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Lines, Lines, Everywhere is Lines....

By Steve Huber - September 1, 2001
I've been watching the Outdoor Messages on Lake-Link and a couple other sites with interest lately. It seems that anytime there someone asks "What type of line should I use?", there are conflicting statements and opinions. So here is one guide's opinion on lines, based on years of experience.

First of all, you MUST remember that your line is the only thing that connects you to the fish. When you consider the amount of money spent on rods, reels, lures, bait, licenses, getting to the lake, boat, motor, etc., blah, blah, blah, it's really being penny wise and pound foolish to worry about the cost of line. After spending $100 on a rod, close to that on a reel, is a lousy twelve bucks for line outrageous? I think NOT!

Stay away from store brand lines or getting the 27,000 yard MegaSpool for $2.99. These types of lines will give you nothing but trouble and frustration. Typically, this type of line will be stiff, with more memory than an elephant, have more twist than Chubby Checker and usually poor knot strength. Only use this line if you like gray hair and losing fish.

Stick with a premium, name brand line like Stren, Berkely, PowerPro, etc. While these lines do cost more, they are worth the money.

Well O.K. smart guy, "What do I use?"

Well, a lot of your line choice depends on where and what you're fishing for. If you're fishing for panfish, in relatively clear (i.e. snag-free) water, monofilament line is a good choice. I like Trilene XL for my panfish rods. Depending on how and where I'm fishing, I'll use lines between 2 and 6 pound test (breaking strength). Really open water or gin clear water almost demands using a monofilament line, especially if the fish have been pressured or are line shy. This doesn't happen but every once in a while smaller diameter (less visible) line does make a difference.

If you have the pleasure of "toothy critters" (northern pike and muskies) in your waters, then mono lines can become less of a pleasure and more of a pain. These crazy fish will sometimes hit anything (I know of one 49 inch muskie that took a red worm on a #10 hook, suspended below a bobber) and those snaggle-toothed jaws of theirs will separate you from your hooks slicker than deer guts on a door knob. Sure, you can put a steel leader on, but while it will keep you from getting cut off, many times it'll keep you from getting bites as well. I don't know about you, but I like getting bites, so I rarely use a leader of any sort, even while muskie fishing. That's where the new "SuperLines" come in.

There is probably more mis-information concerning these lines than anything. Common complaints I've heard are:

"It cuts grooves in the rod guides." Yes, it might, on cheap, low quality rods, but for most of the rods out there today, SuperLines will NOT damage guides any more than mono lines. I've got a couple old $19.95 rods that I really like the feel of and won't retire them quite yet. I've been using SuperLines on them for years and the guides are just fine.

"It spins on the spool and the drag won't tighten up." Sure, if you put this line on like you would mono, you'll have this problem. When I re-spool line, after I tie the line onto the spool, I'll take a 2 inch piece of electrical tape and cover the line. Then it's a simple matter of winding the line on.

"SuperLines cut down in the spool and cause tangles." Nope, not if you spool the line properly the first time. First of all, you have to remember that this line is a much smaller diameter than mono or Dacron line of comparable breaking strength. You can easily go to a heavier pound test and still have finer diameter line. This will reduce some of the problem. But by far, the biggest single factor in line "cutting in" is the fact that it's not spooled on tight enough.

When I spool a reel up with this type of line, I'll first put the wrap of tape on, then I'll lay a folded towel in the open jaws of my vise. Then, I lay the line inside the fold and tighten up the vise, until the line comes through with some fairly heavy tension. Then, I just wind the line on, taking care to make sure that the line is laying on the spool in the same direction that it was on the bulk spool. This insures that the line is on tightly and isn't twisted. I rarely have trouble with line cutting in, even when casting heavy muskie lures or fighting big fish.

"SuperLines are miserable when backlashed." Wrong again. Recently, I bought a new baitcasting reel and was given a 400 yard spool of Trilene XL, my favorite monofilament line. I was getting ready to go do a business review and wanted to field test one of my new rods and decided to spool up the reel and use it.

Being in a hurry, I didn't have the cast control set properly and on the first cast, had a backlash of epic proportions. This brand new line was so kinked and battered (weakened) that I ended up cutting off 200 yards of brand new line.

I teach dozens of new clients how to use a baitcast reel for the first time. Believe me, I see some backlashes that have brought tears to my eyes. With mono line, I would be constantly replacing it, with SuperLines like PowerPro, the backlashes (if they don't have to be cut out) can be picked out and the line used without worry that it's been weakened. I'd spend a fortune for line if I used mono. It seems to me too that the backlashes come out easier with superline.

"SuperLines can cause you to lose fish." True, IF you don't take the time to properly set your drag, yes they can. Set the drag too tight and if you insist on making "MONGO" hooksets, you'll actually tear the hooks through the fish's jaw. You're actually stretching monofilament when you set the hook, reducing the force that is felt at the end of the line. It's this stretch that keeps you from getting all the power that you're putting into a hookset, you don't have to do this with most SuperLines. So, if you change from mono, you'll have to back off on your hooksets and/or your drag. I'd suggest backing off the drag so that the line slips a bit on the hookset, that way, you shouldn't tear free.

Another place that can get you in trouble is when you have the fish at boatside. Many fish will come in fairly easy until they get to the boat, then they'll make a surge under the boat to escape. Mono lines again, with their stretch, will allow a tighter drag setting and still enable you to maybe land the fish, if the line doesn't break. SuperLines won't do this and you'll have to be ready to backreel or have the drag set to slip when the fish runs.

In my boat, you'll basically find two different lines on all of my reels. Look at spinning tackle and you'll find FireLine. I use FireLine 4/10, 4 pound mono diameter, 10 pound breaking strength. I started using this line shortly after it came out. I wanted to use a lighter jig when fishing for springtime walleyes. With my standard 8 pound mono, the current pushed against the larger diameter of the line, causing me to lose feel of the bottom and also miss bites. I tried lighter pound test mono, and while it did enable me to fish the weight jigs that I wanted, I found that I was losing a lot of jigs, getting hung up on the bottom and snapping off constantly.

When I went to FireLine, I found that the small diameter enabled me to fish lighter jigs than comparable mono. I also found that with the no-stretch properties of FireLine, that I was feeling the bottom much better, being able to discern different bottom compositions, feel my jig dragging through grass and most importantly, I felt a lot more light walleye bites than my partner fishing standard mono. This equated to more fish boated and I always like that. With a good, quality rod and this line, I found that I was even able to tell when my minnow on the jig was dead! How's that for sensitivity?

Another advantage to this small diameter is that if you are fishing near weeds, and the fish does get tangled, it'll cut through most weeds, just like a knife through butter, unfortunately, it'll do the same thing to your various appendages, so DO NOT wrap the line around your hand to pull a snag free!

One more feature that I like about FireLine is that it's small diameter allows a crankbait to dive much deeper than on the same breaking strength monofilament. This might or might not be an advantage, depending on how you fish.

FireLine's abrasion resistance is something of a controversy. I've found it to be superb, fishing it in rocky, snag filled environments. Yet, I've had others tell me that they've experience poor abrasion resistance. I don't know, maybe they're getting it confused with Dacron line. When Dacron weakens, it becomes fuzzy looking. FireLine, when it gets fuzzy, means that it's only getting broken in. I don't worry about the color leaching out or the fuzzies, it's still just as strong.

Looking in my boat, take a peek at my baitcast reels. Without fail, you'll find PowerPro line on each and every one of them. There's reasons for that and I'm going to go into them now.

For years, I've used leaders when muskie or pike fishing, braided Dacron just didn't cut it with the razor sharp teeth these top of the line predators have. When you're throwing $10 to $20 dollar lures, you hate to break too many of these off, hence the leaders. But, as I'd throw these lures, I couldn't help but think that these same leaders were causing muskies to follow but not strike. This theory was somewhat confirmed one day when I was plagued by following muskies. I must have seen two dozen different fish that day, all follow, none hit. I then cut the leader off and tied the lure directly. I had numerous strikes immediately after that, creating my first multiple muskie day. Did it make a difference or did the muskies just happen to turn on? I don't know for sure but it did cause me to use a lot less leaders.

In the process though, I did donate a lot of lures to these snaggle-toothed demons. I had a tackle shop owner tell me about this new line "PowerPro" that he just got in and he was complaining that he was having a hard time cutting it! My ears perked up when I heard that, thinking that if he was having trouble cutting it with a knife, what would muskie teeth do to it? I immediately had Rick spool up one reel with it, wincing at the price. But, in the days after, I noticed that whenever I used with that particular reel, I caught more fish.

Clients used to have trouble getting hooks into the hard, boney mouth of a muskie. The no-stretch qualities of PowerPro enable clients to get better hooksets, resulting in more boated muskies.

I also found that if I cut and retied after every fish or so, I wasn't getting bit off as often either. So now, the only time that I use leaders is if I'm using an in-line spinner or a jerkbait that catches the front hook on the line. So far this season, clients and I have boated 94 muskies, most without leaders and I've been cut off less than a dozen times. That's telling me something.

Thinking back to spring walleye fishing, I've also found that when I've been fishing FireLine, I seem to land a lot more northern pike and experience a lot fewer bite offs. It still happens, just not with the same frequency.

You're probably thinking by now "Well now, Steve must be getting paid by these guys to say this." I wish I was, I still have to pay the price for this line that everyone else does. But, when you're going out fishing, isn't one of the main reasons to catch fish? I've found that these lines certainly do help, I get better hooksets, better sensitivity, less bite offs and more fish boated. But, there are some drawbacks to this line.

If you're fishing pressured fish or gin clear water, you might want to re-think your line selection. In situations like this, use mono or use at least a mono leader.

If you are a line watcher, looking for "ticks and jumps" in the line, their neutral colors will make it difficult under certain light conditions.

The knot that you've been tying all your life might not be the best knot to use on SuperLines. SuperLines have a slick coating and are harder than most other line types. These properties make some knots slip and fail. While it's not much of a problem or heartache to watch an 1/8th oz. jig and a minnow sail off into the sunset, it's a different story when it's an $18.99 sinking crankbait, or watching that big walleye turn tail and dive to the bottom, your jig in it's jaw.

After much trial and error, I've settled on two knots that hold under all conditions. One of the knots is the basic Improved Clinch Knot. Tied like you would for mono, it WILL slip, guaranteed. So, what I did was increased the number of twists around the mainline, wrapping 7 times before going back through the two loops. This knot has never slipped on me, ever. The other knot that you should learn how to tie is the Palomar Knot. If you don't know how to tie this knot, go to the Knot Section of this website and learn it. You'll need it. This knot was so tough that I was able to pull a 19 foot bassboat with three adults in it, upstream, attached to a 12 foot alligator!! That's one tough knot.

Well now, you're probably asking yourself, "What about these tough new fluorocarbon lines that I've been reading about?" They seem to work well as a clear, semi-abrasion resistant leader, but the different fluorocarbon lines that I've tried, were taken off my reel in a very short time. I've found that each different fluorocarbon line that I've tried had tons of memory, springing off the spool of my spinning reel whenever I tried to cast. It did disappear underwater as advertised, but I also found that it was very kink prone and once kinked, broke quite easily. I know that tarpon guides use fluorocarbon leaders when fishing raspy jawed tarpon. So I thought that maybe the heavier stuff would work great for muskie leader. Nope, muskies cut through this stuff as quickly and cleanly as they did mono.

OK, I thought, maybe it just isn't suited for spinning rods. So I bought some heavier break strength line and tried it on a baitcaster. Didn't like it there either. That memory caused a lot of line slap when it went through the guides, causing casting distances to decrease. It seemed to be very brittle too. Even the tiniest backlash kink caused it to break at that point. So, can I recommend fluorocarbon lines? Not without some pretty drastic improvements I can't.

So, what do you do? Well, it's like this. If you fish fairly open water and you rarely have trouble with pike biting you off, then fish any of the premium monofilament lines out there.

If you fish slip bobbers quite a bit, use mono here as well. That fuzziness that I was talking about when the SuperLines get broken in? Well, it causes just enough drag through a slip bobber to cause the bait to hang up. When I use slip bobbers, I spool up with mono.

If you are finesse fishing, use either FireLine or PowerPro. I've found the sensitivity to be unmatched by any monofilament line out there.

If deep water cranking is your game, SuperLines are great here. Like I said before, smaller diameter means deeper lure depth.

If you fish heavy vegetation or near thick cover, SuperLines will really shine, cutting through weeds and allowing you to really pressure fish, turning them away from trouble.

If you're getting bit off quite a bit by pesky pike, try SuperLines. You'll be just as surprised as they are when you start hauling them in.

If the fish you're after seem line shy, go for mono.

If you're a casual angler, fishing once or twice a year, just spool up with monofilament line, you won't lose enough lures or fish to make up the difference in cost.

One last thing to remember, fishing tackle, all the lures, different lines, rods, reels, etc, they're tools. Just like in the workshop, different tools are used for different jobs. Line is no different, select the right line for the job and you'll be much happier. I know that I am.

Until next time, See Ya,

Author Steve Huber

Steve Huber
Steve Huber, an avid angler with over 35 years of experience (man, he's old) is one of the few multi-species guides in the Rhinelander area. He's been operating G & S Guide Service for 8 years now and loves to fish for Muskies, Northern Pike, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass and the occasional Walleye (in no particular order). A person who loves to see others succeed, he's an educator while on the water and when he's not teaching you something, he'll regale you with tales of adventures and mis-adventures gleaned from his years on the water. If you liked this article, you can check out Steve's web site at
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