A Line on Lines
By: Tim Allard
Stumped on whether to use mono, fluorocarbon, or superline? Read on for the straight goods
The best type of line is the one with a fighting fish on the end of it. This aside, there are plenty of choices out there. Talking about line in isolation is tricky, as it's but one component to consider in your rod, reel, and lure system. This rundown offers some advice on when to use different types of line.
Nylon-Based Lines (Monofilament and Copolymer)
Lines made of nylon have been around for decades. They're relatively inexpensive, fairly sensitive, handle well, and can be used for a variety of fishing applications. These characteristics plus great overall fishability and a low price make these lines a great all-round choice.
One characteristic of these lines is they stretch slightly under stress. This equates to shock absorption on the initial strike and during the fight. For this reason, many anglers favour these lines for horizontal presentations, from casting spinnerbaits for bass to trolling crankbaits for walleye. Some anglers I know even prefer monofilament's spongy quality for multi-species jig fishing. It might sound counterproductive, but they find the line's stretch gives them the right balance between their reaction time and hook-setting power.
These lines also float, making them the best choice for surface lures. Nylon-based lines are also quite limp, although over time they will conform to the spoon's diameter and coil up (called “memory”). This, combined with the fact that exposure to UV rays weakens the line, means you will likely need to spool up with fresh mono a few times over the season.
Fluorocarbon has attracted a mass of followers in recent years because of its advantageous properties and increase in availability and affordability.
One of fluoro's benefits is that its refractive index is similar to water. This makes the line virtually undetectable when submerged, a big advantage when angling in clear water. For this reason alone, anglers are embracing fluoro for finesse presentations like drop-shot and split-shot rigs, as well as various power-fishing applications like flipping bass jigs.
Fluoro is also stiffer and doesn't stretch as much as nylon lines and is extremely sensitive. This doesn't just apply to taught line. Fluorocarbon's stiffness makes it excellent at transmitting vibrations when there's a bow in the line, semi-taught, which typically occurs during the drop of a bait. In these conditions a strike often causes “line jump” and you to feel the hit in the rod blank, alerting you to set the hook. Note: mono does this as well, but it's stretch can dampen slack-line strike signals. Subtle bite signals are stronger with stiffer fluorocarbon. For this reason, it's a great choice for fishing light plastics and small jigs.
Fluorocarbon's stiffness does present a challenge, its tendency when loose to uncoil from a spinning reel's spool. Today's lines have improved from earlier generations, but it's still something to take into account. Combat this by not filling up a spinning spool with as much fluorocarbon as you would mono and by using a larger-capacity spool. Another plus of fluorocarbon line is it sinks, unlike mono. Many anglers take advantage of this to get jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits to run deeper.
Fluoro is also extremely abrasion resistant and tough. It's an excellent option when fishing around rocks and wood. It also has increased resistance to UV rays and chemicals, so depending on your fishing frequency, fishing the entire season with the same spool is possible. This is a bonus, as fluorocarbon can cost up to twice as much as a spool of mono of the same strength.
Superline is a term used to describe braided and fused lines. These are tough, thin-diameter lines with incredible strength with little stretch. To give some context, a superline may deliver a breaking strength of 15-pound test with a diameter akin to 4-pound-test monofilament. These traits give anglers incredible tight-line feel and excellent hook-setting power. The strength of these lines makes them a great option for close-quarter fishing such as flipping heavy cover when you need to quickly muscle a fish away from hazards. The same principle applies for using topwater frogs over thick surface weeds like a lily-pad bay.
Pike and muskie anglers use superlines for most applications. Being able to have a strong, low-stretch line helps ensure quality hook sets in these fishes' boney mouths. Plus, the line has the gusto to quickly subdue muskie to within netting range.
Its thin-diameter also makes it a great choice when fishing around weeds. On a snap, it will slice through vegetation, helping clean off baits and quickly pull them out of hang-ups. It's perfect for rip-jigging bucktails.
Superlines do tend to absorb water, which can make for wet, chilly hands when cold-water casting and guide freeze-up in extreme weather. These lines are also quite visible and don't blend in like mono or fluoro. Some anglers avoid superline in clear water, afraid it might reduce bites from line-shy fish. These concerns are less of an issue when fishing in weeds or in stained or muddy water. Its price is comparable to fluorocarbon, but superline can last you for several seasons.
Myself and many anglers I know tie on a fluorocarbon leader to superline, connecting the two with back-to-back uni-knots (be sure to wet line before tightening) or with a micro swivel. It's a great set-up for vertical jigging or dragging tubes, as it delivers the tight-line sensitivity of superline with an undetectable lead. The above offers a general overview and a starting point for which lines are best suited for certain applications. Ultimately, each line has pros and cons that must be considered as part of your overall set-up. Experiment with different types of lines to determine which are best for you.