Your Guide To Understanding Fishing Line

Monofilament, flourocarbon, braided, superlines, copolymer — what’s the difference between the different fishing lines on the market?

Two and a half hours into an epic struggle with a monster tarpon and the only connection that existed between it and me was a spool of 30-pound-test monofilament fishing line. I could not believe it had held this long. The battle had pushed my limits to the wall and had eaten up eight kilometres of Costa Rica’s Rio Colorado River. Thankfully, I was finally able to bring this 130-pound monster boatside and release it to fight another day. Unquestionably, this was a true testament to the quality of today’s fishing line. Line that is far superior to the line of bygone days when lines were made from linen, silk or cotton and had to be cared for most carefully — care that included washing and drying it to prevent dry rot. While we no longer have to go to those lengths to preserve fishing line, we are however faced with a different kind of dilemma. A positive one, indeed, but one that none the less can leave an angler with a blank stare of confusion when confronted with the array of fishing line on the rack of any major retailer. It can be a daunting task to simply decide what line to buy. Particularly when it can readily be argued that fishing line is the single most important item on an equipment list. It clearly plays a central role in every aspect of fishing from lure presentation to landing a fish. Not to mention one’s success rate. Let’s start by looking at the most popular and successful fishing line ever made.

Monofilament

Monofilament line was introduced in the late 1930s but did not gain any real popularity over braided Dacron until the late 1950s when Dupont introduced Stren, a thinner and more uniform line. Monofilament is a single component product making it fairly inexpensive to make, no doubt at least in part the reason it remains the most popular line out there. That being said however, “ buyer beware” as despite monofilament being relatively inexpensive, cheap monofilament is just that, so shy away from such line.

I have been using monofilament for over 40 years and still consider it a mainstay in my fishing arsenal. During those years it has undergone significant improvement. With new coatings and alterations in the manufacturing process, manufactures have created new lines that are tougher, more abrasion resistant, thinner, limper and more sensitive. It is also available in a wide variety of colours, which I will discuss in more detail a bit later.

But as with all line it has its advantages and disadvantages. Beyond being relatively inexpensive, it is easy to cast, cut and knots well. On the downside, it tends to stretch during hook sets, particularly when there is a lot of line out there. This is a real downside if one happens to be seeking fish with a tough jaw. It is also not particularly sensitive to light hits, as you simply may not feel a light touch. Over time it can develop spool memory and will deteriorate from light and heat necessitating regular replacement. I replace mine at the beginning of, and at least once during, every season whether it needs it or not. I have seen too many big fish lost simply because the angler didn’t take the time to replace their line on a regular basis. Also, it is not as abrasion resistant as some of the other lines out there. So one must constantly be on the look out for small abrasions and retie accordingly. Lastly, and this particularly applies to heavyweight line, it is bulky and when attempting to spool a lot of heavy test line it won’t take long to fill the spool.

As to colour, I prefer low visibility line as it blends well with most waters. While it won’t match fluorocarbon line in this regard, it can still be very useful in heavy pressure areas or where fish can spook easily. Or you can switch to low visibility clear for those ultra clear water situations. Fishing these high-pressure waters also usually means the thinner the better. I would however qualify that by adding that if I happen to be fishing in a situation where abrasion can be a factor, I will up the test weight or switch line type to extra tough.

Superline

I have used a variety of braided superlines in my offshore gear for quite a few years now. I found them to be far less bulky than monofilament and when hook setting a big halibut in 400 feet of water it offered far less stretch. And because it was thinner and had a better sink rate, it tended to be far less effected by the current or a tide drift making it ideal for deep water jigging or bait fishing. There are actually two types of superlines: braided and fused. Fused is made of gel-spun polyethylene that is heated and pulled into strands that are then fused together. Whereas the braided version is typically made of synthetic fibers such as Spectra that are then tightly woven and compressed together into an ultra thin, incredibility strong and sensitive line. Lines such as SpiderWire, Stren Super Braid and Berkley Fireline are such lines.

I personally use them when fishing heavy cover, jigging, or fishing bait in deep water. The lack of stretch in these instances makes for solid hook sets even in very deep water or on steel-jawed fish. Its sensitivity also transmits the minutest strikes for quicker hook sets and when working heavy cover or in high abrasion areas, it is all but indestructible. Lures also sink faster and deeper with superlines. Additionally, because of its small diameter, you can load a lot of line on your spool. It has minimal spool memory and does not require replacement nearly as frequently as most will last several years. Pound-test for pound-test you can also cast it further than monofilament making it useful in situations where long casts are a must.

But on the down side, it is expensive and you may need to alter fishing techniques. For example, it will require different knots as many of your old knots may slip, so when in doubt use a Palomar knot. You may even consider adding a drop of super glue to the knot to make sure that it won’t slip. It is also very visible to fish, which is some cases may not present a problem but in others may just spell the difference between success and failure. Additionally, with this no stretch line, too hard a hook set and you may pull the hook right out of a fish’s mouth. When snagged, it is all too easy to break a rod tip by putting too much pressure on these all but unbreakable lines. And when trolling, don’t set your drag too tight as it may pull the lure or bait away from a fish. A rod with a light action tip will also assist in avoiding this problem. And last, when snagged don’t use your hands, as the line can very easily cut your hands. Point your rod tip directly at the snag and pull directly to you. Either the line will break or the hook will straighten out. This is such durable and strong line that I know one taxidermist that uses it for all his stitching and sewing on game mounts.

Fluorocarbon Lines

Fluorocarbon fishing line originated in Japan where it was first used as leader material when bait presentation was critical in high-pressure areas. It has since gained popularity on this continent and may, in many instances, be the line of choice. Most are made from fluoropolymers into a line that has a refractive index making it all but invisible in the water. Unquestionably, it is an excellent choice for fishing in clear water or high-pressure areas. It is particularly useful as leader material when fly fishing those ultra clear mountain streams and rivers. While not on par with the superlines, it still offers minimal line stretch, a quick sink rate and is tougher than monofilament. It has minimal spool memory and is quite abrasion resistant. The later making it a good choice for high abrasion areas such as rocks or submerged logs. It is also more UV resistant so it can be stored and used for longer periods than monofilament. It is quite sensitive and with its limited line stretch it makes for quicker and more solid hook sets without the potential loss of a fish due either to too much or too little stretch. It may well be the ideal fit for line stretch between monofilament and the superlines. Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon, P-Line Fluorocarbon and Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon are examples.

But it too has it drawbacks, as with the superlines it will require more attention to detail. Knots, for example, will require more attention and always check your knots before using. When in doubt use a Trilene knot and use all five wraps. It is also stiffer than monofilament and as such I would avoid using heavier weight fluorocarbon lines on light gear particularly if you are using lightweight lures. And last, it is certainly more expensive.

Copolymer

Copolymer is another feat of engineering as it originally combined several nylon monomers into a thinner more stable line. Berkley Sensation and the original Silver Thread are such lines. New formulas, which include, for example, the addition of fluorocarbon, have been developed to enhance this line even further. P-line Floroclear is a good example of this. Copolymer lines are more impervious to the elements and offer a bit less line stretch than monofilament. It is also less visible and tends to outlast monofilament as well.  But once again, it can be a bit more expensive and may be viewed by some as being a bit tricky to handle. If you encounter a problem with stiffness, I would suggest that you consider dropping down a couple of weight classes.

As a final comment, there is no one perfect line for all uses, so take a look at what you are fishing for, the depth you are fishing at, the type of terrain you are fishing in, the type of tackle being used, the condition of the water, the fishing pressure, and then look at matching your line to these factors and you are sure to not only improve your catch rate but your enjoyment as well.

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