Fishing Line: How to Choose the Right Line for You

Published on 05/17/2023 · 18 min readHaving the right fishing line is crucial to a successful day of fishing! Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist breaks down how to choose the right line!
Danny Palmquist, Fishing Expert
By Fishing Expert Danny Palmquist

Photo by Pixabay

When researching fishing gear, there is plenty of information on the internet regarding rods, reels, and fishing lures. While those are all necessary categories, another crucial type of tackle often gets overlooked: the line. In this guide, I will lay out everything you need to know to find the perfect line for your conditions.

There is no better feeling as an angler than hooking into a big fish, fighting it back to the boat, and hoping it's your new personal best. On the other hand, there is no heartache like watching a good fish snap your line and swim off right before you can scoop them into your net. As a lifelong angler and Curated Expert, I have both landed and lost my share of good fish. The following is my attempt to help you achieve more of the former and less of the latter.

What to Consider When Purchasing Fishing Line

With so many options to choose from, it can be overwhelming to try and match your fishing line to your specific situation. Below I will outline the critical questions you must remember when selecting your line.

What Species Will You Be Fishing For?

The species you plan to fish for will be crucial when purchasing a fishing line. In this section, I will give you a general idea of the breaking strength or pound test needed when pursuing different species of fish.

For trout and panfish, using a 2-8lb test line will be light enough to make long casts, with the ultralight fishing lures popular for anglers of these species. When fishing bodies of water where you know there won't be much fish above 3/4oz, using a 2lb test line is a great way to present lighter baits and get more bites. For new anglers, I recommend starting with a 6-8lb line because it's more forgiving regarding knot strength.

For species like walleye and smallmouth bass, using a line with a breaking strength between 6-12lbs will allow anglers to set the hook with the most popular techniques. For finesse techniques like the drop shot, using a 6-10lb line will be virtually undetectable to unsuspecting fish. When using jigs and reaction baits, a 12lb test line will have the power to drive home the hook and will hold up against aggressive reaction strikes from hungry fish.

When fishing for largemouth bass, using an 8-17lb line will allow anglers to perform most of the popular techniques used for the species when using a spinning setup. When fishing weightless soft plastic lures, using line that's closer to an 8lb test will be the most effective. Line between 12-17lbs is ideal when fishing jigs and reaction baits.

Anglers pursuing northern pike and muskie will need a strong fishing line to contend with these toothy giants. For a main line, a 50-85lb braided line will offer anglers the power needed to fight these aggressive species. Since fluorocarbon line is abrasion resistant, using a 50-80lb fluoro leader will be less visible to fish and can withstand aggressive strikes from these toothy fish.

Catfish anglers will find that a 20lb monofilament line is effective in most situations. The stretch that comes with using monofilament is perfect for letting catfish get the whole bait in their mouth before feeling the line's resistance and swimming away freely. Since catfish aren't spooked by seeing your line, some catfish anglers will default to using a 50lb braided line with or without a monofilament leader. The stretch that comes from using a monofilament line will act as a shock leader to help while fighting aggressive catfish. Anglers using a slower, more moderate-action rod won't need to rely on the elasticity of monofilament as much as those with a faster-action fishing rod.

Breaking strength by species:

  • Trout, panfish: 2-8lb test
  • Walleye, smallmouth: 6-12lb test
  • Largemouth bass: 8-17lb test
  • Northern pike, muskie: 50-85lb braided line to 50-80lb fluoro leader

What Types of Water Will You Be Fishing?

Photo by Mount Polley

Not all waterways are created equal. For example, you will find shallow pools of crystal clear water in small mountain streams where native brook and brown trout will be plentiful. Being stealthy and creating delicate presentations under the water's surface will be essential in those situations. In other environments, anglers will need to be able to get their lures through tiny openings in matted grass. In these situations, a strong line is needed to get a good hookset, but amongst the weeds having an invisible line is less important. From here, I will offer some tips on matching your fishing line to the bodies of water you plan to frequent.

The fluorocarbon line will be nearly invisible underwater for those fishing in small, shallow streams. This is especially important when fishing for species like trout with notoriously good eyesight. Fluorocarbon line has minimal stretch, making it easy for anglers to get a quick hookset before the fish reels the resistance from your rod.

When fishing in small ponds, you will likely encounter a variety of small to medium-sized species of fish. Usually, you will find bluegill, pumpkinseed, crappie, bass, and sometimes trout and catfish. In these situations, a copolymer line will be the most versatile option. Copolymer line is sensitive enough to feel bites on a jig or soft plastic worm while maintaining enough stretch to keep aggressive catfish from shaking loose while fighting them back to the bank.

In larger lakes, it's more likely that you will encounter larger fish than you do in small ponds and streams. Because of this, it's important to be prepared with a strong line to set the hook and safely land some big fish. In these bodies of water, you must also make longer casts to the areas where fish are congregated. To contend with big fish and make strong hooksets from a distance, a braided line will hold up against aggressive fish and effectively transfer the rod's power directly to the hook.

What Techniques Do You Plan to Use?

Photo by Maël Balland

When new anglers need to figure out what types of lures or bait they want to use, I usually direct them to a monofilament or copolymer line for increased knot strength and versatility. These lines are usually very supple and easy to work with, allowing anglers to succeed using a wide assortment of lures.

Many anglers use a braided line to fill up most of their spool and then tie on a 3-6ft leader of a more invisible line. This is a very cost-effective option because you can simply replace the leader since a braided line has a long life span. It will allow you to experiment with different types of leader lines depending on the techniques you are looking to perform.

Line type by technique:

  • Bottom contact: Fluorocarbon
  • Moving baits: Monofilament, copolymer
  • Heavy cover: Braided line for grass, fluoro for hard structure
  • Natural baits: Monofilament, copolymer

Bottom Contact Lures

When fishing lures that rest on the bottom like jigs and soft plastic worms, anglers will need to be able to make a quick hookset as soon as they feel a bite. In these situations, a fluorocarbon line is the best place to start. Since fluorocarbon sinks, it allows your presentation to reach the bottom quickly. In addition, fluorocarbon is sensitive, so anglers can easily feel light bites, even when there is some slack in the line.

Moving Baits

When fishing with moving baits such as crankbaits, bladed jigs, and spinnerbaits, using a line that stretches like mono or copolymer will be ideal. First, a line that stretches will allow fish to get the whole lure in their mouth before the angler can set the hook. With lures that move quickly through the water, fish tend to lash out and aggressively attack the lure. Using mono or copolymer lines will act as a "cushion," keeping the line or rod from snapping.

Heavy Cover

When fishing through thick grass and weeds or hard structure like wood and docks, using a heavier line with less stretch will help anglers get fish back to the boat before they have the chance to retreat behind cover, making it harder for anglers to fight them. Using a 40-65lb braided line will allow anglers to get their presentation down under grass and lily pads and easily pull fish through the cover.

Tying your lure directly to the braided line in conditions with low visibility won't keep them from biting. In sparse cover, a fluorocarbon leader to the bait will help make your presentation less visible to fish. When fishing around hard structures like docks and laydowns, using a fluorocarbon line that won't fray when scraped on hard and rough surfaces will allow anglers to land for more.

Natural Baits

When fishing with live bait, fish tend to bite down longer, eliminating the need for a fast hookset and line with no stretch. A monofilament or copolymer line will allow anglers to set the hook by simply speeding up their retrieve.

Types of Fishing Line

There are four main types of fishing lines out there. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, which I will describe below.

Monofilament

Also known as “mono,” monofilament fishing line has stood the test of time. Nylon-based monofilament line is affordable, has excellent knot strength, and will be effective in a wide variety of applications. Since monofilament line has a lot of stretch, it can act as a shock absorber when aggressive fish attack reaction baits like buzzbaits or bladed jigs. Mono is buoyant and will float on the surface of the water; for that reason, it's a popular option when fishing topwater presentations. Because of its stretch, monofilament line isn't a good fit for techniques that require a quick hookset.

For presentations that sit on the bottom, anglers need to keep close contact with the lure while being prepared to set the hook as soon as they feel a bite. The stretch found in monofilament line decreases its sensitivity, making it harder for anglers to get a solid hookset. While the monofilament line is strong, its stretch makes it unsuitable for fishing in dense vegetation environments. Benefits:

  • Monofilament is affordable
  • Monofilament has good knot strength
  • Mono stretches to allow fish to fully engulf the lure before the hookset

Be Aware:

  • Not ideal for fishing around dense cover

Fluorocarbon

Fluorocarbon line is a popular option, especially in situations that require stealth and sensitivity. Fluorocarbon is a low-visibility line, so in areas with crystal clear water that receives a lot of fishing pressure, fluoro is the least likely to spook line-shy fish and keep them from biting. Also, since fluorocarbon sinks, it's an excellent choice when you need to keep your lure down toward the bottom of the water column. Fluorocarbon line makes an excellent leader material to tie to the end of braided line to decrease its visibility to fish.

One of the downsides to using fluoro is that it tends to be very stiff. While the stiffness is partly what makes it sensitive, it also makes fluorocarbon hard for anglers to manage, especially in higher breaking strengths. Another common challenge anglers have with fluorocarbon line is that the knot strength could be better. Making sure to wet your line before pulling your knot tight will reduce friction and help preserve the integrity of your knot.

Periodically cutting and retying your lure will help keep your knot intact and prevent your line from snapping while fighting an aggressive fish. Also, because fluorocarbon sinks, it's not a good fit for topwater lures. The weight of the line will pull down the nose of the bait, inhibiting its action and reducing your chances of getting a bite. Benefits:

  • Fluoro is virtually invisible underwater
  • Fluorocarbon is a sensitive line
  • Fluoro is ideal for bottom-contact presentations

Be Aware:

  • Fluorocarbon can be stiff and hard to manage
  • Fluorocarbon tends to have poor knot strength

Copolymer

Copolymer fishing line has a stretch that's somewhere between monofilament and fluorocarbon. It also has neutral buoyancy, making it an excellent choice for lures that need to be kept in the middle of the water column, like swimbaits and crankbaits. The knot strength that comes with a copolymer line tends to be superior to that of fluorocarbon.

There is a lot of variation amongst different brands of copolymer lines regarding suppleness and invisibility, much more so than with mono, fluoro, and braid. This variation in the properties of a copolymer line means that it might take a lot of trial and effort to find one that suits your conditions. Benefits:

  • Copolymer is sensitive
  • Copolymer line stretches, making it perfect for moving baits
  • Copolymer tends to have good knot strength

Be Aware:

  • Properties vary significantly across different brands
  • Copolymer can be opaque and easy for fish to see

Braided Line

Braided line is known for its strength and its lack of stretch. This makes it ideal for conditions that require a strong hookset through dense aquatic vegetation. Braided line is also very sensitive. Since braided line floats on the water's surface, it's ideal for techniques such as buzzbaits and hollow-body frogs that must be kept on the water's surface. Braid also works very well when used as a backing line and tying on a leader of a line that's less visible underwater. Braided line isn't a great option when fishing around rocks and other hard structures like dock pilings and wood. A rough braided line will fray and snap when scraping against a hard structure, making it unsuitable for those applications. In those situations, fluorocarbon will have similar strength and sensitivity to braid. Benefits:

  • Braided line is excellent for heavily weighted lures
  • Braid is sensitive
  • Braided line is supple

Be Aware:

  • Braided line will fray when scraped against structures

Features to Look Out For

Photo by Pok Rie

There are a number of attributes to keep in mind when choosing a fishing line. Now I will explain some of the most important ones and their impact on your fishing experience.

Breaking Strength

Often described in terms of the pound test, the breaking strength of a fishing line is an important feature that's often misunderstood. The idea is that, for example, a 6lb test line can withstand 6lbs of pressure before it snaps. In most cases, fishing lines can handle more weight than their rating suggests. Still, poorly tied knots and a scraped-up line can increase your chances of line breakage when under stress.

Breaking strength ratings don't necessarily have anything to do with the size of fish that you'll be catching. Still, they correlate to another important attribute of your fishing line: the diameter. The line with a lower pound test will be of a thinner diameter. Since line diameter will vary across brands, when experimenting with different breaking strengths, keeping the same brand and type of line will help you match your line to the bodies of water you fish.

When you need to be stealthy with your presentation, using a line with a lower breaking strength will make your line less visible to fish, increasing the likelihood of them attacking your lure. Decreasing the breaking strength of your line will also increase the amount of line you can hold on your spool and your casting distance.

Decreasing the pound test rating of your line can also be helpful when fishing in the swift current of rivers and streams, especially when fishing lightweight lures. Your line will tend to drift along with the current in quickly-moving water. This excess movement can make it challenging to present lightweight lures. Decreasing the breaking strength of your line will also decrease its surface area, keeping it from dragging your presentation downstream too quickly.

Increasing your line's breaking strength can also improve your chances of success in a number of different scenarios. For instance, when fishing a hollow-body frog, increasing the pound test braided line I'm using will improve the action of my lure, especially when fishing frogs upwards of 3/4oz. In addition, since braid floats, using a heavier line allows your lure to move more freely across the surface, allowing you to trigger more bites and more easily set the hook.

Another scenario in which increasing the breaking strength of your line will prove to be beneficial is when fishing bottom contact lures. Since fluorocarbon line sinks, using fluoro with a higher pound test rating will get more lure quickly to the bottom. This is especially helpful in colder weather when fish are found lower in the water column, especially when fishing out deep and offshore.

Line Memory

As anglers, line memory is a hassle that can take away from the overall fishing experience. While wrapped around the spool, the fishing line will sometimes hold the size and shape of the spool, causing it to coil up like a slinky. A line with too much memory will be hard to cast, making it hard to present your lure accurately.

Since fluorocarbon line tends to be stiff, it also tends to have the most memory. This stiffness can make it hard to manage. Some anglers will use line conditioners that make the line more supple and allow it to flow more freely off the spool. Reducing the pound test of the line you use can reduce memory to some degree. Fluorocarbon must be regularly replaced as it becomes more unruly over time. While this is unfortunate, the sensitivity and invisibility of fluorocarbon use are worth it for many anglers in many applications.

Copolymer line varies widely between brands. It is hard to comment on the memory of copolymer because of this variation. I have used some copolymer lines that are incredibly supple and easy to work with and others that are incredibly stiff with a lot of memory. Because of this variation, finding the perfect copolymer line for your conditions will require some trial and error.

Monofilament is typically more supple than fluorocarbon line. However, it can still have a lot of memory, especially at higher breaking strengths. As with fluorocarbon and copolymer lines, monofilament can be made more supple using a conditioner designed for fishing lines.

Braided line has the least issues with line memory of all fishing line types. In most cases, line memory is non-existent when fishing with a braided line. This low memory is one of the reasons why braid makes an excellent main line to use with a fluoro or mono leader.

How to Choose the Right Line for You

Now that I have outlined the principles that anglers need to keep in mind when choosing a fishing line, I will show you what that looks like in action. The following scenarios are based on customers I've had the opportunity to work with here at Curated.

Kai: New Angler Targeting Multiple Species

Kai had never been fishing before, and they wanted to try their hand at a new hobby. They had access to some small ponds that held panfish and largemouth bass. Kai was excited to learn to use small spinners and spoon lures, so they wanted a line that would work well for those techniques. Features Kai should look for:

  • Monofilament line for the stretch needed when fishing reaction baits
  • A line with good knot strength for a beginner to learn with
  • 8lb line for versatility in freshwater species

Line examples: Berkeley Trilene XL, Strike King Tour Grade Monofilament

Andrew: Experienced Angler Targeting Bass

Andrew had been fishing for a while and wanted to purchase his first baitcasting setup. He enjoys fishing in larger lakes in shallow water with a lot of vegetation, like hydrilla and lily pads. He's unsure which lures he's going to end up fishing, so he wants a line that is as versatile as possible. Features Andrew should look for:

  • 40lb braided line for strength and versatility
  • Copolymer leader for sensitivity and stretch
  • A line with neutral buoyancy for fishing throughout the water column

Line examples: Daiwa J-Braid, Suffix Advanced Monofilament

Edwin: Beginning Catfish Angler

Edwin is new to fishing. He has access to a large lake with large channel catfish and is looking to fish from the bank using a spinning setup. Since Edwin is on a budget, he wanted an inexpensive line with good knot strength that would allow him to make long casts to the areas where catfish will be located. Features Edwin should look for:

  • Monofilament line for affordability
  • 25lb line for heavy weights and power over large fish

Line examples: Berkeley Trilene Big Game, Strike King Tour Grade Monofilament

Conclusion

While it is often overlooked, fishing line is a crucial piece of gear that anglers need to understand when putting together a rod and reel combo. It allows anglers to make long casts, present lures to fish, and fight aggressive fish while hoping to catch their new personal best. Whether you are looking for the sensitivity and invisibility of fluorocarbon, the strength of braid, or the stretch of monofilament line, having the right line for your conditions will help you achieve your goals as an angler.

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