The evolutionary development of fishing line, the all important cord that acts as contact between you and your fish, is an interesting one. From 17th century catgut to 18th century silk, today’s line technology is a lot more sophisticated in construction and performance than its predecessors, and it’s a lot more varied too.
Knowing what type of fishing line to use and when, especially as it can make and (quite literally) “break” a catch, is very important for anglers of all types and experience levels.
All About Fishing Line
Getting started requires looking at some of the main criteria determining an angler’s choice. From strength to visibility and stretch to resistance, looking at these major aspects is the best way to ensure you buy the right line for the right rod.
Often thought of as the most important factor in selecting a line, a “pound test” simply refers to the line’s overall strength. Varying from 2 pounds up to 400 pounds, line should be chosen by the type of fish (and expected weight) that you plan on fishing for. Rod and reel power might also come into consideration too.
In the US, the “pound” designation is used most often, but browse any tackle shop and you’ll see metric designations like kilograms used too. For beginners, this can get confusing. If both units aren’t listed, make sure you do a conversion if the unit seems unfamiliar to you.
Experienced anglers, when it comes to shopping, have another advantage over a beginner when it comes to buying line. They know that breaking strength is not indicative of the pound test indicated on the packaging. They also understand that actual strength is determined by how much force it takes to break a wet line rather than the “dry” one advertised.
Line strength is divided into two categories: “test” and “class.” Class lines will break at or under the labeled strength in wet conditions, whereas test lines don’t offer any such guarantees.
The IGLA (International Game Fish Association) is a regulating board that checks this when applications are made by companies to sell line. This is great for beginners as it prevents them from being short-changed by line manufacturers that overpromise and underdeliver.
As it stands, however, 95% of line sold is “test” line and not “class” line. This means that most line you see fails to fall under regulation and that lines can break under, at, or even over their advertised “pound test” figure. For beginners this is unlikely to be much of an issue since there are plenty of stories of all sizes of fish being caught on all strengths of line, but it is something to be aware of.
One last thing to keep in mind is the importance of knots when it comes to line strength. As you’ll inevitably have to tie a lure and a hook on your line, thus increasing its resistance, it’s important to use strong knots to keep them secured. The lighter the pound test you buy, the more secure knots you’ll have to use. Make sure you refer to internet tutorials, YouTube videos, or an experienced angler’s advice when it comes to learning how to tie really secure knots.
It’s also worth noting that every knot is going to be weaker than the fishing line, regardless of how well its tied.
The diameter of a line, the relative degree of its thickness or thinness, is another key factor in deciding what type of fishing line to choose. Too thick and its visible to the fish, but too thin and it’s liable to snap, snag, and tangle. Each degree has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Modern lines get around the problem of diameter thanks to both technology and materials. “Double strength” lines take the advantages from both ends of the spectrum by being strong yet narrow enough to not be too obvious. Other line types employ different materials and weave them together (like the braided types) in an attempt to compromise.
Usually, diameter will be advertised next to strength or pound test when it comes to a line’s packaging. Monofilaments, for example, have a fairly wide range in terms of diameter and can run anywhere between 0.06 mm and 0.26 mm alongside strengths ranging from 12 oz to 11lb 16 oz.
The relationship between diameter and strength is the gold test when it comes to selecting a line. The stronger a line is for its diameter, the better it will be to use. Beginners will do themselves a massive favor in preventing line breakages and tangles, and they will enjoy a more successful fishing experience if they stick to that rule.
Line stretch is something that comes under a lot of debate and scrutiny in the angling world. Specifically when relating to the different types of fishing line and the stretch they provide, anglers can have very stubborn opinions.
Some say monofilament offers the best stretch; others say braided. So why the cause for disagreement?
The simple answer is that most anglers have different opinions based on their preferences, and they know that certain lines work better in certain situations, while others work best in different situations.
When it comes to stretch, there’s a really easy way of testing it, involving taking a 20-foot sample and fixing it to a pencil and then pulling. However, it’s not exactly acceptable to do this on the premises of a tackle retailer, especially if you don’t plan on buying the line.
For a beginner, the most important thing to understand about line stretch is simple:
The less stretch, the better
This is fairly easy to explain. Long stretch line is more likely to be pulled by a fish on a cast and lead to them either breaking away or failing to be hooked. Short stretch line generally makes it easier to handle and hook a fish.
So why would anyone go for long stretch line? In some cases, it’s just easier to manage certain lure types, especially crankbait lures, which require tugging and pulling the line to mimic the action of live bait. A little bit of stretch helps to “smooth” out the action and make it less jerky.
Good line stretch also has further advantages in reducing the force that occurs when the hook is set in a very strong fish, thus preventing the line breaking.
Perhaps the biggest thing to take away when thinking about stretch is that it’s just a measure of elasticity. All lines have breaking points at a maximal stretch capacity, but it’s almost impossible to know what this will be on the line you buy, despite the packaging telling you it’s “low stretch,” “pre-stretch,” “high stretch,” or something else.
As a beginner, it’s better not to worry too much about stretch as a priority factor. It’s a lot less important than most of the other aspects discussed.
Reels and Rigs
Rigging a rod is one of the more mechanical aspects of fishing that some anglers love and others hate. It involves guiding the line onto the spool of the reel and then working it through the guides before attaching a lure (or live bait).
For the beginner, it’s a good idea to get help from a tackle shop when attempting this for the first time. You can also check out this video below:
Using a machine to wind a new line onto a reel is one of the best services (often free) that tackle shops offer their customers.
Those new to fishing will see just how important it is to wind the line on under tension when they get out for their first few casts. It makes a lot of difference in terms of ensuring better control and fewer tangles out on the water.
As for reels and rigs themselves, they are also going to be fairly line-dependent with some setups requiring a “special” kind of line and others being more flexible.
Fly fishing rods and reels, for example, will only be compatible with fly line (usually braided or monofilament) and unsuited to line of a heavier weight.
Spinning rods and baitcasting rods, on the other hand, are a fairly good match with any of the main types and tests of line.
Some pros have a preferential reel, rig, and line combination that they love based on many years of experience. Wired2Fish, for example, recommends different weights of fluorocarbon line for all kinds of lures, including jigs, swimbaits, and crankbaits. Others recommend fishing with whatever feels comfortable and then having a spare spool of line with you on the water’s edge where you can make rigs in between casts.
Setting up the right rig and reel is more about what your preferred technique is when it comes to fishing and less about what everyone else recommends. First spend some time figuring out what you prefer. Then buy a fishing line accordingly.
Conditions and Color
Many line manufacturers try to get the edge on each other by touting the efficacy of one line color above another. As for what the best is, it all comes down to conditions and water clarity.
Pink fluorocarbon line, for example, is argued by some anglers to be one of the most effective colors as “pink loses its color at various depths” and thus blends in with water more easily.
Then there are the popular monofilament choices of red (said to be invisible underwater at depth), yellow (good in murky water) and green (acts as good camouflage in similar colored water).
Finally braided line, due to its thickness, is the most visible line to spot so there isn’t much in the way of a special color that people prefer when it comes to this type of line.
For a beginner choosing a color, it’s probably best to play it safe and go with clear (which you can find in both fluorocarbon and monofilament), unless you really want to try braided.
This also makes sense when you take into account conflicting answers as to whether fish actually see line, to which there still isn’t any definitive answer despite line visibility tests (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBGOVRi3fnY) saying otherwise.
Types of Fishing Line
Now that the most common aspects of fishing line have been discussed, it’s time to take a look at the three most popular types of line used by fishermen across the world: monofilament, fluorocarbon, and braided.
Monofilament line, also referred to as “mono,” is possibly the most rudimentary of fishing line types, made from only a single plastic fiber. Cheap to produce and inexpensive to purchase, its advantages are numerous. It also has one of the widest ranges of diameters and test strengths on the market (testament to its huge popularity).
Made from mixing and melting polymers to form strands of lines, monofilament is finished by being spun onto spools of different shapes and thickness. Its characteristic stretch and diameter is produced as a result of extrusion, a process that involves pulling the mixed polymers through tiny hole palettes.
What sets monofilament apart from other line types is that it has the lowest line visibility in the water (thanks to its single-stranded thickness), while still maintaining strong knot strength.
This makes it versatile to use with a range of lures and a safe option for fishing in a number of conditions. Broader developments in monofilament technology also mean it can be used with almost all reel types out there on the market.
Perfect for a novice still unsure about the compatibility of existing equipment, monofilament is a top line to choose as it has few disadvantages for freshwater lake, river, or pond anglers. It’s also one of the more inexpensive options too.
As for where it might fall short? Deepwater fishing.
As monofilament can absorb water easily (due to its reduced diameter), knots tied to secure lures or live bait can come undone very quickly at depth while overall sensitivity also decreases. This is due to the line swelling as it absorbs water, creating additional pressure on the knot.
It can also degrade much faster than other line types and is sensitive when left open to the elements for a long period of time.
One potential problem it could cause for a beginner not interested in deep sea fishing is the way it’s wound on a spool. If stored for a while, mono tends to come off the reel in coils, making it very hard to put on again.
This can be frustrating for someone who might not get out to fish that often or someone reliant on storing their tackle for a long period of time, especially as they’ll have to repeatedly change the line and then ensure it’s wound tightly enough on the spool not to impede technique.
Ultimately, monofilament’s greatest strength (reduced line visibility) might also be its biggest drawback due to its environmental impact.
Difficult to see submerged in water, mono has been known to cause a risk to wildlife in the case of tangles and ingestion. Unlike other line types where biodegradable options do exist. this simply isn’t the case with this line type. Amputations and death can also occur to animals caught up in it in the more extreme cases.
For responsible fishermen taking care not to discard their line, this environmental risk shouldn’t be that much of an issue, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
Fluorocarbon line was once only considered the tackle of deep sea fishermen. Recently, however, mainly due to technological advancements, it has become increasingly popular with freshwater anglers too.
Similar to mono, fluorocarbon is a compound that can be made of varying materials. Organics like carbon and chlorine are popular materials, as are hydrocarbon synthetics and polymer intermediates. In the fishing world, though, fluorocarbon is all about the polymer PVDF, which is extruded in a similar way to mono but differs a fair bit in terms of stretch and durability.
Most anglers consider fluorocarbon’s advantages numerous. Like the mono, it offers low visibility, not distorting light passing through the line at depth (same refractive value as water) and being nearly invisible in most settings. It also offers toughness and sensitivity, being more abrasion-resistant than nylon mono and a lot less likely to degrade when left in the sun or in storage.
Something that also sets apart fluoro from other types of fishing line is that it’s waterproof. That means handling the line on a rod. whether it’s cast out above or below the surface. is going to be consistent in feel. This could be great for beginners as it also takes some of the worry about the line performing well enough, especially given the debate about test strength.
The main disadvantages of fluoro relate more to its construction than to any environmental impact its likely to have. Stiffer than most mono alternatives, largely due to its material molecules being more tightly packed, it can be hard to manage for a new angler who has only used mono or lighter weight line.
Fluoro also doesn’t perform as well as mono when it comes to absorbing swift impacts like headshakes or hooksets, although this can often be overcome by loosening drag on the reel.
One technical issue some anglers have with fluoro is that it isn’t effective for fishing with topwater swimmer or swimbait lures that require casting and reeling on the surface. This is because the line sinks faster than mono, reaching the bottom at almost double the speed.
Those that aren’t into fishing with topwater lures, though, might find this an advantage, especially if preferring to fish deep with crankbait.
All in all, fluorocarbon line has a lot to offer the novice who’s keen on fishing at the bottom rather than the top. A little pricier and harder to handle than mono, it will last longer and give a more “consistent” performance in comparison.
The oldest of line types in terms of history, braided line still enjoys a fair amount of popularity in fishing circles today, namely due to its superiority in a number of factors.
Braided line offers greater overall power in relation to its diameter. It also also has the least stretch compared to mono and fluoro options, as well as having the highest knot strength.
Originally made from natural materials like linen and cotton or even vines or plant fibers, modern braided line uses modern man-made materials like polymers as its main components. These tend to offer less resistance to abrasion, though, compared to other line types.
The biggest advantage of braided lines is strength. Having a larger diameter than fluoro or mono types, braided line’s actual breaking strength is usually far above their test label. This makes them excellent for novices targeting big fish who are unsure about the complications of test strength in mono or fluoro alternatives. Braided is the most dependable.
Beginners might also be keen to know that braided lines are a favorite of fishermen who love to feel the pull and bite in their fish due to the added sensitivity they deliver. Due to the low stretch factor, the rig and lure can be more finely controlled from the rod. They can also be cast longer distances too.
Obviously, the biggest disadvantage of braided line is its visibility and the fact that it doesn’t sink like mono or fluoro. This can make it hard for some anglers in spots where fish are easily spooked or for those who prefer to fish with different lures (both surface and deep water variations).
One way to get around this, as many pros do, is to attach mono or fluoro to the end of braided to act as a leader. That way you can reduce visibility while keeping all of braided line’s big advantages.
One final thing that might turn someone away from braided line is the apparent difficulty involved in rigging the line and applying a knot. Due to the lack of stretch and flexibility, setting the line up and getting it cast out tends to take a bit longer. For the impatient beginner, this could be a dealbreaker.
Choosing the right type of line is all about understanding how each differs and what it can offer you. From braided to monofilament to fluorocarbon and with a number of options including stretch, diameter, color, and more, be sure to do your research and try out a few different combinations to see what works best for you.