Fishing Line Choices
Written by Capt. Gregory Houtteman   
Wednesday, 28 February 2007 18:25

Early “fishing line” that could be even referred to as line was often made from silk or horse hair, with leaders made typically from sheep or goat intestines.  As the second industrial revolution began in the early 1850s, mass manufactured fishing line was born.  This early line was fashioned from linen and silk predominantly, sometimes combined with a waterproofing additive.  Less frequently cotton or flax would be used.  Luckily the development of fishing lines did not stop here.

In 1938 DuPont announced that they had invented nylon and with this invention the real beginning of what many consider modern fishing line had begun.  Braided Dacron, a polyester fiber, had preceded the invention of nylon and would remain more popular for a couple decades.  This would all change with the introduction by DuPont of Gray Stren in 1958 and fishing line would never be the same.

Line Types

For the purpose of this discussion we are going to talk about 4 major types of polymer-based lines and leave wire, leadcore, and copper for another time.

  • Monofilament   
  • Copolymer   
  • Fluorocarbon   
  • Braid

Basically this family of lines is based on the original 1958 technology of creating a polymer thread that was the basis for the Stren monofilament (literally meaning single fiber).  All of these lines are based on this technological foundation:

Copolymer – a monofilament strand sheathed inside or chemically bonded to another.

Fluorocarbon – a chemically different monofilament but still technically a monofilament.

Braid – Multiple micro threads made from Spectra, Kevlar, or Dyneema fiber and woven together.

Every manufacturer has a different approach or in many cases a bunch of approaches to satisfy certain applications.  Whether a line is designed for better abrasion resistance, smaller diameter, improved strength, increased flexibility or any combination of these attributes, it is a complex decision to choose one from the other.   In reality there is no single choice that can satisfy all of the needs a salmon, trout, or walleye angler has while trolling the big lake.  If you went from boat to boat you would find a unique mix of line combinations and as an angler you need to find the mix that works best for you.

Evaluating Lines

Attending a seminar many years ago, the evaluation of fishing line was one of the hour long sessions during the day.  The session evaluated fishing line by ranking the four line types, scoring was in a number of categories with the winners being listed:

  • Cost - Monofilament
  • Abrasion - Fluorocarbon
  • Diameter - Braid
  • Flexibility - Braid
  • Stretch - Braid
  • Aging - Braid and Fluorocarbon
  • Water Absorption - Braid and Fluorocarbon

Monofilament offers the best cost to performance ratio of any of the lines because it is the least expensive to manufacture.  When choosing a monofilament stay away from the “cheap” monofilaments; spend a little extra money on a premium line to get a great performer.  Premium monofilaments have better quality control. Consistency in diameter and breaking strength are important aspects of this quality.  With many premium lines a variety of additives are introduced to produce better strength, thinner diameters, better knot strength, enhanced UV protection, and improved abrasion resistance.

Braided lines became popular in the 1990s as the manufacturing process was refined to produce a great class of lines that was somewhat affordable although still comparatively expensive.  Braids, often referred to as superline or microfilament, are truly space aged and are made of micro-threads that are literally braided together to make a very thin but extremely strong line.  Braid offers little to no stretch, offering amazing sensitivity and positive hook sets,.  With their small diameter, braids are often used as backings by many big lake anglers because increased amounts of line can be spooled on to smaller reels.

Fluorocarbon line is unique because of its visibility in the water. Scientifically, fluorocarbon fishing lines have the same refractive qualities as water so they are virtually invisible.  Fluorocarbon also gets high marks for durability as it is unaffected by foreign substances such as DEET, is highly abrasion resistant, and does not absorb water.  The use of fluorocarbon was pioneered by Japanese bass anglers who needed a stealthy approach to catch their target species in very clear waters.

Copolymers are a class of fishing lines that encompass a wide range of specific line types.  Copolymers might be a combination on nylon monofilament inside a fluorocarbon sheath, or it may include a combination of different nylons chemically bonded to produce thinner and stronger lines.  These lines were developed to strike a balance, or bridge gaps between the single polymer lines such as monofilament, braid, and fluorocarbon.  For example, a monofilament fluorocarbon hybrid may produce a highly abrasion resistant stealthy line that has a bit more stretch and knot strength then straight fluorocarbon.

What line?  When? Why?

This is the hardest part of the evaluation process because it is completely subjective as to why someone uses a certain line for a certain application.  Valid arguments can be made to support almost any position when it comes to fishing lines.   In the end it is a series of trade-offs and compromises to decide for each situation.

Let’s look at a simple case. Which line should be used as the main line for downrigger rods?  Strong arguments can be made for both monofilament and braid and you will begin to see the complexity of even a seemingly simple decision.

Angler A:  Monofilament is the only choice for downrigger rods because it offers a more forgiving alternative.  I have beginning anglers on board quite often and the stretch of mono can make up for a novice mistake or two.  Being less expensive and a larger diameter I can more easily fill the reel to the maximum diameter for better line retrieval rate.  The diameter also helps when using it with downrigger releases and generates less false releases.

Angler B:  Braid is the only choice for downrigger rods because it is less affected by blowback due to its smaller diameter and gives a great positive hook set.  Because of the smaller diameter I can also get more line on a reel, which  gives me a larger safety margin for a running fish.  Because it is more durable I don’t have to put new line on my reels as often offsetting some of the cost associated with braid.

This is simply an example of two positions taken from different angles advocating competing line technologies and both appear to make sense.  When determining what lines to use for your personal style and budget do your research by checking out product descriptions, after that do some Google research on those products that seem interesting, and finally talk to your friends.

Ok. Since you’ve asked.

For downrigger rods I like a high quality clear 20# monofilament for most of the year and may bulk up to 25# clear for fall fishing.  I have run everything from 12# to 30# monofilament and have settled on 20#, but I know many anglers who swear by 12# to 15# and believe it increase their catches.

For Dipsey Divers I like a 50# braid, wire too but that’s for another time, because it gives the best blend of strength and diameter to get my diver down with minimal water resistance.  I use a high visibility color for these rods…not for being able to track where it enters the water, but for visibility when fighting a fish. Since I’m running a diver and leader anyway, the main line color has little to no effect.

For Slide Divers I prefer a high quality clear 25# monofilament because it works great in the clamp and has a decent amount of stretch.  Stretch is important for slide divers because you’re not running a snubber so the monofilament acts as its own shock leader. I rarely use this line for anything deep so the stretch never gets to the point where I can’t pop the diver for retrieval.

For backing on leadcore and copper, I prefer to run a high visibility monofilament in the 25# to 30# class.  I use high capacity reels and I’ve yet to be spooled and since I strip and change these reels quite often, I don’t incur the expense of running braid.  I know plenty of people that use braid or braided-Dacron for backing for cores and copper and segment a piece of monofilament in between for placement of the inline planer board and it gives you a lot more backing capacity.

For leaders I use multiple test strengths of a copolymer, monofilament covered in a sheath of fluorocarbon, which offers a great blend of low visibility, abrasion resistance, and pliability.

These are just the choices that we have made and what we have found works for us. With those choices, we have had an excellent landing percentage and overall catch rate.  However, I fish on a bunch of different boats during the year that are equally productive and have a totally different mix of line types.  With that all being said, it is still important to experiment with different lines during the season and keep abreast of what is on the market. 

Remember you can always ask for advice on the Educated Angler!

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