Fishing line. Something that seems so simple is actually now so diverse and varied, selecting the right line requires a bit of an education. So, you’re welcome.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been so intimidated by it all you’ve been afraid to ask specifics for fear of being chided. No chides here. Just a good basic primer on the variations in fishing line, and which one you want for various scenarios. So let’s begin.
TYPES OF LINE
We’ll break these down into three main categories - braid, monofilament (mono), and fluorocarbon (fluoro). The differences between these mostly have to do with stretch, visibility and abrasion resistance. In addition we’ll also examine several specialty lines that have been designed for more specific applications.
The advantage of going braid is the feel, sensitivity and strength. This is due to the fact that braid has no stretch and is made from ultra-strong, Kevlar-like strands that are woven together. You'll tend to detect bites faster, set the hook better and get the fish out easier than the other lines, especially for bass.
It is also an extremely popular choice among anglers who need to throw their baits a country mile. It’s smaller diameter enables them to put more line onto a reel, and the strength allows them to retrieve the bigger species they often chase in saltwater and in freshwater streams.
Braid is perfect for flipping jigs or punching heavy cover, and will pull through grass mats well once a bass is hooked. It is often the go-to line for swimming jigs and frog fishing over lily pads.
It’s disadvantages come into play when it comes to dragging it over rocks and debris that can cause abrasions that will weaken or bust the line just when you’re the most amped up about landing the fish. It is also visible to the fish and will tend to tangle easier, which makes it less than ideal for beginners. All in all, though, it is a solid choice for numerous species of fish.
Fluoro is pretty much the opposite of braid, in that it is known for its elasticity and low visibility in the water. The stretch absorbs the power of casting and fighting the fish, and it maximizes the action of baits. Given this, it is perfect for throwing crankbaits, jerkbaits and all manner of swimbaits.
Fluoro is almost invisible due to its refractive qualities, making it perfect for any clear water and nearly any species. Pressured fish will certainly call for it, and a fluoro leader may be all the invisibility you need if fishing with braid.
Top shots are a similar approach, using a length (up to 20 ft.) of fluoro attached to braid, which offers the feel and sensitivity of the braid with the invisibility and stretch of the fluoro where it's needed. This has become one of the most popular setups for anglers.
Mono is basically the original type of fishing line, and it offers the most stretch. While its popularity has faded some, topwater anglers love that it floats and allows strikes without putting too much pressure on the bait. This also makes it popular for spinnerbaits and all types of topwater plugs.
Mono is a good basic line for anglers using light tackle, and it is easy to tie, which is a big help for wet or cold fingers, or ones that aren’t accustomed to handling fishing line. It is also very abrasion resistant, so it can handle unexpected structure and rocky bottoms well.
Since it floats, mono is also useful as a topwater leader attached to braid in freshwater. Using mono leaders is almost essential to saltwater rigs, where you want the toughness and stretch of the mono to handle the fight of tuna, sharks and other big game. Using 100 feet of 100LB.+ test is a typical mono setup for saltwater.
While these three types of line will land most any type of fish, and there are variations that have been specialized for specific presentations. Let’s look at a few of those.
These lines tend to be smaller in diameter and are formulated to operate below freezing temps. Mono has always been a popular choice, though the new braids and fluoros have crowded the field considerably.
Fluoro lines sink fast and have great sensitivity for the ultra-light bites that are typical on hard water. The heavier lines will have high memory, so watch for bird nests as the line may still want to coil up off the reel. Using mono or braid as a backer line may help this, using only 10-20 yards of fluoro at the business end of the line.
Braid is a good choice if you are in deep or stained water. It's no-stretch response is perfect for setting hooks that are down deep. It’s ultra-small diameters and toughness make it a sure bet for bringing up finicky panfish.
Tip-Up lines are a form of braid that doesn’t coil or kink, as the line needs to roll off the tip-up spool evenly and not allow slack that may lose the fish. A fluoro leader may offer low vis. If you need it - otherwise, set it and go!
This is an old school trick that is a whole different concept in fishing line. It is basically a lead weight running through the center of a braided line. This allows it to sink while trolling, usually at a rate of 5 feet per color, which changes every 10 yards. This enables trolling in deeper waters and is a staple for fishing guides on river systems or larger bodies of water. You will typically troll them in a spread along breaks or deeper cuts.
It is typical to use a line counter reel to monitor how much line is out, in order to drop the baits back to specific distances. The changing colors will tell you at a glance how much line is out as well. It is also the perfect way to send buoyant lures to the bottom, which can be a deadly combination in the fall when fish are deeper and less likely to chase.
You will also need a 10 to 20’ mono or fluoro leader as the lead core won’t tie the same as regular line to any lure. To tie on the leader, you’ll need to break off 5 or 6 inches of the lead off the lead core. You simply work the line back and forth until you feel the lead break inside and then pull the piece out. You now have the braided line to tie onto a swivel or the leader itself.
Lead core is widely used on big water, but it works well with any deeper body of water, especially as a way of dialing in the right depth of the water column you want to target. Using planer boards will also help you spread your lines in any configuration depending on the amount of water you’re covering.
It is a new system to learn, but well worth having in your arsenal of fishing tactics for deep water fish.
In fly fishing the line consideration is crucial, as the weight and energy for casting is in the line itself. For this reason, it’s been said that the LINE may matter more than the ROD selection. No, seriously. This type of line is in a universe of its own.
Fishing trout streams with a general-purpose floating weight-forward freshwater line is a good starting point. You’ll want to use a bright color that is easy to see as you cast. We won’t get into specific casting techniques here, as that is a blog all on its own.
Core - this is what gives the line its strength, determines how much it will stretch, as well as how stiff it will be.
Coating - One of the most basic and important functions of the line coating is to provide the casting weight needed to load the fly rod. Precise weight standards are set by the fishing tackle industry; the right amount of coating must be applied to each line in order to meet this standard.
The coating will also give the line its color, and the density of the coating will determine whether the line floats or sinks.
FLOATING LINES - tiny microspheres embedded in the line coating give these lines their buoyancy. The core is what gives the line strength.
SINKING LINES - these will usually use tungsten in the coating to make the line heavier than water. The amount of weight added will cause the line to sink anywhere from 1 to 10 seconds.
TAPER DESIGN - it is impossible to address the subject without discussing the taper, or shape of the line (who knew lines had a shape?). Varying the length and diameter of the different parts is what will give the line its performance characteristics.
The Tip is a short section of under a foot that is used to attach the leader and protect the front taper.
The Front Taper is what determines your presentation, whether it be delicate or more aggressive. Typically it will be 4-8 feet long, and it decreases in diameter from the Belly section to the Tip. The energy is transferred from the Belly and the front taper absorbs some of it to allow for more precise landing of the lures.
The Body or Belly is basically the widest and longest part of the line, so this is primarily where the energy of your cast is carried.
The Rear Taper transitions from the thick Belly diameter to the much smaller running line diameter. A proper rear taper will allow for smooth casting.
The Running Line section exists primarily to make distance casting easier. Since a Double Taper (DT) line is essentially a long belly with tapers at both ends, there is no running line by definition. This will vary depending on the type of fly fishing line you choose.
There are several taper options to consider: Level (L), Weight Forward (WF), Double Taper (DT), Shooting Taper (ST). Specialty Tapers are variations of Weight Forward and Double Tapers. Weight Forward configurations are most popular for a variety of reasons and have more variations. As you can see, there’s a very real learning curve here.
Here’s a link that will help to learn more about the basics of fly fishing.
This is another old school technique that is popular among ‘river rats’ especially. Actually, this method of fishing literally goes back for millenia.
Short of bare-handing fish, this is the most hands-on fishing method. You want to feel every move? You WILL when pulling in a fish on a handline. With no rod or reel, it’s just you, the line and the fish once it takes the bait. Oh, and be sure to remember some tough leather gloves.
A simple weight and baited hook are typical, and short of dropping straight down, it’s perfect for trolling, jigging or drifting. Monofilament, twisted, and braided line all work well, depending on the conditions you're fishing in. Rigs might also include various spoons or the use of a float.
The spooling methods vary widely, from simple handheld wooden contraptions to custom aluminum spools to geared reels that mount onto a boat gunnel or ice house. In all cases it gives you a direct contact fight with the fish that is like no other, so give it a try!
Beyond the lines listed here are other niche specialty lines, so all in all, fishing line is a dizzying subject that varies madly depending upon the size of your prey and the conditions you’re in. It’s easy to find help at any bait store or online forums.
ONE IMPORTANT NOTE:
Please dispose of ALL used fishing line properly. You may not think that a small coiled up shank you cut loose will harm anything, but of course it can harm many aquatic creatures inadvertently.
Whether you are on the water or on the ice, be mindful of leaving any behind, and better yet - pay it forward by cleaning up any you find out there. It only creates headaches for other anglers, kills or maims aquatics, and lingers forever in the ecosystem. Ok, lecture over. NOW FISH ON!! -WR