Monday, November 22, 2010

BITE IT! Properties of Fluorocarbon & Wire Bite Guard Materials for Esox

     Determining which bite guard material to use when fly fishing for pike/musky can be daunting for some, and for others, there is only one possible choice.  Many factors can play a role in this decision and a follow-up article (to be posted this week under the Featured Article tab), complete with feed-back from fly anglers well-versed in angling for Esox, will address these factors.

   However, knowing the properties possessed by the various ‘leader materials’ used to make bite guards can provide a solid foundation to help one better understand the  potential outcomes of using each material.  In other words, which material do you believe  boats more Esox, is reliable, and not a pain in the backside to use?

    To clarify, this article strictly discusses the bite guard (shock guard, bite tippet); generally a 10-16” length of the leader which attaches directly to the fly.  Fly line material, which has different construction and characteristics than leader material, is not discussed.  Furthermore, the super-lines or ‘spectra-based’ lines, while they may work in a pinch, are also not discussed in depth here.  They have some excellent properties, but they are not very cut resistant.  Therefore, scissors, sharp-toothed pike & sharp rocks can cut this material.

A Clearer Understanding of Fluorocarbon
   Prior to the advent of ‘Seaguar’ the first fluorocarbon monofilament created by the Japanese company, Kureha, & officially introduced to the United States in 1992, heavy nylon monofilament was used by some for bite guard material.  However, nylon mono is more visible in water, is prone to abrasion, has more stretch and breaks down in sunlight.  While some undoubtedly still use this material as a bite guard, others may agree that the affordable nylon mono has a better place in the leader -such as the butt section- where its purpose is well-served farther from the mouth of a toothy critter.  

   Then, fluorocarbon made its appearance and over time it has improved in quality to allow for a more fishable material.  Many of the characteristics purported by manufacturers appear to be comparisons to nylon mono, but are, nonetheless, characteristics to consider when determining a bite guard choice.

   The light refractive index is 1.3 for water, 100% fluorocarbon (in contrast to line material which may have a fluorocarbon coating) has an index of 1.42, and mono’s index is 1.52.  Hence, fluorocarbon is less visible in water.  The material is also abrasion resistant, dense, and does not absorb water.  Therefore, it is resistant to toothy attacks, rocks and other structure, it sinks uniformly, and its breaking strength does not change when wet. 

   Manufacturers also claim that the material has good knot strength, low stretch rate, is chemical and weather resistant, and is unaffected by UV light.  However, many believe that fluorocarbon is not ‘knot-forgiving’.  A knot poorly tied with fluorocarbon will have a high failure rate.  And while the initial cost of fluorocarbon may be considered by some to be off-set by its long shelf-life, this also means it does not readily break-down in the environment. What type of impact do those clipped fluoro tag ends and the broken-off bite guards have on the environment? (For that matter, what pollutants are created when any leader materials are produced?)  While improving, fluoro still carries the reputation of having more memory than nylon mono and of being ‘stiff’, affecting the action of the fly.

   In summary, fluorocarbon is abrasion-resistant, yet bite-offs can still occur and nicks can severely weaken a bite guard; it sinks readily, so a subsurface fly may be helped, but your popper may struggle to ‘pop’; it refracts light similarly to water, possibly increasing hook-ups, but your bite guard is only as clear as it is clean; it is nearly impervious to the sun’s rays, therefore having a longer shelf/water life, but environmental factors could cause others some concern.

   In addition, all nylon mono knots can be tied with fluorocarbon, plus the diameter of fluorocarbon (.026”) is smaller than mono (.030”) when comparing the same pound (50#) test.  It generally appears that the most popular pound tests in use for bite guards range from 40-80#.  As one approaches the latter range, knots become more difficult to tie and some choose to use snaps/swivels to attach their bite guard to the rest of the leader and to the fly. Of course knots are still required, but it is easier to switch out the bite guard and/or the fly without having to tie as many knots.  Some fluorocarbon is also marketed to change color when in the water and another brand is pink in color yet the manufacturer claims it is still ‘invisible’ to the fish. Expect to pay at least $23 for 25 yards of decent quality fluorocarbon, but one can spend more than $50.

No Breaks for Wire
   Unlike fluorocarbon, wire offers different materials from which to choose.  Leader material choices include stainless steel, both single-strand and multi-strand; and of the latter, there are either nylon-coated or non-coated options.  Furthermore, titanium wire is also available in single-strand and multi-strand construction.  This includes nickel-titanium (Nitinol), a type of titanium wire which is widely offered for leader material.  The alloy was developed in 1962 for hand weapons and tools, other products evolved, and in the very latter 1900's it was also developed as leader material.*  

   In general, all wire materials mentioned above are corrosion resistant, have very good strength, and are impact resistant.  Many anglers, regardless of which bite guard material they use, will agree that wire can stand up to a toothy attack better than non-wire bite guards.

   Single-strand wire has a smaller diameter than multi-strand wire of equal strength.  Pertaining to stainless steel, it has been claimed that it is easier to make a bite guard with this material than with multi-strand, yet many users of the latter would argue this.

   While both single and multi-strand wires, particularly stainless steel, can kink, single-strand will do so more readily and it is also more difficult to straighten when simply bent.  A kinked or bent wire, at the least, can affect the action of the fly, and, at most, cause a break-off.  When a kink occurs it is often best to trim off or change the bite guard.  Stainless steel multi-strand wire is more flexible than single-strand wire, potentially improving the action of the fly and allowing it to be coiled and transported more easily with less risk for damage.

   With the advent of nylon-coated multi-strand stainless steel wire, manufacturers claim that it is easier to tie a coated wire to monofilament line and it helps to prevent knot slippage.  Other features are that it offers increased abrasion resistance, increased line life, and a reduction in line visibility.  There are also a steadily growing number of colors available.  However, it is also possible for the nylon coating to become damaged, necessitating a trim or a bite guard change, and some coatings can be more reflective, increasing the visibility of the bite guard.

   Compared to stainless steel wire, manufacturers and anglers claim titanium wire has more kink resistance and abrasion resistance.  It is also flexible and has a 10-15% capacity to stretch.  The material has very little memory, generally returning to its original shape after being bent.  This durable material has a darker, non-glare finish.  However, others have expressed concern that the material can be brittle.  There are also claims that it is more challenging to tie knots with titanium wire and that the types of knots available to be tied with this material are limited.  Furthermore, it is not possible to complete a haywire twist with this wire and it may be challenging to effectively crimp the wire.  This strong material does, however, possess a smaller diameter, making it less obtrusive in the water.  
   In summary, wire is very abrasion resistant, with little chance of bite-offs.  However, kinks will severely increase the chances of a break-off.  Wire is more visible than fluorocarbon in water & some wire can be more reflective, possibly affecting the number of hook-ups.  Newer wire materials are more flexible and offer improved tie-ability, yet special skills and tools may still be needed.  The smaller diameter of wire may leave some considering: if a material possesses a smaller diameter and is very abrasion resistant, could it increase the likelihood of causing harm to the body or teeth of a toothy critter?

   In addition, only a specific number of knots can be tied with wire.  One should start by following the manufacturer’s recommendations.  The approximate inches in diameter of stainless steel wire: single-strand (.016) and multi-strand (.024), and titanium wire: single-strand (.018) and multi-strand (.021), at 50# test, for example, is smaller than nylon monofilament (.030) and fluorocarbon (.026) of the same test strength.  It generally appears that the most popular pound tests in use for wire bite guards range from 20-50# tests, partially dependant upon material used.  Knots, swivels, snaps, crimps, and a (nylon) twist melt can be used.  There are a greater number of colors now available to match the environment/water conditions.  Expect to pay $1.85-39.00 for 30 feet, dependent upon material used, and then plan for additional costs if you need wire cutting tools and wish to use snaps, etc., with your bite guards.

My Take On All This Mumbo Jumbo:       
   A greater share of the choice between materials will boil down to:
1) Reducing bite-offs or break-offs
2) Decreasing line visibility and increasing hook-ups
3) Comfort-level and skill with which the angler uses the material
4) Personality-type
5) What material is readily available in the angler’s location.

   I have friends who use either material and I’ve fly fished with guides who use either material.  At this time, I use fluorocarbon bite guards, but my mind remains open to change.  I’ve never had a bite-off or break-off, but I have not landed large quantities of Esox... yet.  I generally fish in stained waters and the success rate when fishing with others who use wire is running fairly even.  The fly has appeared to make more of a difference than the bite guard.  For me, it’s about comfort level and personality.  I love the ease of a loop-to-loop connection.  I can pre-tie all of my musky flies with bite guards, toss them in a case and switch out flies with ease.  While I’ll cast all day and into the night if the choice were all mine, I’d tend to over-fish an unsuccessful fly because I wouldn’t want to re-knot the wire bite guard, or I’d let the bite guard get too short prior to changing it.  I am selectively lazy.  On the flip side, I do occasionally imagine hooking up with that first 50-incher:  An amazing fight ensues, that is, until I get my first bite-off.  Like I said, my mind remains open to change.

Which Bite Guard Material to Choose?
   There isn’t an absolutely right or wrong answer.  It’s an individual choice.  However, I do have a few suggestions to help one on to the path of bite guard happiness. 
  
   Visit a fly fishing shop; one that caters to those who love to fish for toothy critters (& there are a lot of similarities with shops that cater to saltwater fishing, too) would be more beneficial.  You will know you’ve found one when you see tying and fishing materials geared toward Esox, and if they offer guided trips for musky and pike.  The personnel here can help one narrow down which material to use and then provide instruction in how to attach it to the fly and the rest of the leader.  Don’t forget the local fly fishing club, which could certainly be of assistance. 

   Using the internet, research specific materials and don’t forget to visit the fly fishing forums to read comments and to ask questions.  Once the material type is further narrowed, I’d recommend revisiting the computer and searching for customer reviews of specific product brands, not forgetting to differentiate between customer-use error and product faults. 

   Also, if you elect to use snaps, swivels, or crimps, buy the best quality possible, since they are more pieces of equipment added to the leader which could fail.  Furthermore, stay size-appropriate, as you would be adding more weight and visibility to the leader.  

   Practice tying bite guards before you get to the water.  If you’ve elected to use wire, visit a craft store to purchase 49 strand wire.  While you may not get the same flexibility and ease of tying that you would get from fishing-specific material (or the knowledge from fly fishing junkies at the shops), you can still purchase material for less cost to hone your knot-tying skills.  For fluoro users, buy nylon mono or 20# test of fluoro to begin tying knots. After all, this other material could be used elsewhere on the leader.  Finally, buy quality materials!  If you cut corners when it comes to bite guards, a toothy critter is more apt to do some cutting, too.  (Written November 2010)

*Links to reference materials for wire leader material:
floridasportfishing


Quiz Question:  Why is it hypothesized that pike deposit their feces outside of their forage range?
(E-mail me by 12/26/10 at stripntwitch@yahoo.com with your answer and a number you've chosen from 0 to 300. The person with the correct answer who is closest to the number I have chosen will receive one of my hand-tied musky flies.) 




1 comment:

  1. Great write up! Thanks for sharing your research. Go ESOX!

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