Should I Use a Leader When Ice Fishing? A Must-read Guide

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One of the most common questions people ask here is about when and how to use a leader for fishing. From freshwater to ice lakes, the doubt is always the same.  

Since it is winter in many countries now, we will take some time to answer the following question. Should I use a leader when ice fishing? Yes, we do recommend using a leader. Sometimes, using a leader is a must. For example, if you are fishing toothy species. It might not be as crucial in other situations. 

There are other situations when you might want to use a leader. So stay stick with us a little longer to get the full picture. Let’s get down to it. 

What Is a Leader?

I know. This is too basic. But we must explain what a leader is to our fellow anglers who are not as experienced. A leader is a small piece of line that anglers attach to the end of the main line. 

Some rigs, such as Carolina or Texas rigs, require you to use a leader, whether you like it or not. However, these have no use in ice fishing mainly because fishing in hard water is limited to vertical movement. 

Why Use a Leader for Ice Fishing?

As we said before, some rigs require the usage of a leader. Therefore, for example, if you are using a Carolina or Texas rig, you will definitely need a leader. But it is unlikely you are going to use either rig for ice fishing. 

But there are other situations when using a leader is also advisable. For example, if you want to disguise the end of the line. Similarly, fishing in rocky bottoms requires using a thicker line. However, in some situations, you might not be able to use a full spool of line. That’s when a leader comes to the rescue. The same goes for toothy predators. 

For example, pikes have sharp and pointy teeth. And we all know that this is a prime gamefish among ice-fishing anglers. For this occasion, a leader is a must. This way, you are less likely to lose the fish due to the line snapping between the pike’s sharp teeth. 

Increasing the sensibility and hookset might be other reasons to use a leader when fishing on the ice. Using a small section of leader might give you enough sensibility to feel those nibbles. Similarly, using a leader that shows no stretch allows for better hooksets. On the other hand, using a leader could help you disguise your line. 

Related Article: Best Ice Fishing Rods

How Long Should My Leader Be?

It depends. But most anglers agree that using between 2 to 4-feet long leader is reasonable for ice fishing tip-ups. The longer leader allows you to cut and tie the hook again without replacing the whole leader. This way, you can spend more time fishing, and you won’t need to take out your gloves

On the other hand, a long leader also allows you to take full advantage of the material properties. For example, if you are using wire, you will have a longer section of the abrasion-resistant line below the ice. 

You might want to use a shorter leader if you are using a rod and line. This way, the knot or swivel won’t reach the guides. But again, it all comes down to personal preference. 

What Line Weight Should I Use

Often people use leaders with a higher test strength than the mainline. However, you can cover most ice fishing situations with a 2 to the 8-pound test line. As a result, there is no need to get a thicker line for a leader. 

So, let’s say, for example, that you are using a 4-pound braid as the mainline. In this scenario, you can use a 6-pound leader if you want. Going thicker makes no sense. 

If the leader has to cope with abrasion and sharp edges, we suggest using wire. This will keep the thickness down. Consequently tying the knots won’t be as troublesome. 

What Leader Material for Ice Fishing?

Unfortunately, we can not provide a simple answer. It depends on the fish you are after and what you want to achieve. For example, if you are just adding a leader to your ice fishing tip-up, then you can use the same material as the main line. 

Fluorocarbon is often regarded as the best leader material for ice fishing. It is easy to tie knots with, highly resistant to abrasion, and virtually invisible in the water. Plus, it often has the thickness of braid fishing lines. On the other hand, fluorocarbon does not float, takes no water, and is very sensible. All desirable features for ice fishing. 

Not taking water is crucial for ice fishing. Low temperatures will cause water to freeze, making the line brittle and less flexible. Both of which make the line more likely to break as a result. 

Now, if you are fishing for pike, using wire might be better. There are several options available in the market. Beware, though. A wire is stiff. You might have a hard time tying the knot as a result. Additionally, it is better to use a swivel when using wire as a leader. This way, you will keep the metal from digging into the plastic line. 

But for most ice fishing applications, fluorocarbon is more than enough.

Do I Need a Leader For My Tip Up?

You can surely fish with a tip-up without adding a leader. But like we said before, there might be situations when using a leader is more than recommended. Particularly if you want to increase sensibility or ensure better hooksets. 

I always add a fluorocarbon leader to my setup, especially if I’m using a braid. This way, I can make my line disappear without sacrificing sensitivity and strength. 


While using a leader is by no means mandatory, there are certain situations where you can take advantage of mixing two different lines. Let’s say that you are going after pike. Their sharp hardware compels you to use a thick fluorocarbon or wire leader. You risk losing the fish otherwise. 

But you might also want to use a leader if you want to conceal your mainline or if you want to take full advantage of fluorocarbon properties. For example, since fluorocarbon does not take water, it doesn’t lose its flexibility in cold temperatures. In addition, it is sensible enough, so you can immediately tell if a fish is interested in your offering. 

In short, we highly recommend you use a leader when ice fishing. It does not matter if you use an ice fishing tip-up or a rod and line. Adding a leader will be beneficial, especially if you want to conceal the line or make it more resistant to abrasion. 

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