Braided Vs. Mono
By Nick Ruiz
For those of you who feel as though you've come under a full-on advertising assault of the braided vs. monofilament war, you need not feel alone. I empathize! For the last five or six years, the amount of line options available to the bass angler has nearly quadrupled, offering claims of unmatched stretch reduction and complete and total indestructibility. Line manufactures are pouring millions upon millions of dollars into research in a frantic attempt to create and market the next great "super-line". It undoubtedly bears the question, "Which line is right for me"?
We'll start with the basic monofilament line that has been considered the standard since FDR was in power. Monofilament, or "mono", is comprised of many synthetic components combined in a gel that solidifies into a slick, string-like substance we anglers have come to know and love. For the most part, the procedure of "shooting" the gel though a series of progressively smaller openings, while cooling it, has remained about the same for nearly half a century. It is only in the last decade that true, quantum leaps have been made in the composition and production of this product.
Before we go on, allow me to dispel a rumor immediately. Every monofilament line is not the same! A spool of 10 pound test from Company A can be drastically different from Company B. It differs in line diameter, shape, and overall handling. Those of you, who stick religiously to one brand of line and have used another in a pinch, can vouch for the fact that there is a definite difference.
We'll start with diameter. Packaging that advertises "super thin" will render an instant sale, but are "thin" lines really thinner? On nearly every package of line there is a small decimal number right next to the pound test number. That number denotes in millimeters (actually tenths or hundredths of a millimeter) the average thickness of that line. If thin is truly what you want, then select a pound test that suits you, then set out comparing the millimeter numbers to find the thinnest line.
Next, comes the issue of stretch. As of late, "line stretch" has been banished from nearly every brand of line and replaced by the words "ultra-low-stretch" or "no-stretch". Judging from the sales returns, anglers can't get enough of these lines. The wave of low-stretch monos has only appeared on the shelves of tackle shops in the past three or four years. They openly boast firmer, stronger hook-sets and fewer lost fish, and most of all, greater overall sensitivity. While all of this is very true, is some stretch better than no stretch at all? I feel yes.
Yes for two reasons. Number one, some stretch provides shock absorption that can be an angler's best friend in some circumstances. Example: when a fish makes a last minute run near the boat, when only a very short length of line is out. That line stretch will buy you those precious extra few seconds to get to the bail or the spool release to let some line out, thus avoiding the one-that-got-away story.
Number two, in my opinion stretch actually enhances the action to certain lures such as crankbaits. Example: A wide wobbling, diving crankbait fished on stretchless piano wire-type line will noticeably loose some of its "bass appeal" because it will look like its being dragged through the water, rather than swimming.
Keep in mind the shape of the line plays an essential part in its casting and handling. For the most part, even today, monofilament line is a perfect circle when viewed head on. However, there are several line companies experimenting with flattened, fly line-type line shapes which, when viewed head on, will look like a wide tapering oval. I have used one of these lines on a trial basis and I can tell you it does not cast farther or more accurate. However, it lays much nicer on a spool and reduces backlashes. It will also lay higher out of the water, just like its fly line companion, and drastically take depth off of any sub surface rig known to man. Topwater lures and this type of line are very good bedfellows! From the way it lays on the water to the way it stays out of the hooks of the topwater plug, I would take it over conventional spherical monofilaments any day.
As for handling, that's a personal choice that can only be made by trial and error. When a line feels right, or you "like the way it feels", then you've found the line you like. In very few instances with monos, is there a right and wrong brand. I will however, strongly urge you to stay away from the bottom shelf bargain brands that offer five thousand yards for six bucks. The problem with these lines is usually inconsistent diameters and handling, as well as many nicks and abrasions that break down the strength of the line, right out of the package.
I have personally settled upon two brands, which include Gamakatsu's new G-Power line, and Excalibur Silver Thread. This because they combine all the elements mentioned above, in what I perceive as a "happy medium".
On the other end of the line spectrum, falls the braided, "mega-lines" that for the most part, have been hyped more than a Don King fight in Manhattan. Upon their arrival they boasted everything from "absolute zero stretch" to complete invulnerability to anything the fish and elements could throw at it, short of a global apocalypse. Granted, they do offer something awesome in the form of sheer strength and toughness, but they are not something brand new. Fly fishermen have been using braided lines as backing on their reels for several years. It's only recently become "mainstream" amongst anglers.
It's no secret why it is so tough - all the materials were originally designed to be used as the stitching and reinforcement on bullet-proof vests. An interesting point is that the actual name of the original braid, Spiderwire, is derived from the way it is produced. Much like spider weaves silk, braided line is woven using a series of spinnerets, tightly braiding strands of its components together to form a very tight single strand. This also explains the uncommonly high shelf price. Not only the material is very expensive, but also the process takes several hours just to produce one 150-yard spool.
Spectra, Specta2000, and Dacron are just a few of the synthetic materials used in the newer lines on the market. Unlike monofilaments, these lines have a personality all their own when they hit the water.
First off, they float! This will take some getting used to, and in some cases rigs need to be adjusted to accommodate it. I wouldn't recommend this line for topwater applications. It has a nasty habit of floating back around the lure and fouling the hooks when given slack.
Second, one has to have a keen eye to see when these lines begin to deteriorate. They do not show the "pockmarks" or light colored slices that appears on old monofilament. It merely begins to fray and unravel, significantly decreasing the overall strength. Therefore, the line should be given a quick visual once-over while reeling it in, and a thorough inspection near the last five or six feet. Also, a quick look at the knot wouldn't hurt either.
Another very important fact about braided lines is that they have all the qualities of a hacksaw when it comes in contact with rod and reel components. Unless your rod has titanium or another similar material lining the guides, I would not recommend these lines. In more than one instance I have seen the line make serious indentations and abrasions in rod guides. This also applies to line rollers on spinning reels and levelwinds on baitcasting reels. They will be harmed from its ultra coarse texture as well.
Now, in fear of sounding like a salesman for JWA, I do prefer to use reels designed for this type of line. Rods can vary as long as they have strong guides that resist abrasion. However, I don't believe there are any reels, besides those that are produced by JWA that can properly lay the line on the spool. I'm referring to the "cross-web" line wrap feature that does not allow the line to bury under itself causing fouling and backlashes. Unfortunately, there really is no way around this one. It's patented, and they set the prices!
A final tip on preparing equipment for braided line is to take a cotton swab and place a coating of Turtle Wax on all the rod guides. Like boats and surfboards, wax protects the surface and reduces the friction between line and metal.
Braided line does have its applications. It's perfect for flipping and pitching. You will be grateful for its pure strength when it comes time to start horsing hawgs out of some truly nasty cover. You can rest assure that the chances of this line being abraded from structure contact, provided you are not fishing razor blade plants, is absolutely minimal. Aside from the ultra-heavy cover aspect, chances are the new advanced monos can take care of business.
Braided line choices are very limited to say the least. From what I have seen, we have been reduced to the JWA spider wire, and I believe Bass Pro Shops produces a "generic" braid sold in its catalogs.
I suggest taking your time with line selection, giving each a fair chance and using what you are comfortable with. Only then will you be performing at your very best. And rember, The line is the only link between you and the fish!