Newer anglers often run into issues when selecting the correct type of fishing line. We’ve all wondered that at some point. What line is best catching X kind of fish? Should I buy this $30 braid for my spinning reel to catch bluegill out of the community pond? What about that giant spool of monofilament at the local box store for $2.99? I bet I could use that for the rest of my life! Slow down there. Let’s talk about the different types of fishing line and what they do well and don’t do well.
I’ve been using braided, monofilament, and fluorocarbon lines in different situations for years. Each line has its merits and will perform exceptionally well for what it does. There are times when those same lines will let you down in a big way. I’ve spent quality time out on the water with each type of line and have experienced first-hand how each line performs.
There are four major types of fishing line. Monofilament is the most common, followed by braided, fluorocarbon, and fly line. Each type has subtypes that I’ll cover here, and each type has specific use cases. If you want one line to rule them all, you could get away with using monofilament for almost any application. It will do the job in just about every scenario. There are other types that might do a better job in certain roles, but overall, you’re safe with monofilament.
With that said, it’s not necessarily the best line. Nor is it the worst. Braid is great for certain scenarios, as is fluorocarbon. Let’s take a look at the different fishing lines, their purposes, and when to use them. I’ll also cover the shelf life and how to add the line to your reel. As a bonus, I’ll get into fly line backing, which is necessary if you ever want to get into anything bigger than rainbow trout on mountain streams.
- All About Fishing Line – The types of fishing
- Spooling Your Reel – How to add line to your reel
- Monofilament – The most common type
- Braided Line – Strong, thin, ultra-castable
- Fluorocarbon – near-invisible leader
- Fly Line and Backing – Fly line and the line behind the fly line
Related: Types of Fishing Sinkers
Types of Fishing Line
Fishing line is all about variety. There are more brands and sizes available than you could ever use. Monofilament,braided, fluorocarbon, wire leader, fly line, and more can quickly overtake your tackle box, if not your monthly grocery budget. Each line type can be used in several ways. Monofilament is a great line for filling your reel, using it as leader, or even hanging a picture frame on your wall. Fluorocarbon makes great leader, but most varieties aren’t great for spooling your reel. Braided line is perfect for heavier weight lines but might be unnecessary for lighter lines. Speaking of heavier and lighter lines, line weight is the predetermined weight the line can handle before it will break. For example, a 6lb test line will hold a six-pound weight tied to it without breaking. Tie an eight-pound weight, and it may or may not handle it.
After using fishing lines for a while, you’ll get a feel for what you like. I use a braided line on my baitcaster because I like the smooth feel, extra strength, and distance it provides. I don’t like the ease with which it tangles up and causes birds’ nests. Monofilament does cause birds’ nests, but not prolific nests built for California Condors. They’re more suited for a robin or a sparrow.
Fluorocarbon line can be the best leader in most situations. It turns nearly invisible in the water column, causing the bait to look far more natural. The drawback to fluoro is what’s referred to as “line memory.” Line memory is a big deal. When line sits on the reel for too long, it starts to take the shape of the spool. When you cast the line, you’ll see the ripple effect in it as it lies on the surface. The worse the memory, the more exaggerated the ripple in the line. Fluoro can have actual rings in it from memory. Mono gets line memory as well, but braid tends to avoid it for the most part.
Spooling Your Reel
Spooling your reel is a pretty straightforward process. If possible, follow step one.
Step one: Buy your chosen line at the tackle shop. Take your reel with you, hand it to the person at the counter. They usually offer free spooling. You are now done.
If step one isn’t available, or you purchase your fishing line online, these steps should get you through the process pretty quick.
Use a marker or pen and put it through the middle of the spool of line. Place your rod on a table. If it’s a two-piece rod, take the top piece off. Take the line and string it through the bottom eyelet of the rod.
This step is IMPORTANT! If this is a spinning rod, open the bail on the reel. If using braid, start with monofilament and wrap the first few layers in mono to keep the braid from slipping, then attach the braid to the mono. Another option for braid is to use a piece of electrical tape to cover the knot and line covering the first layer on the spool.
I use an arbor knot to attach the line to the reel. Now that the line is attached to the reel, close the bail of your spinning rod, pick up the spool of line with the marker through it, and either have someone hold the marker with tension on the spool while you reel in or hold it between your shoes while you apply tension.
Once the spool is almost full, you’re all set. Cut the line from the supply and tie it off. Wait 24 hours for the line to take the new memory of the reel, and you’re ready to fish.
Adding line to a baitcaster follows much the same process, though tying the knot on the spool is trickier, and there’s no bail to concern yourself with. Keep an eye on the line to ensure it lays down evenly. Baitcaster reels typically have a feature that makes the line lay down evenly, but it’s always good to be sure it’s level.
The entire process is much easier with a line spooler, and for less than $30, it’s worth the investment.
Monofilament, or mono, is the go-to fishing line for most anglers. It’s inexpensive, available almost anywhere, and easy to use. Mono is made from a blend of polymers that are then extruded through tiny holes, making a fishing line. The line is then spooled up by weight or line size and is sold to anglers like us.
Mono comes in weights ranging from 2lb up to several hundred pounds. I’ve used a 2lb test for line shy cutthroat trout in beaver ponds in the high Uinta mountains, and I’ve used a 150lb test while fishing for marlin in the Caribbean. Mono is very versatile.
Since it’s a polymer, it’s available in a wide range of colors. One cool feature I like is hi-vis mono. I’ll admit that I’m a little older than I used to be, so seeing the line at night has become a little challenging for me. Hi-vis mono has helped out immensely in that arena. It’s led me back to catfishing, which I had mostly given up on. Bright colors like fluorescent orange and yellows make a big difference at night.
Monofilament does have issues with line memory and can degrade through the season. Sun damage takes a significant toll on monofilament and causes you to replace it after every season at the very least. I fish more than most and tend to replace line 4-5 times a season, depending on the line and how much time I spend with it.
UV light causes the line to break down, which in turn causes the line to pit, weaken, and eventually break at those weak points. There are some mono lines that have some UV protection, so be sure to check for that.
Mono is the least expensive of the line types, starting at around $3. Depending on your needs, it can go north of $300.
A braided line is made by twisting several strands of line into a braid. Each strand is able to pull weight, therefore making the overall line stronger than regular monofilament. Casting for distance is great with braid because it typically doesn’t have any line memory and has a thinner diameter than the same test in other lines.
Braided line also helps with line twisting, particularly if you are casting with a baitcaster. Use this as the mainline on a spinning reel, though be sure to back the spool with a bit of mono to stop any slippage.
The braided line starts at around $8 and can go as high as $40. If you’re looking for braided line for deep-sea fishing, you’re in the neighborhood of $50 to $350.
Fluorocarbon line makes an excellent leader. Add it under the swivel to either mono or braid, and you’ll have a leader that’s nearly invisible in clear water. Fluorocarbon is a great option as a mainline if you use a lighter test. Anything 8lb and lighter is good. A line that’s 10lb or higher is too stiff for the main spool, though it makes a fantastic leader. It’s heavier than mono and will pull it tight as it falls through the water column.
There are options available that combine the strength of fluorocarbon with the ease of mono. These lines are mono-coated with fluorocarbon. They fish well and can be used as the mainline on your reel.
There are some drawbacks to fluorocarbon as a leader. The biggest one is that you shouldn’t use it in stained, muddy, or silty water if it has any nicks or scratches in it. The dirt particles will stick to it, making it stand out like a sore thumb. Again, it’s often far too stiff to use as the mainline, making it an expensive investment for leader.
Fluorocarbon line starts around $5 and can run as high as $40 for 600 yards.
Fly line is unique to fly fishing. It won’t cast from a conventional rod/reel combo. It has a large diameter with some weight to it. While fly line takes significantly more for the initial investment, it doesn’t wear out as quickly as the other types do. You can feasibly reuse yours for three or four seasons, possibly more if you maintain it properly.
Fly line comes in several categories and weights. Here are the basics. The smaller the number, the lighter the weight. For example, a wf3f line means a weight-forward taper 3 floating line. There are four basic tapers fly anglers need to be familiar with.
The wf, or weight forward taper, means the line has extra weight in the first 10 yards of line. It’s the standard trout line. The extra weight in the first section makes casting easier. It also helps those big leech patterns turn over correctly when casting, so they land in the right direction. I use this as my primary line. It’s great in the wind.
The dt, or double taper, means the first 15 feet slowly widens and becomes heavier, then the next 60 feet or so remains that size before tapering down again at the last 15 feet. Again, this is great for trout but not so great in the wind.
The lt, or level taper, is just that. It has no taper. The level taper sounds easy because it’s just one smooth size. You’d think that, but it’s not. The lt doesn’t cast or float well. I don’t recommend it for newer anglers.
The st, or shooting taper, is an extreme version of the wf. The front 20 feet is heavily weighted for extreme casting. It’s primarily used in casting tournaments.
Now we have the tapers down. It’s time to get into the floating and sinking. Fly line will state what type it is on the package, whether it’s floating, sinking, or sinking tip. Floating is pretty self-explanatory, though sinking and sinking tip needs more context.
A sinking tip line will sink below the surface for the first 10 to 30 feet, depending on the line. The manufacturer will list the depth.
The sinking line does just that. It sinks. The package will let you know the sink rate, which could be anywhere from one to five feet per second.
Fly line backing is the line used in case you hook into a fish that peels off all the fly line while you’re fighting it. That can happen when fighting bigger fish like salmon, steelhead, and saltwater game. It’s important to get a strong line that is specific to fly fishing. Monofilament will wear out before you might need to use it.