Pick Right Fishing Line For Every Situation
Whether you're throwing a buzzbait for bass or a Cajun Thunder float rig for sea trout, it's important to know which type line to use.
I remember my first heartbreak related to line failure like it was yesterday. I was 12 years old and fishing my grandmother’s pond with my Dad’s spinning outfit. A 4-lb. bass was cruising the shoreline, and I flipped a plastic worm in its path. As it approached, a little twitch is all it took to get the fish to engulf my offering. The fight only lasted a few head shakes and a strong run before my line popped. Heartbroken, I told the story to my Dad and learned it was probably the original line from when he bought the outfit years before. That was the day, at age 12, I took over managing the line on my fishing outfits. Line is a most-critical component of fishing, but casual anglers often overlook its importance.
Do you remember the days when you were either a Stren or Trilene user? Each brand had its devoted followers, and just like the Ford-Chevy debate, each side made fun of the other for their choice. Then came Trilene XT and XL, Stren Magnathin, etc., etc., etc. Anglers began demanding, and companies began designing lines for specific applications. Today, the choice is staggering. If you do not believe me, just stand in front of the line wall at a Bass Pro Shops store. Although there are many variations of each, all the different lines fall into three basic categories — monofilament, fluorocarbon or braided line. When you understand the properties of the three main types of line, you will more effectively apply the proper one to the fishing situations you encounter.
For decades, monofilament was the only type of line available. I was in my early 20s when braided line first hit the market. Of course, it was heralded as the only line you needed. Sales of monofilament took a beating when braid was first introduced, but it did not take long for serious anglers to learn that braided line was just like everything else… a tool to be used in certain circumstances.
When I first spooled up with braid, I headed to Lake Oconee to toss spinnerbaits at some big bass I had located. Initially, I loved the extra thump I could feel as the blades turned. On my first flooded brushpile, I hooked about a 6-lb. bass. The fish jumped and spit the hook. I was ticked. About three casts later on the very next brushpile, I hooked a 7-pounder that came unbuckled. I was crushed. At least I was not in a tournament.
Since that time, I have learned that braid is not my favorite for spinnerbaits because it is too sensitive for me. I have a tendency to set the hook before a bass inhales my offering. By the same token, the extra sensitivity of braid is fantastic when punching through vegetation with a Texas-rigged crawfish, and you have to try to detect a bite as the lure works through the matted vegetation.
Understanding the characteristics of various lines will help you make decisions about which is best for various presentations.
Braided line is usually very limp, has virtually no stretch, floats, cuts through vegetation well and is much more visible in the water (to both humans and fish) compared to the other two lines. In wind, braid is prone to wrap around your rod tip or tie itself into “wind knots,” thus wasting valuable time untangling or retying.
Fluorocarbon line is stiff, has little stretch, sinks, is abrasion resistant and is extremely clear compared to the other two lines. Fluorocarbon has a tendency to burn itself when tightening a knot, thus weakening the knot.
Monofilament lines vary but generally are not too stiff, have a memory (coils if it has been on the spool a while), have some stretch, come in a variety of colors to match water conditions or provide better visibility and are the most affordable of the lines.
Marty Stone, B.A.S.S. Elite Series professional angler from Fayetteville, N.C., shared some of his line selection tips with me to try to help anglers make line selections for various lures and presentations.
“When I made a serious run at the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title in 2005, I used a bunch of different lines, but I have simplified since then. My line selection was just too complex then,” he said.
He still uses all three types of lines but has really been impressed with the high-quality monofilament blends that have come out the last few years. He uses Vicious Ultimate copolymer monofilament for about 75 percent of his applications, while braid and fluorocarbon make up the other quarter.
“Today’s monofilament is strong enough, sensitive enough and is the most forgiving of the three lines,” Marty noted.
Flipping and pitching are two of Marty’s strengths. For these go-to presentations he opts for mono. The extra forgiveness of mono is important in close quarters when he may be hooked up to an 8-lb. freight train with only a few feet of line out.
Power fishing and today’s monofilaments go together well. Marty gets better hookups with crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and topwaters from the little bit of extra stretch that monofilament provides. If your line is too sensitive, you have a tendency to pull quickly before the bass has eaten your lure. During the fight, that extra little stretch also allows a margin of error to keep pressure on the hooks. Lakes Hartwell and Clarks Hill, impoundments on the Savannah River, are prime lakes for topwaters, thus monofilament is spooled on most of his reels when fishing those two lakes.
Marty explained that there are only five applications for him where the advantages of braided line outweigh those of monofilament. The five applications are flipping (punching) matted vegetation, swimming a jig, fishing topwater frogs, working toads and casting buzzbaits. The sensitivity and ability of braid to cut through vegetation (both when working a lure through slop and trying to free a big fish from cover) are perfect attributes for punching. Braid is perfect for pulling big bass from the matted hydrilla in Lake Seminole.
Fluorocarbon gets the nod when Marty is making long casts and needs a low-stretch line. Some of his most noteworthy uses are Carolina-rigging, fishing football jigs, casting Texas-rigged worms far from the boat, ripping lipless crankbaits out of grass and all of his spinning rod applications. Fishing shaky heads and finesse worms on deep brushpiles for Lake Lanier spotted bass is a perfect example. With its lack of stretch, every little tap is transmitted up the line to your hand. The clear water tips the scales in favor of fluorocarbon. Dragging a football jig down West Point Lake rocky points is another application for fluorocarbon.
Tying the correct knot is extremely important. Marty uses a palomar knot on all of his braid and mono line-to-lure connections. Fluorocarbon burns itself when tightening knots down, so you need to be especially careful to wet it well before cinching your knot. A good knot for fluorocarbon involves starting by doubling your line through the lure eye (like starting a palomar knot). Then, take the loop end and pinch it together at the top with the main line and tag end, letting your lure dangle free. Twist your lure 6 or 7 revolutions. Take the loop end and tuck it through the loop adjacent to your lure eye. Wet the knot well and snug it down. Trim both loop ends and the loose tag end, and your knot is complete. This knot helps keep the fluorocarbon from cutting into itself.
Line care is an important detail to minimize break-offs. The level of attention can vary depending upon whether you are fishing for your paycheck or just having fun on a monthly half-day trip. Those who make a living from fishing pay close attention to the shape of their line. A few nicks has them respooling, while a casual angler would be fine to cut off a few yards of damaged line and retie.
Monofilament is the line type I change most frequently because sunlight degrades it, line memory can make fishing with old line aggravating, and bulk spools are affordable. I respool braid and fluorocarbon much less frequently, but I no longer fish bass tournaments every weekend like I did a decade ago. When money is at stake, you will want to keep even the expensive lines fresh.
As with any aspect of fishing, there are plenty of line accessories available. Your old, trusty clippers work great for monofilament and fluorocarbon, but a pair of extremely sharp scissors is important to sever braided line. Some folks use a dot of angler’s glue on knots when using braid, but I have never had an unglued palomar knot slip. Line conditioners that claim to increase casting distance by up to 25 to 30 percent are also available.
Choosing the correct line for an application is not only important in bass fishing. When fishing for seatrout and redfish, my line choice is critical to putting a few extra fish in the boat each day, whether I am guiding or just fishing for fun with my family.
Braided line on spinning outfits is what I use most of the time, and I usually fish a Cajun Thunder float rig with a Sea Shad dangling beneath. When fishing this rig, the lack of stretch in braid allows an effective hookset, even at the end of a long cast. Because braid does not stretch, I use long, soft-tipped rods to absorb the shock. When fishing for trophy trout with baitcasting gear and plugs or spinnerbaits, mono is the best choice for my main line. The stretch of mono helps keep a big redfish or trout hooked when it makes a surge at the boat.
As a rule of thumb in saltwater, if I am fishing a lure that moves horizontally to entice strikes (spinnerbaits, topwaters, hard jerkbaits), I throw monofilament, and when fishing float rigs I use braid.
Line choice is here to stay. There is no telling what new lines will be available in the future, but rest assured each will have its own set of strengths and shortcomings that we will have to learn.
Today’s high-quality lines already provide a vast array of pros and cons that can be balanced for your particular style of fishing. Take some time to learn the ins and outs of various lines, and you will improve your catch.
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