Fishing Line

You have more choices in fishing line than you may think. Not only are there dozens of brands within types of line, but now there are many different types of lines. First, let's talk about properties of lines, then we'll get to types and brands.

Properties of Fishing Lines

  1. Stretch. Whether or not a line stretches is not a quality issue, but it is very important to know. Suppose you are used to fishing with monofilament ("regular" fishing line), which stretches quite a bit, and you switch to a superline (like Spiderline), which has no stretch at all. When you set the hook with mono-, you need to exert quite a bit of pressure; however, if you use the same amount of "jerk" for setting the hook with Spiderline, you can literally pull the fish's lips off.
  2. Memory. Memory describes how well a line retains its shape. A line that comes off the reel curly is said to have memory; one that comes off a reel straight is said to have low memory. Low memory is typically more desirable.

  3. Limpness. Limpness describes whether a line is limp or stiff. This often goes hand-in-hand with memory: limp lines typically have low memory and vice versa.

  4. Color. From old-fashioned clear to brown, green, even glow-in-the-dark, colors are now available for any possible fishing application. I don't really know how much difference it makes for most people, but I generally choose a color that will serve me best in most situations. Typically that has been green, because northern and walleye habitat where I am used to fishing is generally green water. If you fish for catfish at night, you might want a photochromic, high-visibility line. For most applications, clear is fine. From what I'm told, brown (or root beer) is a good all-around color, disappearing in differently-colored waters.

  5. Refractive index. Refractive index describes how light transmits through a line. This is important for some types of fishing. When you want the line to be as invisible as possible, you need a line with the same refractive index as water. This is generally only mentioned with fluorocarbon lines.

  6. Abrasion resistance. This can be important when fishing around structure (logs, rock piles, etc.). Abrasion can weaken your line by causing tiny nicks, weak points where the line is more likely to break under stress from a fish.

  7. Test strength. Line is available from 2-lb test to hundreds of pounds. Your reel should have printed on it the weights of line that are recommended for use with it; most average-sized spinning reels might range from 6 to 12 pound test. I'll talk about choices of weights in each line type below.

Types of Line

There are several types of fishing line:

  1. Monofilament. This is the sort of line with which most people fish. It usually comes in 400 yard spools. It is susceptible to breakdown when exposed to light, so you should always store the unused portion in a dark place. Also, change line fairly frequently. When I was fishing a great deal (4-5 nights a week), I was changing my line every couple of weeks. If you fish on weekends, you can probably get through a summer without changing line. However, if you start getting breakage or bad tangles, change your line. You'll be glad you did.

  2. There are several (dozens) of brands of monofilament. I have had the best luck with Berkley Trilene. It comes in three flavors: XL, XT, and premium strength, pretty much in order of strength. XL is extra limp, with the least memory for the farthest casting. It is best when fishing from a boat in open water, away from snags and obstacles. XT is extra tough, designed to be used around obstacles. This line is stiffer and has more memory, but is less susceptible to abrasion. Premium Strength is the shit. It is extremely tough. It is also more expensive, costing the same for 275 yards as XL/XT do for 400 yards. Right now I have 12 pound premium strength on my baitcaster, and 14 pound XT that's going on it before next season.

    If you are fishing for toothy critters (northerns or walleyes) with monofilament and no wire leader, I recommend Tournament Strength of at least 10 pound test. These fish have very sharp teeth that will cost you more lures than you want to lose. For most other applications of freshwater game fish, unless you are fishing in a lake with barbed wire, jagged rocks, etc., 8-pound XT should treat you just fine.

  3. Fluorocarbon. This line used to be used as leader material only because it was very stiff. However, it has the exact same refractive index as water and so is invisible under water, making it good leader material for spooky fish. This stuff is now available for use as a regular line. I haven't used it and I probably won't, since it's pretty pricy and I believe it is stiffer than monofilament.

  4. Superlines. There are dozens of superlines out there right now. Most are some sort of braided line, made of tiny braided fibers. They are extremely tough, have no memory, and are much stronger than mono- of the same diameter. So, if your reel calls for 12-pound test mono-, you can use superline of 30-pound test. They have the feel of dental floss and can be tough to get used to, but I like them for certain applications.

  5. These have their downsides. If they knot, you won't get it out (as you usually can with mono-, that's why I keep mono- on my baitcaster). They are expensive, $12-$20 for 150 yards. They are difficult to cut, requiring very sharp scissors or knife (typical fishing clippers won't do it).

    The upsides are they don't break. Northern and walleye teeth can't cut them (normally), so you don't have to use a wire leader. In fact, I have several ultralight Rapalas (a type of hard bait ) that are tied with PowerLine leaders. They last far longer than mono- because they aren't susceptible to UV breakdown.

    In my own fishing, I have a superline called PowerLine on my ultralight reel. It is 10-pound test, but has the diameter of 4-pound monofilament. Melissa's medium-action spinning rig has 20-pound PowerLine on it.

Final Words

There are other types of specialty lines, like lead-core lines for trolling, etc. However, these three are the ones you really need to know about. If you don't fish constantly, a monofilament like XL or XT is going to be just fine for you.

Fishing line is recyclable. Most sporting goods stores that sell lots of tackle have a recycling program through which they send the line back to Berkley, Stren, or another manufacturer. This keeps it out of landfills, dumps, and waterways, where fishing line can cause serious problems with wildlife, such as getting tangled in the line.

Finally, safety. Fishing line will shred your hands if you aren't careful. I have cut myself quite badly trying to pull baits free of snags on 12-pound test. Superlines are especially bad because they do not break or stretch, and so will cut you without much effort at all. If you are snagged, wrap a cloth (or a shirt, or a glove) around your hand, then wrap the line around your hand and pull. DO NOT JUST WRAP THE LINE AROUND YOUR HAND! Trust me on this! If you are using a fairly heavy (20-40 pound test) superline, you won't break the line off-your terminal tackle will fail first. If you are hopelessly snagged, just cut the line. I hate to do it too, but it's better than taking off a finger.

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