There are three major types of fishing line. Learn what they are, and which one is best for you, below.
Last updated: April 10, 2023
By: Brandon Sanders
Do you know how much gear and tackle are required for effective bass fishing?
The short answer is: a lot!
Throughout the year, largemouth bass will inhabit a wide array of cover, depths, and chase different prey depending on where they are in the annual cycle and what is available to them. Catching them requires the angler to be extremely resolute in purpose, but highly flexible in the method. Knowing your tackle and how to employ it is crucial for successful fishing.
A large part of that knowledge on tackle is brought to bear on setting up your fishing rod. Fishing line is a crucial component of that setup and must effectively support the lure that is being presented. Having a type of line that is not conducive to the type of fishing that is happening is a recipe for coming home empty-handed. Selecting the right fishing line will not guarantee success, but neglecting to do so will almost certainly guarantee failure.
In the world of fishing lines, there are three main choices; monofilament, braided line, and fluorocarbon. Each line offers advantages and disadvantages that must be expertly employed by the angler. This article will explore the wide array of line characteristics and the proper employment of these line choices in light of them.
There are several types of fishing lines that an angler can choose from to meet their needs. Understanding the available options is the first step to masterfully employing a fishing line. While each line has its strengths, it also has drawbacks that must be taken into consideration. The successful fisherman will seek to employ the line that is most appropriate to the situation.
Monofilament line is a single strand of plastic that is extruded from tiny holes of varying sizes. Those different size holes result in different diameter fishing lines and subsequently different pound tests. It is the most common of the modern fishing lines, resulting in it being the biggest component of derelict fishing gear, and has been surpassed in many areas by fluorocarbon and braided line. Despite this, it is still preferred by the vast majority of anglers.
The strengths of monofilament line are cost, versatility, knot typing ease, and wide availability. Since it is the simplest of all fishing lines, it is the most common. Its single-strand nature allows for extreme flexibility that makes tying on even small fishing lures easy.
It is relatively inexpensive compared to the alternatives and can be used in nearly any type of fishing. Further, its rounded nature allows for superior abrasion resistance that is not found in the other two options.
The simple nature of monofilament is also its greatest weakness. Since it is made of a single strand of plastic, it stretches with ease and to a high degree. This can result in lost fish and frustrated anglers. When fishing at extreme depths or for exceptionally large fish, monofilament can be a dangerous choice of fishing line due to its ability to stretch to a high degree.
It is also a well-known pollutant that is nearly invisible to wildlife. Fishermen that discard it not only disrupt the environment they love but also cast a shadow of irresponsibility on the fishing community.
Monofilament should be used when the environment where largemouth bass live is littered with obstruction and debris. Monofilament line is often the most cost-effective and efficient line to use in these situations. It should also be used when the depths and distances are relatively short so that the stretch of the line works as a shock absorber. Avoid using monofilament when fishing in the winter at depths using soft plastics as the stretch of the line will dampen hook sets and result in lost fish.
Braided fishing line is the oldest of fishing lines that are available to the modern angler. It was originally developed out of cotton and other natural fibers, but in more modern times man-made materials have been used. Extremely small fibers are produced in much the same way monofilament line is, but then they are braided together. This produces a line that can hold more weight at a smaller diameter.
The greatest benefit of a braided line is its complete lack of stretch or memory. Since it is braided strands, it will not curl when it comes off the reel in the way lower-end monofilament lines do. Since it does not stretch it does not have the same struggle of weakened hooksets and other maladies excessive stretch leads to.
Given it draws its strength from braiding, it is also much smaller in diameter. This aspect of the braided line allows for it to be placed on a reel than it would if the same reel had monofilament on it of equal weight.
While braided line does not stretch, it also does not allow any shock strength either. While this can be a moot point or even advantageous in some instances, most fishermen will want some shock strength in the line to absorb the fish’s sudden abrupt moves during a fight. Without it, excessive strain is put on the fish and there is a much higher chance of it throwing the lure. Braided line is also highly visible in the water and is less abrasion resistant than monofilament or fluorocarbon. Therefore, it is ill-suited for many freshwater applications.
Braided line shines the best when casting bass jigs at long distances, deep depths, and high speeds are called for. This is most likely in saltwater applications or during trolling.
Since the braided nature of the line allows for much more line to be placed on the spool with no stretch allowed, it is an exceptional trolling fishing line. This is especially useful when using a trolling motor on a kayak, which provides a wealth of opportunities via mobility and stealthy movement which allows anglers to reach those tough-to-access areas.
When used in concert with the appropriate leaders, the weakness of braided line can be diminished while the strengths leveraged for successful fishing.
Fluorocarbon line can be easily mistaken for monofilament at first glance, but when loaded onto a reel and fished with, it is very different. Made of advanced materials, fluorocarbon line seeks to correct the weaknesses of monofilament.
It was originally introduced in the 1980s as a monofilament alternative for those making finesse presentations who needed a stiff, but invisible fishing line. Today’s modern fluorocarbon line is the next step in the evolution of the fishing line.
Almost maturing the refracting index of water, fluorocarbon is nearly invisible when submerged. Given the murky water that bass often choose to reside in, fluorocarbon line is the ideal choice to sneak a jig or Texas-rigged worm up to a bedded bass.
Since it is far denser than monofilament, it has the added advantage of being less buoyant than monofilament. This results in faster sinking baits that can be advantageous when fishing on the bottom.
Given fluorocarbon's increased abrasion resistance, it is also far less flexible. The result is increased difficulties in knot tying and a stronger chance of knot failure. This can be mitigated with practice and using the appropriate knots, but lures tied with fluorocarbon will simply never be compared to other lines. Additionally, it is extremely expensive compared to other options. This dissuades many anglers from using it exclusively on their reel but encourages them to keep it only as a leader.
Fluorocarbon has the unique property of being both hard to see, but very strong. This makes it very well suited to fishing with soft plastics. Given that it has a refractive index very close to that of water, it is extremely difficult to see when submerged. That coupled with its superior abrasion resistance, results in a superior line for jigging during the spawn.
Just like selecting a new rod or reel, understanding the characteristics of different types of fishing lines is important in fishing line selection. Memory, stretch, visibility, shock strength, and abrasion resistance are just some of the characteristics that should be considered when selecting what to spool onto a reel.
While the proper selection is not likely to be the determining factor in success in fishing, the improper selection is almost certain to result in lost fish.
Therefore, the serious angler will know and understand the fundamentals of fishing line characteristics and how to employ them effectively.
Memory in fishing line is an important characteristic to remember and avoid. When a fishing line has sat for an extended period on a spool or the arbor of a reel, it will tend to attempt to return to this shape when it is cast. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as line memory. It is the culprit behind many tangles, snags, and backlashes.
Memory is evident in both fluorocarbon and monofilament, but not in braided lines. Fluorocarbon is the biggest offender when it comes to having line memory, but the benefits of this line type can make this annoyance tolerable.
Monofilament also tends to become entangled due to its memory, though far less than that of fluorocarbon. Both line types will have a variation in the amount of memory they display based on the size and frequency of usage of the line.
Stretch in fishing lines is another characteristic every angler should be aware of, especially for fishing in deep water or over long distances. Since monofilament and fluorocarbon lines are essentially just plastic, they will stretch in much the same way you can stretch a sandwich bag or cellophane.
This is a characteristic of fishing line that can and has cost many anglers proper hooksets on truly memorable fish. It behooves the aspiring fisherman to select a line that is of high quality so they can avoid becoming a victim of line stretch.
Monofilament has a linear relationship between weight placed on the line and the distance stretched. This allows for the fisherman to account for the effect line stretch will have on the hookset and subsequent fight based on the length of line that is out at the time. As a rough rule of thumb, monofilament will stretch at a rate of 25%. That means if there are 100 feet of line out, the line can be stretched up to 125 feet before it begins to break.
Fluorocarbon does not afford the angler this convenience as it stretches to an exponential level. Under low tensions, fluorocarbon stretches so little it can seem that it is not stretching at all. However, once a certain point has been reached it will stretch at an exorbitant rate. Before spooling up an entire reel’s worth of fluorocarbon, careful consideration should be given to the demands anticipated on the line to avoid this pitfall.
The shock strength of a line is crucial to understand. Pound test ratings of fishing line are extrapolated by the slow, steady pull of weight on the line.
While this is an interesting metric, it is not representative of the way fish fight. Instead fish fight, hooks are set, and real fishing lives in the dynamic, sudden jerks of fish's abrupt behavior when being taken. Shock strength denotes how resilient the fishing line is to take these sudden jerks and not break.
Shock strength presents the fisherman with somewhat of a dilemma. While it does the fisherman good to avoid a super stretchy line, superior shock strength is a product of the ability to stretch. Therefore, a balance must be struck between shock strength and stretch. Too much stretch in a line will result in having a great shock absorber for fighting fish, but very subpar hooksets.
However, no stretch in a line will result in superior hooksets and a line that is broken in the subsequent fighting. Finding the line or combination of lines that is most appropriate to the type of fishing that will be encountered is crucial for an angler’s success.
When considering the food that largemouth bass eat, the areas they hunt, and the challenges it poses to fishing line, abrasion resistance becomes very important. Not only will the fish themselves seek to saw through the line with their teeth, but the environment they inhabit will also produce a continuing threat to the integrity of the line. Therefore, having a line that is highly resistant to abrasion is crucial to successfully catch fish.
Monofilament proves to be the superior line in this category. While many would think that braid or fluorocarbon would be the king of abrasion resistance, the single filament nature of monofilament allows it to outshine its contemporaries. Since it is round, monofilament allows most things to simply be deflected.
The damage that is incurred on the line is also reinforced by the line’s geometry minimizing the possibility of breakage at that point. That is not to say that monofilament is infallible, far from it. However, when compared with the complexity of other multistrand options, monofilament tends to win the abrasion resistance contest.
Buoyancy is another, often overlooked, factor in fishing line that should be considered when selecting a fishing line. While the only truly buoyant fishing line available is the floating line in the fly fishing community, braided line sinks at such a slow rate that it can be considered to float to some degree.
Monofilament and fluorocarbon will sink, albeit slowly, but at a faster rate than braided line. This is impactful when considering the type of fishing that the line will be called to do. If it is topwater fishing, obviously a more buoyant line will be better for that presentation. However, an excessively buoyant line will negatively impact deep water crankbait presentations or extend the sink rate of soft plastics.
Visibility of line refers to the ability of the line to be seen when submerged. This can be especially difficult to navigate as the different colors of lines often clash with the reality of daily differences in water clarity and light penetration.
To make it more complicated, depth also plays a key consideration in line visibility. The deeper the line, the less light there is to reveal it. Further, different parts of the light spectrum are filtered out at different depths. For instance, red is filtered out first and therefore good for deep water fishing. However, it is highly visible in shallow water.
Visibility is a crucial factor when it comes to selecting the right fishing line. This is especially true when fishing in areas that have a high density of anglers and fish have become excessively line shy. Further, different types of fish rely more or less on their eyes for stalking prey. Trout, accustomed to clear water, are notorious visual predators. Line visibility for these types of fish is an especially crucial consideration.
Copolymer fishing line is the newest entrant into the fishing line world. It combines two types of nylon to reduce stretch and provide superior abrasion resistance. It is an attempt to marry the best parts of monofilament with the strengths of fluorocarbon while minimizing the weaknesses of both.
Much like the early days of fluorocarbon, copolymer is excessively expensive. However, the more that it is used, the more anglers are finding out that it is the superior fishing line for many situations.
While every fishing line has a certain “pound test” rating that is easily seen and referenced on the box or spool the line comes in, it is often misunderstood. Just because a line is rated for 40lbs, does not mean that it will not break when fighting a 5lb bass.
Also, just because a line is only 10lb test does not mean that it can’t be used in landing a 40lb flathead catfish. Factors such as reel drag, flexibility of the fishing rod, abrasion on the line, energy in which the fish is fighting and simple skill of the fisherman all play a factor in how the line performs when under pressure.
Understanding how manufacturers derive the pound test ratings is crucial to understanding what the line can actually do and how to properly employ it. Manufacturers hook their line up to a machine that provides a steady pull of increasing weight on the line. When the line finally breaks, they deduce that as the pound test rated at the breaking weight.
While this is a good benchmark for anglers to judge the line’s capability, they should remember that the line is being tested in a pristine state, while dry, and under steady pressure.
Given these conditions, it is a good rule of thumb to reduce the line’s advertised capabilities by 25%. For instance, if a line is a 40lb test you can reduce its expected performance of only being able to handle 30lbs when wet and subjected to real life.
So if we cannot rely on the pound test rating to be accurate, how then do we match the weight of fishing line to our fishing endeavors? A good rule of thumb is to go by the size of the lure that is being presented at the end of the line.
Different species will call for different sizes of lures and those lures will perform best when matched appropriately to the fishing line. A small crappie jig will not have the best action tied to a heavy 40lbs test monofilament. Conversely, you are likely to snap a 10lbs test line if you attach it to a 1.4oz bass jig and attempt to double-hand cast it.
In terms of line selection, match the weight of the line to the lure. The lure will always be the driving function of the rest of the tackle that supports it. Getting the right lure to the right place in the right way will demand the right rod, reel, and line. The successful angler will seek to create harmony between these different aspects, ensuring their tackle box setup is always ready to go—stocked and prepared to land big bass!.
Fishing line is no different than any other tackle. The differences in fishing lines are vast and different types of fishing will require different types of lines. River bass fishing from a kayak presents unique challenges that fishing in swamps from a mud boat will require different tackle.
If you're trying to catch bass by trolling, the process will require braided lines and jigging trees may call for monofilament with fluorocarbon leaders. It is important to master all types of lines so that they can be employed correctly.
The fishing line should typically be replaced on a biannual basis, but the actual rate of replacement will be determined by the type of line, frequency of use, exposure to sunlight, and what type of water it is being used in. High use can tax the line in such a way that line replacement will need to be done on a more frequent basis.
Braided fishing line floats, but other types of fishing line can give the illusion that it floats depending on the water density, how long it sits on top of the water, and if it is unencumbered or not. However, braided line is the only fishing line that will float beside the fly lines that are specifically engineered to sit on top of the water.
The best type of fishing line for bass is most likely fluorocarbon, but each situation will call for the unique characteristics of the different types of fishing line. Given the complex nature of the fishing line, matching the strength, memory, stretch, and cost of the line to the given situation are crucial factors for successful largemouth bass fishing.
The fishing line color that should be used is the one that is most likely to completely hide the presence of the line itself. In other words, think of the line in terms of needing to be camouflaged. A clear fluorocarbon line may be ideal for high light penetration, and clear water situations, but a heavy monofilament or braided line that has been colored with a magic marker may be best for muddy water. The best color of the fishing line is the one that makes the fishing line disappear in the eyes of the fish.
A light monofilament line or fluorocarbon is the best type of fishing line for trout. This allows for light lure presentation but disguises the line in the clear water trout typically inhabit. Further, using fluorocarbon will prove to be the most resilient to lacerations from the trout’s teeth or the rocks that the line may cascade over during the pursuit of the fish.
The strongest type of fishing line that can be used is a braided line. It is roughly ten times stronger than steel and is fantastically thinner than other types of line. This feature allows for more line to be put on a spool and larger fish to be handled. As such, it is ideally suited to fishing for large fish over greater distances and through dense vegetation.
About the author: Brandon Sanders, who goes by BBSanders, is a freelance outdoors writer that enjoys hunting and fishing across the world. He is a combat veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other smaller deployments. He lives in East Texas in a small cabin with his wife and two dogs. You can learn more about him on his own website, here.