Getting a “line” on your fishing

We passionately pursue our angling sport, we always look for an edge, anything at all that will improve our chances of catching more or bigger fish. That is why we always buy the newest and hottest thing, and that is why we are always looking for a better line to fish with.

The most fundamental part of the angler’s system is the line, that part that connects angler to the water and, more important, to the fish. As with any item that is used by a large group of people, opinions and misinformation are both present in great numbers.

A few points from my own experience are offered to clarify. NOTE: This is not a technical article (there are plenty of those already) and I don’t care how they make line. There is a need for realistic, down to earth, practical information on a subject that is complex and can be confusing.

Line types and characteristics

The two types of line in use today can be referred to as monofilament and multifilament (aka braid). Monofilament breaks down into basic mono, copolymer, and fluorocarbon. Copolymer is a blend of different nylons (think of an alloy), rather than just one found in what I am calling “basic mono”. For the purposes of this article, I will limit the discussion to basic mono, copolymer and fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon was commonly used as leader material long before it saw use as spooled line.

Prime characteristics of each family of line are shown in the table which follows:

Basic mono and copolymer Fluorocarbon
Stretchy Low stretch
Less sensitive More sensitive
Limp, less “memory” Stiff, more “memory”
Floats Sinks
More abrasion tolerant Less abrasion tolerant
More visible underwater Less visible underwater
Each of the characteristics noted above has pluses and minuses depending on the application and the mind set of the user, but each of these features is important to somebody. Line companies are responding by developing fluorocarbon with tendencies that make it more like copolymer (less memory, more abrasion resistance), and by developing copolymer with features more like fluoro (lower stretch, higher sensitivity), so the distinctions mentioned above are becoming blurred by today’s technology. All of today’s lines are not “high tech”, you should attempt to find out which ones are and which ones are not.

Line rating vs. actual breaking strength

There is no truth in advertising here, industry-wise, that is why so many lines break at much higher readings than their rated strength. Some companies assign line ratings according to what they feel their market wants to see, and some companies are pretty liberal about translating their line measurements from Metric to English.

I have heard people brag about the fact that their “12 lb test” line actually breaks at 20 lbs. That’s because it is 20 lb line that a company has marked as 12 lb in order to catch those customers who think line breaking far above its stated lb test value is a mark of quality. Actually it is quite the opposite. I was recently told about a case where a person tied a hook on a line he wanted to test and embedded the hook in a wooden plank and proceeded to pull, pull, pull. It was 20 lb rated line and “you couldn’t break it”, so that was supposed to be good. Personally, if I get snagged up real close to a rocky bank in the Delta, with current flowing and wind blowing hard on the bank, I want to be able to break that line, and fast.

Line diameter

I cut my teeth bass fishing in deep, clear water mountain lakes (aka “finesse” fishing), We often fished deep, often using a vertical presentation. I always looked for the smallest diameter line with the highest breaking strength to get that extra edge. The fact that fluoro sinks readily, is more or less invisible underwater, is more sensitive, and stretches less led me to choose fluoro for this type of fishing. I tested every line I found by tying on a hook and pulling it to the point of failure on a tell-tale scale. Not real scientific but it did tell me at how many pounds of pull various line brands would break under exactly the same test conditions and that was good enough. Try this for yourself and you will find there are big differences and that some cheaper lines will out perform some of the more expensive brands. (NOTE: For safety, use a piece of pipe with a pin through one end and wear safety glasses – the hook goes flying when the line finally breaks). It’s fairly easy to find a six pound test line that breaks at a point much higher than six pounds and here’s where line diameter comes in. If you are going to get serious about this, then you need to measure line diameter on lines that interest you. You will find very quickly that the lines that break much higher than their rating also tend to be larger in diameter than their competition. The line marketers know that most of you are not going to bother with measuring the line. They also know that most of you will not understand whether the line diameter printed on the box will be in thousandths of an inch or in millimeters. Digital micrometers are pretty inexpensive nowadays and one should last you a lifetime if you don’t abuse it. Being digital, there are none of those weird scales with all the funny little lines (vernier scales) for you to figure out.

Now I live and fish on the Delta and have learned very quickly that I could care less what the line diameter is for a given line test rating (clarification: line diameter is an obvious factor when using crank baits as it determines how deep a crank bait can run. Since my crank bait use in the Delta is always shallow, I don’t really care about that, but the guys who crank deep in the lakes do care about it.). I really do care about limpness, knot strength, and abrasion tolerance, which brings us to the next point

Limpness, knot strength, and abrasion tolerance

Limpness is important. Line that is more limp will backlash less, backlashes will be smaller when you do get them, there will be fewer catastrophes when you forget to keep a tight line on spinning reels, and it will be lots easier for the baitcasting guys to throw into the wind. Line limpness is tough to evaluate, other than trying out the line.

Although the newer fluoros have somewhat increased limpness, fluoro will always be stiffer, and have more “memory” than basic or copolymer mono. The limpest fluoro is favored by most anglers due to fewer backlashes and fewer spinning reel nightmares. This is particularly true for the guys who must throw into the Delta wind (AKA “breeze”). To minimize the negative effect of fluoro’s faults on your fishing day, it is important to always use proper line management techniques. For spinning reel people, this means to always use your finger to control the line on the spool when the bail is open, always terminate casts by stopping the line coming off the spool with your finger, and always close the bail over the line manually, never by turning the crank. For baitcaster people, you can use the old trick of placing a piece of tape across the spool after making a long cast. This limits the size of any backlash. And for users of both types of reels, it is recommended that you use a line conditioner such as KVD. This simple, environmentally friendly spray treatment reduces friction and memory, and makes for longer casts and fewer backlashes.

Knots always reduce the strength of line to some greater or lesser degree. Different lines have different knot strength, and different knots have different knot strength.

Most line breaks usually happen at or very close to the knot. That doesn’t necessarily mean the knot or the line is bad, only that the break occurred at the weakest point. You can always pull test your line with a scale and determine if it is breaking significantly below its rating.

Like cars and lures, everybody has his or her favorite knot. To avoid argument, I will not go into knot selection here, all knots have good and bad points. The important thing, regardless of which knot you select is to know and practice exactly how to tie that knot properly under all conditions. By that, I mean you should select a knot that you can tie properly in extreme low light conditions, and that you can also tie properly in wind, in rain, and when it’s very cold. All knots need to be lubricated in order not to weaken the line by the friction generated when tightening the knot. A little saliva will normally do the job. One more thing, knot tying becomes more difficult as line diameter (and stiffness) increases, one of the “costs” of using heavier line. Always test your knot after tying and before using. If you have made one of the common knot tying mistakes, a simple pull test will quickly tell you if you have a problem or not. If you do, simply cut off and re-tie the knot then test again. Keep it up until you get it right.

Abrasion tolerance is another factor that is more critical to the light tackle and deep water finesse guys because it becomes more of a (big fish losing) hazard as line diameter decreases. The deep water folks commonly re-tie 4, 6, and 8 lb line after each fish, particularly after toothy spotted bass. Once the line has been abraded, fluoro will break more readily than basic mono or copolymer.

If you fish areas with lots of underwater obstructions (like the Delta) you will experience a far greater rate of line abrasion. Whatever line you choose, it is recommended that you inspect your line several times a day (after each fish or snag) and immediately cut off the bad section, and re-tie when you find any signs of fraying or abrasion. If you use sliding sinkers (either lead or tungsten) on fluoro, check for abrasion more frequently. Some of the tungsten weight manufacturers insert plastic sleeves into their bullet weights because the rough tungsten bores in these weights tend to abrade line more rapidly, and sometimes these sleeves come out.


Line size is relative. Line type is relative. The choice is up to the user, that’s why so many sizes and types are available. A few points are universal. If you follow these points, you will not be plagued by line failures:

1) Your drag setting is there to protect your line from breaking. Fish with the drag loose enough that a strong pull will not break your line. Remember the rod is there to lift the fish and the reel is there to cast and retrieve line.

2) Remember to test your drag setting by pulling line off the rod, not by jerking line off the reel spool.

3) Use looser drag settings for lower stretch lines (and if you are a “gorilla” hook setter).

4) Pull test your line now and then (especially when new, before spooling up), and pull test every knot to see that it doesn’t break easily.

5) Inspect line and cut off/re-tie if abrasions (frays) are found.

6) Use proper line management techniques for fluoro.

7) Use line conditioner for all lines, including braid.

8) Be an expert at tying “your” knot.

9) Look for the lowest stretch and smallest diameter per line rating. Check it for yourself.

FYI, I am a wholesale distributor as well as an avid angler. I sell KVD Perfect Cast Line Conditioner, Vicious line and a large number of other specialty fishing products to West Coast tackle shops. The purpose of this article is to educate, not to advertise. Evaluate competing products and exercise your own judgment. The best products will always win.

This article was intended to de-mystify the subject of fishing line. I hope it helps you to understand and to become a better angler.

Tom Coss
Tom Coss Fishing