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Does Fishing Line Expire or Lose Strength Over Time? If so, How long?

A fishing rod on a backpack at the dock.

When one goes to get ready for a fishing trip, they usually have a checklist of things to get together. Rods and reels, lures and bait, hooks and bobbers. But one thing that many fishermen may not think about when it comes to getting their tackle ready for a trip is their line. And that makes sense, as reels need to be oiled, bait needs to be fresh, and other tackle is usually pretty obvious when it is defective or “out of date”. Not so with the actual fishing line.

Does Fishing Line Expire?

Two nylon fishing line on a reel.

I wouldn’t say that it “expires” in the sense of milk going bad. Depending on how you store your fishing tackle, or where you live (dry climate versus wet climate, hot versus cold), your line may be just fine for years and years. That is not to say, however, that the fishing line on your old kiddie pole that you learned to fish on is going to serve you well on your bachelor weekend fishing trip – no matter how or where you stored it.

What Keeps Fishing Line in Good Condition?

Different type of fishing line and reel.

Like just about everything in the world, fishing line will, eventually, get old. It will become brittle, and it will break more easily. Now, as I mentioned, the climate where you store your tackle is going to be a major factor in how well your line holds up through the years. If you live in a dry climate (like I did, in Colorado), your line will become brittle more quickly than if you live in a wetter climate (say, Kentucky, where my Papaw lived).

But, if you live in a dry climate, you can keep your line stronger longer if you keep your tackle indoors. Chances are, the inside of your house (even in your basement) is going to be more climate-friendly to the line than the garage or storage shed. And even if you live in a wet climate, inside the house is going to be a more stable environment, which will help all of your fishing tackle – not just the line – stay in good working order from one trip to another.

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What Happens Over Time?

Say you only have one big fishing expedition per year, and the rest of the time your fishing line (on the reel, of course) is kept in a dark closet or in the garage. I suggest you take the time, before the trip, to look at your line. You may be surprised to find that the line that landed a marlin last year won’t hold a minnow this year (alright, that may be an exaggeration, but I think you get the idea). If your fishing line is sitting in a dry environment (not getting wet doing its job of catching fish), it is going to age.

In fact, the act of using the line helps keep it pliable. You want your line to be able to stretch some, not just snap. As it dries out, regardless of the environment, it is going to lose some of that stretch, and little by little it will become brittle, and then it will fail. Keeping your line in use will help keep it strong for a longer period of time.

However, the type of water in which you are fishing is going to have an impact on the line. If you only fish in freshwater, you probably do not have much to worry about in terms of the water doing damage to your line. If you are fishing in the ocean, that salt water will degrade the line pretty quickly.

Make sure that all of your tackle is in good working order before you head out on a boat to do some deep sea fishing, because if your line snaps on the first catch, you are not going to have much fun watching your buddies do all of the fishing.

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How Long Does Fishing Line Last?

As I mentioned, there are a number of factors that play into how long fishing line will last. But let’s say you are an average fisherman, someone who goes out a couple of times a year to a river or lake to try and catch something. In that case, I would say that you should probably consider respooling your reel every five years or so. If you are fishing saltwater, then probably every other year you should get your reels respooled with new line.

But I’m Not a Regular Fisherman

A professional fishing reel with braided line.

If you are someone who only has one big trip per year, I suggest that you take a very close look at your line before you head out. I do not say that because your line is going to need to be replaced every year. I suggest that because if you get in the habit of taking a close look at your line each and every year before you head out, you will be able to catch a problem line in that second or third or fourth year before it snaps on your first catch.

Even if you are someone who goes out on a regular basis for the thrill of fishing, getting in the habit of testing your line before heading out is a good idea.

How Do I Know if My Line Is Good or Bad?

As I mentioned, a good line will have some give to it. You will be able to stretch it without it snapping. And testing your line is pretty simple.

First off, unspool several feet of line. You want to get a few feet into the line because you want to be able to get an idea of how strong the entire line is, not just the very tip. Once you have a few feet spooled out, wrap some line around each hand (you may want to put gloves on to do this, just so the line is not tearing into your hands).

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Now, go ahead and pull the line between your hands. You are not trying to break the line (chances are you are strong enough to do that). You just want to see if the line has a little bit of play in it. If you are able to stretch the line a little, then you are in good shape. If the line does not stretch, however, I suggest you get it replaced.

Getting Your Line Replaced

A man with camouflage replacing a fishing line.

If you find that your line needs to be replaced, or you just want to get it replaced because it has been a few years, there are a number of options. The easiest is to go to your local sports store and have them do it for you. You hand the associate your reel and tell them what kind of line you want spooled onto it.

They put it in a machine and whiz-bang, spool it up in about a minute. Of course, they are going to charge you for both the line and the process of spooling that line.

If you want to save the cost of having someone spool the line for you, spooling fishing line is not that difficult. You can buy a manual spooler, which will nicely spool the line onto just about any reel. I used one to get my flyfishing setup ready to go, and it was not all that bad.

I do not suggest you try to manually spool a reel by pulling line off of the spool and putting it onto your reel. You will end up with a bad spool, and you will have trouble with the line feeding off as you try to use it.

If you want a really good replacement job, spend the extra couple of bucks to get the sports store to do it for you. I promise it will be worth the cost and the peace of mind knowing it is done correctly.