No matter what type of fishing you do, each technique has common elements. One of these is the line. You need some kind of line connected to your hook and bait so that you can reel in your catch. But not all lines are the same! There are many different materials that lines can be made from, each with strengths, weaknesses and ideal fishing scenarios.
Some fishing techniques, like fly fishing, require certain types of line that other techniques do not. So when you go to the store for fishing line, how do you know what kind you need? This guide will help you figure that out. We’ll go over the different types of line and line materials, as well as what fishing scenarios call for them.
Fishing Line Characteristics
Before we talk about different types of fishing lines and line materials, we should discuss the characteristics that all lines have. Each type of line has different characteristics that help anglers choose the best type of line for their situation.
Line memory develops when the line sits on a spool and takes on a curved, curly shape. Line with a lot of memory tends to kink or knot as you reel in. It also interferes with your presentation and makes it harder to cast long distances
Fortunately, there are ways to combat line memory. More expensive, higher quality line has less memory than cheaper monofilament, so buying a higher quality line is one option. You can also stretch your line, which works best if you’re spin fishing or trolling– in that case, you can attach a heavy lure and just drag your line behind the boat.
Dipping your reel in almost-boiling water can help relax the line, and there are line relaxer sprays on the market. Also, be sure to store your line in climate-controlled settings. Your garage or shed are less insulated against temperature changes in summer and in winter, and excessive heat or cold can create curls in your line.
A final note on memory: If you leave the same fishing line on your reel for years, you will have significant problems with line memory. To avoid this, make sure to replace your line frequently. (Note: If you are a fly fisher, memory can occur in your backing, fly line or leader and tippet.) Once or twice a year, change out your reel and spool it with new line. This will drastically decrease your issues with line memory.
Stretch refers to how far the line stretches when pulled by a fish. Depending on the scenario, you might want a line with a lot of stretch or a line with very little. A stretchy line keeps tension better as you fight a fish; there’s more give to it and it is less likely to snap. Stretchy line also makes it easier to land big, strong fish with a lot of fight in them; it absorbs a lot of the energy from big head shakes or powerful runs. However, a line with high stretch is less precise and you get less feedback. It also makes setting the hook tougher, so if you’re fly fishing on small water for smaller fish, for example, you will probably prefer to use line with less stretch.
Monofilament line is known for being fairly stretchy. Fluorocarbon line is often considered less stretchy than monofilament, but that isn’t exactly true. Fluorocarbon is actually stretchier than nylon monofilament, according to its manufacturers; it’s just that it takes more force to get that stretch going. This means that fluorocarbon line might be just what you want if you’re going after big, strong gamefish.
There are a few different aspects of line strength, but the two that are most important are test strength and shock strength.
Test strength refers to the fishing line’s strength in terms of pounds. This is defined as the most weight that a particular line can hold before breaking. For example, if a fishing line is labeled as 20 lb test, then this means that the fishing can hold up to 20 lbs without breaking. This is measurable and will be part of the line’s labeling. The line’s material doesn’t have much of an impact on whether or not a certain test strength is available; you can get all kinds of different test strengths across different types of fishing line.
Shock strength is more difficult to quantify. Shock strength, sometimes known as impact strength, is related to stretch, along with other aspects of your line such as density, whether or not it’s braided, and material strength. High shock strength means that your line is less likely to snap in response to sudden pressure. It is harder to measure since it depends on the line’s condition and so many other factors. Typically, braided line has the highest shock strength.
Fishing lines with high abrasion resistance will perform better in rocky waters or water with a lot of debris and obstacles. If you’ve ever been cut off by rocks while fishing, you needed to choose a line with higher abrasion resistance. All modern lines are relatively abrasion resistant, but the higher-end materials withstand scratches better.
Typically, when comparing lines of equivalent diameter, fluorocarbon is the most abrasion-resistant due to its density. However, new materials such as Trilene monofilament or fused 8-strand braided lines, are also extremely resistant to breakage by abrasion.
Some line sinks, and some line floats. Whether or not it does this depends on its buoyancy. As with all of the other line characteristics, whether or not you want a buoyant line is highly situational. Line that is more buoyant floats, and floating line is great for topwater fishing. Sinking line stays taught in the water, giving you more precision and depth.
Depending on the weight and density of the line, some sinking lines will put your lure a few inches below the water; others will combine with the weight of the lure to or bait to sink 40 feet or more. Also, realize that line buoyancy is a spectrum. It’s not a binary condition where either your line floats or it sinks to the bottom immediately. You can also come across intermediate lines, which are slow sinking lines that take the lure down gradually deeper, or even fancy sinking tip lines.
Sinking tip lines are usually fly lines, and with these lines, the main section of the line floats however the tip of the line sinks. This is useful to get your fly down a little deeper but without the fly sinking to the bottom. Consider where your target fish are feeding to choose whether or not you want a floating line.
As a general rule of thumb, braided lines and monofilament lines tend to sink slower than fluorocarbon. This means that fly fisherman while nymphing will likely prefer fluorocarbon, but may elect for monofilament while dry fly fishing.
If a fish sees your line, it can get spooked, which means it will not bite. To avoid this, simply use low-visibility lines in clear water. You can also use colored lines to match the depth and shade of water you’re fishing. For more confident fish, like oceanic game fish, line visibility doesn’t matter much to them, so other considerations are more important.
It’s important to note for visibility that as you go deeper in the water column, the light changes. And, the color changes the deeper you are in the water column. At a depth of 10 feet, about 60% of light is reflected or absorbed by the water. At 33 feet, almost 85% of total light is reflected or absorbed. The deeper you go, the only wavelengths of light that can penetrate are deep blacks, grays, and blues. This means that colors like orange, yellows, and reds are going to look gray because the shorter wavelengths can’t penetrate. As such, the deeper you go, the less visible your line’s going to be. Line thickness also plays a role in visibility, so lighter lines are thinner, and more expensive lines often have more strength with less width. This is worth noting.
Types of Line
Now that you’re familiar with the various characteristics of fishing line, let’s look at line types. There are four main types of line, along with some specialty lines that you may come across.
Most fishing line is monofilament line. Often referred to as just “mono,” its popularity spans all types of fishing. Mono comes in a variety of strengths and colors and is less expensive than other lines. It is abrasion-resistant and has a lot of stretch to absorb shocks. While you can get mono-line in all kinds of shades, clear and blue are very popular because they disappear underwater.
Mono does tend to pick up memory and get tangled on the reel, but it’s cheap enough that you can easily replace it a few times a year and not have to worry about memory. Mono is also not as strong as braid or fluorocarbon for its diameter, so higher test strength mono takes up more space on a spool. Nylon can also be damaged by heat or UV exposure, which is another reason to switch it out annually.
Fluorocarbon line is a high-end line that is an excellent type of line to use if you know what you’re doing with it. Fluorocarbon tends to have high line memory and can be challenging to tie due to its ovoid profile– but if you know how to work with it, it’s an incredible line to use. It’s practically invisible underwater and is incredibly strong and resistant to abrasion. It has a high shock strength without loss of precision or feedback, which is part of what makes it so desirable. Fluorocarbon is often used in nymphing by fly fisherman as well due to its ability to sink well, and have high strength at very small diameters.
Copolymer is essentially an improved monofilament line that uses two types of nylon instead of one for different characteristics. It has less stretch than mono but maintains high shock strength and has better abrasion resistance. It is not as buoyant unless you buy copolymer line that is manufactured specifically to float. Copolymer lines are still made of nylon, so they are susceptible to UV and heat damage, but they do not develop memory like monofilament line does.
Braided line is made by weaving together several strands of tough plastic to produce a super-thin, super-tough line. Braid is made with anywhere from four to 16 strands. Fewer strands mean more abrasion resistance, while higher-strand braid is thinner. Braid is built to last and is extremely tough. It has neither memory nor stretch, which gives you exacting precision. The downside is that braid has lower shock strength and higher visibility underwater. But if you’re in low-visibility water or you need precision, braid is the line you want.
Wire line is typically used as a leader when you’re angling for fish with big, sharp teeth. These include fish like sharks, mackerel, and tuna. Wire comes in single-strand and braided varieties. Wire also is popular for some types of trolling where reaching deep depths is important. This requires special hardened spools for the reels that can stand up to the abrasive nature of a metal line. It is unusual to see wire line used in freshwater fishing, as few freshwater fish require the depth of wire or the strength of wire.
It may also be used at the end of the line to have an abrasion resistant section of line specifically for protecting against teeth abrasion.
Lead Core, or Copper, Line
This line is used for trolling from a boat. The line itself is heavily weighted to help the line sink in order to keep the lures/bait at the proper depths while trolling.
Fly Fishing Line
Fly fishing line is totally unlike the other types of lines. Fly line comes in particular weights. These don’t reference the test strength, but instead the heaviness of the line, which needs to match up with the
With spin fishing, the lure creates weight for anglers to cast, but with fly fishing, it is the fly line’s weight that allows the angler to cast.
Fly Line Backing
Fly line backing moves us into more familiar territory. Fly line backing behaves more like traditional fishing line than fly line does. In fact, you can even use those other line types as backing if you don’t have any designated purpose backing in your tackle box! Fly line backing is basically extra line that attaches to fly reel, and then to fly line so that fly fishing anglers have additional line to fight fish that have some serious fights.
Line Characteristic Chart
|Fly Line Backing
*As a reminder, fluorocarbon requires a ton of force to get it to stretch. Once it does stretch, it is responsive and flexible, but most fish of the appropriate weight for its test strength won’t be able to apply the force needed to stretch it.
Combining Line Types: When To Use A Leader
Some fishing setups are most successful when you use a different type of line as a leader (or the same type with different characteristics). Leaders aren’t just used in fly fishing, although they are always used in fly fishing. They have applications in saltwater fishing, spin fishing, and other types of fishing as well! A leader is simply an additional piece of line attached to your lure on one end and the rest of your line on the other. Leaders can help your line sink or can protect the line from breaking.
Here are some scenarios where a leader is an ideal part of your fishing rig:
- When fishing for toothy ocean fish like tuna, add a wire leader to your regular line so the fish can’t bite the lure off.
- When fishing for species that can spook easy like trout, add a fluorocarbon leader to make your line more difficult for the fish to see.
- Certain bass rigs, like the Carolina or Texas rig, require leaders.
- When using a braided line, you can add a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader to add additional stretch and shock strength and make the line less likely to snap.
- If you’re in a scenario where you’ll be changing hooks or lures often, using a leader makes it easier to switch between these.
- Using a leader of a lower weight can allow anglers to have a line that breaks at the joint of the heavier line, and the lighter leader to minimize the amount of line that breaks in case of a tangle, or debris that causes a break.
Ultimately, the type of fishing line you use is highly situational. It never hurts to try out different types of lines and see what works best for the type of fishing you want to do!
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about