Fishing Line 101 – Choosing the Right Line
I do a lot of fishing seminars each year and one of the questions that always comes up is something to the effect of which fishing line is better. This isn’t a question on brand, but which material is better and there are differences related to the type of fishing. The question on lines might be later in the discussion part of a seminar, but it always comes up and the fisherman asking it really wants to know if there is that much difference in fishing lines and if the line really makes a difference. After all, the line is your only connection to the fish.
Here is some basic insight on fishing lines.
The four primary types of fishing line are monofilament, fluorocarbon, superbraid and braid. There are also some hybrids, which attempt to mate preferred characteristics of different lines. They are mentioned here just to make it known they are available. Fishermen must understand the basics of fishing line before trying to understand hybrids.
Braid has been around the longest and includes nylon and Dacron. This is still available, but has lost popularity with the advent of the superbraids and may be difficult to find. It is roughly the same diameter as monofilament and Dacron braid has very minimal stretch. The current primary use for braid is bottom fishing in deep water and Dacron braid, with its minimal stretch, is used as a less expensive alternative to a superbraid line.
Monofilament lines have been available for more than 60 years. They were developed in the mid 20th century as a less expensive alternative to the braided lines of that time. The development on mono lines continues through current times. It’s pretty certain that at least one company will debut a new monofilament line at ICAST (International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades) coming in mid July in Orlando, FL.
Mono is a very versatile line. In the simplest terms, it is a plastic and the formula can be altered to achieve specific traits. Mono can be made softer, stiffer, thinner, shock resistant, abrasion resistant, with better knot holding adhesion and more. It is also made in clear and several colors. One trait of all mono is that it stretches, but there are options with less stretch.
Every company that makes mono line has several versions so fishermen can tailor their choice to their favorite fishing. Check this out the next time you are in a large tackle shop. You may find there are so many options with mono lines that it can be confusing.
Superbraids and fluorocarbon lines were introduced about 25 years ago and have been growing in popularity since. Their specific traits that sometimes make them superior are that fluorocarbon line is close to invisible under water and that superbraids have virtually no stretch, while reaching their strength at roughly half (and sometimes less) the diameter of all the other lines. There are varieties of each that make them better suited for specific applications, such as casting or trolling.
OK, so now back to the question, “Is there really that much difference in fishing lines and does it really matter?”
A two part question deserves a two part answer and the first one is yes – there really is that much difference in fishing lines, but it takes some experience to recognize the differences. The second answer is yes and no! To a beginning fisherman, all that really matters is the line doesn’t break, doesn’t tangle unnecessarily, and the knots hold. It just has to work for them to catch fish, which gets them more interested in fishing. However, as their experience grows, they will develop preferences based on that experience and their choice of fishing line begins to matter. Just like the fishing lines, experience matters too.
Let’s look at a few things… I’ll start with cost. Cost is always an issue, even when fishermen say it isn’t. Monofilament is the least expensive fishing line. Even the more expensive hybrids and blends are less expensive than fluorocarbon and superbraid. Braid is slightly more expensive than mono, but it’s use is the lowest of all the lines.
There are several ways to help manage cost. A reel may be partially filled with mono before adding a superbraid or fluorocarbon. Many fishermen only think of using fluorocarbon as leader, but there are several companies that offer versions of fluorocarbon with the intent of spooling reels. Be sure to have enough of the line you want to use to fill the reel and fight the fish. Most small spools are 100 to 125 yards and I think of this as a minimum. Even fishing inshore, there are times you can approach having 100 yards of line off the reel.
Mono is a low cost line that will work, but may not excel in most situations. It is larger diameter than braid and stretches. My primary use for mono line is for live bait king mackerel fishing. I believe its stretch helps protect the hold of the small treble hooks and cushions the bait when the ocean is choppy.
I often have fishermen ask if they can fill a king mackerel reel with superbraid so they can use smaller and lighter equipment. My response to them is certainly, provided the reel has a smooth drag and enough line capacity to hold a minimum of 300 yards of superbraid and a mono top shot of at least 100 yards. The mono top shot allows for some stretch near the fish to protect the hold of the small treble hooks, and the stretch becomes especially important as the fish is reeled closer to the boat.
I have one very successful friend that recommends most fishermen use mono when fishing topwater lures. He feels the stretch slows the lure’s initial movement just a little when setting the hook and this delay helps produce more hookups. It definitely works for him and many of you have watched him catch trout and puppy drum on TV.
There is no disputing fluorocarbon is the least visible line made. It looks a lot like mono, but isn’t and can be a little brittle if knots aren’t tied well. Most fishermen use fluorocarbon for leaders, but some fill their reels with softer compounds even though it is expensive. There are times the low visibility really helps draw strikes. With fluorocarbon, use knots suggested by the manufacturer or at least those with multiple wraps to spread the load. It is also critical to lubricate them well before snugging them down. Several popular uses of fluorocarbon leaders are for tuna, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, red drum and flounder.
Superbraid lines are made from woven fabric and reach their strength with significantly smaller diameters, while having virtually no stretch. At least one of the superbraid manufacturers has experimented with making a line that has a little stretch. They said fishermen were asking for it.
Several of the more popular superbraid fabrics include Spectra, Aramid and Micro Dyneema. The lack of stretch makes these lines amazingly sensitive, even to very subtle bites, such as sheepshead. The smaller diameter deflects less in the water, especially when there are currents. This allows using lighter lures and jigs for more lure action and that usually results in additional strikes. The negative of superbraid lines is they are expensive.
Superbraid lines are also used on many trolling outfits as a way to hold more line on smaller and lighter equipment. Anglers that don’t have to juggle heavy equipment have more strength and determination to subdue that bull dolphin, huge tuna, jumping billfish, or whatever fish is on the other end of their line.
Other than price, the main differences between monofilament, fluorocarbon, and superbraid lines are visibility, diameter, stretch and how well knots hold. The strength is similar for same pound test lines, but the superbraid achieves that strength at 50 per cent or less of the diameter of mono, fluoro and regular braid. A smaller reel can hold more or stronger line. Flouro’s claim to fame is being less visible while several duller colors of mono come surprisingly close in darker water. Mono is versatile, forgiving, holds knots well and is far less expensive.
There is a best fishing line for all applications and it varies from fisherman to fisherman. That’s OK. If everyone felt and did the same, it would be an all vanilla world and that would be boring. Some fishermen believe the extra cost of superbraid and fluorocarbon are well justified and others don’t. And others use them and complain – which is a definite endorsement.
The good news is fishing line manufacturers are constantly experimenting trying to make the perfect line and there is one (or more) that should meet your needs well. Hopefully this helps answer some of the questions regarding fishing lines and gives you a basis to find the right line for your fishing.