How to Choose the Right Fishing Line

Published on 05/17/2023 · 9 min readFishing line is the most important piece of tackle you can buy. Fishing expert Joseph Alfe overviews the types of line available and how to use them.
Joseph Alfe, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Alfe

Photo by Harris Kugler

What's so Important about Choosing the Right Line?

Fishing line is the most important piece of tackle you will buy. There, I said it. I’ll say it again: Fishing line is the most important piece of tackle you will buy. Why? Because it is the only thing that stands between you and the fish. It also is the direct connection between you and your presentation, and the correct line choice can influence and perfect that presentation. The right line choice will make the difference between casting difficulties and long, smooth casts. It can make the difference between bites and no bites. It can make the difference in feeling or not feeling those bites, and it can make the difference between hooking and landing fish, and not.

All too often, I see anglers spend good money on top rods and reels, only to raid the bargain bin for line. This will cost you fish and set you up for frustration. In this article, we will first explore how to choose the right line for your setup. Then, we will compare the pros and cons of the different line types, and when to use them. Last, we will review how to choose line for specific applications and techniques.

Photo courtesy of Joseph Alfe

How to Choose the Right Line

The first question to answer when choosing types of fishing line is to decide whether you will be using casting or spinning gear. This choice will radically change your line choice and influence your line weights. What may make an excellent choice for one may make a disaster waiting to happen with the other. Next, decide your target species. Are you bass fishing, or going after trout or even toothy fish such as pike or musky? Knot selection is also key. I prefer the palomar knot for all line types.

Spinning Reels

Spinning, or “open-face” reels work by a manual bail system that controls line flow. The spool then rotates as the reel handle is turned. This system is superior for casting distance and usually has a more effective drag system. Spinning reels, however, often fall victim to line twist, which can ruin an entire spool of expensive line and cost you fish. Other common issues are using line that is too stiff, too high of a pound test rating, or incorrect spooling when filling the reel.

Generally, I use less than #12lb test on spinning reels when using monofilament or fluorocarbon. Anything more and the line diameter and stiffness will start to cause line management issues. With braid or fused line, I stay under #20lb test. When using fluorocarbon, which tends to be a bit stiffer, quality plays a large part, so don’t skimp. Another trick when using braid is to select a “flatter” line, or one with an oval cross-section, which tends to lay on the spool better. Incidentally, these lines, along with most fused lines, are exactly not what to spool onto a casting reel.

Author with a Great Lakes Pike on a spinning reel loaded with Sunline fluorocarbon line in #12lb test. Photo courtesy of Joseph Alfe

Casting Reels

Casting reels are operated by pressing a thumb bar, which disengages the spool for casting. They can be geared for low or high speed and can handle much higher test lines. They also provide more torque for casting and retrieving heavier baits. Here, the opposite logic applies. You are asking for trouble by spooling too light of a line. Because of the centrifugal action of the spool, line can dig into itself, resulting in “snapping off” baits as you cast them, or worse, huge tangles and “bird’s nests” that can waste an entire spool and need to be cut out. This is why I do not spool baitcasting reels with less than #35lb test for braid, and #10 for mono or fluoro.

Fused line has a slick coating that simply doesn’t work well here and will result in backlashes that weld together. For most braid, I spool with #40-#65lb test depending on the type of fishing I’m doing. For fluro or mono, I usually use #14-#17, but occasionally will go to #20-#25. To get a better understanding, let’s examine the different line materials.

Monofilament Line

This is the line we all grew up on. Mono is soft, supple, and casts well. Monofilament fishing line is reasonably abrasion resistant, strong, and comes in a variety of colors. It has a good amount of stretch, which makes it ideal to cushion the shock of bigger fish strikes and prolonged battles. The stretch, however, makes it less sensitive and harder to get a clean hook set in deeper water or when bottom fishing. It also has the greatest diameter of any line. It is cheap, but prone to memory coils and has the least durability. Mono floats, so it's a great choice for topwater lures. Good brands for mono are Trilene, Stren, and Maxxima.

Fluorocarbon Line

Fluorocarbon is a material with a light refraction index that closely mimics that of water. The result is a line that is very difficult to see underwater, resulting in more stealth for picky fish or finesse presentations where fish have more time to look over your offering. Fluoro also has excellent abrasion resistance, so it should be used around rocks, wood, vegetation, and other structure. Lastly, fluoro has less line stretch than monofilament or copolymer line, so it transmits vibrations better for more sensitivity. It is denser than water, so it sinks, which makes it excellent for bottom-oriented presentations such as with jigs, Texas-rigged soft plastics, and drop shots. It is not the best choice for topwater. It can be a bit stiff, so keep it under #12 for spinning reels. I prefer fluorocarbon from brands like Sunline, Segar, and BPS.

Ultra-clear water demands fluorocarbon line. Photo by Joseph Alfe

Copolymer Line

Copolymer line is created by fusing one or more line types together, such as nylon or monofilament and fluorocarbon. This creates a line that is easy casting and more manageable. It retains some of fluorocarbon’s low stretch, neutral buoyancy, and low-visibility properties with great tensile strength. It is also significantly cheaper than straight fluoro. I favor Copolymer line for use with powerfishing applications on bait cast setups such as for crankbaits, spinner baits, and other fast-moving presentations. It casts well, so it is good for spinning reels as well. Good Copolymer choices are those from P-Line and Trilene.

Braided Line

I love braided line. It is created by weaving together strands or fibers of supermaterials such as Kevlar, Dyneema, or Spectra. It is super strong and (mostly) easy to cast. Braid has a much thinner diameter than non-braided line, so be sure to up the test when spooling on a casting reel to avoid the line management issues discussed above. All braided line is not the same. The rule of thumb is the more strands a line has, the tighter the weave and the result is a thinner diameter with more suppleness for better casting. Some braid can be quite stiff, which can cause line management problems with both spinning and casting reels. Good braid choices are Sunline FX, Berkley Fireline (which has a “flatter” cross-section made for spinning reels), and Suffix.

Bait casting reel with braided line. Photo by Joseph Alfe

Fused Line

Relatively new on the scene, fused lines are not braided individual strands. They are single strands of compressed, or fused, superline material. This creates an even thinner profile and a super slick coating that results in significantly longer casting distances. For example, after switching my spinning setups to fused line, I can get at least 20% better casting distances. My jetty fishing setup for Great Lakes salmon and trout pairs a 7ft 6in rod, a quality 2500 spinning reel, and #17 Berkley Nanofil. I can cast a 0.5oz spoon out of sight, at least 30% further than with braid or other line.

It also works very well with light or finesse presentations. I spool my finesse rods with #10 Sunline Siglon, which has a braided core and fused coating. Be aware, however, that due to its incredibly thin diameter, it can cut into itself, break with the shock of a stiff hook set, or slip out of knots. Because of this, I never drop below #10 due to knot strength. It’s so thin, it just won’t matter to the fish. Do double the mainline on all knots to prevent slip, and I use a drop of super glue for security. As discussed above, fused line is a poor choice for bait casting setups. It has a reasonable level of abrasion resistance, but its thin diameter makes it vulnerable to rocks and snags. I personally like to tie fluorocarbon leaders when using either braid or fused line. I use the FG knot, which can be difficult to tie, but casts the smoothest. A tutorial can be found here.

How to Pair Line to Specific Techniques

Ok, so when do we choose the various types of line we just learned about, and why? Let’s start with powerfishing, that is, the use of faster-moving baits. This is applicable to bass, pike, muskie, or other aggressive fish. This can be spinnerbaits and bladed jigs, crank baits, topwater, frogs, and swimbaits. The first thing to consider is casting or spinning reels. Typically, I stay away from spinning reels when powerfishing unless I’m using smaller baits, and then I will always choose braid or fused line.

For casting reels, ask what type of water you will be fishing? If the answer is water that is full of cover and snags, such as rocks or timber, I defer to braid or heavier fluoro or copolymer. If I am bottom fishing, I prefer fluoro, especially in clear water. Jigs, T-rigs, and drop shot will be something a fish will look over, so invisibility is key. Because it is presented on the bottom, snag and abrasion resistance is necessary. If I’m pitching or flipping into heavy cover, I want heavy braid to stick big fish and power them out of cover. For topwater fishing, mono works well because it floats, and so does braid. If I’m frogging, I always use heavy braid because I want a maximum hookset, and will want to winch fish out of heavy cover. For finesse fishing, I stick to spinning reels and light fluoro or fused line, which delivers a great strength to diameter ratio, with low visibility, along with heightened sensitivity.

With your newfound line knowledge and these guidelines, you should be able to confidently select the proper line for your gear setup and fishing applications. Check out the Expert Journal here on Curated for more Fishing content.

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