Of all the technological marvels introduced into the Prater Household in the 20th Century, by far my most popular would be indoor plumbing. But No. 2 or 3 would be monofilament fishing line.
And without mono, there would have been no invention of the spincast reel or spinning reels in the 1950s, equipment that led us out of the Cane Pole Age. These revolutions in our sport happened when I was just a kid, from right after World War II through the late 1950s. Darned if I can remember exactly when I graduated from a cane pole. But I do know that by the time I was going fishing by myself on a bicycle, around 1960, I was seldom without a Zebco rod and reel with 10 or 12-pound mono.
All this is an admittedly long-winded introduction to the topic of modern fishing lines, followed by this admission: I don’t pretend to be an expert on all fishing options – which makes my wisdom stand out from most recommendations on the perfect equipment for the modern angler. What I’m telling you is, today's fishing lines and other gear are far too numerous – and too expensive – for an average angler like me to be able to evaluate with any hope of fairness or accuracy. They’re not all great, but a lot are pretty darned good.
In the beginning there was...cotton
Let me just tell you how young Bill and his brother Paulie began our fishing lives, and where we are now. As a kid, the only fishing line available was … braided cotton. There was no debate over mono versus braid vs fluorocarbon vs hybrid. The only option back then was to tie that bulky, stiff white line to the end of a cane pole. Then add a hook, lead weight, cork and big old garden worm or other live bait, and hope for gullible fish.
Out of necessity, I for one mostly went after catfish back then. Meanwhile, Dad and his brothers were part-time commercial fishermen. Dad knit his own hoop nets, coating that braided cotton line with tar for longevity, and made his own trotlines to fish the Mississippi River near Cairo, IL. I would love to relive those nights with him running trotlines and following jugs in the Mississippi current. But since then, I have adopted one equipment innovation after another, evolving over the years into a panfisherman, then bass angler, then trout guru. And these days I take my greatest pleasure in ultralight, multi-species angling. If it swims, I try to catch it, using the lightest gear possible. Which, these days, is very light indeed.
In the ‘60s, after my cane pole years, I settled down with a Zebco 33 spin cast filled with monofilament line. I’ve still got one in the garage, and that’s what the Loveland Fishing Club still uses to teach youngsters. Over the years, though, I have evolved into an admitted fishing snob who turns his nose up at natural baits, heavy bait casters and eating my fish friends. Meanwhile, angling options are so numerous, darned if I can recommend the “very best gear” to anyone. I will tell you, though, that I have for now settled down with a Shimano Stradic 14 reel in a size 1000 or 2500, matched with an ultralight or medium light St. Croix or Fenwick rod and Nanofil hybrid line, 4- to 6-pound with a fluorocarbon leader. Baits vary, but they’re mostly plastic and smell good to fish if not to Linda.
Nanofil seems to be getting harder to find on sporting goods shelves. But I still favor it over the dozens of constantly changing competitors out there: Suffix 832, Power Pro Super Slick, Sunline, Seaguar Inviz Maxima Ultragreen, etc., etc. Same with baits: size does matter, and sometimes so do color and texture and smell. But the options are so numerous and similar sounding that I for one rarely endorse one brand over another. For most applications, I just recommend that you not be tempted by the very cheapest alternatives.
In short, these days, there is no single path to success, or an accurate way an amateur angler might know from personal experience which is the very best line or rod or reel on the market. A lot of stuff today does the basic job of helping you catch a fish. I will suggest that a costly Shimano spinning reel and Fenwick rod, matched with 4-pound Nanofil, are as sensitive as a teen-ager, and a joy to take fishing. But a much cheaper lightweight Ugly Stick combo from Walmart will catch you a lot of fish, too, with less torment than I experienced with an old cane pole and braided cotton line.
So as soon as you can, as often as you can, just get out there and fish.