Types of Fishing Lines - What fishing line should I use?
Fishing line 'connects' fish and fishermen and characteristics of fishing line often determine if fishing is successful or not!
Choosing proper fishing line for different fishing conditions, terrains, game fish etc. is thus very important.
Fishing line types vary according to their construction and material type, determining line's breaking strength, knot choice and strength, UV resistance, stretch of the line, castability, limpness, abrasion resistance and visibility in the air and in the water etc.
On this page:
For heavy deep trolling lines, please check Copper, Monel and Lead Core Fishing Lines article.
For table comparison of various fishing lines, please check Fishing Lines Thickness Ratios article.
Monofilament Fishing Line
Monofilament fishing line is type of fishing line made out of single fiber of plastic, most commonly nylon (group of synthetic polymers - aliphatic polyamides).
Nylon monofilament fishing lines are still most common fishing lines in use for several reasons:
- they are rather cheap to produce and price per foot/meter is very acceptable,
- have decent strength to thickness ratio,
- nylon density is around 1.15g/cm3, slightly denser than water (1g/cm3) - very similar density means that nylon monofilament line behaves almost neutrally in water, especially in sea water.
- they are produced in many colors, too: clear, green, white, blue, even fluorescent ... This way, it is relatively easy to present baited hook or lure to the fish without fishing line being too visible. However, line visibility is one of the nylon lines drawbacks.
- it is very easy to make strong knots using nylon fishing lines and most basic fishing/marine knots,
Of course, nylon monofilament fishing line has some drawbacks:
- light refraction factor of nylon differs significantly from water light refraction factor, making such lines easily visible, especially in clear water. During night and when fishing in murky and muddy waters, this disadvantages is not so important.
- abrasion resistance could be better - this is very important when wishing on rocky and similar terrains, where sharp objects can damage and even cut the line entirely. Also, some fish species with strong teeth can cut nylon monofilament lines easily.
- nylon monofilament lines have 'memory' - for example, when spooled on reels, they tend to 'spring' of the spools. This is especially noticeable on spinning reels.
- nylon monofilament lines don't like UV radiation too much. Many manufacturers claim that this is not big problem due to use of various protective coatings, but nonetheless, nylon lines don't last longer than few years when put to regular use - actually, a single season of good fishing is sometimes all that nylon fishing line can withstand.
- these lines absorb water, weakening the line over time. Low temperatures (freezing) can damage these lines even more, while high temperatures can soften them - both lead to weaker fishing lines.
Note: nylon monofilament fishing line has significant stretch - it stretches before it breaks. This is very important when fishing fish that are not aggressive feeders, since light bait bites can be unnoticed. However, due to this stretching, it is easier to land a larger game fish using mono lines and rods and reels - even if the reel's drag is set wrongly. And if you are trolling using handline, forget braided lines :)
Fluorocarbon Fishing Line
Fluorocarbon fishing line is type of monofilament fishing line made out of single fiber of polyvinylidene fluoride or polyvinylidene difluoride - PVDF or, for short 'fluorocarbon' - hence the name.
When compared with nylon monofilament fishing line, fluorocarbon monofilament fishing line has some pros and cons:
- fluorocarbon is much denser than water and nylon. It's density is around 1.78g/cm3 - density somewhat depends on manufacturing process, extra coating and similar. In water, it sinks faster than nylon monofilament, which is very important in many situations.
- light refraction factor of fluorocarbon is very similar to the water light refraction factor, making these lines almost invisible in the water. This is the main advantage of the fluorocarbon lines - this enables fishermen to successfully 'serve' a bait/lure even to the most wary fish and land the fish.
- these lines are more abrasion resistant than nylon mono lines. Since they are also UV more resistant, this all leads to stronger fishing line with longer lifespan. Most of the people don't realize this, but during the fishing day, nylon monofilaments can absorb plenty of water. Add to this UV rays, abrasion damage, heat, cold etc. and you will soon have to change nylon mono due to it's lost strength.
- fluorocarbon lines don't stretch as much as nylon lines do. This makes the rigs much more sensitive, even to the smallest bites. However, if you have fluorocarbon spooled on the reel, be sure to set reel's drag very low, otherwise strong fish can break the line with the very first strike.
- fluorocarbon lines are generally stronger than nylon mono lines. However, strength and stretch vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so be sure to read the labels. especially regarding test strength and diameter.
- fluorocarbon mono lines resist twist even more than nylon monofilament lines, leading to difficulties when using and managing them on spinning reels, especially thicker lines. So, when using fluoro lines on spinning reels, be sure to use good swivels, too! On baitcasting reels, this stiffness is not a such problem.
On the other hand, fluorocarbon fishing line is more expensive than regular mono lines and many people use it as a 'line leader' - between main line and hooks/lures. Higher price of fluorocarbon lines are due to different manufacturing process, not because of their added 'fishing value'.
Also, due to its harder surface and stiffness, fluorocarbon line knots must be tied very carefully or knots can slip or even break easily. To avoid knot slippage, some fishermen add a drop of superglue, just before final tightening of the knot. IMHO, choose and tie your knots carefully, regardless of fishing line material.
Braided Fishing Line
Braided fishing line is made up of many thin fibers woven into a very strong fishing line. Fibers used for such lines are mostly made from ultra-high-molecular-weight (UHMW) polyethylene or polyethylene terephthalate (PET). These materials are often referred to by the brand names like Dacron, Terylene, Lavsan, Spectra, Dyneema etc.
When compared with other fishing line types, braided fishing lines have their pros and cons:
- braided lines often have 1/3 to 1/4 the diameter of mono or fluorocarbon lines at a given test breaking strength. So, it is easy to fit much more braided line on a spool than mono or fluoro line for the same strength. This is very important for deep sea fishing, since reels don't have to be very big to accommodate long lines. Also, thin braided lines provide less resistance to sea currents.
- braided lines have no stretch - they are like cable wires. This makes fishing rigs very sensitive to fish bites - very important for deep sea fishing and for fish that are very gentle with the bait when feeding. Due to lack of stretch, be sure to set the drag on reels on very low values. Hard hitting fish can break braided line with very first bite - similar to fluorocarbon lines, just the braids are even more sensitive to this.
- braided lines are very abrasion resistant, some manufacturers claim up to 15x (yes, fifteen times) the abrasion resistance of steel wire! This is very, but really very important when fishing on rocky terrains and where there are various sharp objects that can snap nylon line easily. Also, fish with sharp teeth will have problems cutting braided lines.
- visibility of the braided lines - they are highly visible in the water, much more visible then nylon lines and comparing them with fluorocarbon lines almost have no sense :)
- price - braided lines are much more expensive than nylon mono lines, but their price depends on many factors, so they can be found in the range of fluorocarbon lines.
- braided lines are very flexible and easy to cast far away. Since they usually float, they are common choice for topwater rigs - due to its high visibility, it is recommended to use high quality fluorocarbon line as the leader line between lure/bait and main line.
Unfortunately, braided lines are very hard to knot properly due to slippage of the line. When used on reels, thin lines have tendency to dig into themselves on the spools, leading to various handling issues. Obviously, there is no such thing as a perfect fishing line :)
Fishing Knots for Braided Fishing Line
Due to its flexibility, lack of stretch and most important, slippery surface, braided lines are hard to knot properly.
There are several knots that can be used with braided lines:
- Palomar Knot
- Berkley Braid Knot
- San Diego Jam Knot
- Trilene Knot
- Albright Knot
- Nail Knot
- Uni Knot
- Double Surgeon Knot
- Slim Beauty
NOT recommended: Blood Knot.
Steel Fishing Line - Wire
Steel wire is rarely used as main fishing line, at least in recreational fishing. But, for fishing on sharks and similar big game fish with sharp teeth and strong jaws, steel wire leader is irreplaceable. Also, when fishing on extreme terrain, with plenty of sharp rocks and similar objects, steel wire leaders are better even then braided lines, regardless what braided lines manufacturers claim :)
Steel wire line leaders come with few pros and cons:
- bite protection - it is extremely hard for fish to cut the steel wire, regardless of jaw and teeth strength and sharpness,
- abrasion resistance - sharp rocks and objects can damage other lines, while steel wire can cut through most of the materials,
- single wire (single strand) leaders are not as flexible as one would desire, but are extremely strong and tough,
- multi strand steel wire leaders are very flexible, but are somewhat more abrasive and prone to damage than single strand wires,
- nylon and other coatings prolong wire life and decrease multi strand abrasiveness - don't, but really don't ever pull multi-strand wire under tension over the edge of wooden, plastic or aluminum boat! Such coating also decreases visibility of the wire line.
Steel wire can be bought in bulk and line leaders can be made using various tools (crimping pliers/swagers or general purpose tools), wire crimp sleeves and swivels. However, for most people, off-the-shelf wire leaders with or without built in swivels are the best choice.
Titanium Fishing Wire
Titanium is glossy silverish metal with moderate density of 4.5 g/cm3. It has high tensile strength (especially when total weight is taken into account), high corrosion resistance even in seawater, high fatigue and crack resistance etc. All these features make titanium very attractive material for various marine applications, fishing included. One of the rare issues with titanium is its - price!
Titanium fishing lines are actually titanium-nickel alloys that have some very interesting features:
- titanium leader lines are very flexible, regardless if they are single or multi strand lines/wires,
- these lines are very elastic - they can stretch up to 10% without permanent damage to the line itself - perfect for hook setting,
- these lines are knottable just as nylon monofilament lines,
- surface is rather hard and abrasion resistant - great for fishing toothy fish,
- titanium wire is corrosion resistant and can last for a long time, even surpassing stainless steel wires,
- due to its strength and elasticity, wires are almost entirely kink-proof.
As said before, the only 'bad' thing about these leader lines are their price - titanium wire leaders are probably the most expensive leader lines available.
Few more notes about titanium wires: when using them as 'ordinary' mono lines, feel free to use Clinch or Albright knots, although other knots can be used as well - Figure 8 knot, Surgeon's knot, Loop to loop, Snell to hooks etc. Titanium knots are not as pretty as nylon knots, but they hold very well - when tightening them, be sure to stop pulling the line when you feel that line is starting to stretch.
Most of the lines that come on the market come with non-reflective black, dark gray or some similar color. Such colors make these lines hard to detect by the fish, but these lines are not invisible as fluorocarbon lines, no matter what their manufacturers claim.
Honestly - do you really think that speeding barracuda will abort attack at the last moment, when it notices the 70 pounds (around 32kg), 0.020 inch (around 0.51mm) leader line? Well, I doubt that it will notice it at all :)
BTW, similar 70 pounds monel line is usually around 0.035 inch (almost 0.9mm) in diameter - still very thin, but much thicker than titanium line and - cheaper!
Ice Fishing Line vs Regular Line
Ice fishing can be great adventure and quite successful fishing - if you have the right equipment. One of the important details is good fishing lines for such extreme conditions.
When the lines are in the water, almost no big deal - liquid sea water can be around 0°C (32°F) or little lower - such temperature is not a problem even for summer lines, since they will not become too brittle and inflexible in such cold water.
However, when such lines are wet and spooled on the reels, ice crystals can form between line windings and can damage the line. Also, some nylon monofilaments can absorb 'plenty' of water/moisture and when such moisture freezes, it can damage the line from within.
Although for some companies ice lines are just a sales pitch, good ice line can make a big difference when fishing in extreme conditions. Few pros and cons of such lines:
- to protect the line from abrasion (ice, remember?) ice lines usually have additional coating. Such coating also protects water from entering between strands of braided lines.
- ice lines are usually more expensive than ordinary lines and often have somewhat larger diameter than ordinary lines for the same test weight.
- they remain flexible even under very low temperatures.
Are ice fishing lines really worth it? Well, good fluorocarbon fishing line is good choice for the main line when ice fishing in not too extreme conditions - they don't absorb water, they are very abrasion resistant and they behave well in low temperatures. On the other hand, if you plan on fishing on North Pole or something similar, you will need to think twice about your fishing lines :o)
What Type of Fishing Line to Use
Every fishing opportunity, location and technique have specific challenges. It is not easy to universally determine what type of fishing line to use in which situation, so use these information as general guidelines - imagine discussion of a dozen or so veterans on this topic... :). Here are few tips:
- Trolling - monofilament, regardless if you are using rods and reels or you are handline trolling. In fact, if you are handline trolling, forget any other line type. As a line leader, use good, high quality, relatively expensive, fluorocarbon fishing line. For deep sea trolling good copper or monel lines are the best choice for main line, with titanium or stainless steel wire as leader line if there are toothy fish around.
- Rock fishing and fishing around underwater structures, on rough bottoms or bottoms covered with thick vegetation - braided fishing lines due to their abrasion resistance. Also, use good fluorocarbon leader - during night, during periods of low visibility, in murky waters, if vegetation is dense, etc. feel free to use braids even for leader lines. Abrasion resistance will prevent line from being cut on sharp objects, while vegetation will be simply cut by the thin, braided line.
- surf and shore fishing requiring long casting - braids. Braided lines casts far away easily. If you have good rod, reel and good casting technique, feel free to use mono lines on sandy and similar, low abrasion terrains. Again, use fluoro lines for leader lines.
- big game fishing on 'toothy' species - steel wire leaders. Main lines depend on terrain, but goon nylon main line is acceptable. If braided line is used for the main line, be sure to use good, not too stiff, fishing rod. Elasticity of titanium leader line can help if you use braided main line.
These examples can fill a book - it is rare to use a fluorocarbon line as a main line, but due to its density and sinking rate, some people use it for fishing without fishing weights (or with minimum of weights) below surface, using line weight to position the bait in water column. When fishing with copper and monel lines, even without weights, hook with bait (or lure) sinks even quicker.
However, in most situations, nylon monofilament or braided lines are used as the main line, just take into account their pros and cons before choosing one of them.
Note: most people I know, have reels spooled with both mono and braided lines and use them depending on the situation.