Do You Need a Steel Leader for Walleye?


a happy fisherman with a nice walleye that he has caught on a walleye crankbait on an overcast day

When fishing for walleye, many anglers are wondering whether or not they need a steel leader. After all, walleye are predators with pretty sharp teeth. But are they actually sharp enough to bite through your line?

For walleye per se, you do not need to use a steel leader at all, as they won’t be able to bite through your mainline. However, if the water you are fishing in contains pike or muskies, you can use a 10-15lb fluorocarbon leader instead of steel, in order to prevent bite-offs.

Continue reading this article to find out why you shouldn’t use steel leaders for walleye, what test pound your fluorocarbon leaders should have, and what the best leaders for walleye are.

Should You Use a Steel Leader for Walleye?

Walleye are delicate and careful predators, which is why using very light and thin leaders is key to success when fishing for them. The following are the main arguments against using steel leaders for walleye.

Steel Leaders Give Your Lure an Unnatural Action

Most steel leaders are made of a rather stiff material or are coated, which means that they will give your lure a pretty unnatural and limited action.

As the walleye is such a careful and picky hunter, chances are that it will avoid a lure that swims and moves in an unnatural way that does not resemble the walleye’s usual prey.

Additionally, some steel leaders can be quite heavy, which can cause your lure to sink faster and be presented at a completely different depth from the one you intended to fish at.

Walleye Can See Steel Leaders

Walleye have pretty big eyes, which give them a very good sight. Especially in clear water and during the daytime, walleye can actually see thick lines and steel leaders.

This fact does however not imply that you shouldn’t use any leader at all when fishing for walleye, if and when necessary. Instead, it suggests using the right leader that is adapted to the walleye’s keen eyesight.

In most cases, this would be a fluorocarbon alternative, which is practically invisible under water and still manages to prevent bite-offs.

RELATED ARTICLE: Do You Need a Wire Leader for Pike?

Should You Use a Fluorocarbon Leader for Walleye?

A fisherman with a very big walleye that he has caught from his boat on a big lake
Courtesy of Jeff Burdick

Generally, it’s always a good idea to use a fluorocarbon leader when targeting walleye, especially in clear water conditions. They have some level of flexibility to them and are practically invisible underwater.

But you have to consider different line strengths for different circumstances.

If the water you are fishing contains bigger pike and muskies, you should use a slightly thicker fluorocarbon leader of 10-15lb and 2-3 feet. This type of leader will be needed in order to prevent possible bite-offs by the larger predators and their ultra-sharp rows of teeth.

This is by no means a guarantee that you won’t get the occasional bite-off, but a leader diameter like that will certainly reduce the risk.

And so, it is the presence and possible bites from northern pike and muskies that dictate the strength of your fluorocarbon leader when fishing for walleye.

Insider Tip: Make sure to frequently check your fluorocarbon leader after pike and musky fights, as it will eventually get frayed!

It is an impossibility to predict which predator will go after your lure in a lake or river system that holds both walleye, pike, and musky. And so, in order to prevent those bite-offs and loss of expensive lures, using a thicker fluorocarbon leader can be effective and simple insurance.

Especially when there are bigger pike and muskies present where you are fishing, longer and thicker fluoro leaders are a good choice, as larger fish will have an easy time inhaling the somewhat smaller and lighter walleye lures.

And with the modern and highly advanced leader material that is available on the market nowadays, you can use a thicker fluorocarbon leader even for more tricky and careful predators such as walleye without the risk of missing out on bites.

Today’s fluoro leaders are so hard to detect underwater that many anglers experience virtually no difference in the amount of walleye they catch when compared to using no leader at all.

a fisherman holding a big walleye that he has caught on a lure and a fluorocarbon leader.
Courtesy of Craig Stapon

In water systems that do not harbor bigger northern pike or muskies, a thinner and shorter fluorocarbon leader of 6-10lb and 1-2 feet is definitely sufficient, as the walleye won’t be able to bite through this leader material.

Just be aware that a lower pound test leader can mean longer and more careful fights, as you just cannot put as much pressure on a leader diameter of 6-8lb.

Walleye are not the biggest of predators, but the larger specimens among them sure put up a very strong fight that will put your tackle to the test!

So, it can be worth considering using 10lb leaders, in order to always have the upper hand during tough fights.

Best Fluorocarbon Leader for Walleye

A fisherman with a huge walleye caught on a lake in cloudy weather.
Courtesy of Chuck Coombe

Now that you know when to use a fluorocarbon leader for walleye and what pound test you should choose, I just wanted to recommend you the, by far, best fluorocarbon leader material on the market.

The Seaguar Blue Label is a classic fluoro leader that thousands of anglers swear by. Here is why:

  • extremely low visibility
  • extremely high abrasion resistance
  • incredible knot strength
  • 25 yards for less than $13 (that’s hard to beat!)

All in all, this fluoro leader will give you everything you need for your walleye fishing experience and it most certainly will protect your gear from those pike and musky bite-offs, probably far better than most other fluorocarbon lines will!

You can take a closer look at this awesome fluorocarbon leader on Amazon here.

Can You Fish for Walleye Without a Leader?

A female angler holding a large walleye in front of a boat.
Courtesy of Gary Norman

If there is no risk for pike or musky bites in the water you are fishing in, then fishing for walleye without a leader is definitely an option as well.

As walleye have developed canine teeth and lack the rows of smaller teeth that for example pike have, they will have a very hard time biting through a line. Their teeth are simply too pointy for a thin fishing line.

Hence, if using the right test pound that can manage the weight and pressure of a fighting walleye, fishing with your mainline directly connected to your lure is pretty much risk-free when it comes to this species of fish.

RELATED ARTICLE: Walleye Teeth (Lots of Facts And Pictures)

Of course, a direct connection to your lure, without any breaking points, can give you far better control over your lure action and a much better and more direct feeling.

On the other hand, using only your mainline can increase the risk of line abrasion, if you are fishing close to cover, snags, or stones on the bottom.

It’s really all about knowing the water you are fishing in. If you know all its features and possible risks, you can make the best possible choice regarding your tackle.

Featured image courtesy of Ron Phillipe

Max Loesche

Hi, I'm Max, the founder and head author of Strike&Catch. I have been a passionate fisherman since 1997 and spend as much time as possible on the bank. Click on my name to read my full biography.

Recent Posts