There are few experiences that can sour a fishing trip as quickly as the frustrating POP of a snapped fishing line. When you have put the work in finding a great fishing spot, picking the right bait and tackle, and then actually putting a hook in a trophy fish, breaking that monofilament line is like the worst feeling in the world.
But luckily, you can prevent it! Read on to learn about how fishing line works, the best kinds of fishing line, and how to take care of your fishing line so that you’re not letting the big one go.
It started as long strands of thin fibrous material—tiny rope, basically. But since the early 20th century, most fishing line has been made of synthetic plastics. The most common materials are nylon, fluorocarbon (polyvinylidene fluoride), and polyethylene terephthalate. These are basically all fancy names for different kinds of lightweight, very strong and flexible plastics. Synthetic plastics are almost the only kind of line used for both baitcaster and spinning reels.
Some specific types of fishing use lines of other materials. Trot line, for instance, is usually made of cotton line, waxed cotton line, or sometime nylon line. This heavy line is used for “trot lining”, running yo-yos, and running noodles.
Another type of specialized fishing line is “piano-wire” or metal leaders. A leader is a short length (usually 12-18”) of light wire that prevents strong-jawed or sharp-toothed fish from breaking through the line when hooked. This technique is used more often for saltwater fishing, especially sharks. However, it is used for bass in muddy waters by some anglers.
Some kinds of fishing line are made of multiple materials. Fly line, in particular, is usually a Dacron core with a PVC wrapping. This makes the line heavy enough to achieve the rhythmic casting motions necessary for fly fishing.
The most common type of fishing line in today’s market is monofilament. This means it is on continuous strand of material, as opposed to being braided. Braided line, as the name suggests, achieves its strength by twining several fibers together. Now, just because monofilament is more common does not mean it is better in every situation.
Braided line is generally as strong as, and thinner than, monofilament. This means you can wrap more around your reel. It also floats and, because it is very flexible, can cast much farther and easier than monofilament. Fly fishermen are often devotees of braided line because it floats and is so easy to cast. When fishing for trout with a fly, it’s important to be able to precisely control where your lure lands. It’s also appropriate for saltwater fishing where top water lures are common.
Braided line is more sensitive, meaning it is easier to tell when a fish is hitting your bait. Braided line also ties stronger knots. Often monofilament lines break where they are knotted. That almost never happens with braided line. Similarly, monofilament line often has a memory, meaning it will kink permanently where a knot was tied. Braided line has no memory.
The drawback to braided line? It’s very visible. When fishing anything other than the muddiest waters, hard-to-see line is very important. Fish know that a fishing line in the water means trouble (some even believe they can feel the sonar from a fish finder). When fishing for trout, for instance, most anglers will run braided line until the last foot of their line, where they tie on a monofilament or piano-wire leader. Braided wire is also very hard on fishing rod and reel components, unless you have a top rated fishing rod. It tends to gouge the plastic components like a tiny little saw. It WILL cut your hand if you grab it while it’s in motion. Make sure you’re using titanium or metal components if you’re using braided line. Braided line can also be more susceptible to abrasion than mono.
Monofilament has its advantages. For one thing, it’s cheap. Also, it has more “stretch” than braided line. Some anglers don’t like any stretch in their line, but stretch will save you if you have an improper drag setting or aren’t holding your rod tight when a big fish is fighting on the other end. Stretch also helps absorb the shock of a large fish hitting your line. That makes it easier to reel the fish in and puts less wear and tear on your equipment.
As mentioned above, monofilament is almost invisible in most water, meaning fish won’t scare away as easily. Monofilament also sinks much better than braided line. This quality makes monofilament line a better choice for crappie or for walleye, where you lures need to sink lures into the water and jig around to attract fish. It is more durable than braided line, too.
If only there were an easy answer! But alas, the best fishing line varies depending on species of fish, area being fished, the gear being used, environmental conditions, and even the angler himself.
Freshwater fishing with spinning reels—probably the most common kind of fishing done in America—monofilament is absolutely the best fishing line to use. For crappie (my favorite), bream, and other sunfish, choose a monofilament line with a “weight” between 5 and 10 pounds.
A fishing line’s weight gives you an idea of how much pressure it can withstand before it breaks. Don’t be misled, though—a 10lbs line can catch a fish much heavier than ten pounds. Just remember that the higher the weight, the stronger the line. However, higher weights usually mean the line is stiffer and more visible.
Bass fishermen generally choose a midweight line. Depending on the waters being fished, it may be anywhere from six to twenty pounds. For bass fishing, a lot of the decision will depend on the preference and fishing style of the fisherman. Because bass can be a fairly large fish, a heavier line is appropriate. However, since many bass fishermen love the fight and challenge of landing a bass, a smaller line is often chosen because of the challenge it presents.
Bigger fish like catfish, pike, or muskies call for heavy line. These fish often weigh ten, twenty, thirty pounds or more. That definitely calls for heavier line, and possibly a braided line. Choose something like a 15 or 20 pound monofilament line, or a 40 to 60lbs braided line. If the water is very clear, a leader may be appropriate.
Saltwater fishing carries its own set of requirements. For one thing, the salt itself can really wear on fishing line. Monofilament, in particular, degrades much faster when used in marine environments. Of course, since most popular marine sportfish are larger than freshwater species, monofilament’s strength against strong fish jaws redeems it somewhat. For large fish, choose a braided line with mono leader. For small or midsize species, monofilament is probably still the best choice.
The tackle aisle at any sporting goods stories bound to have dozens, if not hundreds, of kinds of fishing line. You’ll see line that sells a 100 yards for $5, and line that costs ten times that much.
You can keep a few points in mind, however, and make a pretty educated choice:
You could also veer on the safe side and just buy a few packs of each. Part of the fun of fishing is getting out there, trying different methods, and seeing what works best for you.
Want to know more? Then check out this video by Chris Myers: