FISHING LINE BASICS
By Ken Poor
Without a doubt, the most frequent question I am asked during fishing seminars is, what type of fishing line is the best and what type of fishing line do you recommend. The inexperienced fisherman thinks that there is one type of fishing line that will work well for all fishing situations.
The reality is, there is no single type of line that is ideal for every fishing condition. On the other hand, there is a wide variety of fishing lines on the market that can be matched to about any fishing situation you are likely to encounter as well as to your equipment and the species of fish you want to catch.
When an inexperienced fisherperson looks at the typical fishing line display in a sporting goods store, because of the large variety of lines available, it’s easy to understand why it is confusing and not so easy to select the right line. Of course, it helps to have a basic understanding of the types of fishing line and their physical characteristics so that you can select the one you need.
Monofilament line is the most common fishing line used for fishing. It is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, easy to tie knots in, and casts well. When monofilament line is new it will stretch, but it loses that ability and will take the shape of the reel if it is left on your reel for a long period of time or in extremely hot conditions such as a garage during the summer.
On the other side of the season, during extreme cold weather, typical of icefishing conditions, monofilament line can get fairly stiff. The good news is that there is not much casting involved with ice fishing.
Generally, to keep my fishing line fresh, I will replace the monofilament line, on the reels I use most frequently, specifically during the open water season, about every 2 to 3-months. It is good advice and important to replace your line often and of course this depends on how often you fish and the conditions you will be fishing.
When you use monofilament line it is very important to check your line for nicks and abrasions often. Depending upon the conditions you are fishing and how many fish you catch you may need to cut off a couple of feet of line and retie your line quite often because it is vulnerable to damage.
At the very least check your line after every fish you catch by running the first couple of feet above your lure between your thumb and finger. If you feel any nicks or abrasions, cut off a couple of feet of line and retie your lure.
Fluorocarbon fishing line is very resistant to abrasions which makes it great for fishing around rocks, log, stumps and other types of line damaging fish holding cover or structure. Fishermen, especially the walleye and striped bass guys, like fluorocarbon line for leaders for trolling and other techniques, because in the water fluorocarbon line is invisible to fish.
The two main issues with fluorocarbon line is that it is a little more expensive than monofilament line, costing about the same as the super lines. Also, because of its abrasion resistance characteristic it is stiffer than regular monofilament line making it more challenging to cast.
Braided and fused fishing line are pretty much the same with the exception of the way they are manufactured. Braided lines are also called super lines because they are very thin compared to the same pound test in monofilament line. For their diameter, they are the strongest type of fishing line on the market and have very little to no stretch. If minimum visibility is important to you braided lines may not be your best choice, unless you use a leader.
The exact diameter of braided line relative to the diameter of monofilament varies slightly from brand to brand. The following is a rough comparison of monofilament line diameter to braided line diameter in pound test; 8 – 2, 12 – 4, 20 – 6, 30 – 8, 50 – 12, 80 – 20 (i.e. – 8-pound test braid would have about the same diameter as 2-pound test monofilament line).
The no stretch property of braided line increases the sensitivity of the line and allows you to feel the lightest of hits, feel anything on the bottom and greatly increases your hook setting capabilities. The braided line also has very little to no spool memory which is definitely a plus. Braided lines are good to use when fishing in heavy cover or wooded areas in the water.
You will need to use very sharp wire cutters, sharp scissors or a sharp knife to cut braided fishing line. Never try to break a super line using your bare hands. It can cause a very serious and painful cut. If you get hung-up and must pull it loose, or break it off, wrap the line around your pliers several times and pull with the pliers.
Fused line is similar to braided line, except that during the manufacturing process it uses glue to hold the threads together and is surrounded by an extra coat. The extra coating provides added strength, making it very durable for catching large fish. Just like with braided line, you will need to use very sharp wire cutters, sharp scissors or a sharp knife to cut fused fishing line, so it is ideal for fish with sharp teeth.
Also, as with braided line, never try to break any type of super line using your bare hands. It can cause a very serious and painful cut. If you get hung-up and must pull it loose, or break it off, wrap the line around your pliers several times and pull with the pliers.
FLY FISHING LINE
Fly line is rated by weight, not pound test. The weight of the line does not have anything to do with the breaking strength of fly line. The weight of fly line is a measure of how heavy the line is and the purpose of the weight is to properly match the line to the fly rod and reel. The fly line is connected to a leader called a tippet and the tippet comes in different breaking strengths similar to the pound test of monofilament line.
FISHING LINE PROPERTIES
Bass fishermen and other species-specific anglers are always on the search for the thinnest fishing line, with the most strength and minimum visibility. Braided fishing line was intended to be the answer to all the fishing line problems. While it does solve some of the problems it certainly does not solve all of them.
Key fishing line properties include tensile strength (pound test), shock strength, stretch, and visibility. No single type of fishing line, monofilament, braid, fused, or fluorocarbon, or any particular manufacturers brand, has all the best physical properties because to have one physical property often results in another physical property being reduced.
When you select your fishing line it is all about compromise based on reasonable knowledge. Probably the easiest physical property to understand and explain how one property reduces another property is the line diameter of monofilament line.
If monofilament is very thin then the breaking strength is limited and thin line is more susceptible to nicks and abrasion than thick lines. The benefits of thin diameter lines are increased sensitivity, deeper running crankbaits, less wind resistance when casting and reels will hold more thin line. If you understand the physical properties of fishing line, then you can make a reasonable choice for the conditions and species you will be fishing for.
Line tensile strength is measured in pound test. It relates to the amount of pressure that must be applied, by pulling or stretching, to a piece of straight line before the line breaks. This means that a line rated at 10-pound test would break with a steady pressure of 10-pounds.
The shock strength of fishing line is the point at which the line will break when there is a sudden jerk either from a fish making a sudden surge or when you set the hook.
Monofilament line stretches about 25% more than superlines and stretches much easier than fluorocarbon. Some fishermen consider this a positive function because it acts like a shock absorber when fish suddenly run or you set the hook to hard. Others consider it a negative factor because they feel it reduces the ability for a solid hook-set and also decreases the sensitivity of fishing line.
In my opinion because it stretches under pressure, monofilament helps prevent your hook from ripping a hole in a fish’s mouth, which can make it easier for the fish to come unhooked. This is an important consideration during the hookset and during the fight especially with big fish.
Monofilament line can be bought in either high visibility or low visibility. High visibility line is for fishing conditions that require you to watch your line for telltale indications of a fish hitting your line and is the favorite of line watchers. Low visibility monofilament line is primarily for clear water conditions where fish could be spooked by your line.
Some types of monofilament line are a combination of both high and low visibility. The line is high visibility when it is out of the water and low visibility when it is in the water.
When usingmonofilament line lighter than about 20-pound test, use the Improved Clinch Knot or Palomar Knot. With a little practice both are fast, easy to tie knots and with the double line wrap in the eye of the terminal tackle they are a very reliable knot. It is very important to always wet your line before you tighten the knot. My personal preference is, whenever practical to use the Palomar Knot.
For monofilament from 20-pound test to 50-pound test use either the Palomar or the Improved Clinch Knot depending on the size of the eyes of the terminal tackle you are tying onto your line. With small eyes or monofilament over 50-pound test it is difficult to double the line through the small eyes of terminal tackle making it impossible to ty a Palomar Knot and in this case the Improved Clinch Knot is your best choice.
Knots tied in heavy monofilament line also have unique problems. Not so much with knot failure, but the initial tying of the knot because of problems with wrapping or twisting the thick line. The number of wraps and twist for lines over 80-pound test can be reduced for some knots, but only within reason. Use the tag end to carefully tighten the knot when you are using heavy line. Do not forget to wet the knot before you tighten down on the line.
When tying knots in braided line it is a good idea to use the specific knots that the manufacturer suggests to help decrease the likeliness of your knots slipping and coming undone. Most manufacturers recommend the Palomar Knot for use with braided line. Testing shows that, when using the right knots, braided fishing line does have superior knot strength over monofilament. (see previous article on this site about fishing knots)
The big question is what pound test line should you use? This depends on several factors including what your reel is designed to handle and what kind of conditions you are going to fish. The fishing line you buy must match your equipment and the conditions you are fishing in order to work properly.
If you are going to fish in thick cover then you have to go to a higher pound test line than you might need for fishing open water. You might be able to get by with 10-pound test on crankbaits if you are fishing open water, but if you are working a crankbait near brush or heavy weeds or any condition where hang-ups are likely, then you will need a heavier line.
If you are going to buy fishing line always buy the best quality line you can afford. Also, if you still do not know what line to buy, take your rod and reel with you to a bait and tackle shop or a sporting goods store and ask the people that work there what kind of line you should buy.
Finally, the super lines do not have much of a ‘half-life’, meaning they do not deteriorate much. They are very limp and birds and animals can easily become tangled in them. Never leave or throw any super line into the water or leave it on the bank. It often ends up causing a slow, painful death for birds, fish, and other types of wildlife.