stop your line twisting. It's a pretty general rule that for a swivel to work properly it should be as small as possible.

In the clip-on system, you only need a swivel rated to the breaking strain of the line, or double that in most cases where a double is used. This system is much smaller and stealthier than the wind-on swivel set up and will work better at keeping your line twist free.



There is also a consideration of presentation and stealthiness. In a split wind-on the swivel has to be rated to the leaders used which usually requires them to be rather large, add large crimps to both ends you have a rather quite a bit of kit rather close to the lure or bait. Most tip leaders using wind-ons are less than 6 foot long.

05 CompareWhen using a full-length clip-on system the snap swivel is much smaller as seen in the image and much further away from the hooked end of the leader. This certainly offers a far stealthier and better presentation.

Using the full-length clip-on system will increase your success the number of shots you get and the shots will be more decisive than if you use a short tip leader on a wind-on.


Leader Drag

Though it's not really an argument specifically for or against wind-on leaders there is a tendency to use much heavier leader lengths and thickness than used if they were using conventional leaders. Apart from the effects of this on restricting lure presentation, few are aware of the consequences of that fight times are significantly increased.

The drag of the leader against the water pressure means that the leader for most of the fight is lying alongside the fish being pulled through the water. As the fish is swimming with the leader trailing directly behind it the angler has less effect in tiring the fish.

Putting side pressure or angled front pressure on the fish will decrease fight times significantly. The shorter and thinner the leader the easier this is to accomplish.

This is easily seen on a fish that is brought to the boat. Fish fought on lighter shorter leaders have very less scuffing on the leader and in turn, there are fewer marks on the fish. Fish fought on heavier leaders have distinct white marks along their flanks showing the direction the leader was facing for much of the fight plus the leaders are often severely scuffed.

Certainly, drag settings have a great effect on this as well. The higher the drag settings the more direct the pressure is on the fish, the less the more the leader lies alongside the fish.


Leader Length and Pendulum

Short leaders and lures, specifically marlin lures, don't mix too well. The one thing just about all successful marlin lures have in common is the ability to slide up the leader and away from the hooks so that the fish cannot use it's jumping, head shaking and general carrying on to use the lure as a weighted pendulum to help in throwing the hooks. For this system to be effective the lure should be able to slide along a length of leader at least as long as the length of the fish. The shorter the leader is than the length of the fish the greater the chance of the fish throwing the hooks.

Certainly using wind-ons allows the angler to wind the fish so close to the boat it can be tagged or gaffed straight of the rod tip without the need for anyone to grab the leader at all. You can also do that with reasonably short conventional leaders. Certainly, tagging is easier in Australia where we are allowed 15-foot long tag poles. But even with the allowable worldwide standard of 8-foot gaffs and often the same length for tag poles you can still tag or gaff off the rod tip using leaders up to 12 foot long if the angler takes a step or two away from the gunwale.

There's no question that using long heavy leaders in Heavy Tackle needs experienced crew and due care. (The two don't always go together). There's also no question that dealing with the sized fish that need heavier longer leaders may be a good reason to use wind-on leaders at the expense of getting fewer shots, less aggressive strikes resulting in less fish in the name of safety and convenience.


Ease of Storage

Using a wind-on you can clear a rod quickly by winding the lure in and stowing the rod with the lure hook put in the harness lug. With a conventional leader, you do have to spend a few seconds removing the lure to put it away. But at least you don't have a lure swinging around a crowded deck and by removing the lure there's no chance of getting hooked yourself when getting the outfit out to deploy it when you re-set the trolling pattern to resume fishing.

Certainly, the safest option when clearing gear, regardless of the leader system is to remove a lure from the outfit is put the rod in the rocket launcher and the lure and leader in a contained safe area out of the way such as a fish box under the game chair.

Lures and hooks on the deck should be avoided.


End Game

06 Hang OnOne of the greatest reasons for using wind-ons is so that the angler can start leadering the fish through the rod when the leader comes through guides down to reel. The same thing can be done through the double line. An angler can grab the double and put as much load on the fish as the angler can give it. The design of the rod which is rated to the line class used means as long as the rod is bent you won't have much chance of breaking anything, and it's certainly easy enough to practice this technique.

The angler grabbing a wind-on as it comes through the guides is quite dangerous, as you grab it you have slack between the anglers hand and the spool which can mean the leader that has already been wound onto the spool can result in loose coils that can bunch and jam on the reel. I've never felt safe being connected to a fish via something I can't break out of to get free if something goes wrong. At least if the system jams when you have only got a double on the reel you can straighten the rod by pointing it at the fish and though it is with quite some difficulty you can at least break free.



There are certainly reasons both for and against using the wind-on system against convention doubles and clip on leaders.

It pretty much comes down to experience levels. The more control an angler has the less the need for wind-ons. If you don't have novices as anglers or crew, there's no need for wind-ons. If you fish line class, especially medium or light, then the more line on the spool the better. Sacrificing any spool area for leaders isn't a good idea. If you're serious about catching as many fish as possible especially, but not confined to using lures the reasons for not using wind-ons are compelling: better presentation, less chance of thrown hooks, faster system of changing presentations, and no chance of getting stuck to a fish through an unbreakable link if the leader jams in the reel etc.

Both systems can still be a factor in accidents, but with a little care and not so common sense most accidents can be avoided.

Weigh up the options yourself and make your decisions based on your requirements and skill levels.

A great deal of my personal fishing is solo where I have instigated as many safety routines as I can. There are no wind-ons on any of my game outfits. Essentially leaders are based on the line class used, from two to four meters, with a double of maximum allowable length.

Though there are certain applications where using a fine leader on light tackle can be the stealthiest approach when baiting shy fish I must admit I cringe when I get on a boat for a days fishing and see the dreaded wind-ons. To me it's a sign they really don't want the angler to do anything but wind the handle or those that surround me are novices without an experienced traceman. There's nothing wrong with being a novice, we all have to start out somewhere, many have a great time without ever choosing to work their way up the experience trail. A good start is by ditching those wind-ons and getting a whole lot more experience by catching a bunch more fish, but be careful..... You might just notice the difference!

The diameter or breaking strain of leaders isn't the topic at hand but is incredibly important and is a topic that will be discussed in a future article.


Extra Notes

Peter Pakula does not use wind on leaders, but uses a double line to snap swivel to leader in the following lengths:

For 6, 8 and 10kg tackle: Doubles are 11' -Leaders are 7' of 100 to 150lb

For 15 and 24kg tackle: Doubles are 19' - Leaders are 12', of 150 to 300lb

For 37 and 60kg tackle: Doubles are 19' - Leaders are 17' of 300 to 400lb

logo 100