One of my absolute favorite things about being in the fishing biz is that I get a chance to fish with a variety of anglers of varying skill levels. Without fail, the best anglers I fish with pay the most attention to details…all the details. From pre-fishing preparation to the day's final presentation, no detail is left unconsidered by the most consistently successful anglers I've lucked into fishing with. As a light tackle, artificial lure specialist, I'm keenly aware of the importance of presentation details. Beyond lure selection, a successful presentation involves the right combination of the rod, reel, and line, too. And while rods and reels have grown technologically over the last couple of decades, their development pales in comparison to advancements in lines.
Today's anglers have a huge variety of fishing lines to choose from, so much so that it is one of the most common questions I field in emails, on the water, and at seminars. Yet well chosen and maintained line remains a detail often lost amongst casual anglers. Line selection for really successful anglers has morphed beyond a "detail" to a fundamental aspect of fishing. So how do I approach fishing line selection and application? Read on…
First let's look at the most basic types of line available. While some of you may remember fishing with braided Dacron way back in The Day, most of you grew up fishing with monofilament - specifically nylon monofilament. The stuff was invented by DuPont in the late 1930's and made popular first by Stren and later by Berkley during the 50's. Original versions were very wiry and stiff, but they still out fished Dacron due to relative invisibility. Monofilament eventually went on to become the industry standard it remains today. More than fifty years of refinement has led to nylon monofilament line ranging from super supple to abrasion resistant, hi-vis to low-vis to multicolor, and it's available in a huge range of pound tests. Regardless of the characteristics built into the line, all monofilament lines are made by mixing polymers and then extruding the resulting goo through tiny holes.
Nylon monofilament has good knot strength and floats when dry, but will eventually absorb water and sink, and the knot will weaken. It's also susceptible to U/V damage. These two characteristics make it less durable than other line types. The process of absorption and drying, prolonged sun exposure, or even excessive exposure to air will cause the line to weaken substantially. It's the most elastic of all lines and is the least sensitive, but casts well and is inexpensive, at least initially.
Another form of monofilament is extruded from Polyvinylidene Fluoride and is commonly sold as fluorocarbon. "Flouro" as it's often called by anglers has one main selling point; it's less dense optically than nylon, meaning its light refraction characteristics are closer to that of water. Fluorocarbon virtually disappears in water. Strangely enough, it's physically denser than water so it sinks. It's U/V stabile and will not absorb water so it doesn't break down as quickly as nylon. Finally, fluorocarbon's surface is harder than nylon monofilament's resulting in better abrasion resistance, but also more difficult casting due to increased stiffness. Fluoro has some stretch, though not as much as nylon, and is more sensitive. It lasts very well but is substantially more expensive.
The last major category is the "superlines", so called because of their amazing strength to diameter ratio and extremely low stretch. Superlines are made of Spectra or Dyneema that has been "gel spun" to generate oriented strand fibers that can be braided to come up with the final product. One notable brand, Original Fireline, is thermally fused after braiding, making it slightly stiffer when new. Superlines, or "braids" as many folks call them, are very thin for a given pound test - like 50# test braid is approximately equal in diameter to 12# test monofilament - so they cast very well. They have almost no stretch allowing for very solid hooksets even at great distances, they are extremely sensitive, and they float. Superlines tend to be very slick so they can be picky about which knots will hold, and they are the most visible type of line under water. Recently, manufacturers have come out with superlines that are translucent as well as lines with alternating colors that are very high visibility depending on the angler's specific needs. Superlines last nearly forever, though most will experience color fading which does not affect breaking strength. They tend to be among the most expensive line choices.
OK, enough of the science talk - how do these line characteristics lead to more fish? Presentation details of course. By matching your line to your overall presentation you'll maximize success. See, its all in the details!
I've long been a proponent of choosing your lure first (based on your target species and prevailing conditions), then choosing your line, and then finally picking the rod and reel combo best suited to the lure and line combo. This ensures overall balanced tackle (more details) and greater efficiency. Different styles of lures can be categorized and then a style of line can suited to the lure category, something like the system I use in my fishing. I'll break my system down by category below. Please keep in mind that these are the generalities I use based on years of guiding; you may find preferences based on your own fishing, but these will get you in the ballpark for all western species.
Lipped crankbaits, like a Flicker Shad or similar, are fished on fluorocarbon because it is very low visibility and sinks which helps get the bait down. The slight stretch cushions against pulling the smallish treble hooks. Pound test for lipped crankbaits will run from 8 to 17 depending on the size of the bait itself, cover types present, and the depth of water, with 10 pound test being my favorite all around choice for most western waters.
Lipless crankbaits typified by a Rat-L-Trap are also fished on fluorocarbon for basically the same reasons. Here I up the line size range from 10 to 20 pound test, with 12 pound getting the overall nod. Lipless baits are heavy and tend to be fished shallow; hence the heavier line size.
Topwater hard baits like a popper or walking bait are fished on nylon monofilament because it floats and is very controllable. Subtle twitches are tough to manage on hypersensitive braids but are a snap with monofilament. The stretchiness helps keep an excited angler that just witnessed the strike from pulling the lure or hooks away from the fish. Pound tests range from 8 to14, with 10 getting the overall for poppers and 12 for walking baits.
Jig fishing is a huge category, but fluorocarbon handles most of my jigging because of the invisibility, abrasion resistance, and lower stretch. Since fluoro sinks, it maintains a straighter line from the rod tip to the lure which helps with sensitivity and hooksetting. Braids are deployed only for snap jigging, vertical jigging, very deep water, or very heavy cover. The heavier lures used in these techniques will pull the thin braid down and impart a crisp lure action. In most cases I'll tip braided line with a short fluorocarbon leader while jig fishing to reduce visibility. For finesse jigging I'll usually deploy 6 to 10 pound test fluorocarbon. For traditionally skirted bass jigs, I'll be in the 12-20 pound range. While deploying braid for jigging, it'll usually be 10-30 pound range (keep in mind the super small diameter!). Texas rigged soft plastics follow the same guidelines for me.
Jerkbaits are a go-to technique in my angling and we fish them on braid with fluoro leaders in all cases. The reason is that the no-stretch, no memory braid allows for very precise, crisp, and erratic lure action. The braid allows for very long casts and hooksets, as well bite detection from finicky fish often associated with jerkbaits. Run your drag on the soft end with this set-up or you'll lose a few fish due to pulling hooks!
Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are both fished on 12-20 pound nylon monofilament because it floats which helps keep the lures up and cushions monster hooksets well. These lure types are generally close range and target specific around visible cover so the controllable heavy mono works well here.
Small inline spinners and spoons like a trouter might use in the river are fished on very light fluorocarbon, like 2-6 pound test. These waters tend to be clear so visibility (or lack thereof) is critical, and the line's density will help get tiny lures deeper. We'll often use very light braid is this arena as well.
Bottom fishing with bait can be done with nearly any line, but braid gets my vote. Because mono weakens as it absorbs water, soaking it for prolonged periods waiting for a bite is not a great plan. Braid casts farther, hooksets better at distance, and will allow you to detect subtle bites due to increased sensitivity.
Clearly I didn't cover all angling situations, rather a cross section of popular types. As a rule, if I need really long casts and hooksets, very heavy pound tests, or super-sensitivity braid gets the call. If I need a line that sinks, is fairly sensitive, and nearly invisible, fluorocarbon is deployed. Nylon monofilament does our topwater and very short cast duties.
So, now that you know what line types we deploy here at Fishful Thinker while guiding, filming TV shows, or tournament fishing, here's a rundown on the actual lines we use and why.
For monofilament, we use Trilene Sensation for light stuff and XT for heavy stuff. Around open water or general use, Sensation handles great, knots very well and is very easy to cast. XT is great around heavy cover because of its abrasion resistance, and its stiffness allows for excellent lure control.
Our flouro is always Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. That line has huge shock resistance for hooksets, great abrasion resistance, and excellent knot strength. Its sensitivity and invisibility round out the package. We've used miles of this line since it was introduced a couple years ago with great results on a wide range of species and applications.
Superlines are a little less cut and dried around our shop. Most of the time we use Fireline Braid (not to be confused with original Fused Fireline) because it is very, very supple and easy casting while maintaining the overall toughness braids are known for. It's also slick and quiet to fish with. Fireline Tracer Braid is the same stuff, but with a color change every 2.5 feet. It's my overall favorite because I can see it very clearly to watch for bites, and the color changes allow me perfect depth control. I'll usually tip it with a 100% Fluorocarbon leader (joined with a Uni knot) so the fish don't have the same visibility that I do!
For very light braids, I prefer Fireline Crystal which is fused and thus a little stiffer. Braids in the 2-8 pound range are so thin they can be tough to see and control so the increased stiffness helps there. These super thin lines are pure joy on small fish due to their sensitivity and they present tiny lures very well.
So there you have it - my long winded line guide. If you consider line choice among one of the most important angling details, you'll find your success goes up. Play with a few until you find lines you like and stick with them. Learn their nuances and maximize your fish catching fun!